Friday, April 23, 2010

Rose, thou art sick ...

Feeling oppressed by the latest in a series of colds - after 6 years without one, I've had 4 in the past year as well as a proper dose of flu - I found myself recalling the colds of childhood. Nowadays, children have their own dedicated medicine - Calpol in varying strengths, for instance - but in the late '40s and '50s there didn't seem to be any such thing. This morning I was suddenly taken back to the taste of Disprin crushed in a teaspoonful of raspberry jam, and the bottle of pink liquid - may have been called Mystol - that was dripped into my nose from a glass dropper to relieve congestion. And I remembered the miserable long nights when I would waken with a raging thirst and try to eke out the tumbler of water that had been left beside my bed - why, in God's name, did I not get up and replenish it? Was I too small to reach the sink?

At that time my parents' bedroom seemed miles from where I slept in the maid's room off the kitchen. The distance must've worried them too, for when I was seriously ill (as when I had whooping cough, for instance) my long-suffering father would sleep in the kitchen on the camp bed he'd brought back from the Western Desert; later I can remember changing beds with one or other of my parents - who never enjoyed sleeping in a double bed - so that someone could keep an eye on me. This was a great treat, as my own bed had a horsehair mattress of fairly unyielding discomfort, and I found their beds miraculously comfortable. Less yielding was the stone hot water bottle that my father liked - you could break a toe on it, or send it crashing through the floor to the flat below if you tried to kick it out of the bed. (I think that was probably an exaggeration, but it convinced me)

Another thing about Being Ill in those days was the fact that I seemed to spend interminable hours - days, even - in bed. You didn't get up until you were better in these days; I suppose the house was cold and there was no telly to seduce you, but it was a feature of recovery that when I did emerge into the family again my legs would be as wobbly as those of a new-born colt. I read hundreds of books - I clearly remember reading Edward Whymper's Scrambles amongst the Alps when I was eight, having run out of anything more suited to my own age group. Perhaps my progress in English was directly linked to all these shivery days in bed.

All this reminiscing is making me feel worse, but I have one last memory of a symptom which to this day tells me I'm under the weather: when I was ill, the toothpaste never tasted right. Does that ring any bells out there?


  1. Is it me or is (too much) cold water actually bad for a sore throat?

    I remember days of sitting up in bed being given disprin - allegedly soluble version of aspirin.

    My grandparents' stone hot-water bottle is known as Krakatoa for some reason...

  2. Dunno about the cold water, but now remember being told to sit in bed and put my chin down onto my chest. This was, apparently, to see if I had polio - but if you sit with your legs straight out in front of you and no real back support it's actually quite difficult ...

  3. Aw, sorry to hear you are feeling sick. I have averted colds this year, tho I have no idea how!

    My memories are of Vick's Vapo-Rub in the top of the glass vaporizer, filling the room with hot, humid, eucalyptus. Cleared the head!

    My mother was quite the opposite, allowing us to lie down on blankets neatly placed and tucked into the sofa. There, we could see what was happening around us. As soon as we were the least bit mobile, my mother would place a lawn chair outside, where we were instructed to sit and take in the sun's (healing) rays. It mattered not whether it was sunny and warm, or sunny and cold. We sat outside!

  4. Sounds like a sanatorium! You know - people with TB lying in beds on a snowy terrace in Switzerland...

  5. Nah, our sitting out in a lawn chair was pretty boring! Nothing as beautiful as the Swiss countryside methinks!

    Guess that goes right along with your scrambling amongst the Alps theme, tho!!!!

  6. Kaolin poultices! These I remember - red-hot on application, clammy when peeled off.

    And measles - penned up in a bed recess with all the curtains in the room closed to prevent the light harming the eyes. A memory of asking my mother to clear the crumbs out of the bed, when it was the damned spots that were the cause of the discomfort.

    I won't start on syrup of figs (loved it) or Milk of Magnesia (had to be held over my aunt's shoulder, while one parent inserted the spoon of white poison and the other one delivered the follow-up spoon of plum jam to take away the gruesome taste!).

    Ah! Happy days!