Choosing a hairdresser can be a risky business. Obviously one doesn’t want to leave looking like a dog’s dinner, and charged a fortune to boot. Having your colour done can be a lengthy affair and you don’t want to feel trapped in the ninth circle of hell for the duration.
I made a mis-judged decision one morning to visit a budget blow-dry bar in the university area. After a seemingly interminable wait with only sub-standard reading material on offer, my head was finally in the basin when a great “Oh My Gawd” went up. My ‘hair technician’ left her post and a hurtled to the window with all the others to observe a rat ‘the size of a f**king terrier’ through the window. It was tucking in to the remnants of some animal carcass from an upturned bin, presumably relieved of its contents by a fox (or drunken student) the night before. There was a chorus of “That’s stinkin”, “I’m going to puke, so I am”, and “Oh mummy”, before my hair washing resumed. A carnavalesque atmosphere ensued, with much animated chatter and hilarity, bringing both staff and clients together. I think it was the highlight of their week. I got a decent enough blow-dry but I wouldn’t say it was the most edifying experience.
Since then, I’ve moved on, and my current establishment of choice is Riah on the Ormeau Road. Convenience initially played a part, as I avoided paying for city centre parking which was the case with my last hairdresser. But they have utterly won me over with their charming ways. The manager is a straight-talking gal, which is a quality never to be undervalued in a hairdresser. I briefly contemplated a shorter style, carried off with aplomb by a friend, and another of Nuala’s clients. That suggestion was booted into orbit swiftly. “You don’t have that type of face” was her immediate response. Then, as my greys started peaking through with more insistence I entertained the notion of just accepting it and going kind-of silver foxy. ‘No”, said Nuala. “How old are you again? 37? Catch yourself on.”
I absolutely love this honesty. A hair-dresser may well be an expert of their craft, but if they can’t tell what suits you it’s a waste of time all round. My mum has slightly rounded shoulders, (which she notices more than anyone else). Anyway, she used to visit a pricey joint in Bangor where she once got a cut which made her look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Jeez, were we glad when that grew out. I wanted to brain the fecker for what we had to listen to.
Back to Riah anyway, so there’s Nuala, who sports a voluminous russet bob; with her high bronzed cheek bones and brown liquid eyes she’s like Autumn personified. I may have a slight girl crush. Then there’s Emma, a gorgeous blonde whose gentle mannerisms belie great skill. She’s an award winning colourist and she can blow-dry my hair into submission in minutes. Her soothing tones have also calmed me on many an occasion. I love Will too- he’s in possession of the most incredible hands. If you’re ever feeling rubbish, get yourself down there, lie back and have him do wonderfully tingly things to your scalp while he washes your hair. I think he worried I’d gone and died on him once, so relaxed was I upon the chair. If I could afford it, I’d never blow-dry my own hair again.
But the BEST thing about these guys, is that they don’t talk to you constantly. I mean they will if you want, and be rightly up for the banter, but they don’t interrogate you about shite when you just want to get your head showered. There are few things grate on me more than a garrulous stylist. I’ve seen myself, head bent at an awkward angle in the sink, being badgered about nonsense and feeling I have to respond. Or worse still, over the noise of about 3 hairdryers. Maybe they feel they have to talk, but if you actually say, “I’ve a really sore throat”, or “If you don’t mind, I’m just very tired today” and they still witter on regardless, it’s time to find a new person to do your hair.
When I trot into Riah, they ask how I am and I complain a bit about my life, then they make sympathetic noises before handing me a latte and a Red magazine and I drift into a delightful reverie. If it’s a colour I’m after, I may even have a short nap, head forward like an old person, or a corpse. They always have a decent playlist, so there’s no local radio churning out crap to assault your ears, and the coffee’s good. These people are all gifted, because you don’t just leave with great hair, you leave with a sense of well-being. Which, with my inherent sourness, is no mean feat at all. I can’t think of a finer place to be coiffed.