My wife, Ruth, is 53, but she doesn’t look it because she takes real care with her appearance. She is about 5′ 6′, nine and a half stones, with dyed blonde hair. She had always kept it cut very short, knowing that was the way I liked it. Mind you, it had taken a lot of persuasion to get her to agree to the very special cut that she now sported! Let me tell you about it.
“Why not try it?” I remember saying. “I know, give me some scissors and I’ll cut it for you!”
“No way! And I’m not having it step-cut by anyone else either. You know it would look stupid on me.”
The answer had always been the same. Ruth had kept her hair short for many years, but for several months now ‘step’ cuts had been popular, especially with youngsters. Although she was far from being a youngster any more, I really fancied Ruthie with what I had always thought of as a ‘basin cut’, preferably one that finished as high as possible above the ears. Yes, it could well look stupid on her – but the humiliation was part of the attraction! So, whenever we passed someone in the street, saw a picture in a magazine, or saw someone on television sporting a ‘step’, I drew attention to it. “It would look great on you,” I would say. “Just try it! Next time, ask your hairdresser for a step-cut!” No reaction except rejection: a hopeless dream!
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One evening, I had been idly searching the net. I came across “The Bob Haircut Page” and was particularly enjoying the section on bared napes when Ruth walked into the study. “Are you still ogling girls with that awful haircut?” she said. At that moment I had an image of ‘Carol’ on the screen, a black and white photograph showing a girl with very high basin cut and close-cropped sides – as far as I was concerned, the ultimate cut.
“Isn’t that a great look?” I said. “You must admit she looks fantastic, doesn’t she?”
“I suppose It looks okay on her,” admitted Ruth begrudgingly. “But I can tell you now, I’m never getting mine cut as short as that!”
“Oh?” I asked, looking up at her and grinning. “And how short are you going to get it cut then?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Go on, tell me,” I persisted. “If you had a step-cut, how high would the step be?”
“I know. I just said ‘If’.”
“Oh, that’s silly….”
“Go on, draw a line with your finger.”
“I haven’t even thought about it …… well,” she said, trying to sound disinterested, “about here, I suppose.” – she marked a line just above her ear with a finger – “That’s where most people seem to have it.”
“So you have thought about it, then?”
“No of course not – well, yes! I mean no; well, with you going on about it, I’ve obviously thought about it.”
“And so what’s stopping you then?”
“I know it would look dreadful!”
“It doesn’t look dreadful on her, does it?” I argued, pointing at the screen.
“No,” admitted Ruth again. “She looks good. But she’s young and she has the right shape face.”
“Look again,” I said. “You have exactly the same shape face… and you have a better neck than her!”
“Keep going – flattery will get you anywhere!” she teased.
“Alright: as for age, it would make you look years younger.”
“Do you think it would? Oh no, don’t say that, that’s not fair! It’s just too different, darling – I wouldn’t dare!”
“Have faith! Go on, take a shower, wash your hair, and come back here with some scissors. I’ll do it for you!”
“No way!” she giggled. “You never give up do you?”
She hesitated, then said slowly, “Well, I’ll tell you what, next time I go to the hairdressers… perhaps I’ll ask what he thinks.”
I was genuinely surprised. “When’s your next appointment?” I asked eagerly.
“Oh, I’m not sure; about three weeks?”
“No good. Ring him now and make an appointment for tomorrow!”
“Go on, before you lose your nerve: make the call. Please!”
She looked at me, began to shake her head, then hesitated and shrugged. “Oh, I’ll never get any peace, will I?” she said and walked to the phone. Two minutes later she was back. “Tomorrow afternoon at three,” she said. “And I’m telling you: if I come back looking a mess, I’ll never forgive you!”
I was beside myself with excitement. I could not contain myself all that evening, or the next morning. “Tell me again,” I begged, “whereabouts will you ask for the cut line?” and when she declared that she had not promised to have it cut, only that she was thinking about it, I ignored her until she gave in and teasingly pointed to an imaginary cut line. Then, I urged: “Perhaps a teeny little bit higher?” or “How short will you have it cut below the step?” “Will it be level across the back?” “How short will your fringe be?” until I had covered every possible eventuality. “Shut up,” she threatened at last, ” or I definitely won’t have it done at all!”
Before she left that next afternoon, I demanded a photograph: a ‘before’ photo to compare with the ‘after’ soon to come. She posed in the dining room for a couple of self-conscious snaps, then she was on her way, my last minute requests for her to come back “as short as you dare!” ringing in her ears.
For over two hours, I paced the house excitedly. Finally, I heard her car. I rushed to the door. I looked at her excitedly as she walked in….and my face fell. Her hair was short all right – but no step-cut!
“I’m sorry darling,” Ruthie said, eyes downcast. “I couldn’t do it: I lost my nerve. But I’ve had it cut much shorter than usual….. look, it’s almost a step cut……and I’ve had it dyed very blonde.”
It was short at the sides, and brushed forward on top into a flat fringe, and it was really blonde – but it just wasn’t a basin cut! Sideburns and hair still obscured half her ears, tendrils still covered her neckline. I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “It looks…er….very nice,” I started, then found myself adding, like a disappointed child: “….but you promised!”
“I know; I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I knew you’d be upset, but I just couldn’t bring myself to ask for that style.” She wheedled up to me: “Come on, cheer up, I’ll make it up to you.”
I tried to be cheerful but it was no good. All that day, and for the next two, the atmosphere in the house was oppressive: I felt betrayed and let down, and I knew Ruthie felt guilty for leading me on, and I did nothing to disabuse her of that.
Something had to snap.
That evening, three days after her haircut, Ruth was nervous and agitated. I sat morosely, watching television, avoiding eye contact with her. She was up and down from her seat, fiddling pointlessly, but always silent. Finally, she got up decisively as though she had made up her mind at last, walked out of the room and returned almost immediately, carrying a plastic shopping bag. She handed it to me. “Here,” she said quietly, “open this. This will solve things.”
Inside the bag was a parcel, wrapped in department-store paper. I tore it off. My eyes widened. ‘Home Hairdressing Kit’ proclaimed the packaging. ‘All you need to groom the whole family!’ I opened up the box: I lifted up an instruction manual, and underneath were a pair of small four-inch-blade scissors, a longer pair with six-inch blades, and a pair of thinning scissors; these were in compartments around the edge of the box. In the centre, gleaming blackly, lay powerful-looking electric clippers and a complete range of clipper guards.
Fascinated, trembling with the glimmerings of wild new hope, I picked up the electric clippers. They were heavy in the hand and the cutting teeth were razor-sharp. I looked up quizzically.
“You always talked about giving me a step cut,” she said. “Well, now I want you to!”
“You’re not serious!” I said, astonished.
“I am,” she said resolutely. “I should have kept my word. Now I want to make it up to you. So I went into town today and bought this complete kit. See, that proves I’m serious, doesn’t it? Now I want you to give me that cut!”
“Why the change of mind?”
I don’t know; I just feel so cross with myself for chickening out before. Now I’ve made up my mind. I want to have my hair cut that way.”
“Are you really sure?”
“Yes! Look, I said before, this cut I’ve got is already half way there: you only need to cut a sharper line level with the top of my ears and then trim it below. I should have had it done three days ago, but in a way this can be even better: you can be my hairdresser.”
“Oh, wow!” I said. I wasn’t going to protest any more!
“Right,” Ruthie declared decisively. “I’m going to wash my hair. When I come back, I expect you to have read that instruction book and be ready to go.” She turned and went for her shower.
Fifteen minutes later, I had read the manual and was ready to go. When she walked back into the room I led her silently into the kitchen where I had the stool ready, and the box of kit. The clippers lay on the side, already plugged in, and with a half-inch guard fitted. “Right, I’m ready,” said Ruthie, determinedly cheerful.
“Just sit here. Hand me the scissors and comb.”
I combed her wet hair straight down from the crown all round. It clung wetly to her skull and neck, but it had been cut well and fell naturally into place. All I had to do really was to cut the hair off bluntly at the level I chose… and start quickly before Ruth changed her mind again! I picked up the scissors with the longer blades and moved forward.
“Not too short though!” Ruthie whispered, betraying her nervousness.
“Point for me, then.” Her finger went to a position level with her ears. “Okay,” I said. I aimed higher, around half an inch above her left ear, and the sharp new blades opened like jaws over a wet wedge of hair. I couldn’t resist a comment: “Well, goodbye hair!” I called.
“Pig!” said Ruth, but the sharp new blades were closing even as she spoke, and they sliced a long horizontal swathe from the side of her forehead to beyond her left ear. Wet, severed hair fell onto her shoulder then tumbled into her lap. Ruthie gasped and I half expected her to leap up, but she controlled herself.
“Okay?” I asked innocently.
She tried to smile. “Yes,” she said. “I’m fine. Keep going!”
I turned my attention to her fringe next, holding the hair in place with my left palm so that it kept absolutely straight, and carefully snipped a sharp straight line across her forehead about half an inch above her eyebrows. I knew it would end up a little shorter than that when her hair shrunk as it dried. Hair from her fringe tumbled down her face and into her lap and I stood back, pleased already with the effect. I knew I could take my time now: with these first cuts, the decision had become irrevocable. I followed the line of the fringe carefully around over her right ear. More precisely measured cuts saw wet locks of hair fall from the back of her skull. I carried on until I met up with the first cut I had made, over her left ear.
There, clearly, was the basin of hair above her ears. The step did not stick out yet because the hair was still wet and sticking to her skull, but it was quite obvious that it would, even if I did nothing to the hair below. Perhaps I should resist the temptation to use the clippers and just trim the side hair a little with the smaller scissors. Ruth interrupted my thoughts: “How does it look?” She couldn’t help sounding anxious even though she was pretending to be carefree.
“Truly wonderful!” I answered.
“It’s the next bit that worries me,” said Ruth. “When you use the clippers. They look brutal to me, so be careful!”
“I will be,” I assured her quickly. How could I let her down if she was expecting me to give her a buzz-cut? “Now I’m going to dry your hair before I use them, like the instruction manual suggests.” It did, but I also couldn’t wait to see the effect of my cutting so far.
I blow-dried her hair carefully, brushing it out from the point of the crown and keeping it as flat to the skull and as straight as I could. As it dried, it was clear that her hair had shrunk back more than I had anticipated, which made the result even more severe. Her fringe was straight and blunt, and almost an inch above her eyebrows. That blunt basin cut carried on viciously around the sides and back, where the shortened side hair underneath pushed out the longer layers on the top to create a wide overhanging ledge, like clipped bristles at the end of a decorator’s paintbrush.
“How does it look now?” she asked again.
“Just perfect so far,” I assured her. “Exactly how I have always wanted. Are you ready for the next stage?”
“Yes,” she nodded her assent, but bit her bottom lip nervously. “Please be careful!”
The number 4 guard was already selected and in place over the end of the blades. I held the clippers up to her head and pressed the switch. She jumped as they leapt powerfully into life, humming smoothly and eagerly: it was obvious why their effect was known as a ‘buzz-cut’! I held them at the base of her neck, just below her hairline, and she gasped, the muscles in her neck rigid with fearful anticipation. I moved the clippers slowly upwards.
The guard pushed up the hair from its roots ahead of the humming cutters. The blades contacted the hair at precisely half an inch above each root and swathed mercilessly and with savage efficiency through it, scattering a cloud of long, severed strands, which floated down onto her shoulders and the floor. The humming changed tone as I methodically and steadily pushed the clippers higher, their teeth chattering as they carved a dramatic pathway through the thicker hair that grew higher up her neck. I reached the ledge of longer hair and withdrew the clippers.
I hadn’t realised until that point how truly effective clippers were: every strand in their path had been meticulously lifted, measured, and clipped at precisely the same length. Nor had I realised just how short half-inch-long hair really is! It is not long enough, for instance, to fully cover the scalp, blue-white flecks of which seem to shimmer through, especially where the skin is stretched, as across the muscles running up the back of the neck. Nor is it sufficient to disguise the bumps and indentations of bone, muscle or even veins, all of which could now be seen in the two-inch wide swathe that ran from the bottom of Ruthie’s neck to her ‘ledge’. It was not long enough, either, to permit any change of mind – the rest had to go the same way.
“Is it alright?” Ruth appealed, desperate for reassurance.
“It’s great!” I replied, then added maliciously: “Mind you, it is short!”
She swung round anxiously: “How short?”
“Well, actually, very short!”
She reached up her hand to the back of her neck. “Oh my god!!!” she cried, horrified, her fingers testing the path of stubble that ran from hairline up to the new step.
“It was you who bought the clippers, remember! You knew it was going to be short; that’s the style it is. Anyway, it’s too late now. Sit still and let me finish.”
She bit her lip, and turned reluctantly, but she also knew that what was started had to be finished. She lowered her head in readiness for the next cut. I held the top of her head steady with my left hand, feeling the vibration of the clippers as I moved them steadily upwards on their second run. Clumps of hair fell as the machine buzzed slowly and with brutal efficiency upwards, reducing another broad swathe to half-inch stubble. The third sweep removed all the longer hair from around her neck apart from small tufts close behind her ears. I folded her right ear forward and swept away the last wisps, then did the same with her left ear. I tilted her head to the right and folded down her left ear so that I could clear the strip above. I worked the clippers into the thatch of hair above her ear. Then, her head tilted the other way, I bared the strip above her right ear. Now for the best of all.
“My sideburns don’t have to go too, do they?” Ruthie whispered forlornly.
“You know they do. You’ll look daft if they don’t!” I grinned. And pretty daft when they do, I thought. I had deliberately left the sideburns until last, saving the treat to the end. I had waited for this for so long! I placed the clippers below the cheek bone, and moved them almost languorously upwards into the curls of hair that made up her sideburns. I heard Ruthie gasp as the guard lifted the first blonde curl and the chattering blades contemptuously disposed of it, sending it falling into her lap to join the thick pile of chopped-off hair that now lay there. Oh so slowly and carefully, I edged the clippers higher, drooling over their vicious power, letting the edges caress the earlobe, then higher still, savaging any stray hair, now meeting up with the cut above her ear, now exposing the hairline along her upper cheek; up to eye level; past the eyebrows; the final half-inch. Almost reluctantly, I withdrew the blades as they met up with the brush-like step at the temple. I shook off the pile of hair that had gathered on the clippers, switched off, and stepped back to look.
On this side, her top-knot now stood out like a mushroom cap against the virtually bare sides of her head. It was perfect!
I eased her head to the other side. Another brutally efficient slow sweep, and the sideburns there had been destroyed too. A mushroom of blonde hair now sat like a cap on top of her cropped head. It was finished.
“Is it alright?” Ruth said fearfully.
I brushed away the masses of hair that lay on her lap. Mounds of blonde hair were now scattered around the stool. “Come and see,” I said quietly, taking her hand and leading her from the chair into the lounge where the large mirror hung.
“BLOODY HELL!!!!” Ruthie yelled. “What have you done to me!”
“Don’t you like it?” I said innocently.
“I said, level with my ears – it’s a mile above!! Oh god, I look bald! I’ll never dare go out of the house!” she wailed.
“Nonsense!” I said. “People will think you’ve been really with-it: you wait and see. Now come into the dining room and pose for the ‘after’ photos!”
For a couple of days she moped. Yet I really did think she looked fantastic – wacky, but fantastic – and I kept telling her so. She got up on the third morning, showered, and blow-dried the top-knot, whilst I watched.
“Are you getting used to it now?” I asked.
“I suppose so,” she said. “It just sticks out at the sides so much!” She turned and smiled ruefully. “Well, I asked you to do it, didn’t I! Oh, to hell with it: I’ve got to get used to it until it grows out. I’m going to go into town, but you’ve got to come with me: I shall need some moral support!” So, she plucked up the courage to brazen it out and leave the house. Amazingly, and I have to say unexpectedly as far as I was concerned, people did react exactly as I had predicted. Friends, neighbours, even complete strangers, looked at her wide-mouthed when they first saw her. Then, when they recovered, they all remarked on how “daring” the cut was, how it “suited her”, how they wished they had the nerve, how sexy it looked, and so on. Within another day or two, Ruthie had recovered from the first awful shock and had stopped feeling quite so sorry for herself; a few days more, and she admitted that she was surprised by the reaction her outrageous cut was causing; after another day or two she stopped talking about growing it out as soon as possible and began to refer sardonically to the ‘basin’ on top of her head; after two weeks she conceded that she was getting used to having her hair that way. Soon I was able to take more photographs without her feeling self-conscious about her ‘basin’. So, three weeks after the dramatic change, I decided to push my luck.
“Darling, I’d like you to keep your basin for a bit longer. I don’t want you to let it grow out yet.”
“Oh, don’t you?” she teased – and that was enough to let me know that I was going to win. She hadn’t rejected the idea out of hand; it would just be a matter of persuasion.
“No I don’t – you know I love it like that. What about you?”
“I don’t know. It’s just so way out, isn’t it?”
“But you’ve got used to it now, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose so, but …..”
“And look how quickly it has grown already.”
It was true: her hair had grown remarkably in the three weeks, a point I tried to use to my advantage.
“Even if I make a real balls up with the next cut,” I said. “You know that after a fortnight it will have recovered.”
“Wait a minute!” she laughed. “Who said anything about you cutting it?”
My face fell. “Well, I just thought….. and we’ve got the clippers now…and….” my voice tailed off, disappointed.
“Hey, don’t go like that again!” she said, and snuggled up to me. “I’m only teasing, I love my basin cut! And I know how much you enjoyed giving it me! So of course you can cut it again if really want to, I don’t mind at all. But are you sure you can stand me looking like a floor mop any longer?”
“What you look like with that cut is a very sexy, provocative woman!” I declared. “So, shall I give you a trim now?”
“But it’s only been three weeks!”
“Yes, but look at how the sides have grown back already.”
“Don’t you think they look better a little longer like this?”
“Oh, darling, no! That was what made it so dramatic. In fact, I was hoping you’d let me experiment with a shorter guard..?”
“Well, only around the edges…I’d blend it in really carefully……please?”
“I don’t know….we’ll see.”
“Great -you’ll love it! Go and shower, while I get the stool and things.”
“Oh, all right!” She got up resignedly, but without the need for the pretended bravado of three weeks ago: at least, she felt, she knew what it was going to look like this time.
When she came into the kitchen after her shower, the first thing I did was to show Ruthie one of the pictures I had taken of her just after the first basin cut. It was a side view. “Can you see how it dips down at the back?” I pointed out. “I’m going to raise the cut at the back to make it level all round.”
“Hang on!” said Ruthie, laughing. “I’m looking upwards in that picture, you know! How much extra are you planning to cut away?”
“I thought about an inch?”
She felt the cut-line on the back of her head, and then felt an inch higher, experimentally. “That’s practically to the top of my head!” she said. “One inch more, maximum, then!”
“I love you!” I said. Once again, I combed out her wet hair from the point of the crown, then picked up the long-bladed scissors. Starting again at the fringe, I lopped off over a centimetre of hair: that was the quarter inch or so that it had grown, plus a little extra portion! Even wet, her fringe was almost an inch above her eyebrows this time: dry, that should shrink halfway up her forehead. Instead of following the fringe along the sides, I moved immediately to the back of her head, calculated a centimetre for growth, and added on another inch; the line was level with the bulge of the cranium, where the step would stand out at its maximum – perfect! I plunged in the blades and sliced it all away. It was then a case of matching up to her fringe, a cut that lifted the line well over an inch above her ears. Then the clippers: First, the half-inch guard all over, then with trembling hands I fitted the quarter-inch guard and started on the neckline. A fuzz of quarter-inch clippings blew into the air, leaving a virtually bare nape.
“I knew it!” exclaimed Ruth afterwards, when she looked in the mirror. “I knew you would cut it even shorter, you pig!” She did not sound displeased though, and swivelled her head to see as much of her sides and neck as she could.
“Do you like it though?”
“Mmmmm… well… yes, it’s okay……. It’s certainly different again! – yes, I do like it, darling; in fact,” she turned and grinned, “I love it! I didn’t think I would, but I really do!”
“So I can do it again in three weeks?”
“Yes, of course you can!”