The West Australian, Saturday, Weekend: holidays & hair

3/2/2007

I love this time of the year: I don’t work, I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, I simply lie about reading and then, every so often, mainly early or late, I get up and walk along Middleton Beach, Albany, until I find a good sized wave.

Then I plunge in the surf like I am a man who is not yet a man, more a boy who wants to be a man.

This is where I am, Albany, for my summer break from everything but the life I really want, which involves all of the above and a few flat whites with any old friend I meet or even complete strangers.

It wasn’t always like this. In order to get here I worked hard, long and hard and before breakfast dad would drag us from bed, whip the flesh off our backs and then, only then, would he kick us in backside until flesh grew back.

All right, dad was a good man and he only made us work until our flesh bled and then he let us play cards.

But that’s not the point. The point is that when a man was much younger this time of the year was full of work, the holiday work, in the bins, down the mine, on the farm, in the shop, on the back of the truck, wherever and whenever in order to make the money you needed to fund the activities your parents would have nothing to do with.

Once I worked in a post office. Well, not in, but out of. My job was to deliver the parcels that arrived from all over the planet, usually badly wrapped and spilling.

I delivered them on an old motor bike that should not have been allowed to use the name. It was a malicious beast and as soon as the relief bike arrived on the back of the manager’s ute it would splutter and start and make me look a liar, a cheat and a student who knew nothing about motor bikes.

Which I was.

I was also once a student who knew nothing about hairdressing, still am, which is why I have never taken a job in a salon, for men or women, or dogs.

My mother, however, is a woman, for which we are eternally grateful.

Sorry, I digress.

My mother is a woman who has always presented herself as knowing everything there is to know about hair.

When I achieved that age when boys are handed a book by their fathers and told to go away, read it and come back with any questions, my father was nowhere to be seen. It was mum with the book and it was called: Hair Today, Success Tomorrow.

As far as mum was concerned, hair made the man, the girl, the person.

“Without groomed hair,” she would say, “you might as well be Wally or Crispin.”

Wally and Crispin, I should explain, were two men invented by Findlay Campbell. Findlay, by the way, was the man who stopped World War II, but I haven’t got time to go into that here, suffice to say that Fin was a story teller and Wal and Crispy were his two down-and-out night-cart men, the blokes who emptied the pans at the back of every house in 1950s Bridgetown.

Apparently they existed and mum said their hair was the work of the devil.

And so was mine. It needed to be trained, subdued, controlled.

And so was my father’s.

Not once did I see my father leave a room without my mother grabbing a comb and digging it into his scalp.

“Don’t you dare leave this room without doing your hair,” she would say.

Dad would stand, dutifully, and allow mum to comb it one way, then another, until she found the perfect set.

Which brings me back to Albany, because while I’m down here, while students state-wide are working jobs to raise funds to buy stuff they don’t need, or want, I never comb my hair, not once, not for anyone.

I get out of bed, hit the beach, surf until my body shakes with the cold, change out of wet into dry, eat something, not much, read a book, nod off, wake up, hit the beach again, never once running anything through my hair, just the wind that takes it when I stick my head out the car window.

I’ve been here two weeks now.

My hair is matted and spiked.

When people ask what I do for a living I say: I’m a hairdresser.

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