The Human Genre Project

Simply red

One thing I’m sure I inherited from my father was my hair colour. He and his siblings were all ‘ginger’ while my mother’s family were all dark-haired. My father hated his colouring — he had been taunted as a child with remarks such as: ‘Who made the cuddy kick? Ginger!’ and ‘Ginger you’re balmy, you oughta join the army.’

He must have been very disappointed when his son and daughter were both similarly afflicted. And that is how I was brought up to see it: as an affliction. Dad would often tell me and my brother to put a hat on to cover up our hair, and he preferred me to scrape it straight back from my face and plait or tie it tightly, supposedly to lessen the effect. When my older brother started courting girls, Dad used to tell him to choose a girl as dark as a gypsy. That, he believed, would breed out the ginger. I understand that it doesn’t really work that way.

At Primary school we were informed that those of us with my colouring were probably descended from the Vikings. I was never sure that was an attribute of which to be proud. Then one day, much to my joy and amazement, a teacher told my mother that she thought my colouring was beautiful. She said, ‘When the sun streams into the classroom her hair looks like spun gold.’ I have to confess that since then there have been many times when I've contrived to be in a position where the sun could spin me some highlights. It was a revelation to me that women actually paid money to dye their hair a similar colour. I began to notice the predominance of mousey heads which started to appear quite boring. Yes, blondes and brunettes looked good but red was something out of the ordinary, a bit special.

One day when reading John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga I came across this description of the heroine, Irene: ‘She had that combination of red hair and dark eyes which drives men wild.’ I loved it so much that it stayed with me. I don’t believe I've ever driven men wild but there was never any lack of interest. I came to accept and eventually delight in my colour. Now it has faded to a dull brown with grey streaks I miss its distinction.

I’m sorry to see that redheads are again being ridiculed, teased or even bullied. One of Catherine Tate’s sketches, although very funny, seems to have kick-started it. Now that political correctness forbids mocking certain groups in the community it seems to be open-season on redheads. I don’t suppose that Deborah Kerr, Maureen O’Hara and Winston Churchill found it an affliction to be simply red. I say, thanks Dad, but you were wrong.

Note: for more information about the gene for red hair, click on the author's name.

Joyce Swan