Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Beautiful Red

I heard an interesting fact on a radio quiz show whilst at work the other day.  It seems that the 'Jolly Roger' pirate flag gets it's name from the French:  Joli Rouge - 'Beautiful Red'.

Apparently, if a pirate or naval vessel hoisted a red flag before engaging in combat, it signified that no quarter would be given, so it was a form of long-distance sabre-rattling to try to unnerve your opponent.

In a world where everything is predominantly green on the outside and red on the inside, red has probably always been the universal signal for mortal danger.  No wonder that psychopaths are so bad at social intercourse, when people like Bates can dispassionately watch the life blood of another swirl down a shower plug-hole with a fixed, expressionless stare.  Mind you, the film was shot in black and white, like the Jolly Roger.

Anyway, I thought that it would make a good title for this monochrome blog post, and was triggered to get up and write it when I heard a potential British Olympic gold medalist say that there has never been any red in the blue and white pursuit cycling event outfit, so I got onto Images and looked it up.  Maybe I misheard, because all the bits of kit I saw had a red flash on the collar.

It took the British Army about 200 years after the invention of the musket to learn that it is not a good idea to wear a bright red tunic whilst standing in a bright green field waiting to be shot by the French or the Americans.  They even had a bold white cross conveniently intersecting at the spot beneath which lay their beating hearts.

When I was a kid, I went through a brief, misguided period when I believed that the red white and blue 'bull's eye' insignia on the Spitfire was to give the Germans a sporting chance when taking taking a pot-shot at the moving target of our boys in blue.

In the fevered, manic beginnings of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, some mis-guided hot-head (there were quite a few to choose from) decided that all the traffic lights in the country should be in reverse order, because the colour 'red' was the colour of progress and advancement down Mao's road of the Long March.  I would love to have seen video footage of the chaos that ensued in the town where they first tried it out before quietly giving it up as a bad idea.

There is only one colour which - in a subtle, almost alien sort of way - is more dangerous than the complimentary of green, and that is made by mixing the complimentary of yellow with it, about 50-50.

In ancient Rome, only the Caesars were allowed - on pain of death - to wear the expensive colour of purple, and I have to say that it must have suited them the best.  Can you think of a colour which is more disturbing, more unnatural and more perverse than purple?

I was helping a friend to paint a wall purple at college years ago (that's the sort of thing we did in those days), and it was only then that I realised that he was an epileptic.  He painted a patch of it about 2 feet square right in front of his eyes, then went into a full-blown fit on the floor, to be taken away in an ambulance shortly afterwards.

An old, psychopathic joke:  What's green and goes red at the touch of a button?  A frog in a blender.


  1. Whatever the flag's etymology; it's very well named!

  2. That is the sickest joke I have ever heard.
    As for purple, I love it - other than that I wear any colour so long as it is black - not sure what that says about me.

  3. Historians believe Caesar was an epileptic, although i've worn purple without having any fits.

    My mother loved wearing red, and it was a lovely colour on her. I was better suited to pinks and magentas or burgundy.

  4. Which Caesar? I think there was at least 12.

    I have never had a fit (yet) but then again, I've never worn purple. I wore nout but black for about 10 years - easy.

  5. Replies
    1. Ah, that one. I was wondering about Claudius.

  6. he didn't fit when Derek Jacobi played him