Since there was such an overwhelming response of pleasure to my last post I decided to give you more of the same today, especially since the bugs of yesterday brought another experience back to my remembrance!
Some years ago, about 20 in fact, I was alone at home in the morning, as usual. I had walked the dogs, washed the breakfast pots, fed the poultry, let the hens, ducks and geese out into the orchard and the next chore was to groom the ponies and muck out their stable.
Before letting them out into the field I always pick out their hooves first, to get rid of any stable muck that might have got stuck into their feet, so that fresh air can get into the frogs of their feet and prevent any nasty grunge building up and developing bacterial infection. You see the way this post is going? Look away now if you are of a tender nature.
This I did, then put the ponies out. Then I mucked out the stable which took about 40 minutes. After mucking out I always changed my clothes since they would smell of horse: I am quite happy with the smell but people tend to look at me oddly in shops if I roll in reeking of manure and strong horse.
In the bathroom I was about to disrobe when I felt a strange feeling in my hair, a sort of tickling. I looked in the mirror and parted my hair: my whole scalp looked fine but rather grey and then I noticed it. My whole scalp moved. As one. As if the whole skin was a single, live entity. It was really, really frightening. I couldn’t make out why it looked so odd, so went and found a magnifying glass and went back to the mirror in the bathroom to take another look. You can guess by now I expect. My whole head was one moving, heaving mass of lice. No skin showed at all, not a spec. (I assure you this picture does not begin to do it justice.)
The overwhelming feeling was one of claustrophobia: I felt trapped with this alien invasion. Trembling with panic and tears I rang my husband in the office and screamed down the phone: calmly he said, “Wash your hair in paraffin”. He told me where he kept it and without further ado I brought the can into the house, upstairs into the bathroom and after stripping my clothes off whilst standing in the bath, I washed my hair in pink paraffin. Then I shampooed it three times to get rid of the smell.
How had I caught the lice? I could think of nothing I had done that morning which could cause this dreadful predicament. But then I remembered picking out the ponies’ hooves. I went into the field, called them up and examined them: yes, they had lice.
Clearly, when picking out the ponies’ feet with my head lovingly pressed against their flanks the lice had migrated wholesale on to my freshly washed head of hair. (Against all intuition lice actually prefer clean hair to dirty or stale hair.)
Every spring horses can pick up louse eggs from the grass where wildlife has passed through: foxes, hedgehogs, mice, rabbits, birds etc. all have their little ‘friends’ which accompany them through life and of course they drop off from time to time and then have to look for another host on which to lay their eggs. Poultry are also susceptible to the same problem and I was used to dusting all our animals with louse powder as a preventative each spring. Neither of the ponies had ever had lice before, we always dusted them well in time. But this year it had been warm and damp unusually early and I had clearly left it too late.
I immediately tied the ponies up and washed them in paraffin too. They hated it and it was three years before I was able to wash them again. Perhaps it made their skin feel sore or perhaps they hated the smell. But it killed the lice.
My hair and clothes smelt for at least three months after this: I discovered this the next weekend sitting in a warm church meeting as the smell of paraffin and coal tar gradually emerged from me in a miasmic cloud. I was so embarrassed by the smell I explained to the assembled company what had happened. Naively I was more bothered by the smell than the fact that I had caught lice, I’m not sure what the others thought, they were far too kind to say!!
NB I am now sitting here scratching my head like a maniac and feeling itchy all over.