I have never shared a flat with another black woman. As a result, I am obsessed with the hair and beauty products that other black women keep in their bathrooms - not just with discovering whether they work, but also with how they feel about them.
Whenever I have been in shared accommodation, I was painfully aware of how much my products stood out. As a student, I was ashamed of the garish packaging and Afro-centric names of some of the products I used. I'd long for L'Oréal or whoever to bring out a shampoo for Afro hair, if only so my bottle would fit in on the shelf with everyone else's. I grew so tired of people coming out of the bathroom, laughing, holding aloft my bottle of Sta-Sof-Fro and asking if they could try some, that I took to keeping it in my bedroom.
What a difference a decade makes. These days, I am more likely to run out screaming with glee if I spot that same bottle, or any of the other old-school brands, in another person's bathroom. A can of Luster's Pink, or a tub of TCB tucked behind the Palmer's Original always brings a smile to my face and makes me feel at home. It's as if we're part of a secret club. I may be useless when it comes to the English history part of a pub quiz, but I can smell Soft 'n' Lovely at 10 paces. And if you don't know your Astral from your Nivea, then, frankly, I don't care how many Beatles tracks you can name.
I get the biggest kick of all, however, from going through the make-up bag or, better still, bathroom cabinet of another black woman. For me, this is where the real beauty tips are, not the pages of women's magazines. Trading beauty secrets is not just a black thing, but it always feels as if it has more urgency when it's among black women, because we know that, if we didn't do that, we'd have little else by way of advice. I, for one, would still believe that my hair is too "difficult" for even the most expensive hairdresser, and that the only place to find make-up for my colouring is America, rather than, say, at the nearest MAC counter.