Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Simply Red

Life isn't all roses when you're a redhead. For a start, there are the names. As I may have mentioned before, a woggle of Sudanese girl guides once peered into my pram in Khartoum and remarked, 'kabir ahmar tama tim', which means, 'big red tomato' in Arabic. Then there was the master at my prep school who habitually called me 'copperknob'. I don't think he'd be allowed to do that now.

At my next school I was briefly known as 'Hot Rod', which I'm hoping referred to my extraordinarily good looks or my fiery temperament, not to any amoratory qualities (it being an all-boys' establishment).

And there was my first attempt to grow a moustache (Yes, I know what you're thinking. But this was in the days of the Che Guevara poster and the Zapata moustache, and I was trying to look older than twelve and a half). It grew all right, sort of, even if it did list all in one direction like a hedge on the Cornish coast. But it didn't show. Dyeing seemed the obvious answer, until an evening with a bottle of Clairol and a toothbrush left me with red hair, pale eyebrows, a chocolate brown tash with streaks and a wash basin like a prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It wasn't a good look for a student on the streets of Tyneside, especially up the Scotswood Road. My toothbrush tasted funny too.

The journal Science reported last year that DNA retrieved from the bones of Neanderthals indicated that they had red hair. In fact there's a theory that we are crossbred throwbacks to that extinct species. Great. So now we're Neanderthals, as well as Ginger Tossers. (I never cared for the term 'ginger' much anyway. It smacks of cats and edible roots. Naming a type of biscuit 'ginger nuts' wasn't helpful either).

Last year someone in New York had the thought; "What would it be like if you got onto a subway car and slowly realized that everyone on the car but you had red hair?" Subsequently, in a well-organised improv, fifty red heads, pretending to be unconnected, boarded a subway car - on the Red line, naturally. I don't know about ordinary monochrome folk; I'd certainly have been pretty freaked out.

(Photo: ImprovEverywhere)


  1. Yes, it's funny how racism isn't acceptable but schoolyard pointing and laughing at redheads somehow is!

    Mine faded to an unflattering strawberry blonde so I now have it tinted to a pleasant browny auburn with matching eyebrows which garners flattering comments rather than otherwise! Lashes are dyed dark brown to save on wrestling with too much mascara in the morning. Yes I can identify with early-dyeing distasters BT! And early self-tanning disasters as well. You should see the prejudice you get for orange skin! And yes, i have written a poem about that - perhaps I'll have to dig it out now.

  2. Neanderthals are a throwback to be proud of. Other scientists have proven that our advanced language stems from them and not from "Modern man"... so there you go. Ginger but poets of the people!

  3. My Grandmother had red hair apparently (was only silver when I knew her) but my daughter has wonderfully strawberry blonde hair. Over here if you have red hair they are more likely to call you "Blue". It is a rather odd thing tho' isn't it that certain traits are singled out for "mirth" cousin is a very white blonde and she is a teacher in China, they all stare at her!
    Now then, pass the wine and we'll say no more about it (it is RED isn't it??)

  4. As an adult must admit I kind of enjoy standing out from the crowd.

    I've also been amused to notice I get a lot of lingering looks from the opposite sex. At first I deluded myself I must be a secret supermodel or something, then I realised chaps were simply deciding 'if they would or wouldn't' & it took them longer with me as they couldn't pigeonhole me so quickly as they could a blonde or brunette, so it's interesting that they can never seem to make their snap street decision on me one way or the other! A bit of reassurance I can't be that ugly either I guess.

    It was just childhood that was somewhat hellish (tho' the bullies picked on more than just the colour of my hair as I mentioned in my British Bullying post some while back)

  5. My entire family has red hair, including my stepdad (my mum obviously has "a type"). I've never felt any particular prejudice levelled at me, but I'm more strawberry - I think it would be different if I had the "real" red hair my youngest brother has - he shaved it down to a gingery stubble when he hit 24 and hasn't let it grow since. I think it's harder for men, because while there are umpteen glamorous female redhead role models, there are far fewer for men. Was Churchill a redhead?

  6. Strangely, as I didn't get teased particularly, I kept getting drawn into, and then deleting, stuff about prejudice and bullying as I wrote this post. I guess blondes have a hard time of it too.

    Laura - I'd have killed for dyed eyelashes! Have been looking for your bullying post, but not found it yet..

    Steve - Thanks, that was news to me. Proud to be Neandertal!

    Sagittarian - Neither of my parents had red hair, nor my uncles and aunts, but the recessive gene surfaced for my sister and I and our cousins.

    Lucy - I agree about it being better for women. Churchill did have red hair - I've just googled to check and found he was also called 'copperknob' at Harrow. People have compiled lists of redheads - rather a defensive gesture, I'd say.

  7. BT, I believe you can buy Dyelash kits (colour Brown) from most chemists and large supermarkets these days. But if you use on your eyebrows as well, try applying for just one minute rather than the recommended 6 as it's powerful stuff and you don't want to end up with really dark eyebrows, whereas eyelashes the darker the better. Also put vasolene around your eyes to avoid dye staining your skin.

  8. Laura, thank you. The SS says I'd look silly. I'm up for that!