Spanish Water Dog

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 19 July 2014

It felt like we were in Rome. The heat of the sun, 'people watching' from our little table. The Italian café served up a perfect creamy latté and a strong Americano for Gods Gift.

Maximus, a Spanish Water dog, settled down next to me. His soft, curly coat brushing against my bare legs. His fur was like my mothers hair, all soft and curly.

I was born with more hair than a Caribbean Weave shop. I was very dark, very round with a copious barnet. As a child, running wild in Aldgate, then Borehamwood, the locals nicknamed me the Wild Woman of Borneo.

Aged five my older brother wanted to help my mother out so he sat me in a chair, and using a pair of pinking shears cut off all my curls. That night my mother screamed as clumps of hair fell around her feet, all those luscious baby curls gone for ever.

It grew back quickly, still does after a cut. I was the fifties child with a fringe and a bob. There's a photograph of me, seriously concentrating as I played my castanets in the school orchestra. Downturned mouth, skin as dark as a nut, my hair shiny and neat.

Sophie Tucker the Russian-born American singer, comedian, actress, and radio personality looked like my Bubba Sophie. Or more accurately my Bubba Sophie looked like Sophie Tucker. Her Marcel waved head of blonde hair adorned her open face. It came as a shock to find out that my Russian born grandmother, dark and swarthy from Tomsk, Minsk, or Omsk - she never knew her place of birth - was not naturally fair but a bottle blonde.

It shocked my puritan world. There was no place for peroxide or nail varnish. Only lazy floozies with nothing better to do would paint their nails or bleach their hair platinum. I've since learnt that painted nails and dyed hair do not prevent a hard day at the coal face.

My Auntie Esther had curly hair. The tight curls of Middle Eastern tribes. My mother had curly hair but her curls were bigger and softer. Freda, Dinah, and Maisie, on my father's side, had lush dark, straight hair. It looked thick, but like mine, was fine only there was a great deal of it. Auntie Freda wore hers scraped back into a long pony tail, her lips painted red, she looked like a Flamenco dancer. Dinah and Maisie both wore their hair in an Anne Bancroft kinda way. Coiffed and lacquered.

My mother boasted her hair was natural, she had never had it permed. Sandra used to come round and for a couple of quid she would trim it every 6 weeks. My father would not allow my mother loose in a salon. She was his Cinderella who never went to the ball.

When I found the brush and bottle of dark dye in the bathroom, next to his eau de cologne, I realised that my heavy weight father was in fact going grey. When he finally died, aged 83, his hair was silver. Only he never saw it. He titivated until his death.

I modelled for Vidal Sassoon back in the 60's, my shiny Jewish hair cut into a geometric five point. Mary Quant did us all a favour. I was chosen as the brunette in a campaign for a woman's magazine. A blonde, red head and myself turned up at Lord Litchfield's swanky house in Holland Park, or maybe it was Notting Hill Gate, we didn't have post codes then, to have our photographs taken holding a plastic hairbrush - the free giveaway. I looked dreadful having had a bust up with my boyfriend the night before. I turned up looking like a sponge cake, Patrick had to take pictures of the back of my head.

One of my fathers jobs was as manager of a chain of fabric shops. He took me to Dunstable, up the new M1 in his Ford Prefect, then got rid of me for a couple of hours in the next door hair salon. Whilst I was having a shampoo and set, he was blow drying the assistant manageress in the stock room. I had a backcombed abomination, the Helen Shapiro look. I was the lacquered decoy for my fathers fringe benefits. Arriving home I went straight up to the bathroom, put the plastic shower attachment onto the bath taps. My fathers secret went swirling down the plughole along with my diluted vinegar conditioner. My hair, like my father, was squeaky clean.

Back in the 70's I used to go to a Japanese hairdressers in Parkway, Camden Town. They spoke no English and apart from 'Sayonara' and 'Pass me the Warishita' I had no Japanese. She would work in silence, using tiny little scissors until my hair was as short as Soba noodles.

Then there was the fancy hairdresser in Mayfair. Full of celebs and women who had more money than sense. We each had our own 'Junior' who washed and dried and swept up the loose ends. They lived on low wages and our tips. The television company generously paid for it.

Being on the telly box regularly meant that I had to keep my hair fit for purpose. 'Harrods' had a long hair clinic. Up the escalator to the fifth floor. I had a special treatment so that my hair was ridiculously shiny. I turned heads. When I found out the conditioner was made with whale blubber I stopped going. My shiny luscious locks were part of my image, although thirty years ago I had no idea quite how lustrous my hair was. After my first serious interview with a female politician she called me over. I thought she was going to compliment me on my incisive interview, instead she looked at me, all serious and intense and asked me how did I get my hair so shiny.

I've had permed hair, dyed hair, short hair and long. The photographs of me and my perm, taken at The Tower of London, and you could swear I was Noele Gordon from 'Crossroads'. When money is tight I have my hair cut really short, when I started at 'Good Food Live', they asked me to grow it, so that I looked less like a geography teacher.

Like my father I have the grey painted out in a salon in Brighton. I have it cut in Archer Street in London. The Street where all the jazz musicians of the 40's would meet and mingle to try and get work.

27 years ago when the dawter was born, she arrived with a mop of hair like me. Delicious silky, thick black hair. But she has the curls of her father and my mother. She is as like my mother as the Spanish Water dog. Hair today and gone tomorrow....

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes

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