Sunday 18 October 2009

Curlers talk.... costs lives

I'm going to visit Aunty Ivy soon in Wales. She's in her eighties now, still lives in the same council house she's lived in since she was married and you know what? If I get there before midday, I bet she'll be in her curlers.

She used to tie a nice flowery satin head scarf over them if she popped down the road to the shops in her housecoat and slippers for a pack of Capstan or whatever she's smoking these days.

It makes me feel a bit guilty actually. I don't smoke and I don't use curlers. I don't even have a housecoat.

I'm failing in my duty to keep alive these proud family traditions; traditions which were alive long before Hilda Ogden was even a twinkle in a scriptwriter's eye.

I'm at that age where, by rights, I should have been in curlers for at least a decade and in nylon housecoats for five years.

All my aunties used to wear curlers – overnight and definitely for the morning. They smelled of setting lotion. Some of my aunties used to enjoy going out on the town, ballroom dancing, so the hair was an important part of going out.

My life is infinitely more boring then theirs. I work and cycle and DT man is not cut out for tripping the light fantastic so there is no call for glamorous high-maintenance evening hairstyles.

Mumsie was of the old school – although perhaps with the advent of Strictly Come Dancing it's a school that has built itself a glitzy extension for the millions of extra enthusiasts – she was a ballroom dancer so there would be an early bath and hair wash and the rollers would be in from 4pm.

She kept them in an old Roses chocolates tin – yellow, pink and blue for different quantities of curly volume on different parts of the head. I used to do the back ones for her, marching down the head to the nape of her neck. It was a kind of privilege, bring allowed to help with mum's curlers; one of those peaceful, intimate little gestures that re-enforce the bond.

Come to think of it, I'm probably the first woman in my family not to use curlers. My favourite nan didn't go for curlers often – preferring an intricate system of metal hair clips and clamps like miniature man-traps to seize recalcitrant waves and force them into position. I have a hazy memory of using one to inflict minor bodily harm on my brother but I carry not guilt. Low-risk torture in the home is merely preparation for life and anyway, isn't that what big sisters are for? Nan's head was so heavy with metalwork that a half-decent magnet situated out in the back yard would have held her firmly against the wall. That and the metalwork in her substantial stays.

My posher nan did curlers too but she went in for perms and wash and sets for the big occasions like funerals or when her church choir did a gig in another church further up the valley.

Long, straight, unfeasibly shiny hair (yes the hair models in magazines have “shine” solution ironed on to it) still seems de rigeur these days. No-one much wants the shorter waves of the incomparable Sophia Loren, the soft longer style of Lauren Bacall or the ditzy blonde curls of Lucille Ball.

Except in Liverpool, that is. According to the Post earlier this year the trend which Aunty Ivy has been keeping alive for all these years is coming back big-time.

Girls are once again going out in their curlers.

“There’s no shame in going out into town shopping in rollers; in fact it’s almost a status thing. It announces the fact you’re going out that night and intend to have the biggest, most gorgeous hair possible,” said Andrea Daley, a stylist at Barbara Daley Hair and Beauty in Lime Street.

“Putting curlers in gives the hair body and bounce, rather than make it curly, and it will give your style longevity helping it last through the night.”

Maybe it's time for me to eschew the hair straighteners and do battle with the styling lotion and some big fat rollers.

Then I just need to get a housecoat. Cerise nylon, I think. With a big patch pocket full of pegs. Oh and probably a plastic rain bonnet – in case I get caught by a shower as I'm popping to the shops in my fluffy slippers.

I have a responsibility not to let these traditions die – besides, Aunty Ivy will be proud of me.