Dyed-in-the-wool cheapskate

Being genetically half Irish and an eighth Scottish, I have green eyes and curly brown hair that used to have a fair bit of red in it. The first white hair showed up when I was 19, much to my horror, and my Mum’s reaction wasn’t much help: “Oh, your granddad was completely white by the time he was 30”, she said reassuringly.

I fought the good fight for a few years, yanking out the white hairs whenever I saw them (easy to do, as they’re not as curly as the coloured ones, so when they grow back in they stick straight out of my head at a jaunty angle). But it soon became apparent that although I hadn’t inherited my granddad’s unfortunate condition, a) I’d soon have bald patches if this continued, and b) it was only the red hairs that were turning white. I started dying my hair when I was 22 with just a strong enough red to make the white hairs red again and the brown hairs slightly reddish brown; being an impoverished grad student, I bought a kit and did it myself. The first reaction – “have you been putting dye in your hair?” – from a postdoc in my lab made me worried that I’d done something awfully wrong, like a kid trying on their mother’s makeup, but this turned out to be just another quirk of the local Scottish dialect that is equivalent in polite society English to “have you dyed your hair?” Thus encouraged I kept the practice up, albeit with reduced frequency after I got married and lazy as I became self-confident enough to overcome my childish vanity.

I’m heading out of town for four days tomorrow, so I decided that this morning would be a good time to banish the white hairs that had grown to about halfway down my hair’s full length. Having done this a million times before I approached the exercise with a certain confidence that all would go smoothly. But here’s what happened:

  • Set up all supplies as usual, and read the instructions in case anything had changed. It hadn’t – all normal.
  • Mixed the two solutions and started putting it in my hair. Everything still normal, except that I managed not to make the bathroom look too much like the aftermath of the shower scene in Psycho this time.
  • Took off the dye-covered gloves, thanking my lab training for my ability to do so without getting a single spot of dye on my hands or anywhere else.
  • Set timer for 15 minutes, wiped all the bits of dye off my face and shoulders, and grabbed a book. Everything still normal.
  • Heard alarm, turned it off, jumped in shower, turned on water.
  • Hot tap wouldn’t work.
  • Seriously – the screw thread must have broken off or something, because the tap just span freely in either direction with nary a drop of water coming out.
  • Ran frantically through house, dripping dye everywhere, looking for Mr E Man’s screwdriver (he’s out of town and wasn’t answering his phone). Failed to locate said screwdriver.
  • Realised the dye just had to come off before it scorched my hair and scalp. Turned cold water on and stuck head under tap, as just couldn’t bear the thought of using the shower head and getting freezing cold water all down my back.
  • Started gasping for breath due to the shock of the cold. Seriously couldn’t breathe. Pulled out, recovered, stuck head back under tap, repeated x4.
  • Realised this was ridiculous. Wrapped myself in towel and ran down to the basement suite, which thank goodness our tenant never locks up when he leaves as the flimsy internal door is nowhere near as sturdy as the deadbolted external door. Used his lovely warm shower until I thought the water was running clear.
  • Wiped dye splashes off shower wall, curtain, and bathroom floor.
  • Went back up the stairs, wiping up splashes as I went.
  • Re-entered own bathroom, looked in mirror, realised the water dripping from my hair was still quite pink.
  • Ran back downstairs, repeated rinsing and splash wiping procedure.
  • Came back upstairs, managed to find a drill bit that fit the screw that goes through the hot tap (just the bit, no drill), tightened it back up using pliers to turn the bit.
  • Looked in mirror. Hair drips still coloured.
  • Swore loudly
  • Shampooed hair three times, which you’re really not supposed to do to freshly-dyed hair, each time confirming that the water drips were still slightly pink.
  • Eventually thought “fuck it” and made sure to select a dark-coloured top to wear to work.

My hair’s still drying, so it’s too early to tell if it looks as disastrous as the rest of the splash-covered house… Oh well, I bought a very nice straw hat in Cuba and can wear that for a few months.

In conclusion, I have realised that I am no longer an impoverished grad student or postdoc, and will stump up the cash to pay a professional next time.


Well, taking the photo wasn’t easy – got lots of close-ups of half of the top of my head before deciding that this was the best option:

The white bits are much redder than usual, and the brown bits look much darker. Given that the white hairs tend to cluster in patches it looks a bit silly and uneven, but overall not as bad as I was expecting. Clearly, a delay then five short bursts of freezing cold water then a delay then a warm shower then a delay then another warm shower then a delay then three rounds of rigorous shampooing are not as good as the recommended immediate and uninterrupted long warm shower…

The patchiness always happens to some extent, and usually starts to even itself out after a few washes. It might take longer this time, but I can definitely live with it until then!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in English language, family, first world problems, personal, silliness. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Dyed-in-the-wool cheapskate

  1. Angie S. says:

    Cracked me up. 😀

  2. Stephen says:


  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Thanks, Angie!

    Stephen: coming up, gimme a few minutes!

  4. Ruth Seeley says:

    OMG Cath, I shouldn’t laugh. But it was hard not to. This happened to a neighbour of mine, except the water was shut off while she was in the middle of attempting to dye her waist-length hair. And it stayed off. Her solution was to dispatch all the occupants of the house to buy four-litre jugs of bottled water. My one attempt at dying my own hair involved henna – an attempt I quickly abandoned when I saw henna mud on my knees – I could just tell it was going to be like the attempts to paint my toenails – polish everywhere but where I wanted it. Whenever I’ve considered doing it myself subsequently, reading the ‘use of this product may lead to blindness’ included in the instructions has always made me stop and beg a friend to apply the dye instead (at least I’ll have someone else to blame, if not sue, if I do end up looking younger but unable to savour the results myself).

    Here’s the irony though – I stopped dying my hair about five years ago. No matter how unnatural the colours or highlights were when I was dying it, no one ever accused me of colouring my hair while I was having it coloured. Since I’ve stopped – I’m constantly accused of just having had my hair coloured! Go figger. 😉

  5. Steve Caplan says:

    Not just PHOTO: we need to see the “Before” and “After”.

  6. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Photo is now up! Sorry, Steve, I don’t have a recent “before” photo, or a time machine. If I did have a time machine, I think my priority would be to fix the tap before applying the dye, rather than taking photos of my white hairs.

    Ruth, your story made me cringe – at least I had *some* water! I was home alone, so I would have been royally screwed if my water shut off!

    I’ve tried henna before too, and it’s really fiddly. I used to really like the henna shampoo & conditioner I could buy in the UK, but can’t find anywhere in Canada, though! It kept the white hairs kind of at bay between dyes…

    I painted my toenails last night, and didn’t exactly do a stellar job of that either. I hate people touching my feet, but maybe I need to get over that and go for a pedicure!

  7. Ruth Seeley says:

    I’m just no good at any of that girly stuff, and I started going for pedicures when I developed chronic problems with my Achilles tendons – figured the last thing I needed was ingrown toenails! But then I like having my feet played with. Although not quite sure why the beautician grabbed my skirt yesterday as I was stepping off the pedicure ‘throne’ – it seemed to be an instinctive reaction – perhaps she was afraid I’d trip over it? I asked her if she was trying to yank it off over my head and never got an answer (well, we were all too busy laughing at that point, I think). 😉

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Further update: work BFF just came to my desk to see how I was, and squealed “ooh, I like your hair!”

    So maybe I should use today’s method every time?

  9. Silver Fox says:

    Great story! Who would think to check the shower before starting this procedure – I’m sure I wouldn’t! Glad you got at least one good review (of hair) so far.

  10. Nina says:

    I suppose this is why my mum always had me dye her hair for her before I moved too far away … it is a pain though to dye someones hair when she is in constant panic the dye will burn of her brains. Gah.
    She’s telling me now though that having it done professionally is such a pain because it takes much, much longer.

  11. Grant says:

    Look on the bright side: if life didn’t have it’s little adventures it’d be boring, eh? (I you couldn’t blab about them on your blog.)

    As a guy I don’t have anything to compare it with, but it brings back two memories.

    The first is of cold showers at sports clubs after football matches as a kid. Nothing like playing a winter sport then jumping into in a cold shower to wash the mud and sweat off… (On that note I grinned to myself when I read the New Zealand football coach’s comment that the new fully-covered stadium in Dunedin has hot showers unlike when he played in Dunedin in his playing days.)

    The other is from my travels. I have red hair. When I traveled to Pakistan, at several times an old (and possibly slightly dotty) man approach me asking where I’d gotten my hair dyed. Muslims there dye their hair with henna after their pilgrimage to Mecca & and they were very impressed with my hair job. I took a fair bit to convince them that was the way that my hair naturally is.

  12. MGG says:

    Great story! Wow!

  13. ricardipus says:

    I’m sure there’s a complex yet illuminating moral that can be span out of this story.

    See what I did there? You used “span”, a dead giveaway of your Irish/Scottish/various other British heritage. North Americans born would use “spun”.

    I’ll get me coat now.

  14. bean-mom says:

    Ooh, Cath, you’ll have to excuse my laughter here. I realize now that my week wasn’t so bad after all! =)

    The hair looks fine in the picture. But the repeated panic-cold-water method does seem a high price to pay for that shade of red!

  15. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Silver Fox, it never crossed my mind to check the shower before starting! But guess who has a fun new paranoia?!

    Nina, having someone else do it sounds like a very smart idea. Are you available for hire? 🙂

    Grant, yeah, as so often happens, as soon as everything had calmed down I thought “ooh, this would make a good blog post”.

    Great story about Pakistan! A friend of mine once went to China and got similar amounts of attention. She’s very striking – 6 foot 2, skinny, as white as a bottle of milk, bright blue eyes, and bright orange hair of the kind that only full-blooded Scots can ever hope to grow. She eventually resigned herself to the crowds of kids circling around her, and would just sit down and rub her head so they knew they could come up to her and touch her hair…

    Ricardipus, isn’t it “the tap span” but “the tap was spun”?

    I’m confused now.

    Bean-Mom, laugh away – it’s all good blog fodder!

    One more woman at work and then the two friends I saw last night said they liked my hair too. I’m flying down to Vegas to meet up with Mr E Man today, so I’ll see if he notices 🙂

  16. S says:

    Hey Cath,

    I love your sea star photo at the top of your blog. You likely know this but this is the ochre sea star which also comes in an orangeish colour. They are so colourful and vibrant and are Echinoderms…In total we have approx. 70 different types of sea stars, including the sunflower seastar – the biggest and fastest sea star in the world. Sea stars are so cool and they bring their stomachs outside of their bodies to eat their prey. The spiny boney bits on their skin is made out of calcium carbonate – the same material as egg shells…anyway, I am just excited about the photo so am rambling about stuff you probably already know…talk soon.

  17. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Thanks S! I took that photo on Savary Island 🙂

  18. Mike says:

    Next time just get the clippers out. Probably not as good blog material though…

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Well, I did ponder shaving my head to raise extra money when I was a few hundred short of my required total for the Vancouver-Seattle bike ride last year. But the moment has passed.

  19. cromercrox says:

    Everything still normal, except that I managed not to make the bathroom look too much like the aftermath of the shower scene in Psycho this time.

    It took me a while to work out why I hadn’t noticed the crowd of Halal butchers sneaking into our bathroom so they could slaughter goats. Mrs Crox fessed up to her hair dye.

    Me? I am very suspicious of the deplorable cult of youth and wear my greying locks with pride.

    • Frank says:

      Agreed! Grey is a nice simple colour.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        Grey looks really good on guys, though. Mr E Man looks ever so distinguished with his salt-and-pepper hair and grey streaks in his stubble. It’s different for women. It’s so unfair.

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