Graeme Le Saux was on Match Of The Day last night: I am getting my hair cut this morning. The two are connected historically, if not in the present instance, since the morning's cut is induced by my impending emigration. My Spanish is still essentially vestigial: there is no phrase I use as much as no hablo mucho espanol, unless it be Los gatos son mejores que los perros. This being so, I felt it wise to put off as long as possible my first visit to la peluqueria, as any instructions I give as to my cut are likely to be misspoken, misunderstood and end in a misshapen haircut. (Huesca is full of hairdressers, almost giving the impression that it is devoted to them in the way that Charing Cross Road is devoted to booksellers, or Harley Street to expensive quacks. They have good hair, the Spanish: the English, apparently, do not, in keeping with our bad teeth, bad hygiene, bad weather and bad food.)
I have what is called, in England anyway, a French crop: it is apparently not called that in Spain, at least according to the Spaniards who were having their hair cut last time I had mine done, and told me that I would have to describe the cut I wanted. List its characteristics and specificationns, rather than simply saying the magic words and choosing between a number two and number three. I am fearful of the result. I may have to give myself a good few weeks to summon up the courage to have it done, and even then I may take a photograph and an interpreter.
The French crop, though, comes from Graeme Le Saux (appropriately enough, since Le Saux comes from Jersey). I have had it like that for seven years now, after having it cut, not long after I changed my name, and with a similar motive - to change myself out of all recognition in an attempt to wrench myself out of a personal crisis that nearly killed me. Be someone else, I thought: a different name, different appearance. I even thought of emigrating, at the time, though in truth I could no more have summoned the energy to leave the country than I could have played the St Matthew Passion on the comb and paper.
The difference was stark. Stark enough for people at work to fail to recognise me - though, alas, I still recognised myself. But the model for the cut was Graeme Le Saux. I liked his cut: it was different to mine, different to me. So I went into a hairdresser's in Thame, where I then lived, and asked for a cut like his.
It was a drastic cut But not the most drastic I have had. For five years, in my later teens, I never had it cut at all, growing it as far as it would grow until it was a forest of split ends. I can barely recognise myself in old photographs - which matters rarely as I am not sufficiently fond of my past often to look at them. Five years, and more. Until, during the first term of my second year at college, I became offended by the presence, in the student common room, of termcards belonging to Vincent's, a club for Blues, i.e. those who had represented the University at spor. (Or rugby union). For men, that is, who had represented the University, in the evenings at any rate, since the termcards bore the phrase that particularly offended me:
I looked at the termcards, full of snobbery and arrogance, and I decided that they had to die. A tiny gesture, meaningless, more part of Oxford, when you think about it, than rejection of it, the futile dissenter being as much a component of the institution and its mythology as rowing, subfusc and Latin at its graduation ceremonies. Nevertheless, they had to die. I piled them on top of an ashtray which, in turn, was sat upon a coffee table, and being a non-smoker, asked around for a lighter. A friend of mine passed me his Zippo: I held it horizontally, so that the flame would catch the lowest of the cards and pass from there into the others. I clicked, and nothing happened. Clicked again, and again, nothing happened.
Women will not be admitted after seven pm.
I probably should not have held the lighter horizontally: it's not designed to operate like that. But not being a smoker, ever - to this day, I have never had a legal cigarette - I wasn't used to lighters of any sort, let alone this powerful Zippo, which I had seen resemble a flamethrower when used by someone else, but which now refused to emit as much as a single spark. Holding it horizontally was my first inexperienced mistake. My second, rather greater, was leaning over it to see what I was doing wrong. At which point, everything went right, at least from the point of view of getting the desired flame. It was bright, and hot, and long: long enough to catch my hair, my hair of five years' length, which was draped over the table and cards as if it were intended to act as kindling. It ignited my hair in the manner popularised by Michael Jackson.
My hair lit up, though despite being the person closest to the flame I was the worst placed to see it. But I could feel it. I was told, after the event, that it went up in a fashion spontaneous and spectacular. I could imagine, as I'd seen it done before, on a coach trip to a CND march several years before, on which one of my friends non-violently set alight the hair of another. He beat it out so quickly, it was barely singed.
Having seen it happen probably saved my hair at least, and maybe more besides, as I simply battered my head with my hands until I was sure the fire was out. Little damage was done, and hairs with split ends might as well be singed a little anyway for all the difference that it makes. But after that, I decided that it was a sign from God to get my hair cut, and I did: a halfway house between the length that it was previously, down to the small of my back, and the French crop that I got fifteen years later, and which I will still have, later on today.
French crop. I didn't know, when I went to the hairdresser's, what it was actually called: in my naivete I assumed that if you named somebody famous, the hairdresser, who presumably did nothing else than read OK! magazine and talk about the hairstyles of the rich and famous, would instantly recognise both name and cut. Graeme Le Saux was famous then - he played his last game for England in the very year I chose him as the model for my makeover. But not, as it happened, famous enough. Or not in Thame, at any rate. The hairdresser had no idea who I was talking about and there was not a copy of OK! around to help us out. Except that the bloke in the adjacent chair not only knew the player, but his cut - "Graeme Le Saux - French crop", as I might have said "Graeme Le Saux - Chelsea and England". French crop it was. But I do not know what it is in Spanish.
(subsequent note: it is called un parisien)