Arnold's world

30th January 1998 at 00:00
The only vivid memory I have of my days in primary school is the Nit Nurse's annual visit. Eyes closed, heads on desks; no sound except for that of 30 terrified tots hyper-ventilating and the clump of her sensible heels as she progressed along the rows; the heady whiff of her eau-de-cologne as she drew ominously nearer; her breath, a tantalising cocktail of Polos and Players Number Six; her long fingers, weaving their sensuous way through my short back and sides; and then my sigh of relief as she clumped out of my life for another year.

Although opinion was divided on what exactly was the punishment for being caught in possession, there was general agreement that it would entail a minimum of a shaved head, the slaughter of any household pet, at least a term in an approved school and - for the most severe cases - decapitation.

As grouse live in mortal fear of The Glorious Twelfth, head lice, too, have their day of reckoning. Tomorrow has been designated Bug Busting Day by the charity Community Hygiene Concern, which wants to impress on parents how important it is for them to take over the sterling work once entrusted to the Nit Nurse. To raise awareness, CHC is willing to provide schools with a useful educational pack. If your pupils will be missing out on tomorrow's hunt, be sure to order your pack in time for the next nationwide cull, which will be on October 31. Phone 0181 341 7167 for more details.

As I understand it, head lice don't cause any serious physiological harm, but they do cause profound embarrassment to their unfortunate hosts: in the modern playground, having nits is almost as socially unacceptable as not having the correct designer labels. I find it odd that children, who are generally the first to give the thumbs up to all creatures great and small, should take such exception to the one and only specimen that really takes a shine to them.

Rather than try to eradicate head lice (which we'll never succeed in doing), we should concentrate on altering children's attitude towards them. I intend to organise a Be Nice to Nits Week, which will be modelled on the popular Bring Your Dog to Work Day (the next of which, incidentally, will be on June 26). Children will be encouraged to show off their little chums, do swapsies and, in a spirit of friendly rivalry, see who can breed the biggest. They will quickly become engrossed in the challenge of nurturing and caring for their charges.

Indeed, I hope that head lice will soon be seen as a cheap and attractive alternative to Tamagotchis. The only serious drawback is that head lice are unable to emit piercing squeaks at regular intervals.

However, even the cuddliest head louse is unlikely to be a match for the latest small toy, My Lover (known as the tamasmootchi). You don't so much have to care for it, but make it fall in love with you. It's true that it's emotionally stunted, dysfunctional, slow to learn, a poor conversationalist, lousy company and generally a waste of space. In fact, if recent reports are true, it's uncannily similar to the typical British male from his school days onwards. So don't be surprised if your daughter rejects a traditional marriage and chooses to live instead with her cyber significant other. Until death do them part - or the battery runs out.


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