When ice cream was simply the best medicine
Published at 09:11, Monday, 30 July 2012
I HAD a brush with some scary sounding chemicals this week. So, very probably, did you.
How about propylene glycol? And calcium carbonate, aqua, sorbitol, sodium bicarbonate, hydrated silica, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium monofluorophosphate, aroma, sodium phosphate, cellulose gum, sodium saccharin, methyl-paroben, propylparoben, glycerin, Cl 74160 and Cl 74260?
Believe it or not, these chemicals are not from some secret chemical laboratory, but the typical ingredients in a tube of toothpaste.
When I was a lad, chemicals hadn’t been invented – or if they had, nobody told us about them.
On Monday washdays, for instance, my mum insisted that Omo washed whiter, but what went into the Omo packet might have been granules from a Martian meteorite for all anyone knew.
There again, a summer treat of epic proportions in the 'Fifties Hextol household was apple pie.
When my mother was baking, she could hardly get near the oven for the flock of young Hextols salivating at the aromas that filled the kitchen.
As far as I know, she managed to produce these rosette-worthy culinary delights with simple ingredients like apples, sugar, flour, water, butter or lard and salt.
Now that chemicals have been invented – I hesitate to say it – but it looks as though she may have sold we naive Hextol siblings short.
Because those apple tarts in boxes you now buy in the supermarkets boast magic things like dextrose and humectant (vegetable glycerine), modified maize starch, malic acid, sulphur dioxide, potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulphite, disodium diphosphate, sodium alginate and adipic acid, with a bit of hydrolised milk protein thrown in.
In the post-war years, the world of medicine had just as unsophisticated an air, as I discovered when at the age of five I suffered the slightest hint of the dreaded tonsilitis.
Like every other child the UK's vampiric surgeons were eager to practise on, I was whipped into hospital.
The quacks' idea of an anaesthetic was to clamp an ether-filled pad over our faces until we fell asleep!
The over-enthusiastic removal of tonsils left my throat excruciatingly sore for several days, but in this technological desert the pain-relieving solution the medics came up with was to feed me cartons of ice cream!
Those were the days when to be a bacterium or virus around children was equivalent to winning the lottery.
Ma and Pa Hextol soon realised that, like every child in the country, the Hextol siblings would, in turn, succumb to every childhood ailment going.
And there were plenty. Measles, chickenpox, impetigo, whooping cough, mumps, scarlet fever, scarletina – which may also have been a character from a Danny Kaye musical – influenza; we had them all.
Then there was something called German measles which we dreaded most in the immediate post-war years as we believed the germs had been invented in some Nazi germ-warfare lab as Hitler’s revenge for losing the war.
The problem for parents in those pre-vaccination days was to ensure that these tribulations didn't intrude into the annual week's summer family holiday in the Lakes.
The answer? Whenever word got round in the winter that one of our school friends was ill with measles or whatever, we were all sent round to see them and ensure we got the illness too.
Treatments were basic. I remember with measles having to lie down in a darkened room for days being forced to quaff spoonfuls of a foul-tasting concoction which I believe to have comprised sulphur and used Ovoline sump oil.
Illnesses with spots warranted the use of gallons of weird ointments which were liberally applied as in the manner of one basting a turkey.
Some of them turned you pink, some brown (fittingly, these smelt like tar) and one left you a dazzling shade of purple!
Even when we were well, we were forced to wash with coal tar soap and swallow things which were allegedly good for us, like liquid paraffin or cod liver oil and malt or rose hip syrup or sennapods, or even calves' foot jelly.
We just had to hope that the calves had not been standing in cow pats.
Now, science is changing again. Chemicals are old hat, having already given way to wonders like gamma-irradiated honey.
One day we shall also inevitably be lumbered with genetically-modified wheat bread.
I think I might go back to cod liver oil and malt...
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk