Varnon Drane, more than any of his siblings, broke new ground when seeking a way to make a living. As a child he had always watched with fascination as his mother cut the hair of various members of the family. Eventually he took over the role and soon reached such a level of competence that the children of neighbours would come to him rather than let their own mother loose near them with scissors.
Now the cutting of hair is one of those areas where the deeper one looks into it, the more interesting it becomes. Across the city it is normal for a man to have his hair cut by his wife or his mother. I’ve heard many wives comment that it would be ridiculous to spend good money getting a man’s hair cut. Children get their hair cut by their mothers. Again, thrift wins out over artistry. But where, I ask, do the ladies get their hair cut?
For the wealthy there is no argument. A lady will have her hair cut and styled by her maid. It is one of the basic skills that every lady’s maid will have; but what about other women, those who do not employ maids?
Well this is a vexed subject. Some will have a friend who was in service and she will cut their hair, but by and large those ladies with the skill will tend to charge a fee, if only to ensure they are not deluged with requests. Thus when Varnon Drane decided he would start cutting hair professionally, he faced an uphill struggle.
Still he persevered. He gave the matter a lot of thought and managed to rent a one-roomed shop in Tucker’s Draw, next to the cake shop. He would serve an infusion for anybody waiting and arranged with the cake shop that they would come round regularly with a tray of cakes for customers to eat, free and gratis.
Obviously the price of the cake was added to the cost of a haircut and everybody realised this, but it was a nice gesture. A clever one as well, because the proprietor of the cake shop, Molli Bweadle, used to get her hair cut by Varnon and recommended him wholeheartedly to friends and customers.
Matters proceeded well enough, he build up a fair clientele and made a reasonable living. It has to be said that during the course of his work he was listened to gossip that would have turned a lesser man’s hair grey. He learned things which, quite frankly, he could have done without knowing.
There were also the sources of subsidiary income. Obviously he was careful when he swept up the cut hair, some went to wig makers, and the rest fetched a reasonable price from upholsterers. Apparently human hair was the perfect material when it came to stuff a Chaise Lounge.
Strangely enough Varnon owed his success to the Widow Handwill. She had several daughters which meant that in due course there were a number of weddings to arrange. Now you know what it’s like with weddings, the ladies split into two camps; those who work together to create a harmonious effect and those who damn the hindermost and go out to steal the show single-handedly. With the widow there was no nonsense. When her eldest daughter got married, the widow arranged that her friends and supporters would all wear garments in a similar style and colour, so that the bride would stand out. This is a common enough practice. Where the widow took it one step further was by having all the ladies get their hair cut in a similar style. In her case it wasn’t very difficult; all those invited would have a maid who was perfectly capable of doing their mistress’s hair. So it was merely a case of selecting a style all felt was suitably fetching. The widow was wise. She picked two styles, longer and flowing for the unmarried ladies, and shorter and neater for the married ladies. Of course the bride wore her hair up which further distinguished her from her supporters.
Strangely enough, the Widow Handwill’s idea ‘took off’. It was a sensation in certain circles and they were the circles that mattered. Over the next year or so, every society wedding featured the ladies with a common haircut. I wondered at the time whether this custom had taken off because it was so easy to arrange, one just had to gather the lady’s maids together and show them what you wanted and they’d go home and do it.
Yet, as always, this fashion filtered down within society, to the stratum who didn’t have lady’s maids, but did have access to Varnon Drane. By now Varnon had taken on a couple of assistants but even so he was not prepared for the sudden surge of work. Remember we are not merely dealing with a bride, her mother and a couple of friends. Many perfectly ordinary weddings would see a dozen young women in the bridal party.
Too add to the difficulties, a lot of weddings would fall on the same day. Obviously you can get married on any day, but the augurs of the Temple of Aea in her aspect of Fidelity would publish a list of days considered auspicious for weddings. These lists were published at least two years ahead, and brides and their mothers would study them anxiously. After all who would wish to marry on an inauspicious day?
Hence on any given auspicious day there could be anywhere up to a dozen bridal parties jostling for position in the Varnon Drane salon. This was hair cutting on an almost industrial scale.
After some thought Varnon decided that he had to put his foot down. He fixed the number of ladies who could pass through his salon and demanded that those who wished to be seen on a certain date would book that date in advance. Within weeks his diary was filled up for two years ahead. Once a date was in his diary he regarded it as an immutable contract, and the lady in question had to pay half the cost of her hair cut in advance, purely as a deposit. But of course ladies would try and jump the queue. There are many reasons why a young lady would not wish to wait two years to get married. Varnon was importuned with tears, with pleading, some even offered cash or hinted at the erotic delights that might await for him should he accede to their request.
Varnon remained obdurate. As a hairdresser he knew his clients too well to be swayed by their promises.
It strikes me that, given the queues at hairdressers nowadays, you might want something to read. What better than
as one reviewer wisely said, “I find there’s nothing better on a cold wet day, than to sit indoors, near a warm fire/radiator, with a hot coffee, some biscuits/cake and one of Jim Webster’s books. So that’s what I’ve done today, with this particular book.
I find the plots intriguing, the characters endearing (even the ‘bad/evil’ ones) and the storytelling style relaxing.
The various threads in the stories are always neatly tied up and the endings invariably satisfactory.”