I was so worried about being late, I’ve arrived stupidly early. I remembered the way from my taster day, but didn’t know what the traffic would be like, so allowed way too much time. Not surprisingly, the lights are off and the salon deserted, and I’ve spent the last half hour freezing my tits off, in my mum’s little tin box of a car.
I’ve smoked three fags, chewed half a pack of gum, Facebooked and nervously nibbled several finger nails. A couple of cars are now pulling in, parking outside the building, people getting out.
Meeting new people makes me nervous. What will they be like? What will they make of me? Will I fit in?
I recognize the first person as Pip. She’s unlocking the door as two more members of staff appear. I’ve put them too but can’t remember their names. They greet with smiles and banter, then disappear inside. I think back to my taster day, racking my brains. The guy is called Matt? No hang on, let me think, Max. He is one of the tutors. I remember cos when he was introduced to me I told him that my first dog was called Max. He’d smiled and said that it must be a good omen for me to start dog grooming.
I loved my taster day so much and left buzzing and eager to sign up. I’ve been saving up for the past couple of years and with a bit of help from mum, my dreams are about to come true.
I’ve always loved dogs. When I was a kid, we had a scruffy little terrier, called Max, who lived until I was sixteen. I was heartbroken when he had to be put to sleep. My mum and dad had split up the year before and Max was my non judgmental soulmate, helping me through all their violent rows and then the messy divorce.
Six years on my mum and I now have beautiful Staffie called Belle. She’s a gentle soul, adopted from a rescue center where I volunteered for a while after crashing out of school, as a troubled teenager.
My Taster Day Left Me Buzzing
On my taster day, I met the tutors and some trainees. The salon was bright and modern with lots going on and the owner seemed nice and friendly. She offered me a coffee and we spent the first hour, sitting in her office chatting. Once I got over my initial nerves I began to relax. She asked me why I was considering a career in dog grooming.
“I love dogs.” I began, pausing in slight embarrassment “That’s a really corny thing to say.” I flustered. Pip smiled kindly, “It’s a fairly vital starting point.”
To be honest I hadn’t really thought out a future beyond doing a course. I love the idea of running my own little business, independent and answerable to no one, but in reality, that is pretty much impossible. For a start, Mum and I live in rented accommodation so I wouldn’t be able to work from home. In addition, I have no money so I wouldn’t be able to afford the all the equipment. After a couple of seconds, I concluded, slightly hesitantly, that my aim was to get a job in a grooming salon.
The rest of the taster day flew by. I chatted to a couple of trainees and they seemed to be really enjoying their course. Both mentioned how hard work it was, and how knackered they felt each evening after a full on day. I watched some clipping and scissoring and even helped washing a dog. OMG, I was in paradise and now, here I am, about to start a new journey.
I eventually dare to get out of the car
Arrive for 9.30am, it says on my induction day info. Still ten minutes to wait. I lower the window and light another cigarette, adding to my worries that I’m going to reek like an ash tray when I eventually dare to get out of the car.
A car pulls up and as its door opens and, I hear a frenzy of excited yapping. A fluffy black bundle of fun leaps from the car, whilst a man struggles to hold on to its lead. As the dog lunges forward in excitement, the line reaches full tension and almost pulls the man over. I giggle out loud.
Another man parks up beside me, and carefully lifts a skinny gray dog from his car. A Whippet, I think, we had one in for rehoming at the centre. The man reaches down and gives the dog a gentle pat on the head. He looks up with total trust, then trots happily beside him, towards and through the salon door.
I wish I felt that confident
Next, a woman arrives, gets out of her car, and heads towards the salon door. No dog, so I guess she’s starting today too. She looks almost as nervous as me. She glares towards me as I dock my fag out of the window then quickly turns away. FFS, I hope she’s not going to be one of those prim and proper anti smokers.
Times up and I’m bricking myself. I get out of the car and realize how cold I am, my feet feel like ice blocks as I plod towards the entrance. I edge through the door and hit a wall of warmth, the atmosphere already buzzing. A girl, carrying a mop bucket, steaming with hot water, gives me a smile and a wave. “Hiya.” She calls out, “Tommy Tuck has cocked his leg up the door frame.” She laughs and points towards the black fur bundle I saw arrive. “He has a nickname here, ‘Tommy Tuck the little…’ I’m not allowed to say it out loud.” She giggles.
“Hello again Gayle.” Max says. He is standing at the counter, the phone is ringing, someone else is pulling up outside. “It’s all go!” He grins as he picks up the call.
Pip appears, “Welcome Gayle. We’re going to start in my office, so come on through and make yourself comfortable.”
“Good morning ladies and gents, grab a seat, how are you feeling? All ready to go?”
“Raring!” A man replies enthusiastically. I realize he’s the block that went in with the Whippet. I see the dog curled up on a rug in the corner and the man spots my surprise. “This is Winnie,” he points fondly towards the snoozing dog. “She’s an old lady.” The dog appears to raise a slightly disdainful eyebrow in his direction, “I live alone and there’s no way I could leave her all day so Pip kindly said I could bring her with me to training.”
“Anne, how do you feel?” Pip asks.
“Eagerly nervous.” the prim and proper lady answers with an anxious smile.
“And you, Gayle?” Pip looks towards me.
“I’m good thanks.” I reply meekly, whilst wanting to actually say, I’m totally shitting myself.
“The first day is always nerve racking.” Pip begins, acknowledging my hesitant vibe, “So let’s break the ice a little and introduce ourselves to each other. As you already know, I am Pip, owner and tutor here. I began my dog grooming journey around eight years ago, as a total newbie, just like you. So please trust that I know both the excitement and anticipation you guys are feeling.”
Eric, tell us a little about yourself and your dog grooming aspirations.”
“Good morning ladies, I’m Eric. I’m forty four years old and have recently been made redundant. Winnie, is my sole companion and is the love of my life.” Eric winks. “After researching various career options working with dogs, I decided that I would love to be a professional dog groomer.”
“What was your former career Eric?’ Pip asks.
“I worked in visual merchandising for a major retailer, ” Eric replies “so quite a change for me.”
Pip nods in agreement, “Anne, what about you?”
“Hello I’m Anne and I’m fifty seven years old so I bet I’m the oldest student ever.”
“Not at all.” Pip encourages, “Dog grooming appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds and you are most definitely not the oldest trainee we’ve welcomed.”
Anne returns a grateful smile, “My background is working in care which I did for many years, part time while my husband and I raised our family. The kids have all finally left home, and to be quite honest I am looking for a new challenge.”
“So why dog grooming?” Eric asks.
“Well that’s Baloo’s fault.” Anne laughs. “Baloo is our eleven month old cockapoo. He is adorable, cheeky, full of beans, but also incredibly curly and a nightmare to brush. Consequently, I miserably failed to maintain his coat and the result was a very short back and sides on his first visit to a groomers. I felt like a terrible fur mum and promised myself I’d improve my home grooming skills. I started by looking for a course to learn how to home groom Baloo and then got enthralled by the idea of starting a small dog grooming business myself. So here I am.”
“Good for you.” Eric Nods, “At least you’ve got a good model to practice on. My Winnie’s not exactly going to test my skills.” He giggles.
“Gayle, would you like to tell us a little about yourself?” Pip asks.
“Hi I’m Gayle.” I mumble, “I’m nearly twenty three and have always loved dogs so thought dog grooming would be a good way to go.”
“Have you got dogs of your own?” Anne smiles warmly at me.
“I have a Staffie called Belle, she’s a rescue.”
“Short coat like Winnie, no home practice for you either.” Eric winks. Everyone laughs and I feel myself starting to relax.
“Okay team, let’s get down to business.” says Pip.
Health and Safety
The next few hours of our induction are pretty intense. We begin by discussing the salon’s emergency fire and first aid procedures. Next, Pip runs through a whole load of policies and legislation. Then, we move on to health and safety in the dog grooming environment. Pip shows us a photo and together we identify and discuss the many hazards and risks.
We are told that tonight’s homework is to complete our own risk assessment table. From tripping and lifting injuries, fire risks and electrocution. To things called COSHH and RIDDOR…WTF? The specific risks associated with working with dogs, from scratches to bites to zoonoses, diseases that humans can catch from a dog.
Pip concludes by explaining PPE, which I’ve learned means, personal protective equipment. From muzzles and various restraints used to protect a dog groomer from dog bites to aprons, gloves, ear defenders. I stifle a yawn and immediately feel really guilty, as Pip has, in fairness, made it all as interesting as I guess she can.
Breaking More Ice Over Lunch
By the time we left the office, the salon was a hive of activity. Looking through to the bathing area, I could see the team busily washing and drying dogs. In the main studio, Tommy Tuck was in Max’s arms, wiggling frantically as the three of us appeared.
“He’ll settle again in a minute,” Max smiled “I’ve only got his head to finish.”
“Oh please can I watch?’ Eric pleads.
“Yes of course,” Max answers “but you’ll have to stay really still and quiet or I won’t stand a chance.” He grins.
Anne heads off towards the break room, “Can I make you a cuppa Gayle?” She asks.
“That would be nice, thank you, white tea two sugars please but I’m desperate for a smoke so I’m just off outside.”
“Okay,” she smiles, “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Wacky haired groomers
As we reconvene in the training studio half an hour later, Eric is bursting with excitement.
“That was just amazing watching Max do Tommy’s head. The way he encouraged him to stay still, the way he wielded his scissors, turning that massive afro into a cute little bear. Oh my word, will I ever be able to do that? Perhaps I should grow my own hair for practice?”
I burst out into a fit of giggles, as Eric smirks at me and adds,
“We could be the wacky haired groomers. You with your shocking pink, which I totally adore by the way, and me with a poodle head.”
As we all laugh, I feel a sudden wave of confidence rush through me. Anne is not prim and proper at all. I think she is genuinely self conscious about her age and as nervous as I am meeting new people. Over our cup of tea she confided that she’d nearly bottled signing up. Eric, on the other hand, is hilarious and makes me laugh.
I’m pumped, and I can’t wait to see what the afternoon has in store.
As a car pulls up outside, Pip announces, “Here come your afternoon dogs!”
The three of us crane our necks, trying to be the first to spot our first real life grooming models. What breeds will they be? Which dog will be mine?
With a wide grin, Pip heads to the salon door to meet and greet the customer.
“Okay you guys, ready for round two?”