Don’t tear your hair out

By Daisy Waugh

There was a stage at the beginning of swine flu when catching it had a snob value attached. It hit the expensive schools first, you may remember, because pupils were traveling back from exotic holidays in pox-ridden hot spots – and for a week or two it was quite smart to claim you had a case of it at home.

No longer, of course. Utter the words “swine flu” on this side of the pandemic – which was meant, by now, to have wiped out most of the human race – and people’s eyes glaze over with boredom and embarrassment. One day, I suppose, we’ll learn to stop attending to every Armageddon-style prophecy emanating from every government office. In the meantime, out of kindness,

I shan’t dwell on the matter of swine flu and the British propensity for mass hysteria at first whisper of snuffles, germs or “official warnings”. I shall move on.

To head lice, that other playground scourge, which never had quite the same glamour attached.

I get letters from my children’s schools occasionally asking parents to put some extra elbow grease into the unwinnable battle against them. And on those occasions I am often moved to act. But mostly, I have to admit, I’ve more or less given up. Like adultery and murder, so they say, lice infestations feel shocking – not to say shameful – on first experience, but after that it’s easy. I’ve come to the conclusion that the occasional visitation is an inescapable fact of childhood. And of motherhood, too, actually. I’ve also decided, rather conveniently, that like a lot of other things I can’t be bothered to be thorough about – organic diet, children’s homework and so on – it’s a bit bourgeois to get too het up about the ruddy things.

So I said to a friend of mine, who last month discovered a single nit on her eldest child’s head and within a day or two had laid down £500 professionally delousing her entire family. She had a team of people dressed like astronauts, wearing magnifying goggles and carrying vacuum cleaners with special lice-sucking attachments, come in a lorry to her sitting room.

I think she could sense my shock. “But don’t you realise,” she cried, “they were copulating on my daughter’s head! That’s what they do! They roam around sucking blood and looking for a mate, and then the female has a sperm sack, and she stores up all the extra sperm and she carries it around with her, so she can go on using it for ever.”

What a waste of money, I said sourly, scratching away.

But these things niggle, don’t they? It’s much cheaper if you visit the salon, in any case: £40 per head for the first visit, from which, ahem, my two youngest children and I have recently returned.

It’s in expensive Primrose Hill in north London, in a small groovy-looking room covered in scarlet wallpaper. Dee Wright, a posh working mother who’s won lots of Excellent Businesswoman awards, understands the difficulties rich mummies and daddies suffer, trying to have a nice time, as well as getting their and their children’s nits eradicated. So she makes the experience very pleasant. She provides Nintendo games and miniature DVD players for the children and Grazia magazine for the rich mummies. There was only one other present when we were there. She looked a bit like Cruella de Vil. She had a Chanel handbag and a long coat with a fur collar, and a BlackBerry, from which she did not look up.

Dee told me, while my hair was being hoovered by one of her astronauts, that it had been an exceptionally busy day. I wondered why, since term had started. She reminded me there were plenty of places where term had “only just” begun. “Plus there’s snow on the ground. Mum’s got jet lag. There’s no way she’s taking the kids to school.”

The company’s called The Hairforce – Lice Assassins, by the way, if you’re feeling rich and want a temporary break from all the scratching. But be warned – with or without the “home visit”, the salon costs add up. Or they’re meant to, if you do the thing properly. Each head is supposed to be hoovered three times, according to Dee Wright, just to be sure “the cycle is broken”.

We had the second round last night. I was planning to cancel, obviously, since the scratching had stopped. But I didn’t, did I? It’s the problem with expensive tastes; once acquired, they’re hard to shift. We were in good company, though. Thandie Newton was in the chair next to me, looking like a movie star even with the Hoover on her head.

View the article on The Times website

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