curiosity about the ways of the world

What’s Covid-safe behaviour? Ask your hairdresser

‘I got the train home. It was rush hour so there were four passengers. On an eight coach train.’

Roz pauses, scissors in hand. ‘At the start of lockdown I quite liked the novelty of a seat to myself,’ she says, meeting my eyes above the mask in the mirror.  ‘Now I really miss the banter on the Glasgow train.’

I nod cautiously. This is my first haircut since February and I’ve given Roz a free hand. I’m sitting, masked and sanitised, in one of Edinburgh’s smart hairdressing salons just a short walk from Waverley.  Through the windows a pale winter sun glints balefully on sparsely populated streets and pavements. Covid has cleared the usual pre-Christmas crush down to a thin trickle of bargain hunters. 

And what will happen when the travel ban kicks in? It’s an interesting question. To get to work today, did Roz break the law?  With just hours to go till the Scottish Government’s mandatory travel ban came into force on 20 November, the salon’s HR department had to check it was ok for their manager to make her 30-minute journey to and from home. Both Roz and I are in Tier 3 but in different health authorities. There’s a £60 penalty for crossing the county line without exemption.

Think positive. By coincidence, the inspirational ‘wellbeing’ word etched into my mirror is Positive which these days has negative connotations so I ask Roz if the salon has recorded any infections since reopening in July.

What does science say?

None. Zero. Zilch. Not a single one. In fact, she adds with pleasure the recent findings of the Hair and Barber Council. Her trade (which includes barbers, beauty salons, tattoo parlours and associated trades) has contributed no more than 0.05% to the much quoted (and misunderstood) R number.  Apparently it took some time to get the information from SAGE. 

‘The Hair and Barber Council has been lobbying to get these results released for weeks, and at last these rates categorically show that our industry and indeed all non-essential retail, is not responsible for the increase in Covid-19 infection rates throughout the UK!’

PBL magazine

Snip. Snip. It’s a satisfying sound. A haircut here doesn’t come cheap but it’s accompanied with skilful care and good conversation.  Today it brings fascinating insight into Covid-safe management from this intelligent, warm-hearted young woman.  Not as young as she was when I first came here – Roz and I now go back quite a long way and during that time, while I became a granny, Roz progressed from young stylist to motherhood and management.

No music plays

Covid has made its mark here too. Screens separate the washbasins, disposable paper slipovers and towels prevent infection, hand sanitiser sits at every station.  Clients are few and far between.  No music plays. Social distancing now comes second nature in the salon, Roz says but she had to work very hard to get staff (especially young part-timers) to observe the same rules in the staff room, ‘You know’ she says wryly, ‘the Covid-free zone!  It was as if they could relax and forget the virus once they were in a social space.’   How often does that happen in every work place, in every social setting?  Conversations with headteachers and other bosses have revealed similar attitudes. 

Ok, back to the salon where we marvel at the mystery of the tiers with a mix of laughter, confusion and frustration.  Clients in the hospitality trade have wondered what is the point of being in Tier 1 or 0 when most of the population is in Tier 3 or 4, and unable to move from one to another?

The question hangs in the air with the hairspray. The cut is done.  The disposable gown torn off and consigned to the recycling bin.  An hour at the hairdresser’s is a chance to break free from the digital world. Not so much an escape from Covid as a refreshingly different perspective.  A personal encounter with real life. An hour well spent.  You emerge feeling (and maybe looking) better for it. What a pity it is denied to people in Tier4.    

Split end: as a former writer and editor for the old HEBS (Health Education Board for Scotland) I wonder why we can’t have a more creative, constant and absolutely unavoidable public health education campaign, getting the message across at every level in every community? With imaginative broadcasting it could help to make Covid-safe social distancing second nature in many more settings.


  1. fay

    That’s really interesting, Jean. And aggravating that there’s so little (or indeed any) evaluation of what works in terms of good practice or tighter restrictions. An interesting survey of Scottish businesses actually gives the Scottish government zero out of ten for support, or understanding the challenges businesses face. Yet, it doesn’t show in the polls!

  2. Jean Richards

    As you can imagine I have been having more regular haircuts. My hairdressers was the first small business I visited after Lockdown 1 -and they were reassuringly safe. For starters my temperature was taken before I was allowed in. There has been no account about how diligent small businesses have been. But then we know from Professor Tim that even those with greater insight are not taken into consideration.

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