Nits Are For Life & Not Just for Christmas

There is a saying in my extremely small world, born out of experience – when the going gets tough, the lice get going. When I say they get going, I mean it in the ‘sleeves rolled up and dig in’ sense, as opposed to b*ggering off when there is work to do.

Throughout my career as a working mum I learned that just at the point where I was about to crack and was unable to take any more, no really, absolutely, any full stop more, I’d catch a rogue child scratching out of the corner of my weeping eye.

Up all night with a vomiting baby, car broken down, bailiff at the door (you think I’m joking) and cat dying – and that was just one Wednesday in May – I spot the tell-tale itch, check the scalp in question and, bingo! the job just got even harder.

I had my sister on the phone recently and she sounded utterly exhausted. She’d finally moved house miles away from her old address, having packed up herself in between her paid working hours and sorting out my neice and nephew with their daily requirements of school etc. Her husband works abroad and had cancelled coming over for the ‘completion’ at the last minute due to company commitments and she had reached the very final hurdle only to discover a mistake in the sums and a shortfall on the very last day of a shedload of money. It was at that moment, sobbing and stressed, she tussled her son’s hair and realised it was crawling.

She was a different woman to the one I had seen not three weeks earlier at Jamie Oliver’s Italian place among the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Then my sister was full of hope and plans for the new house. It was all yet to happen. Let’s celebrate, she suggested, and we had Bellinis while our children lounged around enjoying eachothers cousinly company, teasing eachother with breadsticks and sharing the fun of Jamie’s silly ViewMaster children’s menus. Happy days. It was all going so well.

Now she was faced with the prospect of having to comb the kids’ heads over and over as well as unpacking boxes and shuffling furniture alone. Good thing we all went out for a meal together, I said in an attempt to comfort her down the phone. We had such a lovely afternoon, eh? And it was all thanks to you. By the way, I got some super pics of the children. I will email them to you to cheer you up..

And before I did, I flicked through the photos. I could do with a little reminding myself after a hectic week coupled with a sore throat. There was us two raising our peach juice and sparkling wine, there was my quid ink pasta, yum, and, oh, there’s a brilliant one of my son showing her son how to make the ViewMaster work by pressing down the lever, heads together….  Oh sh*te.


International endorsement

There’s a brilliant comment in the Christmas card from Munich relatives I’d sent a copy to:

“Richard, your lice book is brilliant, informative, highly entertaining, beautiful to look at — congratulations! The only strange thing was that we all had a lice visit 3 days after I read it…well we were well prepared!”

Funny how things happen like that.

Thanks Natalie.

A fine display of nit combs

I’m on my first ever visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and I’m glad to see they have a fine display of nit combs.

Oddly none is labelled as such; they are simply referred to a ‘combs’ in the display covering everything from Manchu ornamental moustache combs to bamboo ‘Afro’ combs.

But, come on, who doesn’t recognize this tried and tested format of coarse teeth one side, fine teeth the other?

Institutional squeamishness I say.

Love Is…

I could hear the teenagers in the bathroom beind a closed door. Just a quiet murmur and a follow-up giggle as I moved past on the landing with a basket of washing. Hmmm.. She’s eighteen, thought I as I silently scooped up a rogue sock, do I leave ’em to it and pretend I don’t know  (cue loud internal whisper) WHAT THEY ARE UP TO IN THERE? Or, do I plant a flag in the summit and assume both parental and household authority by rapping sharply on the door? God knows, I wouldn’t want to barge in without knocking.. shudder…

Eventually she says from behind the door: “Are you alright mum?”

To which, once I’d retrieved the startled grip I’d lost on the basket and juggled the assorted underwear as it fell, I replied: “Er.. yes, fine. You guys?”

And the door swung open to reveal daughter sitting on the loo, lid down, brushing conditioner through her long hair whilst the boyfie balanced on the edge of the bath making comical quiffs with his fringe using my BEST nit comb.

“So,” says daughter, “Tom scratched his head last night while we were watching Breaking Bad and found a head louse on his finger. I’ve just combed my hair and found seven!!”

“I’m quite enjoying it actually,” grunted Tom, sculpting his hair into a cow lick and giving us a King of Rock and Roll sneer, “I’ve never done it before.”

“But I don’t know where I got them from,” whined daughter. And my itch set in instantly.

“Elvis has left the bathroom,” said the boyfriend, handing me my comb and heading back to the the telly.

Sometime later, when I had the place and MY STUFF to myself, I gave my head a sullen once over. Nowt. Then I checked my reluctant son’s head and told middle teen she needed to check herself. We all came up clean. Cleaner than the bloody bathroom after they’d been at it, that’s for sure. Since then, she’s romped through the hot water, conditioner and tissues with the same alacrity she and boyfie romp through the fridge – not only is the food cupboard bare but the mirrored one above the bathroom sink is too.

Later, working back using the calendar and the trusty timeline in The Little Book of Nits, the eighteen year old surmised she must have picked up the head fleas whilst babysitting a few weeks ago. There’s a lesson there for us all, I tell her, about never taking your eye off the ball, I mean, comb. And I decided better get more supplies in pronto, in anticipation of a few more romantic bathroom dates. Afterall, you can leave school but you are never to old to get nits. (Damn, I wish hadn’t used the word ‘romp’ earlier – it has made me feel quite queasy).

Ps. No teenagers were hurt during the writing of this blog.

Electronic nits

Good news. For the embarrassed, or the coy, or the ashamed, your problems are over. The Little Book of Nits is now available as an ebook. You can now have it delivered discreetly, in the electronic equivalent of plain brown wrappers, direct to your Knidle.

Yours, in less than a minute, with just a few clicks of the mouse.

You can peruse the useful and entertaining text, marvel at the in-depth scientific information and cultural insight, and no-one will know that you and your children are crawling with the beastly things.

On the tube, in the office, in the school playground, you can learn all there is to know about these fascinating creatures. And everyone will think you’re reading the latest thing by William Boyd or Jeffrey Archer. Your dignity will remain intact.

In Which We Go Back to School

Before the summer I was confronted by a mum in my shop sporting a long-sighted sneer as she held The Little Book of Nits at arm’s length, peered over her specs and remarked: “Ugh. Who’d want to buy a book on head lice?” Before I had the chance to compose a neutral facial expression and respond with ten reasons why the item was in fact, er.. useful, Jon – my partner at home and at work – leaned over the counter and beckoned to her. She put it down and huddled in conspiritorially.

“I’ll tell you a secret about that book,” he hissed to her.

“Ooh do,” she replied, still shuddering at the sheer ghastliness of the tawdry piece of published triviality.

He thumbed the air towards me and stage-whispered: “She wrote it.”

Our customer backed off as if she’d been infected there and then. She then blustered a bit about it not being ‘her kind of thing’, before skidaddling lickety-split.

Nits are not anybody’s ‘kind of thing’.  It’s not like lager versus real ale – “Cheap mass produced beer in tins just isn’t my thing.” Or, soaps. “Eastenders just isn’t my kind of thing. Give me a storyline involving a cow’s hoof stuck in a cattle-grid any day.” There’s not even any room for indifference – “Nits? Ah, I can take ’em or leave ’em.. Prefer a good dose of scabies meself..” Or, indeed, ambivalence – “Head-lice, ho hum. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em..”

The only person on this planet that I know that has any sort of miniscule affection for them is my co-author, The Bugman. And that, I imagine, computes to little more than cheerful but grudging respect for their complete lack of a sense of inferiority.

The thing is, the beggars aren’t going to go away just because we don’t like them. I did a school event before the summer in which parents were invited to talk about the problems of head lice, to swap stories and, you know, on my part,  to knock a few of the myths surrounding infection and treatment on the, um, head. This smart primary school with a mixed demographic where some of the priciest houses in London rub shoulders with some of cheapest could not muster more than a couple of parents. Meanwhile at the assembly I attended later on, their own children were there in large numbers, having a great time. Sitting cross-legged in rows. Listening like good kids. Many of them scratching like mongrels.

Summer intervened and as usual I escaped London for a month. The bookshop always seems like an alien landscape on my return, over-grown like the garden, with a raft of new titles and unfamiliar dust jackets. But the Little Book of Nits has remain sentinal by the till all through August, biding its time. 

This morning a lovely mum came flying in and snatched it up delightedly with relief. The term is barely underway, the uniform still squeaky and already they’ve got a head full of fleas at home, she sighed.  Yep. It’s back to school for everyone. Including those clever little nits.