Aside from a period of around 8 years' duration when I dyed my hair black (although I emphatically wasn't a goth, I favoured pale skin and red lips, as well as black clothes, and consequently earned myself a cheerful greeting from a stranger in a Glasgow street: "Hello Morticia!"), I have been hennaing my hair since 1983.
I started at a new school at the age of 13, having been experimentally educated "at home" for the preceding four years. I was out of practice at being normal, and every day I was taunted by the sophistication of my new classmates: barely into their teens they might have been, but they knew things, they smoked cigarettes, they went to parties, they drank too much and they had lovebites bestowed upon them. Every day was terrifying to me.
With the money from my Saturday job I'd saved up and bought new clothes from the dirt-cheap fashion store on South Bridge, Edinburgh, What Every Woman Wants ("What Everys" for short), and emboldened I giddily acquiesced to my sister's suggestion one Sunday night that we should henna my hair. We mixed up the henna with a fork as instructed and piled the hot, stinking, red-brown vegetable matter onto my head. It stayed on for a long time, much longer than instructed because we had no idea what we were dealing with, and when we washed it off, in an astonishing transformation my hair was bright, shiny, and suddenly very red.
As bad luck would have it, I was late for school the next day. As I crept to my desk to sit down, I felt eyes on me in the silence. Then someone hissed loudly, nastily: "What's she done to her hair?"
"Probably dyed it", came the contemptuous answer. I shrank into my seat.
Early over-enthusiastic disasters behind me, I still henna my hair from time to time. The side-effects are always the same: it creates a terrible mess, with glops of muddy matter dropped everywhere by my careless hands; it's very strong and can dye your scalp if you let it; and it has a powerful smell, which doesn't wash off for a few days. But henna leaves my hair feeling soft and looking healthy, in pleasant shades of red which shine in the sun enough to gladden my shallow little heart.
[Picture from Tim Burton's fashion shoot for Harper's Bazaar]