This provence blog post was first published in the Riviera Reporter
Normally I have my hair cut by a pompier. My wife says you can pretty much tell by the end result. By this she means it’s evident that I have been attacked by someone more used to cutting people out of crashed cars with industrial machinery, than ensuring an even fringe. I’m not a demanding client and quite appreciate that as a volunteer pompier my hairdresser often has other things on her mind, so I keep going back.
A week ago my regular flymo was scheduled for the same time as a guest appearance from a touring Beaulieu-sur-Mer stylist. As usual the tiny hairdressers was full. It was 9.45 am, the moment of the blow dry for the shopkeepers of the village. One by one they traipsed in, flicking through magazines, impatiently looking at their mobiles, in short letting everyone know that for once in Provence, time was money. The visiting stylist might be from the Riviera, but he was also late. Graciously I ceded my place in the queue to three hard-pressed hard-nosed shopkeepers who barely acknowledged my act of kindness.
Hence I was the only one still waiting when Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s finest arrived. And what an entrance. A chair came spinning through the door first, an enormous reclining leather contraption, with straps, armrests and headrests springing out at unusual angles. Next the entourage, for Serge (as we will call him to protect his identity) did not travel alone. Instead he had three young, very pretty female acolytes to carry his bags, personal effects, and collection of miracle hair cures. Then there was Serge’s pet, a miniature pig. With a squeal and caper, the animal cantered in on his diamond studded lead, nosing up to the salon’s moggy cat. On the other end of lead was first, a cloud of overpowering aftershave, and then Serge, skin-tight white jeans, all year tan, big jewels and air kisses.
‘Mes amis’ he announced in a camp voice to the assembled ladies and me, ‘who is first?’
The summer season had just begun in the village. Streets which had been empty all winter were beginning to flow with a constant stream of tourists. Expensive cars purred passed on the road outside. The shopkeepers could smell money in the air, and even a chance to sample Serge’s 3-month-straight hair serum, wasn’t going to keep them any longer in the salon. Instead there was me, the sacrificial lamb, presented to this god of hairdressing to do with as he pleased.
Serge looked me up and down, noting the Gap jeans, soiled from work in the garden, and my old, frayed-at-the-collar shirt, dating from the previous decade when I used to work as a lawyer in London. He’d been told that our village was the St Tropez of inland Provence, a land of plenty, where an enterprising stylist could make a fortune in a day. The pig squealed in sympathy, and for a moment I thought Serge and entourage, were about to turn on their heels.
‘Your first proper appointment is not for 10 minutes,’ lied the pompier, ‘but Jamie’s keen to see what you can do.’ She gave me an imploring look and I nodded.
Serge gestured to the seat, and it began.
‘A head massage, sir?’ said acolyte number 1.
‘Nails sir?’ said number 2.
‘Why not.’ I agreed as I was simultaneously buffed and shiatsued. This part I have to admit was heavenly.
Number 3 then did the hair washing, before number 1 took over for the cut, a very neat efficient little trim. Serge meanwhile stood outside the salon, smoking a cigarette and talking on his mobile. I assumed I was beneath him. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead he was taking an artistic pause and working himself up for the big moment – the blow dry.
Now Serge does a very special kind of blow-drying. He doesn’t believe in chairs. Instead his clients assume a position on all fours, whilst Serge leaps around them with an industrial strength blower, shouting a series of climatic, and finally orgasmic, self-congratulating phrases: ‘Mais oui, it so beautiful, yes, yes, oh yes.’
And so there I was, squat on the floor with the firm hands of Serge pushing my face increasingly closer to the slavering nose of a miniature pig. Meanwhile the three ever-attentive, short-skirted, long-legged acolytes, took up prostrate positions on either side of me, to study Serge at work. People somewhere, I reflected, surely paid good money for this type of perversion. After ten minutes, of preening, petting and blowing it was over. The pig licked my face, Serge climaxed, the acolytes quivered with appreciation and I made an instant resolution to stick to women in uniforms.
A decision reinforced moments later by the bill.
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