It was all our Jean’s fault. If she hadn’t had her head in the clouds after the pictures with her Ken last night, she wouldn’t have forgotten to set the alarm this morning and I wouldn’t have been late for work. I wouldn’t have had to stay late to make up the time or listen to the foreman grumble about how women don’t belong in a munitions factory and how he’ll be glad when the men have beaten Jerry and can come home, and I wouldn’t have been late for the meeting.
Sally Waring was stood at the front of the social club when I arrived, her perfectly curled hair bouncing as she spoke. She turned to mix the homemade, ration-friendly hair setting lotion she was demonstrating as I searched for a seat and I noticed with satisfaction that the line of her drawn on stockings had smudged slightly. Not so perfect after all.
I listened as carefully as I could, committing the ingredients to memory as I searched for an empty seat and ignored all the scowls from the rest of the girls as I clambered over them and stepped on their toes.
When the demo was over, I hurried back home, leaving our Jean behind to meet her Ken (again. What can they possibly have left to talk about?). I was so excited to finally do something about my scraggly locks – there’s only so many headscarves a girl can bear. Mam didn’t give up the sugar from the larder easily, but in the end even she was keen to see how it went, I think.
I washed my hair and mixed everything carefully. Mam gave me a hand with the rollers before we sat down to toast and jam for supper and she headed off to bed. I listened to the wireless and daydreamed about being able to go to a real hair salon again after the war until my hair had dried completely.
I reached up and tugged at the roller above my right eye. It didn’t budge. I changed my grip and pulled harder. Nothing. My hands began to shake and my heart to pound as I tried a roller on the other side of my head. It was stuck too, my hair rock solid around it.
My face was red and sweat had begun to pool on my top lip. I panicked when I realised I couldn’t get a single roller out of my hair and ran to Mam’s room for help, clattering into her bedside table in the dark.
‘You’ll have to sort it yourself, love, I’m on earlies at the dairy this week.’ Great.
Forcing myself to calm down, I tried wetting my hair and – hallelujah! – the hot water seemed to create a bit of movement, so I sat in front of the oven with a freezing backside and a scorching head, to wait for the lotion to melt out of my hair.
That’s when our Jean came home.
‘Oh, Betty, you’re so daft,’ she giggled. ‘It was a teaspoon of sugar, not a tablespoon.’
This is inspired by real events – my Nan really did use the wrong amount of sugar in a ration-friendly hair setting lotion and had to spend hours sat in front of the oven before she could remove her rollers! I couldn’t resist writing about it when my mum told me the story recently, although I have taken some creative liberties; I don’t think Nanny would mind.