On the Hull train.

It was the little girl who drew the four women I was watching together. She was on the Hull train, she was two years old, with tiny blonde pigtails sticking out at right angles from her head and stripy tights, and she was giggling and shouting in fake fear as she was pulled two and fro across the carriage table between her mother and grandma. All three of them were scruffy and happy, and didn’t care who knew it.
“Get off my little girl.”
“No, you get off her.”
“Give her back.”
“Nah, you give her back.”
It was clearly a game they had played before and the toddler loved it, spinning on the shiny surface with her legs in the air. As they watched the other two women began to laugh. They were a mother and daughter, dressed up for a days shopping, and they had made an effort. Lots of jewellery, eyeliner, lipstick which needed to be checked constantly in case the gloss had worn off, and hair which had been styled to within an inch of its life. Slowly their anxious faces broke down into smiles as they watched. The mother was remembering when the daughter next to her was tiny. As she watched you could see the memories, good and bad, flying across her face like shadows on a hillside. The grandmother of the little girl saw that they were taking an interest.
“I like your hair. I bet you use straighteners”
The mother put her hand to her head and nodded.
“I’ve got curly hair me.”
This was a shock. All three of them stared at the woman’s hair, which curved outwards from her head in carefully arranged flat blonde curves, making a silent tribute to the fact that hair could be transformed into something so far removed from what it wanted to be.
“You should have seen me when I got out of bed this morning. It were a right mess. Sticking out all over the place.”
Her daughter adjusted her leather jacket and smiled at her mum in admiration. The other two, whose hair had been allowed to run wild, were also impressed. The grandmother lifted some of her hair up and tried to look at it hopelessly.
“I keep thinking about doing something with mine. I was wondering about getting some straighteners in Hull.”
The others looked at the flying wisps of aging hair that she was holding up. It didn’t look good. Finally the blonde woman spoke up. This was obviously someone who needed help.
“You want to get GHD’s. You don’t want to be messing about with any of the others. It’s not worth it.”
For the next five minutes she explained all about hair straightening, where the best offers were, how to put your hair into small sections, and made sure that they knew about the conditioning spray that you needed, unless you had the ones that conditioned your hair as you used them. By the time she had finished she had been told every detail of the other twos hair care routine and they had been given the names of several shops in Hull where they might find the approved sort of straighteners. She had also told them where the best place to get them back home in Bridlington would be, if they were unlucky and there were none to be found at the right price in Hull. It was impressive and she was now established as a bona fide hair guru.
“You’re a mine of information you are.”
She straightened her necklace and beamed at them all with pride.
“I used to be a hairdresser.”
The shining faces which smiled back at her were as good as a round of applause.
“Which train are you coming back on? You could do my hair on the way back.”
The woman laughed.
“I’ll get some shears. How old’s your little girl?”
The daughter swung the child round to face them, and she pulled at her cardigan happily while one of her tiny pigtails was renovated.
“She’s two, aren’t you Myleene.”
Myleene examined the fastening on one of her pink shoes.
“Two!”
“You’ve left your daddy at home today then?”
The daughters face clouded over, but the feelings were still too raw, even after two years, to be kept in and she poured it all out while her mother watched anxiously.
“We left him behind a long while back. He were a waste of space.”
There was a short silence while all four of them tried to think of something positive to say about this. Finally Myleene was raised up above her mother’s head giggling, bringing a smile back to all their faces.
“We’re better off without him aren’t we love?”
Myleene kicked her candy striped legs out in agreement and was deposited on the seat next to her mother.
“I never thought he’d bray me while I were pregnant, but he did.”
This new information was accepted in silence.
“I had six years of it off him.”
The ex hairdresser knew what that felt like.
“Mine left me when I were four months pregnant with her. He used to knock me about as well.”
Her daughter screwed up her face, and the grandmother noticed her look.
“So you don’t bother with your dad now either then?”
She just made a smiling pained face, screwing up her nose and shaking her head. Her mother quickly answered for her.
“No she doesn’t. He were a lying toe rag.”
Strengthened by her mother’s firm opinion, which she had heard many times before, the daughter got out her lip gloss and a tiny mirror and stared intently at her mouth.
“She grew up all right without him. Yours will be the same.”
This was a fact which none of them could afford to disagree with, least of all Myleene’s mother.
“I had it for six years off him. I’m not letting him near her now.”
Suddenly the grandmother looked at me, she knew that I had been listening and smiling along with them. The train was pulling into the station and she hadn’t heard my story.
“What about you love? Have you got a bloke?”
I had nothing to say, which was probably slightly disappointing for them, but just as well.
“I’ve got a nice partner thanks.”
They all looked at me in surprise. Such things did exist then.
“You want to belt him one for the rest of us when you get home love.”
All four of us roared with laughter as we got off the train.

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