'Doing anything exciting this weekend?'
'Have you got anything exciting planned for the holidays?'
I hate hairdressing salons. I hate the perky questions distorted by the water sluicing my ears. I hate the magazines that are lobbed into my lap with 101 cures for cellulite and the tales of mother-in-laws' kinky relations with household appliances. I hate the black overalls that advertise the white dust blizzarding from my scalp. And I hate being confronted with my own decomposing reflection in a spotlit mirror.
Give me a dental surgery over a pamper parlour any day. Dentists don't expect you to make small talk while they're drilling a molar. There are no mirrors in dentists' lairs. And my dentist has earned my grateful allegiance: he told me that I have very high-quality saliva.
Twice a year, though, I slide shaggily into a faux leather chair in our local hair emporium. Twice a year I am asked what I want and reply that I don't know. Twice a year there is a silence as we contemplate my drooping yellow tresses. And twice a year I envisage, briefly, a glorious resurrection before the wall photos of frightening-looking women with virulent explosions of hair unnerve me and I ask defeatedly for a trim.
For the last half decade I've been anticipating my Second Flowering. I'm not sure what form it will take, but I imagine myself rising phoenix-like from my corduroy fetters and mesmerising the check-out queues at Asda. Hairdressing salons, however, make me realise how remote this miracle remains. They remind me that my evening plans invariably involve my tartan sofa rug; that my weekends are spent wrestling slime from the kitchen drain and paddling through manure puddles while my daughter learns to ride, and that the holidays are when I catch up with my mother.
Today, the stylist brings out a razor and begins shaving my neck. This is a symptom of maturity that I had not predicted. While the hairs of my head are clogging my bathroom plugholes, my neck is growing its own winter pelt.
I can see small talk bubbling up in him as he readies his blades. Briefly, wildly an impulse seizes me. Clubbing, tonight, I shall tell him, in my silver cobweb sheath dress. A weekend balloon trip with a posse of male models and the Easter break in a shark tank in Dubai.
'So, doing anything exciting this evening?' he mumbles through a mouthful of hair clamps.
I glance down at a magazine strapline about what someone's ex did with the family gerbil. I lack the energy and inclination to compete with real life. My Second Flowering will have to be indefinitely postponed.
'No,' I reply. And we lapse back into our usual silence.