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.