To a louse

When Robert Burns published his poem, in 1785, he was full of annoyed revulsion that the blastit wonner dared crawl over Jenny’s bonnet in church. You’ve got to have the right accent though. The language is a bit hard to follow 226 years later, but just listen to Robert Carlyle reading it here. Tooth-gritted.

“Love this poem…had to recite it, aged 10, in front of the whole primary school. Ah, memories. To be honest, we weren’t really sure what it was about, as we called them nits. Think it took a few years to dawn on me that I’d been reciting a poem about headlice!” From Sarah Litchfield, herself now a primary school teacher.

I had a comb through recently, and we were all clear. A good sign. And no need for mercurial rozet or fell red smeddum. Incidentally, although inspired by seeing a louse crawling on the bonnet of a lady sitting in front of him in church, Burns is likely to have been describing a body louse on the move, rather than a head louse. No head louse ever knowingly leaves the locks, and it was usually body lice that occurred in hats.

Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her—
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
Wi’ ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whaur horn nor bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rels, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right,
Till ye’ve got on it—
The verra tapmost, tow’rin height
O’ Miss’ bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ grey as ony groset:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie you sic a hearty dose o’t,
Wad dress your droddum.

I wad na been surpris’d to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
On’s wyliecoat;
But Miss’ fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do’t?

O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin:
Thae winks an’ finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

Mother Earth is on Facebook

My chum Kaye has a Facebook friend who put out the question: “My child has come home with nits, any suggestions?” She’s a natural Mother Earth type, Kaye reported and my heart sank.

There were many, many Mother Earth types at the excellent festival I went to with my offspring a couple of Julys ago.  It seems the English summer, though cruel to everyone else, was kind to us and we had three days of sunshine and grubby pleasure sitting in the grass, drinking beer in the afternoon – me that is, not my children – and wandering around the entertainment stalls and therapy tents and daft workshops, as well as listening to lots of live music. One afternoon, the main field was full of dancing adults and sheepish children embarrassed by their parents and a friend introduced me to an arty sort she thought I might get along with.

She was indeed interesting so we chatted and watched and supped from cans and eventually I couldn’t help but giggle and point out several children who were mucking around among the revellers dressed in oversized t-shirts, sporting long matted plaits and bare feet. I was amused because every so often, they stopped and gave their heads a good scratch.

“Hah! Just look at those kids going behind their ears like hound dogs! They are absolutely riddled!” I chortled.

And my new acquaintance laughed and agreed with me and we carried on. It was only later that I saw her giving them some money to go and get themselves something to eat.

So, I asked Kaye, what was the advice that came back on Facebook? All kinds, Kaye replied but ultimately the Mother Earth type had decided to “let nature take its course”.

I am still shuddering two days later.


For Nits In the Head

Eldest daughter and I went on a long  journey recently – no, not metaphorically… we were looking at universities – and happened to watch the recent movie Julie/Julia about a present day blogger’s attempt to recreate every single recipe in Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as written in the late 50s. Most amusing it was and it helped while-away some incredibly tedious travelling. It got me thinking…

From the 15th Century English Leechbook

1. make lye of wild nept and therewith wash your head

2. take quicklime or piment and make powder of them & mix with vinegar & anoint the head with it

3. take seawater or else also brine & wash your head and it shall destroy them

4. take juice of a herb that is called blight & anoint your head with it, both lice & nits shall fall away

5. take a broad list (a ribbon of fabric) and anoint one side with fresh grease mingled with quicksilver (mercury) & spread on it a powder of lichen, and wear it henceforth

… good job I’ve got an unsuspecting partner and some handy children to experiment on. So, where do I buy mercury? Reckon Wilkos will have it?