I decided to dye my hair blue. Midnight blue to be precise. I had seen an Indian-American waitress at the Virginia Inn bar in Seattle who had some of her jet black hair dyed midnight blue and although I knew I could never reflect her beauty or youth I did think the hair was not out of the question. My previous attempts to lighten my hair with hydrogen peroxide and color with tangerine were miserable failures (my black hair stayed black and my gray hairs turned murky orange). So this time I decided to seek professional help. At the Le Pichet restaurant (two doors down from the Virginia Inn) I noticed our Tuesday waitress had dyed her hair red and I asked her where and it turned out to be the place two doors down from Le Pichet. She said that they definitely dealt with older clients (“older” is a euphemism for “old” in America). It was the first time that anyone had referred to me as “older” and I realized that I must have been in denial about my decrepit state for some time now.
One day soon afterwards I was walking past the hairdresser with Kiran and I saw that it was one of these very posh places with spartan trendy décor with sophisticated lighting and bright young shiny people at the reception. Very different from my usual hack and slash barber. It was as if there was an invisible force field surrounding the saloon that would deflect anyone not suitably hip and fashion conscious. I changed my mind about making an appointment and carried on walking. But after a few steps I decided to muster up some courage and I turned around and fought my way through the force field to the reception desk. I did a quick self check: 38 (too old), I was wearing a Marks & Spencer (super-untrendy UK department store notorious as the place where Margaret Thatcher bought her underwear) sweater, M&S boring work shirt, M&S black trousers, M&S underwear and rather battered black Echo shoes still stained from glacier melt water from the previous weekend in the mountains, and finally I was carrying a 1.75 year old girl in my left arm. I was sure the guy at reception thought I had wondered in to ask directions or for the time or something and certainly not to make an appointment. I explained that I wanted to dye my hair and he said that was no problem and he made an appointment for the next day.
The next day I agonized about what to wear to my hairdresser appointment to make me fit in as much as possible. I rummaged through all my clothes to find something that did not look like it was out of a 1983 M&S catalogue and finally found one black shirt with thin white stripes (bought at Club Monaco a few months ago) and some black M&S jeans which did not look totally beyond the pale (according to my possibly very misguided judgment). The jeans are a few inches too short and the overhang around the waist can be quite unflattering and I have to regularly do up the zip but if I exhale I can (just about) do up the top button although I tend to more waddle than walk in them.
I turn up five minutes early for my appointment feeling as if I was on a nervous first date. Upon arrival I was asked to remove my shirt and jacket and put on something that looked like a much more trendy version of a hospital gown. So all that agonizing about attire was for nothing and I could have come in my clothes from two decades ago. The saloon had devised an ingenious scheme that abstracted most of one’s sartorial transgressions and leveled the playing field somewhat. However, it must be more than clothes because as I walked (perhaps waddled) to “the chair” I moved stiffly and self consciously, as the other clients, the hairdressers, the mirrors, the shampoo bottles and the hair gel all chanted “charlatan, you are not one of us”. My hairdresser, Carlo, asked me what I wanted and I said I wanted my hair dyed blue. He showed me some hair samples and recommended a dark blue that was so dark that it might as well be black. I explained that I wanted a brighter blue. He said that my gray hairs would not look good if they were that bright against the rest of my black hair. I said I did not care about my gray hairs: I wanted all my hair dyed blue. After a few iterations like this it became clear there was a basic misunderstanding. Carlo thought I had come in to have my gray hairs dyed whereas I had come in to have *all* my hair dyed blue. Carlo told me that to dye all my hair blue would require several iterations of hair lightening with bleach first, which would be painful and time consuming. Furthermore, he said he questioned whether my “lifestyle” was appropriate for blue hair.
I was astonished that my hairdresser was able to make judgments about my “lifestyle” even after I had donned the special saloon gown. Perhaps he was just going on the haggard complexion and semi-gray hair. It was as if every corner was full of some reminder that I am no longer young. But I don’t feel old enough to be having a mid-life crisis. Am I in the limbo between young and old? I wondered if the reason for wanting to have my hair dyed was anxiety about the passing of my youth. Or perhaps it was because I’ve become a father now and no longer feel like a man?
After being presented with the options I was guided down the path of dying the grey hairs. As Carlo applied the dye he asked the inevitable question: who did I work for. I told him I worked for the Evil Empire. He remarked that that must be nice and I retorted that it was not. He seemed surprised and I explained that I had joined to spread chaos and disorder in the organization but upon arrival I realized that someone had beaten me to it. I just assumed Carlo was gay since he was (a) a hairdresser and (b) male so (c) what more proof do you need but it turns out he is married (to a woman) and has three kids. There I go making rash assumptions about others when I have spent a life time riling against others that have made rash judgements about me based solely on my appearance.
The result of the hair dying was very disappointing with my hair looking a bit more black than it was before and there was maybe a slight glow of blue if you happened to be looking at the right angle on a sunny day (not many of those in Seattle). So I went into the den of the hairdresser to acquire trendy blue hair and I got chewed up and spat out onto the sidewalk (pavement) with a hair-dye job for “older clients”. With my courage transformed into humiliation I wondered what to do next. Do I have to be resigned to living the rest of my life as a loser?
The next day I returned to have my hair bleached. The plan was to go platinum white. As the new black hair grows out the idea was to look like a head of Guinness. I was warned that the process would be very painful for someone with black hair which is very hard to lift. I was asked about my pain threshold and told stories about others that screamed to have the bleach removed immediately after application. Some had bleeding scalps and others required multiple applications. I had the first round of bleach applied and then I had to don a wee plastic cap and sit under an over-the-head hair-dryer to help accelerate the bleaching process. As the heat intensified so did the pain. Every so often Carlo would come around and massage in the bleach further, resulting in even more excruciating pain. After about an hour of this, another iteration of bleach was applied but I was in too much pain to sit under the hair-dryer so I just sat it out in front of the mirror. Apparently at that stage my hair was orange. After over two hours of bleaches they tried to apply some hydrogen peroxide but I was in too much pain to go on and the mission had to be aborted. By this point I was light yellow and my scalp was shriveled up from the damage caused by the bleach. It was quite a shock to see myself in the window as a blonde and when I walked out into the street I felt very self conscious. In Seattle, however, this counts as a very tame attempt at hair dying and nobody batted an eyelid. I arrived home to show Susan the result (she knew I was getting my hair dyed, but thought it would be blue) and Kiran did point at my head with a rather distressed expression on her face. Susan was rather surprised at the dramatic effect and said it would take her a while to get used to having a blonde husband.
I waited for four days for my scalp to recover a bit and then I went for my third visit to the hairdresser. Again, over a two hour period, multiple applications of bleach, followed by a successful application of hydrogen peroxide managed to get the hair close to completely white. The process was right at the limits of my pain threshold. I promised myself that I would never ever do this again.
The following week I was in Glasgow and my mother’s reaction was “not favorable”. I was standing with my blonde hair at a platform at Glasgow Central train station when a wifey next to me remarked “there’s some pretty strange people about these days, don’t you think so?”. I was rather taken aback by the directness even of a Glasgow stranger, but it turned out that she was referring to a couple of junkies staggering about a few meters away. At a meeting in Portland a professor came up to me and said that he recalls my hair being quite grey last time he met me and that he notes the greying process seems to have completed now. Many people totally fail to recognize me and an old university friend walked straight past me in Edinburgh and I had to shout after him. Several people seem to have assumed that I have just suddenly gone grey, no doubt from the stress of working at Microsoft.
Many explanations have been offered for hair dying. The most common explanation usually has something to do with a mid-life crisis. I’ve felt that my life has always been in crisis and I don’t see what is any different right now. I don’t have a deep understanding of why I do what I do and I certainly don’t know why I dyed my hair. There are a few photographs of the white hair at http://homepage.mac.com/suspence1
Kiran is no longer a baby: she is definitely a little girl. I fall in love with her every day. Her cheeky grin, her requests for “buddies” (her name for Teletubbies), her kisses through the child gate at the top of the stairs, her look of glee as she runs towards me, and her gentle breathing as she sleeps slumped on me just before her I put her to bed all make me turn to mush. All these things and many others fill me with wonder and joy. I don’t have the vocabulary or skill to explain. It’s quite magical. I wish I could spend every day with her. I wish I will never have to let her go. Since her birth I have somehow given up on myself and my ambitions and desires (to some extent) and I feel that my life will be successful and happy if her life will be successful and happy. The rational part of me tells me that this is an unwise gamble.
Susan recently went away for a week to Colorado on a business trip and I got a chance to look after her on my own, which is something I enjoy very much (for short periods of time). When Kiran has the choice she often gravitates towards her mother for food, cuddles and comfort no matter how hard I try to get her attention. However, when Susan is out of the picture we interact much more intensely and even in a week the bond between us clearly gets stronger. When Susan returned Kiran sulked and ran to me to be held and gave her mum the cold shoulder! This lasted for all of about four minutes before she melted in her mum’s arms again.
Kiran’s technological prowess seems to know no bounds and she now enjoys playing children’s software on our new Mac mini. Another favorite is the Karaoke Flash animations on the CBeebies web site. She often climbs onto my chair in the office in front of the computer and asks for “song”. Her appetite for Teletubbies is insatiable and she has also become fascinated by Finding Nemo which Susan thinks is too frightening for her. We often dance together in the front room, with Gloria Stefani’s “What are you waiting for” and Scissor Sister’s cover of “Comfortably Numb” being two of her favorites. She also takes much delight in playing with my full sized football, so Susan better get ready to become a “soccer mom”. This seems to involve driving your little girl in a ridiculously large SUV to some park where you have to compete with swarms of other SUVs to find a parking space. Then you jump up and down at the sidelines and aggressively cheer on your wee one at the top of your voice whilst screaming blue murder at the muppet of a referee and occasionally getting into fist fights with mothers from the competing team. The level of parent induced competition has got so out of control that some places now play “sensitive soccer” where each team takes a turn to score a goal and everyone is made to feel like a winner.
Seattle is growing on me. Here are some of my favorite things. I like taking Kiran to the REI mothership (a shop that sells outdoor gear for hiking etc.) where Kiran wonders through caves and throws herself down the slide with reckless abandon. I like walking in the market in downtown Seattle past the colorful vegetable stalls, the flying fish and golden pig. A carpese foccacia at the Italian deli where Kiran is a hit with the staff is a must, which is usually followed up by a coffee at Le Panier French bakery. On a sunny day the backdrop to the market is the glittering blue Puget Sound with the snow-capped Olympic mountains in the background. I like shopping at Wholefoods (also known as “Whole Pay Check”) where the perfectly arranged vegetables look like they’ve all had face lifts. Kiran goes bezerk at the cheese counter and typically reaches up to grab some radioactive yellow cheese which she bites into, through the plastic and all, obliging us to buy it for her. Kiran’s all consuming obsession with cheese is quite remarkable, although it might be soon overtaken by her fascination with buses. I like taking Kiran to Volunteer Park which is on a hill with views west to the Olympic mountains and east to the Cascade mountains. We usually walk up a beautiful water tower for a fantastic view of the city and the lake and the Sound. Kiran loves to climb on the stone camels in front of the Asian Art Museum and the ducks in the pond are excellent target practice. Kiran’s wanders through our garden smelling flowers and shaking bushes are delightful. Seattle has an excellent collection of restaurants that Susan and I have been exploring on our weekly night off when a friend kindly baby-sits for us. Despite all this I simultaneously pine for California (friends, climate, nature, career) and the United Kingdom (family). Perhaps I will always want to be Somewhere Else (and perhaps Someone Else?).
Getting home from work is a nightmare due to the terrible traffic, especially on the bridge over Lake Washington I have to cross in order to get from the mothership in Redmond to our house in Seattle. There is a special lane for cars with three people in it and buses but single car occupants can take well over an hour to get over the bridge. I decided to try and use the carpool email list we have at work for the first time. People advertise lifts (looking for passengers to make up the three person limit) and I just needed one more because I was driving Simon Peyton-Jones to our house. We picked up a very attractive young lady from the MSN Search organization that was looking for a lift and as she got into the back seat she introduced herself and Simon introduced himself with his first name and English accent. She asked a few more questions and was able to quickly confirm her suspicion that this was *Simon* *Peyton*-*Jones* (world famous computer scientist). She exclaimed “Wow, no way, I can’t believe I am in the same car as Simon Peyton-Jones! I can’t wait to tell all my friends! You’re one of my greatest heroes! I joined Microsoft because people like you work here! Wow!” Etc. etc. In fact, quite a lot of etc. etc. because the traffic was very bad that night and I had to endure more than an hour of hero worship. I realized that all those years I was fantasizing about becoming a rock star so I can win lots of female admirers was misplaced. I should really have been putting my energy into becoming a world famous computer scientist. So much for all those evenings wasted wearing all-black at the Glasgow Film Theatre and pretending to like albums by The Smiths. I should have bought two pints of Irn Bru and settled down to a night of hacking on the Glasgow Haskell Compiler.
I met one of my ex-students recently who is now a minister in the Church of Scotland. I commiserated with him about the loss of his Main Man but apparently there was this thing called the “skis-ism” which means the Main Man in Rome thinks the Main Man in the Church of Scotland is just some bloke and the Main Man in England is just some dude wearing a frock. I thought all these Christian people were roughly the same but apparently not. It seems a bit like Windows and Linux all over again.
I am still teased about joining Microsoft. My usual reply is “I joined Microsoft to spread chaos and disorder from within but upon my arrival I realized that someone had beaten me to it”. The longer I work at Microsoft the more nostalgic I feel about Xilinx. The company culture in the two organizations is so different that I am almost compelled to write a book that compares the two (but I would probably get sued).
We’ve made some wonderful snowshoeing trips to the mountains. We hired a cabin at Mount Baker near the Canadian border and went snowshoeing around the mountain and we pulled Kiran along in her new bright yellow toboggan. At first she was a bit apprehensive about the snow but she seems to be getting used to it. Then we went on another mountain area trip to Winthrop in the Okanagen Valley also near the Canadian border which involved a spectacular drive through a snowy mountain pass road. We recently bought a new all-wheel drive car for such trips (an Audi A6 which has already had its engine control software updated once!). We’ve also made a couple of trips for hikes on Mount Hood which is a beautiful mountain near Portland in Oregon and Kiran managed to hike herself for over a mile up a gentle grade. She very carefully inspects objects along the hike like little sticks, plants, leaves, poisonous mushrooms and pats the bark of trees and points out birds. I’m quite determined for Kiran to grow up to be a hiking girl. I’m quite keen to take Kiran camping but Susan is not keen on roughing it and would prefer a four star hotel anytime.
I recently emerged from a four month spell of not drinking at all (except for a one week period during Christmas). I had a liver biopsy to see what’s wrong with it and the problem may be due to alcohol or too much fat in my diet. The biopsy went fine but I was struck down from an infection afterwards due to my immune system being weakened by the anesthetics which was not much fun. The good news is that it has nothing to do with alcohol. The bad news is that I need to moderate my diet to reduce fat! One of my main hobbies is cooking and I am not sure how to reduce the foie gras and butter and cream and cheese and red meat and goose fat and then make something that tastes half decent. So I have to warn those of you that regularly come for dinner that I may have to experiment with “low fat cooking” so I may have to start serving you tasteless food. I may have to increase my drinking to commiserate.
I thought that “magnolia” was a film but apparently it is a tree and we have one in our garden just in front of our living room window. It has come into full bloom recently and it is utterly astonishingly beautiful. Our living room walls are painted a lovely shade of lavender and I am wondering if that is by coincidence or design. At work I noticed some hibiscus flowers and I have thought about stealing them to take to California so my friend Geoff can batter and fry them for a curry.
My heart is torn between two places where I no longer live: California and the United Kingdom (UK). I yearn for a bag of fish and chips from the Philadelphia chippy which taste exquisite consumed while standing on the adjoining bridge over the River Kelvin bathed in yellow from sodium street lights on a chilly Glasgow night as the murky brown riverwater swirls towards the Clyde. On the other hand hiking through Castle Rock state park in California to the viewpoint over Pacific Ocean with Kiran is a delight that I am unlikely to easily reproduce in Maryhill or Cambridge. A hike up to a waterfall in Yosemite Valley is one of the most stunningly beautiful hikes I have ever done. On the other hand, a sunny winter morning along the northwest coast of Scotland is utterly breathtaking. I even warmed a bit towards Edinburgh during a recent trip although I would never admit that in Glasgow.
So that’s my life right now. I slavishly follow the fashions of random waitresses. I toil away for the empire during most of my waking hours to the detriment of my family and friends. I may have to suffer the indignity of adopting a low fat diet. And I fall in love every day.