‘Perhaps you have head lice,’ my friend suggested, after I’d complained at length about my itchy head. SO itchy! It felt as if it were on fire.
I gasped. ‘It can’t be head lice. I have NEVER had head lice in my whole life.’ Clearly, I had some sort of scalp sensitivity experienced only by people with superior sensitivity and maybe superior scalps.
The very next morning, as I peered blearily into the bathroom mirror, an enormous louse strolled nonchalantly across my forehead. I dragged poor E out of bed and checked her hair. Riddled with them.
After the initial horror and the urge to inform not just the school but every single person whom I saw to STAND BACK lest a louse sprang at them in a frothing rage, it was quite entertaining. We practised counting on the dead lice in the bath. We examined a few under the microscope. They were actually rather pretty! E still keeps asking if she can keep some as pets. I point out that she already has them...
For yes, six weeks later and the charm has worn off. We are still the house of louse or hice of lice, although I think that K and I are now free of them and I hope but am not certain that E is too. We’ve tried out a few remedies and the purpose of this post is to tell anyone who finds their hice too is full of lice what we have discovered to be the best method of treatment. Which is...
Combing. You need to get a very good steel comb, such as the Nitty Gritty, put on a good film or audio-book, slap something a bit greasy like conditioner or olive oil on the hair and comb comb comb until the comb passes through the hair clean and do this every few days until there are no more lice or nits. It is tiresome and everybody hates it. But there we are.
We also found that diatomaceous earth, which we keep for treating red mite on our hens, and gin both seemed effective in terms of killing the lice and nits. The diatomaceous earth is a bit of a faff to wash out though, and I had to hide during the gin treatment because not only did I reek but also we didn’t have any cling-film so I’d wrapped tin foil round my head and looked like a conspiracy theorist waiting for the End Times. Still, gin has other uses so I was quite happy.
If you have any louse questions, do ask in the comments! I am quite knowledgeable now.
(or, Another Person Pontificating about Brexit and Trump)
It may not surprise you, but it surprised me, that I was extremely upset by the result of the UK’s referendum in June on whether to stay or leave the EU. I didn’t expect to cry or feel so strongly about it. After all, as a vaguely left-of-centre, tending towards the Liberal Democrat Party person, I am used to my chosen person or party losing. It wasn’t just that I thought that Brexit was and is a bad idea in practical terms (although we don’t seem able to agree on what Brexit actually is), it was all the lies and partial truths that both sides blithely spouted and, most of all, the ugly xenophobia and hatred that some people now started to express so openly. It was the first time that I’d paid any real attention to the tabloid press and I was shocked at what I saw there.
Like many other Europeans, I’ve been watching the rise of Donald Trump with increasing horror and bemusement. It seemed there was nothing that he could say or admit to which would deter people from voting for him. And a presidential election surely focuses very much on the character of the candidate. There are checks and balances (we hope) on a president’s power, but he is what the American people choose to show the world to represent their values. I don’t like Donald Trump’s values, and I fear them.
So for a while after Brexit and for a while after Trump’s victory I just felt sadness and anger. How could they? And in my inability to understand why anyone could justifiably vote for Donald Trump I have found an answer, in a way, although I hope it’s not a glib answer and I still wonder if it stands up. I am surrounded by people who think like me, broadly speaking. I read newspapers and sites who share my views. I don’t have much to do with those who hold different opinions. I am isolated from the people who voted to Brexit, physically and mentally. I don’t read about their concerns and I dismiss those of their views I find repugnant as if that will make them go away. It’s not often that I really have to argue a point any more, or that I subject my ideas to much scrutiny. Why then do I expect others to have done this? Why should a Daily Mail reader have done it, if I haven’t?
We all increasingly live in chambers of mirrors, which reflect back to us what we want to believe. The British and the American media often serve us badly; many outlets are partisan and we know it. We read those papers and watch those news bulletins which share our perspective. Those who become cynical about hidden agendas often seek alternative news sources on the internet, and not all of these are reliable. Soon it’s difficult to distinguish what is ‘true’ from what is ‘fact’, so to some extent we all give up and just stick with what we want to believe. We choose to see only what we want to see and ignore the rest if it doesn’t fit.
While we shouldn’t over-emphasise the similarities between Brexit and Trump, there do seem to be some. Of course, unless mind-reading devices are now standard issue for political journalists, we can’t be sure of why people voted, though there are lots of analysts writing thoughtful opinions about this. After reading quite a few of these pieces, I think it is reasonable to say that both Brexit and Trump represent for sure a surge in nationalism, isolationism, anger at the political classes, selfishness, racism/xenophobia, Islamophobia and delusion. But how much each of those elements weighed with individual voters will have varied. I don’t think that everyone who voted Brexit was a roaring racist, for instance (though some were), but it seems likely that they considered the dangers of isolation and xenophobia to be less important to them than ‘taking back control’. I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump is a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist (though some are), but for some of them misogyny was less of a problem than Clinton’s hawkishness. Some people are less bothered by racism and sexism than they are by other things, or because they haven’t thought much about them, crucially because they are not the people adversely affected by them; I think this isn’t quite the same as their being actively racist or sexist. Surely a person who is thoughtless about something can be shown it; a person who has thought about something and actively decided on hate is harder to persuade. Or is this my own delusion speaking?
This year has taught me that we take our freedoms for granted and bear our responsibilities to each other lightly. It’s taught me I’m not the only coward and that that’s no longer good enough. It’s taught me that people prefer easy answers to hard truths and won’t look at what they don’t like. It’s taught me we need to start listening to each other better and also challenging each other’s perceptions and calling people out for racism or misogyny; we need to step out of our chambers of mirrors and be brave. It’s taught me that there are some politicians who will take advantage of our apathy, selfishness and ignorance; we should not let them and we should hold all our leaders to account for what they say and do. This year is still teaching me. I haven’t liked what I’ve learnt so far, but I am paying attention.
The poems in The Haw Lantern have always had a special place in my heart because I studied them for A-level (all my English A-level texts have remained very dear to me, I suppose from that intense immersion in them and also because it was then that I started learning how to read critically and look at how texts work). For National Poetry Day I’ve typed out the titular poem (ignoring as best I can my 17-year-old self’s excruciating commentary on it):
The wintry haw is burning out of season, crab of the thorn, a small light for small people, wanting no more from them but that they keep the wick of self-respect from dying out, not having to blind them with illumination.
But sometimes when your breath plumes in the frost it takes the roaming shape of Diogenes with his lantern, seeking one just man; so you end up scrutinized from behind the haw he holds up at eye-level on its twig, and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone, its blood-prick that you wish would test and clear you, its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on.
This was originally published by Faber & Faber in 1987 and remains beautiful and apposite. I’d like to email it to all our political representatives, for a start.
(John Atkinson Grimshaw, The Harvest Moon, oil on canvas, found here)
Not soon shall I forget – a sheet Of golden water, cold and sweet, The young moon with her head in veils Of silver, and the nightingales.
A wain of hay came up the lane – O fields I shall not walk again, And trees I shall not see, so still Against a sky of daffodil!
Fields where my happy heart had rest, And where my heart was heaviest, I shall remember them at peace Drenched in moon-silver like a fleece.
The golden water sweet and cold, The moon of silver and of gold, The dew upon the gray grass-spears I shall remember them with tears.
Katharine Tynan was an Irish poet about whom I know no more than Wikipedia tells me. I found this poem in Walter de la Mare’s lovely anthology Come Hither. It is a bit weepy, but I love its music, and the image of the veiled moon. The first line, ‘Not soon shall I forget’ – but forget I shall, one day – is challenged by the repeated ‘I shall remember’ – and yet what might be several distinct memories (although perhaps not: before I saw the Atkinson Grimshaw painting I could not imagine a yellow sky and silver moonlight at the same time, yet there they are) are already bleeding a little into each other. It reminds me a bit of ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’.
Does anyone know more about Tynan? Do you like this poem?
Now I am off to enjoy the weekend with a glass of wine and Variable Cloud (Carmen Martín Gaite, translated by Margaret Jull Costa). This is a novel which had lain about unread and unloved for twenty years and was almost taken to the charity bookshop when I had a small clear-out in August. But its time had come! And it is excellent.
(Rex Whistler, Ave Silvae Dornii, oil on canvas laid on panel, 1928, Dorneywood; found here)
I’ve just read this fascinating post by Desperate Reader on guilty pleasures. Both Hayley and her commenters have lots of lovely guilty pleasures; I immediately tried to think of some of my own to add and – failed rather. Here is my list:
Watching detective series on the television whilst scoffing slabs of cheap, mild and rubbery cheese mindlessly and without restraint. Part if this pleasure involves loudly changing my mind about who dunnit and why every ten minutes and then, when the solution is reached, claiming that I knew it anyway. The cheese must have almost no discernible taste: very young Gouda is my preferred choice but a very mild Cheddar is perfectly acceptable when in Britain.
Reading children’s books – I don’t mind admitting that here, but in real life I feel more judged, principally by non-readers, weirdly enough.
Holidaying by myself. I am a rabid and indefatigable tourist, I love visiting churches and museums and galleries and wandering about the streets, and it’s just so much easier to do this alone than when I’m having to take into account what other people want. Especially if they want to sit around drinking coffee or lunching for hours – for God’s SAKE people, we don’t have time for this!
Making dolls’ clothes and the odd (in every sense of the word) toy for my daughter – I don’t feel guilty about doing this as much as I feel guilty about how much I enjoy it, surely an unadult quality?
Erm – that’s it. How dull! I nearly included reading vintage detective novels, as they’re now called, which used to be a guilty pleasure twenty years ago but now seems to be too widely accepted to count. A guilty pleasure, after all, has to be something you’d feel embarrassed about if someone else discovered it, and nobody sniggers at the mention of John Dickson Carr or Margery Allingham any more. Society now seems much more tolerant of a few foibles; also, I’m middle-aged and things that would have crippled me with mortification when I was in my twenties – reading Georgette Heyer! Liking some of the pre-Raphaelite artists! – because someone might think the less of me no longer trouble me because I am just a bit less bothered about other people’s opinions of me (though not entirely unbothered by any means!).
To me, a guilty pleasure is something subversive – it’s doing something that we know or believe is disapproved of by our peers or society and enjoying it anyway. It’s that part of you which has survived from when you were a teenager, the rebel who was in bed by ten every night; it’s not truly wicked or revolutionary nor are you alone in doing it. It’s the you who puffed on shared Marlboro Lights at parties and then frantically sucked Polo mints before you went home; the you who keened along to The Smiths and drove your father nuts by declaring that Meat is Murder, who shared half a bottle of cooking sherry with your friends and then puked behind the rose bushes. You did those things because your friends did them too and you didn’t necessarily enjoy them, so they aren’t quite the same as guilty pleasures, but the enjoyment of that feeling of naughtiness and sticking it to The Authorities is what links the two.
Yet I think a guilty pleasure isn’t just doing something that society deems unworthy – I think it’s something that chips at our own image of ourselves. It’s reading romance novels when your usual fare is literary fiction, it’s buying an expensive dress when you consider yourself to be ‘above’ fashion, it’s eating a slice of cake when you normally take care to follow a healthy diet. You’re being a little cheeky to yourself, flipping the finger to the Boss You who creates your self-image and shapes who you are. Look – I can be wild and let my hair down ha ha HA! However, a guilty pleasure is an occasional treat rather than a way of life. When you pick up a Betty Neels paperback, you’re dipping your toes in the waters of deviance, but then stepping back into your normal self, the clever person who reads poetry and modernist fiction. By keeping your guilty pleasure under control, you remind yourself that, while you could read nothing but Mills & Boon, you are not that sort of person really. But you acknowledge, somewhere, that possibility. That slight loss of control is exciting.
Without the mild sense of transgressiveness, there can be no guilty pleasure (is that why I don’t read vintage detective fiction very much any more? There’s no thrill involved?). This enjoins secrecy, and that’s important too. It’s nice not to be a person who is all surface, who doesn’t have any hidden surprises, and who doesn’t tamely follow the script. So I say: let us not be surfacey and controlled! Let us rebel, even in a small way! Let there be more guilty pleasures and let us revel in them! But covertly!
What about you? Do you have any guilty pleasures? And do you think that they’re a secret gesture of defiance or deplorable self-indulgence – or something else?
(Rex Whistler, detail from The Triumph of Fancy, poster, c. 1928; found here)
Where the remote Bermudas ride In the ocean’s bosom unespied From a small boat, that rowed along, The listening winds received this song. ‘What should we do but sing his praise That led us through the watery maze, Unto an isle so long unknown, And yet far kinder than our own? Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks, That lift the deep upon their backs, He lands us on a grassy stage, Safe from the storms, and prelate’s rage, He gave us this eternal spring, Which here enamels everything, And sends the fowls to us in care, On daily visits through the air. He hangs in shades the orange bright, Like golden lamps in a green night, And does in the pom’granates close Jewels more rich than Ormus shows. He makes the figs our mouths to meet, And throws the melons at our feet, But apples plants of such a price, No tree could ever bear them twice. With cedars, chosen by his hand, From Lebanon, he stores the land. And makes the hollow seas, that roar, Proclaim the ambergris on shore. He cast (of which we rather boast) The gospel’s pearl upon our coast, And in those rocks for us did frame A temple, where to sound his name. Oh let our voice his praise exalt, Till it arrive at heaven’s vault: Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may Echo beyond the Mexique Bay.’ Thus sung they, in the English boat, A holy and a cheerful note, And all the way, to guide their chime, With falling oars they kept the time.
Sometimes I post poems here (though only those out of copyright!) and today I felt like posting this one. I like Marvell’s poetry and I like the fact that much of it is so ambiguous – ‘Bermudas’ is, in my opinion, no exception. At first glance it seems a hearty seventeenth-century endorsement of colonialism and of the paradisical nature of the Bermudas, which it seems had long been associated with Puritan emigrants. Marvell probably wrote it in 1653, when he was living in the house of John Oxenbridge, a Non-conformist divine and commissioner with responsibility for the Bermudas. It draws particularly on the Psalms. But there are complications. We know that the rowers are in an English boat but not who they are or where they are going (not far, presumably, since it’s a small boat). Nor is it clear at all why they are keeping time with their oars in order ‘to guide their chime’, rather than singing to help them keep time with their rowing as would seem natural.
The luxuriantly sensual nature of the imagery doesn’t seem to be quite the sort of thing that Puritans and Non-conformists fleeing England should be celebrating. There is perhaps something rather oppressive in the abundant fertility, the figs pressing themselves to ‘our mouths’ and the melons being thrown at ‘our feet’, or so it seems to me; in any case, it’s all slightly comical and over the top. It was by then known in England that the Bermudas were not at all like this and were distinctly lacking in pomegranates stuffed with jewels, so if this is supposed to be propaganda, it’s odd. And while the oarsmen celebrate the Bermudas, they are not there, only nearby, at sea, working so that they can sing.
Since Marvell’s other poetry is riddled with complications and ambiguities to the point that his own views are often obscured, I don’t think accepting this poem at face value really works. But what is it really about? Is it a sort of allegory of life and are the rowers souls seeking Heaven – but, erroneously believing that Heaven is filled with fleshly delights and riches, unable ever quite to reach it? Does that interpretation even begin to work? I really don’t know, but I love the poem.
There’s an interesting article about ‘Bermudas’ here.
(‘The Tree of Life’, embroidered canvas, British, from the first half of the seventeenth century; given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1964 by Irwin Untermeyer and found here. The Tree of Life shown here is a multi-fruiting tree which grows in the City of God and is described in Revelations; it is entwined with a vine symbolizing the Passion of Christ and the promise of eternal life. Isn’t it lovely?)