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Beguiled by lice

And so at last, the  great day has arrived – the publication of the epic Little Book of Nits, by Richard Jones and Justine Crow. Its already been reviewed by the Evening Standard, with further appearances in the national press to come. The book looks great – a trove of facts and fun, with a retro-funky design.

Last night, Jasmine and I went along to the book’s launch, held at a fine independent bookshop in Crystal Palace, south London. We were expecting an evening rich in parasite iconography, verse and lore; we weren’t disappointed.

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Gingerbread louse snack.

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If left unmolested, nits can breed like rabbits.

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One of the largest and most impressive head lice ever recorded.

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A suitable badge for The Louse Master.

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Richard and Justine give it large at the Q&A

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Further fun included a microscope-based ‘sex this louse’ challenge, which I failed. Clearly I need to read the book more carefully! Though sadly the days of my needing to fear the head louse are long since past … not much for them to hang onto with their little claws up there these days …

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Available right now!


The real nitty gritty

Time for some nit-busting and myth-busting too! Think you know your nits? Richard Jones, author and guest blogger, explodes the top ten myths about head lice …

Head lice are dirty.
Wrong. Head lice do just fine in clean hair thank you very much. Washing hair once a week, or once a year, makes no difference.

Men don’t get head lice because of testosterone.
Wrong. If men get head lice less often, it’s because they cuddle their children less. It’s a sad indictment of our aloof male stiff-upper-lip Britishness. We’d rather shake hands with our kids.

Afro-Caribbean children don’t get head lice.
Wrong. Head lice have tormented humans on every continent, in every era. As one Victorian textbook put it: “No human race is without lice, or immune to them”.

Girls get head lice more often than boys because of their long hair.
Wrong. Boys did not get more head lice back in the hippy 1960s or mullet-topped 1970s. Girls tend to get head lice more often because they do more head-to-head huddling and cuddling, but boys still get lice.

Blondes do not get head lice because they cannot grip the fine hair strands.
Wrong. Blonde, brunette, ginger, black, grey or blue rinse, we can all get head lice. Baldness is the only state likely to be free of lice.

You can easily get head lice from hats, scarves, combs and headphones.
Wrong. A head louse removed from the scalp is dead within hours. Head lice are small and soft and vulnerable. If one lets go of a hair it would get squashed, or it would get lost. Letting go of the hair is suicide for a louse.

Vinegar removes nits (louse eggs)
Wrong. It is now scientifically proved that acetic acid has absolutely no effect at nit-loosening; proprietory nit-loosening shampoos are equally useless. At least vinegar tastes good on chips.

Combing is old-fashioned.
Wrong. Combing is cheap, it’s easy, and it’s effective. Combing works. It is only old-fashioned in the way that eating, drinking, breathing and sleeping is old-fashioned. In fact, combing is the future.

All you need is a louse-killing shampoo.
Wrong. We’ve all been reading too much science fiction. No insecticidal shampoo is 100% effective. They do not kill all head lice. Inevitably, some survive to come back and haunt us. Insecticide-resistance in head lice is now becoming a serious issue.

Head lice hate strong smelling hair oils.
Wrong. Unlike, say, mosquitoes, which do detect their food by scent, head lice do not sniff out their next victim, they feel their way from head to head. Head lice do not fly, they do not jump, they do not skip. They crawl, but they are very good at it.

For more indispensable advice on head lice and curious nit-know-how consult The Little Book of Nits by Richard Jones and Justine Crow – available in bookshops from Thursday 24th May. They also have a brilliant blog called NIT HEADS.


The nitter-natter of tiny feet

This week, editor extraordinaire Julie brings us a stirring tale of lice and labour ..

When was my first time?

Well it wasn’t when I was a child.

My first experience with nits was exactly a year ago. At eight and a half months pregnant  my toddler daughter came home on her last day at nursery with ‘the letter‘.

We’ve timed that well, I thought, after a quick scan of her scalp. She’ll spend the summer home with me and her soon-to-arrive sibling completely nit-free.

Two weeks later I had another squint at her head as I washed her hair. What the hey?! Forcing myself to take a closer look I discovered an impressive infestation.

Nits in action

That night while my daughter played happily in the bath I slathered conditioner on her hair. Nit-comb and tissue paper in hand I was ready to start the eradication process.

One comprehensive round of clearing later I knew I was supposed to wait five days before checking for newly hatched lice. But, with nothing but time on my hands, it became an irresistible daily urge to take a peek every bath-time. Did that speck just move? Is that one? Is it a different colour to the ones I removed before?

I thought I’d  just ask my mum to check me. Seconds later she was presenting me with exhibits on a white tissue to examine and confirm. No! NO! Surely not me too? Days from my due date I had to concede that, yes, my cuddly little bed-invading toddler had passed on her infestation.

Action stations. I would not have a baby while there were things on my head having babies of their own!

A head louse, yesterday.

My mum was a godsend and as the first days after my due date passed I was just relieved. I’ll be able to get rid of the little bleeders before the babe arrives, I thought.

By day ten after my due date I was too hot, tired and emotional to do anything except eat ice lollies, keep my feet elevated and hope that something was going to happen today.

Due date +12: my daughter’s head was looking more louse-free by the day. And I was now so adept at the conditioner/comb combo that, despite my long locks, I could do a pretty good job on my own, then ask my mum to check through my workmanship.

So there I was, sitting on my bed watching Timothy Olyphant being Justified combing through my softly slathered tresses when I thought, “hmm, was that a twinge?” I quickly finished combing, jumped back in the shower to rinse off and realised if it’s making me groan out loud it’s not a twinge, it’s a contraction. And after two weeks wait they came fast.

At 4.30pm I was on the bed with Timothy, by 6.20pm I was on a hospital bed meeting baby.

Olyphant: expressed 'sympathy' for Julie's plight.

She was born with a beautiful dark head of hair which, like lice, is subtly changing colour with age, but thankfully within which the little blighters have yet to be found. But now she’s at nursery too I know it’s only a matter of time until I reach for those combs again.

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This blog was inspired by the brilliant NIT HEADS blog, by Richard Jones and Justine Crow. Richard and Justine are currently writing The Little Book of Nits – indispensable advice for any parent. Coming soon …

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