ACROSS the world, roots have been showing, ends have been splitting, fringes have been getting in the way, and birds have been eyeing up potential nesting sites growing uncontrollably on neglected heads.

And so, the return of hairdressers on Saturday was one of the most eagerly awaited events of lockdown.

But while others were desperately booking colours, bobs, perms, blow-drys, and the odd Mohican, the admirable Muriel Joy was first in the queue at Jigsaw Hairdressers, in Darlington – on a mission to go completely bald.

OK, head shaves aren’t that unusual anymore, but when you’re an 85-year-old great-grandma, it takes courage that puts you head and shoulders above the rest.

And Muriel, who has six grandchildren and five great grandchildren, had a very good reason for ordering hairdresser Nigel Dowson to “take it all off”. After enduring more than her fair share of tragedy in her life, she wanted to get back to supporting St Teresa’s Hospice.

When David, one of her four children, caught pneumonia and died within weeks of his 25th birthday, Joy raised money for St Teresa’s by running six times round the pitch at Feethams, where he’d been a loyal fan of The Quakers.

Then, when Muriel’s husband, Maurice, died of cancer ten years ago, she raised more money for St Teresa’s by taking part in the charity’s Midnight Walk. She’d met Maurice over a game of fives and threes and they were together for more than 50 years.

Five years ago, Muriel faced further heartache when her daughter, Carol, died of breast cancer, aged 58. It has taken since then for Muriel to find the strength to fundraise again in Carole’s memory by arranging the head shave.

“I couldn’t leave Carol out, but it took me a long time to get my head round it,” Joy explained. “When coronavirus blew up, and I knew how hard St Teresa’s had been hit, that was the incentive I needed.”

Muriel, who lives in Greenbank Court, Darlington, has set herself a target of £1,000, with donations coming as far afield as the Falkland Islands, where Carol’s son, Barry, works as an aircraft engineer after 23 years in the Army.

“If I don’t get to £1,000, I’ll top it up myself,” she promised.

Ironically, Muriel’s ambition growing up had been to be a hairdresser but her father, who ran the Station Hotel, in Hurworth Place, couldn’t afford to pay the bond required in those days, so she worked at Paton and Baldwins wool factory.

Her verdict on her new smooth-headed look: “I’m happy with it,” she said. “I’ll see how it goes but I might keep it like this for a while.”

In the meantime, if she feels the need, she’s can always wear the wig Carol used during chemotherapy.

“I always keep it with me,” she says.

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ONTO another couple of good sports, Brian and Jane Dobinson, who have chosen a different route to keeping trim.

At the start of lockdown, the Darlington couple made a commitment to walk every day, with Jane keeping count of their steps on her fitness tracker. It shows they’ve passed the million steps mark – the equivalent of walking to Padstow, in Cornwall.

That’s even more remarkable in view of the fact that Jane was told in the early days of the pandemic that she’d have to shield because she has a respiratory condition called COPD.

  Instead of putting her feet up, she spent the first 18 days of lockdown walking round and round the garden. However, after a further check with her GP, she was given permission to go out on walks because the illness was under control.

“I was going stir crazy, so it was lovely to get out and about again,” she said.

When husband Brian’s not out walking, another of his hobbies is organising the Darlington Sports Winners scheme, and, coronavirus allowing, the grand final will take place at Darlington College on January 27.

That’ll be the 43rd year running the event will have taken place – another achievement to be proud of.

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IN need of some fresh air beyond the lockdown confines of our home village of Hurworth-on-Tees, Brian and Jane were asked to recommend their favourite walk.

Without hesitation, they suggested a seven-mile circular trek from Muker to Keld, high in the Yorkshire Dales.

What a cracking piece of advice it turned out to be. The Muker wild-flower meadows may be past their best, but the waterfalls, the aerial displays of the oyster catchers, the ruined lead mines, and the spectacular views down the valley, were ample consolation.

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Other points of interest along the way include a weathered old tractor, which is gradually becoming part of the hillside, and wouldn’t look out of place as a Turner Prize contender.

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We even managed to support the local economy at the halfway point, with an outdoors pot of tea at the newly reopened Keld Lodge Hotel.

Also back in business, Muker’s Old School Art Gallery and Workshop is worth a visit too. As well as bursting with arts and crafts inside, there’s a stone sheep sitting by the chimney. You can’t miss it – it’s tup on the roof.

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MUKER also happens to be the name of a rather talented racehorse.

Trained at Easingwold by Phillip Makin, the chestnut colt has already won at Newcastle before finishing third at Royal Ascot.

His next run is at York tomorrow and it’s a fair bet they’ll be toasting him in The Farmers Arms, in Muker, if he’s first past the post.

MEANWHILE, Donald Trump – a man whose sculpted comb-over has always been an abstract work of art – has been having a rethink over face masks.

Having dismissed them for most of lockdown, he’s now a firm advocate, suggesting they make him look like The Lone Ranger.

Funny that, because Kemosabe’s mask didn’t even cover his nose and mouth – just his eyes.

Increasingly, the president is a case of Hi ho Silver – away with the fairies.

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GROWING up on a council estate at South Bank, near Middlesbrough, we were cowboys too.

The slagheaps were our mountains, our bikes were our horses, and the music of the Spaghetti Westerns was the soundtrack of our imaginations.

Thank you, Ennio Morricone – a genius whose film scores touched every corner of the world. Rest in peace.

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