I was head-back over the basin, being asked if I wanted some extra-shine conditioner applied because, to be honest, the ends were a bit dry.
As I agreed to the quick massage of conditioner, my memory shot back to an afternoon when I was in my early twenties and my boyfriend, a man several decades older than me, was stroking my hair, saying how he loved the way it was so shiny. At the time, I thought it was a strange compliment. Why would he comment on my shiny hair – wasn’t everyone’s hair shiny, if they gave it a wash? Now I realise that my gloss was something his female contemporaries, women in their early forties, would probably need to spend hours and plenty of cash on trying to recapture, while I blithely couldn’t have cared less.
As my shampooist wrapped a towel around my head, I tried to pinpoint when it was that I had, in many ways, become the person without the shiny hair – and though the condition of one’s hair is a small change, it is a vivid illustration of how time so often confounds one’s expectations of oneself.
This became a theme I found myself exploring in my latest book, The Parrots. The central characters, Katherine and Rick Tennison, are a privileged couple in their mid-forties, who’ve been married for over 20 years.
They have a teenage son, and many friends. Katherine has also learnt calligraphy, a skill that has allowed her to mix childcare and marriage in an undemanding way, and when we meet her, she is comfortably buried-in under the duvet of a largely untraumatic shared life. What happens when a number of younger, exotic characters enter the couple’s world is, in part, about what happens when any of us lean over the edge of our acceptable parameters.