Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fads and Woman's Hour

On Saturday night we were invited for dinner with some friends. As we sat down, I noticed something different about our host’s appearance. Had he lost weight? Did he have new spectacles? 

Then I twigged. There was something strange about his hair.
His normally well-groomed scalp was looking like mine did at primary school – before I discovered conditioner, gel and girls. It wasn’t that his hair was wavy, or curly, it was just rather awkward, as if each strand of hair was doing its own thing. It gave him a frantic, absent-minded look. 

Obviously I didn’t mention it. I mean, you don’t, do you? If that morning he had simply forgotten to add whatever wax, clay, or other expensive product his hairdresser had sold him, and I’d drawn it to his attention, he’d have been embarrassed. So I kept quiet. But soon enough he brought up the subject himself. 

We were discussing the BBC and he said his favourite radio programme was Woman’s Hour. Now I happen to be a bit of a closet Jenni Murray fan too. Sure, I might turn the volume down when she gets onto “what is the normal length of the clitoris?” or “I watched my partner’s vasectomy”, but I generally enjoy its broad range of topics. 

This week I heard Michel Roux cooking perfect ratatouille in the same programme as a woman revealing the problems of empty nest syndrome for single parents and someone else who’d worked out how to stop our university students from becoming laddish yobs. Woman’s Hour is the ultimate guide to living in Middle England. That’s when my friend mentioned his hair. 

“Thanks to Woman’s Hour, I haven’t used shampoo for months,” he said. I looked at the result. There was nothing to say, really. “It’s all based on science,” he said, as if sensing my scepticism. Apparently he’d heard some expert saying that you should stop using shampoo, which is bad for you, and instead just use water. So he obeyed. I wondered how many Radio Four listeners had succumbed, and if their hair was now as wild as his. 

“For the first month or so it’s really horrible,” he said. “Your scalp flakes all over your jacket.” 

His wife nodded – she had the dry cleaning bills to prove it. Jo fired a scowl in my direction: there’s no way you’re doing this, it said. I lowered my eyes to check for signs of dandruff in my lasagne. 

It’s called “no-poo” apparently, which you might think is a modish cure for incontinence, but it is the latest hair thing. Shampoo removes the scalp’s natural oils, so the body produces more to compensate, which turns into a vicious cycle and a multi-billion pound hair care industry that my friend has just opted out of. 

Some years ago we had an intern in our office with a long black mane that he claimed was “self-cleaning”. It was like a greased wig. He said he hadn’t washed it since he first went to university some four years before. We quite believed him: it explained the stink of Gauloises and stale beer. When it all got too much to take, we gave him a desk on his own in the corridor. 

Eventually he acquired a girlfriend, who, on his birthday, gave him a giant pack of Head & Shoulders and an ultimatum. It was quite a transformation. 

But on Saturday my friend was adamant: thanks to Woman’s Hour, he was now using only water and already he was converted. He’d even bought a book on how to do it, called “Happy Hair, the definitive guide to giving up shampoo.” 

It’s extraordinary how people can make money out of this sort of nonsense. Amazon tells me that “people who bought this book also bought ‘Cure Tooth Decay (Heal Cavities with Nutrition)’ and ‘Coconut Cures: preventing and treating common health problems with coconut’. 

So I’ve embarked on a new career. I’ve given up television to become a fad-creator. My first book is called ‘How to stay alive by breathing less.’ 

I’m sure it’ll be a best-seller – if only I can get Jenni Murray to publicise it.

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