‘I’m finally going to get my hair cut!’ I tell the Nearly-Beloved. He nods, nervously.

Many years ago, he failed to note my transformation from a particularly dramatic cut and colour. The ensuing Ice Age taught me to forewarn him of any impending visit so that he’s primed to compliment me on my return. However, one bonus of his rookie mistake is that he never asks me how much my hair cut costs, and is under the illusion that it’s only mildly more expensive than his.

Since covid, he’s taken to home-barbering, which covers the cost nicely when my hair salon puts up its post-lockdown prices to include PPE. You see, I have a more sophisticated approach to personal-grooming than the Nearly-Beloved and I’m hoping that, post-lockdown, things won’t be too different.

I’m greeted by Marco, my just-the-appropriate-amount-of-flirtatious stylist, who beams broadly from beneath his visor, before taking my temperature and handing me a fancy face-mask. Deftly disguising his horror at the sight of the wild, grey Brillo pad, masquerading as hair, he launches into a muffled pre-cut discussion.

‘I’ll trim the length and get rid of the weight, si? But the fringe…’ His eyes look sad as he surveys the Nearly-Beloved’s quarantine butcher’s job. ‘Well, mio Dio, I will do my best… As for the colours, I thought warm toffee and butter for my bellissima senora. Bene?’

So, he hunts down those persistent grey hairs and wraps my head expertly in foils, whilst simultaneously bringing me up-to-date with the world around me. For hairdressers are the salon equivalent of black cabbies and are surely better than any government poll for gauging the state of the nation. He tells me of clients who are covid-deniers, and clients who’ve lost loved ones to the virus. There are those who’ve happily bent the rules and those who’ve only ventured out because the state of their hair is starting to affect the state of their mind. But the vast majority, it seems, are simply covid-weary.

‘We need beauty in our lives,’ he sighs leading me to the wash basin. ‘We need culture – cinema, theatre, music, ballet, opera. These things are important. They make life magical.’ Behind my mask I nod agreement, not feeling any water on my head yet. Seconds later I wince as my scalp is alternately near-scalded, then frozen. But once a luke-warm flow is established, Marco brings his own magic to my life with a head massage that banishes all Corona concerns.

Once towelled and combed, Marco demonstrates his craftsmanship on me, his master-piece. He snips in and out, stands back to survey his work, then reaches for a different pair of scissors to create ‘texture’. Next, onto the blow-drying – an art in itself, involving several brushes and just the right amount of ‘product’. As the final wisp of hair is gelled and hair-sprayed into submission, Marco lets out a sigh of satisfaction.

‘Bellissima. You like?’

And, of course I do. It feels like five months of weight has fallen from my shoulders. I’m no longer a zombie extra on The Walking Dead. Who would’ve thought that a haircut could do so much to transform my mood? And yes, covid has changed the experience. Masks aside, there have been no magazines to sit and leaf through and the cappuccino is now served in a paper cup. Instead of a complementary biscuit I’m now offered a complementary squirt of hand sanitiser. But it’s been worth it.

I brace myself to hear the final cost, whispered like a caress under Marco’s breath – as if not hearing the price out-loud somehow makes it less expensive. Then, finally, I’m home – three hours after I left the Nearly-Beloved.

‘I’m back,’ I say.

The Nearly-Beloved looks bewildered, as if something important has slipped his mind.

‘From the hairdresser’s.’

Realisation dawns, followed by a look of sheer panic.

‘You look beautiful – as always.’

I glare at him. He knows more is expected but struggles for words.

‘The style is …?’

I help him out – ‘choppier, younger, more fun.’

‘And the colour is … errr…?

‘Think caramels and clotted cream.’

I can see his brain going into overdrive until he focuses on something he can actually make sense of.

‘Well, not bad for a tenner, I suppose.’

I nod and smile. Despite these Corona times, some things never change…