MY Dad’s profound deafness was caused by measles. If vaccination had been available then perhaps he’d have been spared.
I, unlike many of my contemporaries, do not have any vaccination marks.
This is because my mother said my Grandfather would have nothing to do with the National Health Service. This is very strange because he died before I was born in 1942.
Did he feel so strongly that he left instructions in his will?
The NHS didn’t come in till 5th July 1948. My mother stuck to Granddad’s supposed edict, avoiding the NHS apart from the free concentrated orange juice that she liked.
If you inquired she’d say, “Granddad said”.
We were not hypochondriacs, that was more prevalent in old ladies with little else to talk about. We were sort of valetudinarians, that is someone that goes to a lot of trouble to make sure they don’t fall ill.
This involved my mother instilling in us a dread of disease. We were told never to put on another kid’s hat for fear of nits, lice and ring worm.
If you caught ring worm this involved the stigma of having your head painted vivid gentian violet.
The thought of a worm in your head was terrifying. Of course I know now it’s a fungus, but that’s no consolation.
It was forbidden to put on other kid’s clothes in case we caught scabies. Swapping Wellington boots was out because of verucas.
We never caught anything at the baths the chlorine was so strong the water was a sort of medical sheep dip for the festering poor.
Rubber caps were compulsory in the baths for both sexes, so no insect life could swim off your head on to someone else and Brylcreem couldn’t escape and cause an oil slick.
We were on no account to eat anything off someone else’s plate or eat anything another kid had taken a bite out of. On one occasion I accidently picked up someone else’s milk at junior school and sucked on the straw.
I would have sterilised my lips with Grannie’s Dettol given half a chance. I was convinced I was a goner.
I went to bed with my fingers crossed touching the wooden head board for luck.
Like Queequeg in Moby Dick I waited for death. I survived.
Recently I was at the doctors being advised to take a test for a complaint that hadn’t any symptoms. I instantly thought of drinking that kid’s milk all those years ago and wondered if he was still alive.
Granny Annie used Dettol diluted with water, which she kept in a half pint milk bottle, to wash the front steps so germs on foot couldn’t pass.
She also used a half-pint milk bottle to suck the pus out of lanced boils.
She first evacuated the air with a cotton wool on a stick soaked in meths.
It was such an effective method of cupping it was often difficult to get the bottle off. It left a bruise like a love bite.
I achieved the same effect when, in an attempt to amuse my baby son, I stuck a rattle with a rubber sucker on my forehead.
The baby looked at me with superior disdain – a sort of ‘so what’ look on his face.
With some difficulty I pulled the sucker off my head. I was left with a perfectly circular large bruise on my forehead. Over the years I’ve found that I wasn’t the only one to fall victim to the rubber sucker rattle love bite.
We didn’t have a pull-up Air Wick for the flying germs. Of course granny may have put a Dettol cross on the door so they didn’t get in.
Some folk had a glass walking stick which they believed attracted germs. They would wipe the stick every day thinking it got rid of the germs.
I’ve got a radioactive uranium glass walking stick so I’m doubly protected.
Most remedies were home-grown, not necessarily herbal. Any throat complaint was treated with dilute nitric acid, namely Fennings Fever Cure.
Whooping cough, asthma and catarrh were treated by an early version of aromatherapy.
You were taken out to breathe in the fumes from a passing tar spreading wagon. As the tar wagon didn’t pass very often, when it did you were taken out whether you were ill or not, just in case.
Alternatively some had a more sophisticated device, the Cresolene lamp, which vaporised creosote in their bedrooms.
You’re not even allowed to paint it on your fence now.
Benzedrine inhalers were available till they realised folk were taking the impregnated paper out and chewing it. Benzedrine is of course an amphetamine.
For the seriously catarrh clogged we still had menthol inhalers. The old French ‘St Francis’ menthol inhalers, claimed they cured neuralgia, rheumatism, migraine and ‘calme douleurs’, in other words soothed pain.
I get migraine, but I don’t suffer from it. It took me years to find out what I’d got is called ‘Migraine sans douleurs’.
The inhalers were, of course, unavailable in England. Even these would not have been strong enough for my dad. He’d stick a menthol crystal in the end of his Woodbine.
Later they brought out commercial menthol cigs. One brand called Consulate they advertised as “Cool as a mountain stream”.
That’s the last way you’d describe dad’s home made ones. They blew your head off with one puff and your nose felt like it was breathing air from the Arctic with a danger of nasal frostbite and you lost your sense of smell.
Fortunately this occurred when I was older.
When I was a baby my deaf parents needed their sense of smell. It was handy when I had a full nappy since they couldn’t hear me crying.
Even after being chlorine sterilised at the local baths we had to have another bath every Friday in the dolly tub.
Then to avoid the attention of Nitty Nora the school bug explorer, our hair was carefully combed through with a nit comb.
When we were given the all-clear, our hair was glued down with Amami wave set, which I think was gum tragacanth dyed green.
I didn’t realise it was still available until I read recently that they were to stop selling it.
I hated Amami because Mam used it to give me what they called a ‘Kiss Curl’ right in the middle of my forehead.
This goo also helped to glue down what Mam always called “Scurf”.
Apparently the lower classes had scurf, the middle classes had dandruff and the upper bunch simply had dry scalps.
Because Mam called it scurf, I was worried I’d got sailors scurvy that we’d been told about at school.
It was years before I found out it was dandruff.
She also managed to panic the school when she sent a note saying I had yellow fever.
This was so serious a neighbour said we had to put a warning yellow flag on the house roof. It turned out I’d got Jaundice.
I was given a reddish liquid to drink with a straw. I think this was to stop it touching my teeth. I haven’t a clue why and after inquiring at many chemists I’ve never found out what it was.
The main thing I remember is being allowed to lie on granny’s bed and, luxury of luxuries, I didn’t have to go to the outside loo.
This luxury was unheard of. I had the use of granny’s best posing chamber pot, which was really only for show or to collect pee to treat granny’s chilblains.
This method was of course cheaper than the aptly named Pickle’s ointment for chilblains. I could now use the potty for its real purpose. For discretion’s sake a large handkerchief was placed over the top.
PS: There were many methods used to get rid of warts. Today they freeze them off with liquid nitrogen.
In the past you could go to a wart charmer and get them charmed off.
Cramp was kept at bay with cramp charms. These were actually the kneecaps of sheep.
Some think the term craps comes from these being used as dice. Why am I waffling on about this. Well I like a couple for my collection, any ideas?
Wilf’s autobiography to the age of elevenŠMy Best Cellar can be purchased at Waterstones or via his website www.wilflunn.com