The Mythbuster: Red hair Is Going Extinct

Redheads are going extinct

“We ain’t going out like that.” Redheads are alive and kicking globally, the myth that we are going extinct must be extinguished once and for all. My own family is a microcosm of explanation that illustrates how, whilst the ginger gene is recessive, it will take a lot more than the inaccurate musings of a research project backed by a hair dye manufacturer to consign us to history.

Dad, a Cumbrian with fair hair married Mum, an Essex girl with jet black hair and a skin tone that appears to emanate from Jerusalem rather than Dagenham. None of my grandparents had particularly red hair or freckles, though my Dad’s father did have an ever so light auburn hue to his locks.

I’m not adopted, nor is my brother – our facial features, and the terrifyingly rapid advancement of my receding hairline, are all firmly steeped in the genetics of my family. I am more ginger than my brother, we both deliver strongly on our annual freckle crop yet he tans better than I do.

Historically, the ginger gene punctuates myth, tradition and philosophical studies of humanity. Perhaps the most bizarre and inexplicable aspect of gingerness is the generation-skipping, seemingly indiscriminate nature with which the ginger gene manifests itself. Scientists and historians are far more qualified than I am to explore genetics and anthropology. I want to understand how and why the dogma that our extinction is imminent fiercely tried to be part of the zeitgeist.

So why now? What is the agenda behind the latest in a long line of redhead myths that suggests we are to join the dinosaurs, the Dodo and the American lion as extinct ad infinitum?

Jealousy? Ginger artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele are winning awards for fun and receiving critical acclaim, and significant sales each time they so much as breathe. Growing up I remember Rick Astley dominating the sound of my school discos, I recall thinking I was too cool to love Mick Hucknall because my mum did, and bubblegum pop act, Sonia, doing for music as much as Charlie Sheen has done for serious acting over in the USA. For the record, I love Mick’s soulful voice and admire his exploits as a serial ginger gigolo.

Hollywood seems to have caught onto the notion that, actually, being ginger is a pretty cool thing, a status symbol perhaps. Jessica Chastain is flavour of the moment, Christina Hendricks, a bottle-born redhead, is almost as famous for her barnet as she is for her other three assets. Damian Lewis is stealing jobs from American waiter/model/actors with gay abandon. Ron Weasley, or Rupert Grint as he is known to his mum, is a fundamental member of one of the most successful film franchises ever thanks to being Harry Potter’s ginger and, frankly, more handsome buddy.

In the sporting world, Team Ginger, an unspecified yet clearly defined segment of the British Olympic team, won more medals than the whole of Australia (probably, or was that the Republic of Yorkshire?) and the England cricket team replaced one gritty, reliable ginger in Paul Collingwood with my fellow Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow. Manchester United fans will cite their little ginger maestro, Paul Scholes, as one of the fundamental reasons behind their ongoing dominance of the Premier League since it stopped being the plain old English First Division.

Historically, the ginger gene punctuates myth, tradition and philosophical studies of humanity.

Britain, or at least our media, has a funny habit of building up public figures purely, it appears, for the purpose of knocking them down again. This Newtonian mindset means that if you achieve something amazing, no matter how far up you reach, you can guarantee that somebody, somewhere is plotting to bring you straight back down to earth. In the case of this whole fabricated extinction theory, a blonde or brunette journalist may well have decided enough is enough, those gingers are beginning to get too big for their boots; it’s time to take them down a peg or two. Having said that, the Oxford Hair Foundation “study” was released around 2005, so shouldn’t we have moved on from this by now?

Then it came to me, like a solar shower of inspiration. The company behind the Oxford Hair Foundation research project must have produced an unimaginably large volume of blonde hair dye following the release, in 2001 & 2003 respectively, of Legally Blonde 1 & 2. Vast tubs of caustic, aggressive secondary amines were fit to burst with blonde hair dye cooked up by, “the blonde is best” brigade. Whilst Marilyn Monroe may have put her name, face and beauty to “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” early pictures of Norma Jeane Mortensen depict a distinctly titian hue. They simply want to sell off their copious stock of blonde hair dye now that being ginger is so desirable you can’t turn a corner without asking the question, has she dyed her hair that colour? Is she a natural born ginger, or just another redhead in a bottle, sending out an SOS?  It can’t be her natural hair colour, unless her skin is that colour because she (or he) took a dip  in a trough of fake tan as well.

Clearly my conclusion is the opposite of scientific, and Darwin didn’t allow for global warming when constructing the theory of evolution – how will we, gingers, cope as the Earth’s temperature rises and UV becomes more prevalent and dangerous to our sensitive skin?

The answer to this conundrum, perhaps, could be found firmly in the lap of the scientists that must surely be developing higher SPF creams in a dimly lit laboratory somewhere near you now. Could we alter the chemical make up of all that unsold blonde hair dye to make it fit-for-pale-skin-purpose?

Finally, forgetting the speculative nature of my loosely constructed thoughts above, gingers are making certain that our gene remains in circulation by gathering at redhead events globally. Simply add alcohol, remove inhibitions, and let’s see how much truth there are in those lurid, often sordid, sexy ginger stereotypes. See you in Holland in September. Mine’s a large one. Drink. A large drink.

Redheads are going extinct

Redhead Day UK Image Credit: Ginger With Attitude

Did Thatcher Destroy British Coal?

Three days on from her death and the debates are still fiercely raging about Margaret Thatcher’s time as PM. They all seem to revolve around the same theme: that Thatcher’s spiteful policies ruined lives and divided the country.

In the twenty-year period since she left office the debate has become criminally over-simplified and certain myths persist, almost entirely unchallenged.

The most significant of which is that she destroyed the British coal mining industry.

This is simply not true.

The fact is that she inherited an industry already in precipitous decline, largely due to increasing global competition from places like Australia, America and even South Africa. See the chart below:

Decline of UK coal industry

The majority of mine closures had already occurred under her two Labour predecessors, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

And the 1984 (UK) Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that 75% of British coal mines were losing money, costing the taxpayer an annual £1.3 billion in government subsidies.

The truth of which couldn’t be avoided: British coal was on life support and showing few signs of ever regaining consciousness.

All that was left to Thatcher and her Conservative government was to pull the plug –which they did.

It is perhaps here that one could take issue with the way in which Thatcher decided to handle it.  She viewed it not only as laying to rest a dying industry but also an opportunity to completely crush the trade unions, who she believed were destroying Britain.

So she fought ideologically with ideologues. And won.

But what was lost amidst all the political grandstanding, were the genuine fears and concerns of the coal miners, who for generations had only ever known that type of work and that type of life, and for whom the prospect of retraining and having to begin again was daunting.

And that was why they fought as hard as they did. However misinformed they might have been about the future of British coal.

Maybe if she’d tried to reach them directly and explain the economic realities of their situation, they would have understood that if they didn’t take the pain now that one day their children would have to. That they could be part of a new Britain, that they’d be helped through this cruel time.

But the actions of their union leaders, in the past, had ensured the downfall of her predecessor and Thatcher was determined not to suffer the same fate. The miners were unfortunate collateral.

Could she be accused of coldness? Yes. Arrogance? Maybe.

But, deliberately destroying the coal mining industry and the lives of the coal miners? No.

Their lives were, by harsh circumstance, caught up in an elephantine battle between two competing visions for Britain; against the backdrop of a rapidly changing global economy, beyond the control of anyone, least of all Thatcher.

Mad Men: Don's Inferno

Season Six, Episode One: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Death. It’s the first thing you thought of when Don Draper presented that ad with the rumpled pile of clothes lying on the beach and footsteps leading off from them into the unknown.

It was beautiful. It was art. But it was dark.

And so it went for the long anticipated premiere of Mad Men season six. It began with a voiceover from Don silently quoting from Inferno:

“Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”

This sober sentence seemed somewhat incongruous with its setting: Don, in Hawaii, on Waikiki  beach, reading Dante; Megan, in a summery bikini drinking a blue cocktail.

Surely this is Heaven and not Hell?

Beautiful. Art. But it was dark

Don’s dissatisfaction, however, is evident. He seems somehow detached from this colourful scene. Megan is happy and chit chattering; Don is quiet (he has no dialogue for the first five minutes) and his smile strained. They have sex and Megan is giggling but it seems he’s only going through the motions. It’s a pensive, slightly unsure Don, not the confident, alpha male we’re used to, although he still quite convincingly wears that costume, even if it is starting to look a little anachronistic.

He’s played Don Draper for a long time, the lead role in a hit play. But the audiences are moving on, the supporting characters are starting to shift around him and the set is slowly being dismantled. The future has finally caught up with him.

Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce it’s clearly the late 1960’s, the men are starting to look shaggier and shabbier and are definitely turning on and tuning in. The ubiquitous liquor bottle has been replaced with the marijuana cigarette. And as generously as SCDP’s senior executives partake of the grain, so do the younger generation of the herb.

As in Hawaii, Don feels awkward in these surroundings. He’s still creatively brilliant but but…

One night at the hotel, whilst still on holiday in Waikiki Beach, he’d been sat having a solitary drink at the bar, when a drunken young soldier serving in Vietnam had engaged him in conversation. “Were you in Korea?” he asks.

“Briefly,” answers Don. Or was it Dick? Which one answered? Both served, both died and were then reborn.

This well-intentioned young man reminds him of that fraud, that stolen identity.

He is an impostor, not just Dick Whitman playing Don Draper, but for all his outward success he still feels like that hapless failure inside. “Noone loves Dick Whitman,” as Megan had jokingly cooed in the season premiere of season five.

In Dante’s tenth circle of Hell, the deceptive are punished. These are the alchemists, the counterfeiters, the perjurers and the impostors. As they afflicted mankind with their disease, they are afflicted with diseases in the afterlife.

Sinon suffers from a burning fever; Myrrha is mad.

And Don is himself and no more.

Image Credit: AMC. Artist: Brian Sanders