His grandmother always had long hair, longer than any other person he had known. Before he knew that doing hair was a girls’ game, he would spend those gaps in the days - when he’d come in for a biscuit and some squash before going back into the orchard to play Raiders of the Lost Ark – helping Granny to redo her plaits.
Unravelled, her hair was smooth under his muddy fingers, the tips of which rode the kinks made by the twisting and looping of the plaits like a roller coaster. When he hugged her, he had noticed that the top of her head smelt like anyone else’s; today’s stew cooking on the stove, yesterday’s smoked fish or even barbecue smoke once when it had been his sister’s birthday but unravelled, the scent of her apple shampoo rose with the freshness of dew. Because it was so long, he would grab a handful in his fists, lift it to his nostrils and if she was reading her Woman’s Own, she wouldn’t notice.
She would hand him a large paddle brush and he had learned the technique of starting down at the ends, working upwards so as not to hurt her or tear the precious strands of silver. Once he had raked through it gently and if he was careful, he could move the brush from her crown right down to her waist with one stroke so that the hair flowed through the bristles silently before springing back like strips of twisted marsh mallow.
Sometimes, his grandmother sipped at tea from a bone china cup and he took his cues to recommence brushing from the ringing as she replaced it on the saucer.
He was skilful at tying plaits. He had never questioned how she did them when he wasn’t there.