The typical city-dweller will have, on average, four to five hundred haircuts over his or her lifetime. This statistic, which I have made up based on a meticulous set of wild guesses, is the explosive hidden reason why modern urbanites are always wrecked. People whose nerves are already so frayed that they can barely sleep and breathe at the same time, are hardly likely to relish making four to five hundred extra decisions in their life.
This is why newspapers and magazines spend so much time advising us on what to do with our hair depending on whether our face is oval (perfect, anything will look fab), long (cut off one or the other end, Horsey, preferably with a saw, but at least with bangs), round (hairy brackets for you, Plain Jane), or square (go and kill yourself at once). Sadly, however, the advice is often contradictory and therefore more confusing than helpful.
You might say: forget the salon and the appointments and the annoying barber chitchat—just let your hair grow as it will. Somebody calculated that if you were to forgo professional haircuts your whole life, the money you’d save could buy you a nice car instead. Although, since hair grows at the rate of about half an inch a month, you’d then also have to buy a great big shower cap in which to stuff your twenty-five or thirty feet of hair so that you could see out of the windscreen. (This is an example of what we call ‘hidden costs’.) A laissez-faire policy would be wonderful if only the world were not so cruelly biased in favour of people with sharp hair cuts.
Still, for a great many years, I did just let it be. After a childhood spent at the mercy of my mother, who maintained on me what they called the Cleopatra cut—bangs along my eyebrows and a severe horizontal cutoff around my head at chin level—in my teens I took control and let my hair grow out, though I kept the bangs because my mother had taken a violent dislike to them. I trimmed them with my Swiss army knife, sometimes with the aid of a mirror, whenever they began to get in the way of my eating.
By high school she’d given up, and limply acquiesced whenever, once every year or two, I handed her a pair of scissors and asked her to snip a half-inch off the end in a straight line; if I was feeling reckless and wild, I’d commission a shallow ‘U’. Eventually I tired of even the bangs and lapsed into pure disinterest, wherein everything was allowed to grow out from my head at will, as long as I didn’t have to think about it.
My last trim was in August, during a week-long, bath-free rafting expedition on the Zanskar river which had made an unholy mess of my hair. One afternoon on the river bank, I handed my Leatherman to a friend who, greatly exceeding his brief, lifted whole hanks of my hair and, with six or seven murderous motions, created what he called 'Italian steps'. In the absence of a mirror, I viewed the results in a videocam clip of my back. They seemed fine. According to what everyone assured me was tradition, I gathered the shorn locks, spat on them, and flung them into the water.
Hair, in case you missed this, has simply not been in my repertoire of self-expression. I’ve had a grand total of five professional haircuts in the last fifteen years, and the world hasn’t stopped turning. But now, suddenly, I’m bored absolutely to tears. It’s a brave new year; I feel a dramatic new cut coming on. Maybe a really deep ‘U’.