Sunday, 5 December 2010

The man with red hair

I can remember when I was a child in the 1950's that there were cards placed in the windows of Bed & Breakfast establishments in various seaside resorts in Britain which said: NO IRISH OR BLACKS. This device saved the visitor who fell into one of these categories the trouble of ringing the doorbell and being given the cold shoulder.

Here in Austria there was a time when there was another enemy at the door of the superstitious and ignorant and this was the man with red hair. The playwright Johann Nestroy wrote a comedy called Titus Feuerfuchs about the problems faced by red-haired people. I've written a poem in which a young man, that is possibly myself, seeks B&B accomodation in the imaginary land of Britauria.

The man with red hair

"You can't trust a man with red hair
That's what my late husband said
It's well known they have bad tempers
Put your bag down over there
This is the room - very comfy bed

A man who stayed here once
Had coppery hair, so curly tight
And when there was no bright moonlight
He crept away in the dead of night
The night it was when he'd caused the fight

Down at the old Cock & Bull
And they had to call in the law
Yes, my husband told me all
Such a nice view from this room I think
The hill so far away, please call me Mo

And enjoy your stay, shall I put
your trilby by the door..."
image: Isaac Rosenberg self-portrait (Wiki)
I can't see his hair colour but I like his hat!


  1. Very clever. I am not sure that this kind of prejudice has completely disappeared to this day. I like your clever use of his keeping on his hat.

    My mother spent her childhood days in very poor circumstances (in the 1890's) in the potato fields of Lincolnshire where they imported Irish labour for the picking season. Throughout her life my mother had to fight what she knew was a totally illogical fear of Irish men - and women too for that matter. I don't think she was finally cured of it until a niece married an Irish lad!

  2. In Scotland redheads are common of course. But I'm well aware of how they have been stigmatised over the years. A good example is the opening sketch in this clip from The Catherine Tate Show.

  3. Jim, Many thanks for that wonderful link. I had a good laugh over all the gingerphobia and that great line towards the end: Total strangers assume we're Scottish!
    When I was a boy in Wales I often had to fight my corner for my red hair. Cochyn Mochyn (red haired pig) was a favourite chant of the idiot brigade. When I got to grammar school I won a boxing contest. It must have been quite a show - two ginger kids belting the hell out of each other - but in any event I had a smoother passage after that.

  4. Pat, thanks. I hope you're keeping warm and cosy on the snowy farm.

  5. Like the poem. It reminded me of Steppenwolf - possibly the lodger thing?

    Cochyn Mochyn - surely there's a title for something there!

  6. I wonder if the bed is like the murderous one in the story - she sounds a little too pleasant, the innkeeper - nice atmosphere.

  7. Hey Dominic,
    that's right now you come to mention it, Steppenwolf. Hesse's best I should say. Unless Narcissus and Golmund. One of those two anyway. Did you ever figure out what that noise from outer space (or wherever) was, are you again stringing us all along in Rivron style?
    best wishes :)gwilym

  8. Thanks Susan, I'd hate to guess what happens in some of the hotel beds we happily occupy. It doesn't bear thinking about. We'd never get to sleep if we did.
    It's -13°C tonight so I'm taking my fluffy hotwaterbottle with me!

  9. I too remember the No Blacks No Irish No Dogs era.
    I actually love red hair and wanted red haired children.

  10. When I was 4 some posh people tried to kidnap me, drag me into a big car round the corner from the post office, but some people came running and stopped 'them'. The police reluctantly accepted that it was a case of mistaken identity, but I saw that look in her eyes. You can't be too careful if you've got red haired kids. But on the other I red haired kids are less likely to get into trouble - because they are easy to spot. "Oh, yes that boy who broke the window, he's got red hair..."


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