Craving Touch


My mother used to love brushing my hair. I remember my first hairbrush too – it was white, shell shaped and had gentle ridges in it. The bristles were soft and white. I can still remember the feel of it in my little hand as I sat in my pram in the garden, going back and forth over the bristles, watching the steps up to the house. Watching for her probably.

Yes, I have extraordinarily early memories…

As I grew, the hair brushing became our ritual of soothing and connection. It drew stories out of me that I may not have otherwise told her. I loved it. Craved it if I was sick or miserable (better than any drug!) and of course I was irritated if she even suggested it when I was a teenager! So I’d avoid it, still wanting it… occasionally “giving in” to please her… (ha! who was I kidding, no-one, especially not her – the queen of insight!)

She never stopped brushing my hair. Isn’t that lovely? Even through my twenties and thirties. And as she aged and became ill with vascular dementia, that cruel, thief of a disease, I would brush hers. She would practically purr, and come back to me. So moving – instantly and profoundly powerful.

I thought these thoughts as I sat having my hair done today by my hairdresser. The first visit in over 6 months. I’m not really one for hairdressing, so apart from missing the chats COVID didn’t really put me out in that particular regard. I dislike the ubiquitous (anti) women’s magazines, the assault of chemical smells, the noise of people straining to be heard over dryers, and the intermittent wifi… arghhhh!!

But today was different.

I think we’ve all experienced a heightening of the senses during lockdown. We’ve become a little institutionalised too. And we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be touched by people other than our partners or kids – if we have them.

We have been sensorially starved.

Today I experienced the smells as stronger – even through my mask. I noticed I felt more curious than irritated. The nice smells were even nicer than I remembered, the sound of my hairdresser’s voice and laugh more musical. And WOW yes, her eyes sparkle from above that damn mask! I’d forgotten how interesting those tattoos were, and their origins, the clink of the bracelets … I smiled at the familiarity. Yes. The chair, the feel of the armrest, more comfy than I recalled. I swivelled around for a while, enjoying the movement.

Good to be back, just good to be “out”. To hear chatter in a place I had taken for granted. The instant feel of relaxation and peace as she moved her fingers through my dishevelled mop which a friend recently likened to a fishing net, the dote…

I am all of my ages, they are stacking in to a comfy pile of warm memories.

My hair – honest to GOD! Ok…well.. maybe not…

“What will we do with it today” she asked? Ah sure I could hardly talk… I just wanted her to keep playing with it really – “whatever you want” I heard myself say. Dangerous words in a hairdresser’s salon… I suddenly remembered to ask her to keep the length. She laughed knowingly, as if she’d dare cut my hair…LOL

The comfort of knowing she knew…

Do hairdressers realise the service they provide? I’ve often wondered this aloud with them. Listening for hours on end to our disclosures, our hopes, disappointments, Netflix recommendations… Remember the outcry when we couldn’t get our hair done during lockdown?

Was that really just about our hair??

Now more than ever I think these professionals deserve supervision and support – like the ‘rest’ of us who are in helping professions. They are not only skilled artists, they are skilled listeners, and skilled communicators. They provide respite, contact and comfort. Their work is two-tiered, the second one goes unmentioned, unacknowledged. But oh, so valued – even if it’s unconsciously.

I’m thinking all of this as she works methodically, transforming the mop on my head. I’ve one eye on this laptop watching a video of simulated session as part of a training I’m doing. My other eye is on her. And I see so clearly how our skills crossover.

(That said, it’s really best that you don’t ever ask me to trim your fringe…)

I’m gently nudged out of my reverie to go over to the sink for the wash… ah the wash… my favourite part. Better than chocolate – cheese even!

This is one of only two free images of Gubbeen cheese I could find! #nom

The pure gorgeousness of having someone wash your hair, massaging your scalp to blissed out looseness. It might fall off, I don’t care. Who needs a scalp?! I could live here… Do they do mini weights with their fingers? How does someone do this all day? The lovely smells again, the warm water, never too hot or cold, because care is taken. Safe hands. I’m 8 or 9 years old again, and my hair is being brushed. We’re back in front of the mirror, masked. But I can see she’s smiling a proud smile, even through her mask. We’re swapping lists of things to watch in Netflix and my laptop stays packed away. She’s admiring her work – deservedly so. No more unruly fishing net. Just sleek shiny waves – how DOES she do that??!!

She does a final run through with her fingers, tilting her head, checking. So skilled. She’s satisfied. I’m soothed and calm. Would I like some spray? No, I don’t take the spray. I want the wind to mess it up a bit plus I’m heading to the beach so no point really! It’s worked wonders as always, and I don’t care about my assignment any more. It’s time to go back out into the world. I nearly forget to pay because it doesn’t feel like we’ve just conducted business, but of course we have. I’m reminded of therapy again. The intimacy of it, and the boundary. And that’s perfectly OK. I receive and return a warm goodbye. Next treat in 6 weeks.

I hope I appreciate it as much then too. Pretty sure I will.

And yes – I got to the beach!!