Um, so I took a pair of scissors to my dreadlocks…
PLEASE DON’T PANIC, I DIDN’T GET RID OF MY DREADLOCKS COMPLETELY.
Sorry, I did not mean to scare you.
I’ve always loved having long hair, but it rarely got down to my shoulders for most of my pre-university life. When I had my dreadlocks first put in 5+ years ago they were spiky little things I could hardly tuck behind my ear. Gradually though they grew (into the ‘locked’ form, I must add – I’ve never had to tighten them). Yes: dreadlocks grow. Man, growing is all those buggers do (aside from eating my earrings)!
They hit my shoulder. By 2012 they were getting to waist-length. And honestly, I liked having them as long as they possibly could go.
The trouble is…in the summer it felt like I was overheating because of the mass of insulation I had on my head. In the winter I could use ’em as a scarf and keep toasty, but in hot weather they were uncomfortable.
Down in London at Imperial College I was pottering about the organic synthesis labs doing chemistry, and I started to get worried about my long hair. If I leant into the fumehood I saw there was a high risk of a rogue dreadlock falling into a solvent flask/chemical spill/hot oil bath. During my daily research work I use toxic, highly flammable and reactive chemicals in a fumehood. Tied back and tucked into my labcoat, the dreads were still a potential fire hazard.
Then of course along come the problems with people’s perception of me. Sure, I can just say “F*ck ’em if they don’t like my hairstyle”, but I’m choosing a professional career path for myself. If I was going to work in a hippie coffee shop I could probably get away with butt-length hair…pharmaceutical R&D employees don’t tend to make bold statements with their hair.
For a number of years I’ve been thinking vaguely that my dreadlocks were due a cut-back, but I never went through with it. The thing is – the dreadlocks felt as much a living part of me as my fingers. They were whole, they were more than just a facet of my image, they became linked to my identity. Cutting them would be akin to amputation.
And yet along came a catalyst.
On the night of the 30th April every year Edinburgh hosts a massive celebration of Beltane; marking the Celtic calendar’s transition from Winter to Summer. I have a handful of contacts on Facebook who have been involved in the Fire Festival, and who have posted some amazing pictures for me to see. Despite that, this year was the first time I actually went along to the event (part of my general program to immerse myself in Edinburgh while I still have the chance).
If you like any of the following things then you will like Beltane: fire, naked people, pagan/Mother Earth-type celebrations, liberal application of colourful body paint, fire, dreadlocks. (See some of the official pictures here) There were evangelical Christians handing out flyers and praying in circles on Carlton Hill, describing the Fire Festival as “Pagan darkness”. Personally, I think celebrating the coming of summer and respecting nature is a wholly good, positive thing.
But anyway, one of the central theme of the Beltane celebrations is one of rebirth and rejuvenation. The central male character who represents nature dies and is symbolically reborn, groups of performers are “awoken” during the procession by the figure of spring called The May Queen.
With the transition from winter to summer it could hardly be a better time to implement a rejuvenation within myself.
Additionally, I’m approaching a big life transition: starting my PhD in the USA. Change, new beginnings, growth, development, new directions…
On the 1st May I bought a small pair of scissors and cut my dreads back to shoulder level.
Well, my head certainly felt lighter.
Liberated from the hairy shackles of my previous incarnation, I now feel ready to tackle Summer and the next stage of my life.