My first grey hair appeared in 1982, when I was 20 years old. It was my boyfriend Sean’s fault. I thought I loved him, he was tall, blonde, wore a scuffed-up leather jacket and had a motorbike. We worked for the same company in Birmingham and had made plans to leave and live in London where he’d been offered a new position; more money, better hours – it was an easy decision, for him.
We’d argued the week before, after dinner at his parents’ house. He was keen for me to move to London with him, but he didn’t want me to get a job. He wanted me to stay at home, sort the flat out, buy the food, cook the meals, get pregnant, be happy. He wanted me to be his Mum. I told him that I wanted to earn my own money and at 20, I really wasn’t ready to get pregnant. He rang Deborah, his previous girlfriend, and offered to take her instead.
He turned up the morning we were due to leave and left a note in my letterbox. I heard the motorbike outside and ran to the window. Deborah was riding pillion, leather trousers, matching jacket, her blonde hair peeking out from underneath her helmet. They roared off, down Harold Road, right onto Hagley Road heading towards London.
I turned from the window to look in the mirror and there it was. It must have been the shock. My first grey hair. Not hiding away at the back, or snuggled underneath it’s dark brown siblings, but long and straight and white and right at the front. Shit, I thought, I might as well have gone to London, I look just like his mother.
That was the start. It didn’t take long before that one grey hair was joined by many others. It’s as if it had gone on ahead, like a cuckoo, scouting for a new place for his family to live and found the perfect location, clean and warm, nice neighbours. Before I knew it, his family’s friends and friends of friends all turned up and took over. And it’s been a battle ever since.
I worked out that if I’d saved the amount of money I’ve spent on dying my hair over the past 30 years, I’d had enough to put down as a deposit on a small flat. And that got me thinking about finally…. letting them take over.
I come from a long line of Scottish women all with very dark brown, thick hair. My three girls all have long, dark brown, thick hair. It’s in our genes, it’s part of our identity. When I suggested going grey, and at that time I had no idea the effort this would take, my girls were against it.
You won’t look like us anymore, they said. We won’t look like a family. I’m not leaving you all, I thought. I can always go back to being dark if it looks awful… it’s only my hair…
From the minute I’d made my decision, all I saw, wherever I went, was women of all ages, with stunning white grey hair. 50 shades of grey had become a fashion statement, so much so that young women in their late teens, early 20’s were all reaching for the silver shampoo and they looked fantastic! Easy I thought, if they can do it….
I was told I couldn’t just go grey, after years of dying my hair, layers and layers of colour had to be stripped back first. This involved numerous trips to the hairdresser, 18 months’ worth, and after wearing various shades of light brown, orange brown, dark blonde, brassy blonde, a touch of purple, old grey and light grey – I finally became me…. witchy white. My hairdresser stayed strong throughout the process even when I wanted to give in and just go back to my dark-haired roots. It would have been quicker to have had my head shaved and start from scratch. I just didn’t fancy that.
So here I am, nearly grey all over. I’ve still got a few blonde bits left from the transformation process, but most of my hair is now my natural colour. How do I feel? Elated that I’m no longer a slave to L’Oreal, but also a little strange. I look in the mirror and see someone else, I see Sean’s mother, I see my mother, I see a grandmother. I look at photographs of me a couple of years ago with long dark hair, that’s who I am. But it’s not, that’s who I was. I thought I’d feel free, having wrenched off the shackles of constant hair attention, but I feel displaced, as if the DNA has been sucked out of each strand. My girls were right, we no longer look like the four dark haired Harrison women in photographs. There’s three of us at the front and an old white one at the back.
Perhaps I need a sharp, modern hair cut to make the white grey look more like me. Yes, perhaps I need to spend a bit more, enough to buy two flats, just to make myself feel better, younger, ‘worth it’…. or perhaps it’s me that needs to change. Embrace my new look. After all, for the first time in years I don’t need to worry about those tell tale white lies that used to appear at my centre parting. They say if you’re looking back, you’re looking in the wrong direction. My hair colour shouldn’t define my identity, what’s wrong with looking like a grandmother? That’s who I am. I’m going to stop looking behind me and keep looking straight ahead. Perhaps I’ll go out and buy a scuffed-up leather jacket, learn to ride a motorbike and let my white hair fly behind me in the wind.