Friday, August 8, 2008

Russet Lodge: The Real Life Story!

For those who don't know, I named my knitting blog Russet Lodge Knits after a series of comedy sketches by the venerable Catherine Tate displaying a refuge/home for harrassed redheads called russet lodge. When I was doing some vanity googling I came across this article from The Times Online, and it was eerily appropriate.

Family forced to flee just for being ginger
Andrew Norfolk

A family of six have fled two homes after enduring a vicious hate campaign, apparently prompted by the colour of their hair.

Kevin and Barbara Chapman say that anti-ginger prejudice has led to their property being vandalised and their four youngest children being subjected to a litany of cruel taunts, verbal abuse and bullying.

The Chapmans and their children, who are from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, have a blaze of red hair which, they claim, has reduced them to living like fugitives in the city. Their plight carries uncomfortable echoes of the Catherine Tate sketch in which a group of ginger-haired outcasts find safety in a refuge after being ostractised by society.

Another victim of hair-colour prejudice, the Premiership footballer Dave Kitson, of Reading, claimed two years ago that fans who made fun of his red hair were as bad as racists.

This year, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, dismissed his homeland security spokesman after a race-row scandal. Patrick Mercer, a former Army colonel, had said that soldiers with red hair were given a “far harder time” than blacks and that comments like “Come on you black bastard” and “Come on you ginger bastard” were “the way it is in the Army”.

The Chapmans – who have nine children, with only the four youngest living at home – appear unable to find sanctuary anywhere Newcastle. At each new home – three in the past three years – their windows have been smashed, graffiti has been sprayed on their walls and the children, aged between 10 and 13, have been physically attacked.

Mr Chapman, 49, has reported several incidents to the police and – after the slogan “Ginger Is Gay” was daubed on their home this week – is in discussion with council housing officers over another move.

He says that the taunts of neighbours, adults and children, have become so bad that his 11-year-old son, also called Kevin, contemplated suicide. Last week the boy was assaulted by a girl in the street who punched him several times and left him with a black eye.

“Kevin’s never even seen a life yet and he’s been driven to this. The abuse we have to endure is just disgusting,” Mr Chapman said.

“It started more than three years ago, when the kids started getting bullied by local lads over the colour of their hair. They’ve been punched, kicked and thrown over a hedge. Every time they go out, these gangs have got to them. We can’t even go to the local shops, which are only two minutes away, because the kids get all their stuff taken off them.”

The younger children have attended three primary schools in the past three years as the Chapmans moved from their old home in the Walker area of the city, first to Newbiggin Hall and then, a year ago, to Kenton Bar. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter, Ryelle, said: “Every time we make new friends we just end up getting bullied and it happens every time we leave the house.”

A Newcastle City Council spokesman said that housing staff were aware of the family’s plight and were discussing it.

Mr Chapman said the council had suggested that he should dye his family’s hair, which outraged him because he had brought up his children “to be proud of themselves . . . and the way they look”. The spokesman said that the dye suggestion had initially been made by Mr Chapman and that the housing officer’s response had merely been: “You could always do that.”

The Catherine Tate sketch:

Inside Russet Lodge, the shelter for ginger-haired people:
Sandra: Being ginger is who I am; why should I deny that?
Rita: You shouldn’t. And that’s why we’re here. We have all sorts of gingers here. Gingers in denial, confused gingers, even militant gingers. But they have one thing in common. They don’t need to fear the outside world. They’re all welcome to stay here in peace and harmony. . . . Duracell, ginger nut, carrot top, copper nob. We’re used to getting that kind of abuse every day out there. People asking us to move away from areas where food is being prepared. Total strangers assuming we’re Scottish. Forever trawling the streets, trying to find a hairdresser’s that isn’t fully booked. Well, not in here. This is a safe haven for everyone and everything ginger. Let’s keep it that way.

As darkness falls outside the Russet Lodge refuge, a crowd gathers with flaming torches, carrying placards bearing the slogans “No Gingers!” and “Not In My Village”.

As the title credits roll, they are heard chanting: “Gingers Out! Gingers Out!”
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