My Spiel:

If anyone mentions my dreadlocks to me, I tell them the following spiel:
"Thank you for mentioning my hair. Anyone who is kind enough to mention my hair..."

at which point I pull the scissors from my pocket
" asked to cut off one of my dreadlocks!"

History of my Hair

There follows a brief history of my attempts at growing my scalpal flora - a consideration of this history helped me solve the main question: where should my hair be removed?

About half way through my first year in secondary school, I had my hair cut very short for the first time. In the local barber, Dave Willets, I had asked for a #8 all over cut, but Dave did not have a #8 clipper head. I had thus opted for a #4. In retrospect, this was not the shortest of haircuts, but at the time, a #4 all over was the shortest hair in the school year. I remember the following morning being the centre of attention as people asked why - they also teased me, as no-one believed my insistence that I had in the past had a #8 cut.

This may well be the time when hair became an attention-seeking thing for me. Perhaps this is why I wanted to have my hair cut in a different way - to prolong the attention seeking. (I have been conditioned by my upbringing to be something of an attention seeker. Mum always used to call me the family clown. No doubt the tone of voice in which she would have said this reinforced in me that quirky behaviour was a Good Thing and should be continued).

Anyway, back to the hair.
Throughout my school days, I generally kept my hair fairly short. As it was, both extremely long hair and extremely short hair were frowned upon at school, so having it cut to the shortest non-controversial length was a way to save money and stay out of trouble. For a couple of years, in the mid-Nineties, a centre parting was something hardly anyone in the school was seen without. Some boys also went for the oh-so-risky undercut. During this time, my fringe was, like others, long enough to play with (although not quite long enough to suck, like some peoples'). One of my dorm-mates, Jake Dee, managed to persuade me to gel my fringe up into a ski-jump-shaped quiff, which certainly got me attention for a couple of days, although for some reason I don't remember it being considered particularly contraversial.

My first serious attempt to grow my hair took place when i went on that now standardized rite of passage - the gap year. I had decided to go to Japan, where I had been on a school exchange, to spend 6 months learning the language as preparation for studying it at university.

For the last Christmas of the 20th Century, I recieved a set of hair clippers, with exchangeable heads numbered 1-6. No number 8, but by this time I had got used to a #4, so these small-numbered shortnesses did not faze me.

The start of the much-anticipated MillenniuM (gosh, that word seems dated now!) was for me, camping out up the hill, a shooting star at dawn, and a self-inflicted haircut in preparation of my journey to Japan. If my memory serves me rightly, I opted for clipper #3.

My aim was to grow my hair for the entire 6 months, and see how long it got by the end. What I did not anticipate, however, was my status as a Japanese schoolboy in Seifu Gakuen, one of the strictest schools in Osaka.

Every month, every boy in the school would be subjected to a Hair Check to make sure that his hair fit into the guidelines in the school diary. Any boy who did not fit the mould would be sent straight to the hairdresser in the basement of a department store opposite the station. I had actually been to this hairdresser three years before, but only to wait while my host brother Keishi had his hair cut. Little did I think in 1997 that 3 years later I would be dragged back to that space, kicking and screaming. In March of 2000, I failed my hair check, and was sent (the kicking and screaming was only internal) to the hairdressers to fork out what seemed an unearthly sum for a standard Seifu haircut - something around 5 times the price of a Dave Willets £2.99 job with a #4 clipper.

I only had to have one hair cut, half way through the 6 months - but this thwarted my plan for lengthy experimentation. The act of not having my hair cut thus became for me an elusive challenge, and therefore all the more desirable.

That summer, travelling in Europe, I succeeded in not having my hair cut for a good few months. Arriving back in Britain, I was described, to my satisfaction, as looking like "the wild man in the woods". This, I decided, was an image that I would be very happy to cultivate.

During the first year of university, I enjoyed the potential for experimentation that my almost year-long hair now afforded. For a time, I had one of three mohicans in the university, and initially dyed it purple, then learnt to snowboard with it, and cut it off after about a month. At around the same time, I took to carving a star in the back of my head - just for fun - until parts of it grew out, and somebody asked me, "Are you aware that you have a picnic table carved into the back of your head?"

My Millennium Clippers were by now well used, and I indulged in the pleasure of not taking them to Japan with me when I again returned there in the second year of university. I still relished the challenge of growing my hair. It turned out that Japanese universities are not nearly so strict as Japanese schools, so the growth of my hair was allowed to continue unchallenged. When it started getting in my eyes, in around November, I found a blue and purple neck warmer that was to serve as my headband for the next 9 years.

The only comment I had from any university staff member was from a British professor who had taught me a seminar in Japanese History in the first term when my hair was still short - he once passed me and asked in an imperialistic tone "What is this head-dress you're wearing?" with the slight insinuation that I was now perhaps, if not already, on my way to being one of the savages. (this i liked - this was like being the wild man in the woods)

As spring warmed up and became summer, I took to wearing my hair in various numbers of bunches and pony tails. One night (in fact, the only "night out" I had in Tokyo) I went out in the evening with my hair in 5 bunches, and came back with 5 pigtails - the girlfriends of 2 of my companions had glanced at each other and pounced on me, pinning me down while they plaited each of the bunches with precision.

Towards the end of the year, I started to wonder what to do with this now established mass of hair that I had gradually acquired. To lead on nicely from my mohican, I considered a single pony tail, or possibly a samurai-style chonmage. But then, I somehow decided that it might be fun to experiment with dreadlocks. A little internet research showed this to be rather an easy plan, and I sent by internet mail order for the necessary equipment - a strong metal comb, a couple of bottles of pure clean shampoo, a bottle of seawater (they actually only send sea salt - "just add water!") , a big bag of tiny rubber bands, and a jar of specially made "dread wax". The details of proceedings are still on the website I referred to, so need not be repeated here.

Having returned to Britain, with hair successfully grown, I chose a rainy day in mid-summer and sat down with my newly acquired dreading equipment. With the help of my brother, sister and Mum, (Dad looked impressed from afar, but didn't actually do any dreading) I was, within 3 days of backcombing, twiddling and entangling, a person with dreadlocks. And so I was for 8 years. I could try and write all the details of all that happened in that time, but that would take about ... 8 years. And I have a life to live.

And what this particular narrative is about is the removal of the dreads, rather than their longevity.

I will however, mention that I had a variety of positive and negative reactions to my dreadlocks and used them extensively in my art. I will also here expand on two incidents involving attitudes about my hair.

Towards the end of my student life at Durham university, it became time to consider what we should be doing after graduating. Like many of my fellow students of Japanese, one of the main options was to try and get on the JET programme. The application process for this would include an interview at the Japanese Embassy in London, and if successful, I would be working at a town office or city hall in Japan. One of my fellow students was convinced that I would not be able to get on the JET programme without removing my dreadlocks. Determined to prove her wrong, I embarked on the process, and was eventually successful.

The people of Yoshitomi, where I worked in the town office during my JET years, were somewhat unfazed by my hair's length and style, since one of my predecessors had also had dreadlocks. In the office, it was taken as fairly normal, although one office worker in particular used to comment on how much my hair had grown since my arrival, as well as the various colours of hairband i was wearing on any particular day.

 One Friday, it was hinted to me by my supervisor that my dreadlocks were too long. I silently disagreed, and spent the weekend going through every possible scenario, imagining finding a copy of the Universal declaration of human rights and somehow proving that it is OK to grow my hair as long as i want. But by Sunday afternoon, I had developed a plan B, which involved tying knots in the majority of tmy dreadlocks.

Monday morning came around, and I went to work with shorter looking hair. Someone actually asked me that morning if i had cut my hair, so plan B seems to have worked.

After another year or so working there, I travelled back to the UK. I sat on an aeroplane flying over China joyfully untying my dreadlocks one by one, in the knowledge that I would be going to art college and not need to cut my hair for at least a year - perhaps ever!

During the three years I was at art college, I made good use of my hair, and I was starting to realize that it was time for a cut.