As a child I was obsessed with the colour red. My first pair of shoes, that I can remember, were red Mary Janes from Clarks. I even refused to take them off to go to bed! I had red trousers, red anorak, red jumper and the trademark of my youth, a red ribbon for my ponytail. I was a whizz at the local gymkhana and then later I took part in show-jumping competitions on my horse, Red River. I made a red velvet brow-band for him with matching velvet for my ponytail. He was already named after the river in the southern states of America, so that was pure coincidence.
This memory of red ribbons was triggered by a book I’ve just finished, 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. In the book he describes how the slave women instead of spending their Christmas cents on tobacco – as the men did – almost universally spent it on ribbons for personal adornment. Without exception they chose the colour red. Red is traditionally the colour of passion, lust and love. With Valentine’s Day approaching splashes of scarlet can be seen in many shop windows, selling love in the form of chocolates, cards, flowers and other racier items!
But red can also be sinister and dangerous, suggesting violence and death. Would ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ have had the same underbelly of menace if it had been called ‘Little Green Riding Hood?’ Anyone who has seen the red-hooded dwarf in ‘Don’t Look Now’ will never look at a child’s red rain or duffle coat in the same way again. Hunting pink, worn by hunt staff, is an echo of Britain’s colonial past, and perhaps hints at the blood to be shed during pre-ban foxhunts.
So, what’s your favourite colour? Does any other colour have as many emotional connotations as red?