Radio: It’s like TV, but the pictures are better

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It's like TV, but the pictures are better

THAT HEADLINE appeared above a 2011 Daily Mail article by well-known British radio personality Clive Anderson, and I couldn’t agree more. In just a few well-chosen words a good reporter can paint a picture that will stick in your memory for days.

All this week I have embedded in my brain an image of weeping women tossing fantastically expensive wigs onto bonfires in a Jewish section of New York. I had BBC Radio 4 on in the background when I heard someone tell of a rabbi who, in 2004, came to the conclusion that hair from India, used to make many of the wigs that cover orthodox Jewish women’s real hair, wasn’t kosher because it had come from “idolatrous” hair-cutting Hindu ceremonies.

The result: wig bonfires the likes of which had never before seen in the Big Apple – or anywhere else on the planet.

Now, let’s face it, religion has more than its fair share of wacky rules, ceremonies, traditions and fairy tales but this story really got me wondering how people can become so bent out of shape by something as simple as hair.

At this stage I should point out that I have been fixated on the subject of hair and its place in religion ever since I was accosted in my teens by a street preacher who told me that my shoulder-length auburn locks would land me in the fiery pits of hell.

Once there, my cute little buns would be prodded for all eternity with red hot-forks wielded by hordes of chuckling demons. He had proof of this in the form of a leaflet he shoved into my hand. It quoted two religious men from 17th century England: William Prynne, author of “The Unlovelinesse of Lovelockes” and Thomas Hall, who wrote “The Loathsomenesse of Long Hair”.

Prynne, in his 1628 pamphlet insisted that long-haired men were becoming womanish and effeminate. Worse, they were becoming less English and – horror of horrors – more FRENCH! He wasn’t a great fan of dancing either: “Dancing serves no necessary use, no profitable, laudable, or pious end at all. It is only from the inbred pravity, vanity, wantonness, incontinency, pride, profaneness, or madness of man’s depraved nature. “

Hall, in his 1654 pamphlet, described long hair as “a most loathsome and horrible disease”, and grouched that the fashion had spread to “soldiers, tinkers and jailbirds”. Rather than blame Frenchmen for the trend, he reckoned the “disease” has been started by Polish men.

Then, as now, I had about as much fear of hell as I did of being savaged by a dead alligator, and I vowed to grow my hair until it reached to all the way down to my butt. If that would make me French (or Polish), well, bring it on, but go easy on the pate de foiegras or the duck blood soup.

Nature, however, had other plans, and I started going bald by my mid-20s. After a hideous comb-over period – the less said of that the better – I clippered what I had left down to my scalp. It felt strange at first, but wonderfully liberating. My days of visits to barbers and having to choose shampoos were gone at a stroke.

I had anticipated an Elisha moment, but it never came. (Elisha was an Old Testament skinhead who got the hump after being taunted by a bunch of yobs for being “a baldhead”. He cursed them, and God dealt with the matter in a brutal but novel way. He sent two she-bears to attack the delinquents and 42 of them were savaged to death.)

I bet that’s a picture that will stick in your mind for weeks to come.

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Barry Duke is a South African born photo-journalist and gay rights activist who settled in Spain in 2010 after working in the UK since 1973. In May 2017, Duke, a lifelong atheist, was handed a lifetime achievement award by the London-based National Secular Society for his services to human rights and secularism.

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