If I’d had a BBC nature programme microphone on me, I’m sure I would have heard it scream louder than I did. The six-legged beast froze, then scuttled across the comb and ended the show with a failed attempt to hide in the closely-packed metal teeth. I squished Larry the Louse with my nail and burst into an improvised parody of Thin Lizzy, but my rendition of “The lice are back in town” didn’t do much to boost Little My’s morale.
We carefully picked our weapon from the arsenal in the bathroom cupboard. As I gingerly squirted the chemical concoction over my daughter’s long blonde mane, I realised with relief that she had never seen a close up of her tenant. Just as well, or she would have been running down the road screaming.
Larry, alias Pediculus humanus capitis, is a sheer masterpiece with his three pairs of legs, each equipped with claws and thumbs. Forget your measly six-pack; Larry has seven, neatly lined up along his streamlined abdomen. Add to this enviable physique a face like a Klingon, a pair of antennae and a retractable mouthpiece that folds neatly away inside his head after feeding off your kid’s head, and you have something that makes Ridley Scott’s Alien look as scary as Yogi Bear.
Larry’s offspring only emerge from their cocoons when they consider that the temperature around them is right, probably licking the end of a claw and poking it out of the breathing hole that their mamma kindly left them to see if it’s warm enough to go out to play. Within ten hours they are in the starting blocks for procreation, no doubt already aware of the chemical sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Reproduction in lice appears to be the six-legged equivalent of square-dancing, and Larry and his chums partner-swap their way around the clock, only taking breaks to carefully glue three to five of their future offspring per day to your child’s hair with something so efficient that the empty cocoon can remain there for years afterwards. Researchers are looking into the use of spider silk for medical applications – so why hasn’t anyone seen the potential of nit glue for false teeth?
Back in the bathroom, I got angry at the injustice of it all. We can get from one side of the world to the other in the space of a day. We have harnessed the power of wind, water and sun. Climbed Everest. Invented antibiotics and vaccinations, eradicated smallpox. Sent a dog then reams of astronauts and satellites into space. Cloned a sheep. So why can’t we get shot of the lousy louse? Lice are tiny, and have hung out on the human head since the dawn of time. They can’t fly, can’t jump, and can’t make evil plans to take over the universe. This should make them sitting ducks. So how come we can’t nuke the nits?
Then it dawned on me that maybe someone, somewhere, doesn’t want them to disappear. I squinted at the price label on the box, and realised that getting rid of head lice for good would severely cut the profits of companies who know damn well which side their bread is buttered. As long as head lice exist, there’ll be hysterical mothers queuing to buy their overpriced nit napalm.
A conspiracy theory started to take shape in my mind as I slid the comb through the post-conflict zone, collecting the cadavers of Larry and his louts. The picture slowly assembled in my mind: Al Capone-style “nit men” wearing dark glasses and trench coats, sent incognito by the pharmaceutical companies to school gates around the world. The brims of their Fedora hats pulled down over their eyes, they pull their hands out of their deep pockets and cheerfully tousle the hair of a passing child with a gloved hand before disappearing as silently as they had arrived, leaving no other trace than the wafts of lavender essence billowing behind them…..
Time to go; I think I’m losing the plot. I’m off to run the nit comb through Little My’s hair before we get abducted by six-legged aliens with retractable mouthparts. They’re coming to take me away, ha-ha, they’re coming to take me away…..
Two other articles I enjoyed on the same same subject: