I didn't know a black person to call them a friend as such 'til my late teens Up to then I had met a few from the guarded positions of my foster parents and the schools by the childrens homes. One of those fleeting memorable meetings was with Errol Brown the lead singer of Hot Chocolate. It was all about The Afro Comb.
I think i was about nine years old. The daily ritual of my foster mother tearing through my hair in the kitchen was one I dreaded. She was a midwife and used a nit comb from the hospital. It was a viscious ruler shaped steel monstrosity with an infantry of black lines which were the spaces between the stubborn metal forks. She'd tear her way through my Afro head each morning before school while I cried in unimaginable and excruciating pain. The sound was of a fire crackeling as it ripped through my head. I was told I had a sensitive head.
After nine or ten years of this she said that we'd be visiting a man who would be giving me an Afro Comb. My mother was a midwife and had delivered Errol Brown's child at Whiston Hospital. She was in no doubt that the man was a heathen and out of wedlock. Anyone who lived outside of the church, not even outside of the religion but outside of Bryn Baptist Church, was a heathen. But I was excited and frightened. He was black like me.
The thing that I remember most about the meeting at an apartment near Whiston all those years ago is that he had peanuts in a bowl and crisps in another – so totally decadent. All I can remembere is the Afro Comb descending into my outstretched hands, his smiling face behind it, as if through a black prism. “Thankyou Mr Brown” I said nervously.. But as I look back now I wonder whether Errol Brown may just have been a name my foster parents had given this man because he was black and bald.
He's on the radio today, on Saturday Live, a programme I used to work on. He speaks of his partner whom he has been with for thirty two years. I do the math and count backwards to the memory of the Afro Comb and of meeting him. It fits perfectly. maybe it was him. That Afro Comb was much more than a comb to me and my foster parents. I stared at it in wonder, it was like nothing I had seen before. It was beautiful.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/saturdaylive. He's in the last ten minutes of the programme.