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A Shout From The Attic: Ringworm

...I suppose that in view of the world-shaking events, my dose of ringworm rates low on the Richter Scale. But it does provide meaningful insight into the human condition, affording a way of relating to others on a plane that exposes human hearts to fellowship and love...

Ronnie Bray recalls the year his hair fell out.

To savour more of Ronnie's brilliant autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

I looked at a photograph of Mother, René, Arthur, and me taken outside Mrs Kitchen’s boarding house in Station Street, Redcar, sometime in 1948. Looking at my curly blonde hair, I reflected on how I came by it. It was not a wig, just my natural hair – well, almost! It all started the previous year, nineteen forty-seven.

That was the year of the Long Hot Summer that sent temperatures in Yorkshire’s Temperate Zone soaring into the eighties. It was the year that the films Miracle on 34th Street and Great Expectations were released. The transistor, which started the electronic revolution, was introduced, the independent countries of India and Pakistan replaced the British Crown Colony of India, and Jawaharlal Nehru was elected as India’s first Prime Minister.

The Cold War was well under way, Winston Churchill warned of an iron curtain falling across Eastern Europe. Joseph Stalin denounced the West as imperialistic, refused to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and George Kennan sent his famous Long Telegram from Moscow, warning Washington that an entente cordiale with the USSR was impossible. Harry S Truman presented the Truman Doctrine that defined American foreign policy for the next 40 years.

Britain readied itself for the approach of its wonderful Social Medicine under the farsighted National Health Service, and announced that it would no longer fund the Greek government’s fight against communist guerrillas, so Truman launched his $400,000,000 plan to fight communism in Turkey and Greece - and my painfully straight hair came out as I applied soft green soap to my scalp in minute revolutions. My hair fell out. First, a little, then, a lot came out until I was as bald as a coot. Spring Grove School had been hit by the Great Ringworm Plague of ’47, and I was one of its first victims.

“It’s alopaecia!” cried Nanny, inspecting a small bald spot that had appeared on one side of my head. No one argued. No one ever argued with Nanny. It was as good as a death sentence to even look as if you were going to controvert her judgements and decrees. Nanny spoke only in incontrovertible absolutes, and that’s the way it was. So, it was decided, I had alopaecia.

Doctor J J Hanratty, the brusque but talented Irishman, who was more irascible and less often wrong than Nanny, brushed aside her diagnosis and opined “The lad’s got ringworm. There’s a lot of it about.” And, because he was a doctor and, therefore a gentleman, Nanny, whose years in service had taught her to know her place in a complex social strata, tacitly demurred, then volubly acquiesced.

Treatment was by modernistic Roentgen-ray irradiation, for which I went round the corner to the Portland Street entrance of the Infirmary, and had my head irradiated by science fiction. This probably damaged my brain beyond repair but was followed only by ignoring my brain and treating the scalp with a fungicide, then massaging it with lots of soft green soap, a gloopy delicious smelling substance applied with a piece of cotton rag and rubbed, magically stripping the hair from my head that was then hidden with a turban-like bandage. The circling motion twisted the roots into the curly blonde mass that eventually sprouted from my embarrassingly bald head. The change of colour lasted a few years before my hair returned to its normal mousy brown.

Several others in my class wore the magic turbans, but none of them benefited from the circles in quite the same way that I did. I was pleased and a little excited with my golden crown. The only downside I remember happened when I was passing the home of Laura Smythe, whose family lived in a cellar on South Street. Laura was about to go down the steps into her home and she stopped on the stairs to talk to me. Laura’s mother opened the door and came out, anxiously calling her away from “That boy!” The white turban was not always magic!

I suppose that in view of the world-shaking events, my dose of ringworm rates low on the Richter Scale. But it does provide meaningful insight into the human condition, affording a way of relating to others on a plane that exposes human hearts to fellowship and love.

It reveals that whatever major events are being worked out on the mighty stage of world affairs, most of us tread smaller platforms, and smaller, less universally significant, events are the major concerns of our lives. These considerations shape mood, relationships, self-confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness, self-image, and the ability to reach out in friendship and affection with the sense that we have something worthwhile to offer, and are worthy to receive their trust, their adulation, and their affection.

In comparison with the importance of these positive personal attributes, the Cold War, the transistor with all its blessings to humanity, the creation of nations, and the formation of international political policy become unimportant, even, dare we say, trivial. For what are grand affairs if those they affect are slaves to views of themselves that do not elevate them to recognise that they are made in the image of God, and have within themselves a divinity that not only determines their divine destiny, but also leads them inexorably toward it?


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