Neither Here Nor Hair

Neither Here Nor Hair

“And I’ll see your true colours
Shining through
I see your true colours
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let it show
Your true colours
True colours are beautiful
Like a rainbow”


The evening before I started my chemo treatment my Soulmate and I were chatting about what lay ahead. At some point in the conversation she mentioned hair loss and the fact that I wear hats regularly anyway.

“They said that may happen.” I pointed out.

“No, they said that will happen.”

“Who said that ?”

“Niamh, your oncology liaison nurse !”

“Are you sure ? I thought she said it might happen.”

“She not only said it would happen , she said so twice, and she included a list of wig makers in your notes.”

“I haven’t read those notes.”

“Perhaps you should.”

I spent the next hour in the kitchen reading the notes, flyers and pamphlets that Niamh had given me, in a lovely yellow folder. I had been vaguely aware of most of it , but my Soulmate, yet again, was indeed right, hair loss was on the cards.

This was both a shock , and not really a shock. My relationship with my hair down through the years has been one of conflict. It never did what I expected it to , not once in my entire life did it lend itself to the fashionable style. The late 80’s being a particular low point. Everyone , The WonderStuff, The Stone Roses, all wore floppy long hair, and I tried to emulate them. My hair grew up and out instead, as if I’d had a perm.

Ever since I do my best to ignore it until it starts to annoy my SoulMate and then she cuts it.

So I was surprised at how the notion of losing it, albeit temporarily while undergoing chemo, jolted me that evening.

The next day , when I started chemo, Fiona, the nurse, took me to one side to check if I was mentally prepared for what was ahead. I said I was, but that the hair thing had caught me by surprise. I could see her looking at my hair and probably wondering why, but she said something sympathetic, and I said that it wasn’t the fact that I’d lose my hair, it was the fact that I hadn’t realised that I’d lose my hair. If that made sense. She smiled and nodded as if it did.

That was a month ago.

On Monday at some stage I put my hand in my hair and noticed a couple of hairs had come free, but not in an alarming way, just like after you’d had your hair cut, and there were a few fallen soldiers lying about.

On Tuesday we drove to Galway to see Jake, and at some point, possibly while driving through Tang, God I love driving through Tang, especially if my co-pilot /passengers have not heard about the Battle Of Tang and then I can regale them with the epic tale until we get as far as Athlone.

You don’t know the story of the Battle Of Tang ?

The Longford /Westmeath constituency in the 1987 Irish General Election featured two very prominent Fianna Fail candidates, Mary O’Rourke, who would later go on to be a Minister in several departments and was known universally as Mammy O’Rourke, and Albert Reynolds, who would also become a Minister, and later Taoiseach, and who famously refused to read a memo from any of his department’s civil servants if they were longer than one page.

Like most constituencies that straddle two counties, Longford /Westmeath, was divided between candidates from the same party so that they capitalised on their local roots and tried not to cannibalise each others votes. In this case, Mammy campaigned in Westmeath , and Albert in Longford.  

This was also the era of proper campaigning, which was more like guerrilla warfare , rather than algorithm led social media  guff we have today. No, in 1987 , you bellowed your merits and promises from a hand help loud hailer from the back of a truck festooned with posters of yourself and , in the case of Fianna Fail, Charlie Haughey. Cars would also circle town housing estates with gigantic speakers precariously positioned on the roof, and a man in the passenger seat would blast out barely decipherable diatribes either extolling the virtues of the most recent government, or castigate every single thing they’d done , depending on which party he was representing , interrupted only by the odd comment as he recognised someone.

“ The FitzGerald government has been a stain, yes, a stain on the history of this great country ! Now you have a chance to ….Hi Mary ! Yes ! It’s me ! Tell Jim I said ‘Hello’… a chance to change. ARISE AND FOLLOW CHARLIE !”

Tang was in Westmeath, Mammy’s county, so on the last Sunday before the election she arrived with her truck, canvassers, posters and pamhlets, to catch the faithful when they were leaving mass. But as they were setting up, Albert arrived with his truck, canvassers, posters and pamphlets. The only thing a candidates election workers despised more than the opposing party candidates, were their fellow party constituency rivals. Words were exchanged. Mammy said Albert was breaking conventions. Albert argued that Tang was on the border between their counties, which was true, and that as the church in Ballymahon, in his constituency , was being repaired, most of his voters were now attending this church. Mammy was having none of it.

Canvassers were now tearing each others posters down from the church railings, cursing loudly at each other. The two trucks were trying to nudge each other for the best spot opposite the church gates, revving the engines loudly. And then the pushing and shoving started.

It got so bad that they could hear all of this inside the church, and eventually the priest left the altar and went outside to see what the hell was going on. He remonstrated with both sides and matters settled quickly. Neither side could afford to have a bad word said about them from the altar.

Torn posters were sellotaped and replaced on the railings, alternative Albert and Mammy posters greeted the parishioners when they left the mass.

Mammy and Albert both got elected.

I’ve always loved that story. I attended a writer’s weekend last year in Tang, where I met David Bowie, re-incarnated as a dog called Lilly. I’ll put that story in the P.S’sss

So, yes, on Tuesday, we were driving through Tang, and I again put my hand in my hair, but now there were six hairs in my hand. I asked my Soulmate if she had a bag.

“For what ?”

“To keep my six hairs !”

She laughed. I looked down on my sweatshirt, picked at something and handed it to her.


She laughed again.

I wore a hat when we met Jake, and the whole time we were in Galway, for fear that a strong wind would give me a restyle, and perhaps scare children , and small dogs.

On Wednesday morning I woke with the sensation that there was a cobweb on my forehead , I brushed it aside. I looked at my hand. I messaged my Soulmate, who’d already left for work.

“Trickle is becoming a flood !”

She rang to see if I was OK.

“Yes, apart from the hairy party in my hand every time I touch my hair.”

I had a busy day planned. And a busy day it turned out to be.

I met Ray in Rossmore , we had a coffee and went for a walk. I told him I was losing my hair.

“When this is over , we’ll go to Turkey and you can get new Wayne Rooney.”

No, it’s OK. When the chemo’s over  it’ll grow back.

“Exactly like before ?”


“Well we’ll go to Turkey and they can add bits. You have a receding hairline.”

F*ck off! I do not ! I have a high forehead. Which, I’ll have you know, Edwardian men would shave to have a similar look !

“OK, OK…as long as you’re happy. We’ll just go to Turkey for a holiday.”

Fair enough.

I then drove to Dublin to meet my mentor/colleague/fellow Radiohead buff/friend/and all round good egg, Karl.

You may remember a few weeks ago I wrote about songs that make you happy. I told you about 7 of mine, and asked you for some of yours. The playlist now has 68 songs, thank you. The idea was sparked by Karl asking me for a playlist of 6 songs that make me happy. I sent it to him and…heard nothing.

Then last week he sent me a photo of a painting. He’d painted it based on me and my songs.

How fucking lovely is that ???

We met for coffee , we chatted about everything. Karl is one of those wonderful folk where, whenever we meet, time runs out before things to say do. I had to leave to head to Dundalk to collect Robyn. I also wanted to get home to study MY painting.

I collected Robyn. Explained about the hair, and listened to her recent concerts, Slowthai, The Chats, and BLK. I was supposed to go to Slowthai with her. She was supposed to get me a tshirt. She had a great time.

When we got home I took off my hat. It was now more hair than hat. I showed it to my Soulmate.

“It’s time.” She said. We’d discussed previously what we’d do when it started to liberate itself from me. We’d shave it.

We shaved it.

Robyn was in the kitchen while we shaved it. She wanted to see what a Mohican would look like. She laughed when she saw what it looked like. Then she said I looked like Alex Turner ! I’ll take that. Alex Turner, Glastonbury , 2013…obviously.

But on we shaved.

I saw salt and pepper coloured tufts of hair roll down my gown.

I looked in the mirror.

I am gorgeous !

Seriously. No bravado. I am gorgeous !!!

I propped MY painting up in the sitting room.

Karl had said that it was painted in my colours.

He also said that he listened to my happy tunes as he created it, and that there are elements of each song there too. I played the songs while staring in wonder and this wonderful thing. Lyrics popped into being in shapes and figures on the canvas. I love MY painting.

On Thursday we attended the funeral of Eileen’s uncle John. Only a week ago, while writing about our own Silver Wedding Anniversary a memory of John had popped into my head. At our wedding , when the band had finished, I asked the DJ to play The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. It cleared the floor apart from me, Barry Lyons, and John McCague, who danced with wild abandon, with his ubiquitous tie tied around his forehead.

John reminded me of Balloo the bear. He was always smiling, shook hands with his big bear paws, and always looked as if he’d just done something that he shouldn’t have, or was about to.

At every single family event , he and Veronica were there.

His smile.

His True Colours.

Don’t hide your True Colours.

I don’t have to. They’re captured now on a divine canvas.



P.S. This is the Artic Monkeys’ , with Alex Turner and his magnificent hair, performing A Certain Romance at Glastonbury 2013.

P.P.S This is the Tang piece

Author: paul

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