A man was sitting with his back to her, just inside the row of plastic potplants which fenced off the cafeteria. She had to narrow herself and slide sideways to get past his inconveniently placed chair. Which of her senses recognised him first? She was close enough to smell his unwashed hair, to see the way his shirt collar stuck up stiffly round his ears, to hear the cheerful slurp of his mouth at the cup. She was right behind him, poised on her toes. Could it be? And if she spoke, would she be sorry afterwards?

‘Excuse me,’ she said.

He turned his head. It was Dexter. Oh, her awful modern clothes, her hair spiked and in shock. He saw the fan of lines at the outer corner of her eye and his heart flipped like a fish. He pushed back his chair and stood up in a clumsy rush.

Does it mean "she had spiky hair and was shocked"?

Source: The children's bach by Helen Garner

  • It's a very strange phrasing. As a US English speaker, I'm not sure what it means. I see that Helen Garner is an Australian; it might be an Australian phrasing.
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 30, 2021 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


It's a style of "modern" (i.e. 1970s) fashion that has the hair cropped and what there is left of it sticking up, held in place by gel and/or spray. It makes it look as though the hair is standing on end, as though the wearer is "in shock".

The context of this seems to be that Dexter is surprised and discomfited that an acquaintance of his has embraced modern (and to Dexter distasteful) fashions and has obviously changed (whether for the better or the worse one would find out by continuing the story).

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