Although not blessed with much money the Hunt family, growing up after the Second World War, was fortunate enough to enjoy good health. Childhood ailments like colds and sniffles seemed to avoid us like the plague. Any that were encountered were simply taken in our stride and we refused to let them interfere with our play. However, should any member dare to succumb to something serious, Granny was always on hand to offer advice and her own brands of medicine.
“Oh, you don’t want to go annoying the doctor,” she’d declare, “he’s far too busy. I’ve got just the cure for that,” and out of her special cupboard would come the most hideous concoction imaginable.
Take goose fat. I can never remember Granny keeping geese (chickens, pigs, dogs and cats maybe, but never geese), but somehow she always managed to produce ajar, nearly full to the brim.
This was especially useful if the patient had a prolonged chesty cough. The yel-lowish-brown fat, smelling rather rancid because of its age, was rubbed all over the victim’s chest, making sure it was applied liberally A clean, tight-fitting vest sealed in the grease, with orders that it should not be removed, except to add more ointment, until the infection had finally cleared.
Granny’s reasoning was that the goose fat would penetrate the skin and enter the lining of the lungs, thus easing the nasty cough. As to its medical success I was always doubtful, but after days of being ignored by friends who had located the cause of the dreadful odour, miraculously the cough disappeared or was desperately hidden, lest any more fat be applied.
Far worse than the goose fat was the vinegar bath, Granny’s instant cure for fever! That involved bathing the patient’s palms of the hands, soles of the feet and chest in the foul liquid. The operation had to be repeated several times a day until sweating subsided. The idea was to lower the temperature of the fever, and Granny swore that vinegar did the trick. Because it was a fever, the lucky patient was forbidden to leave the house. Fortunate, I said, as with one whiff from the treatment any surviving friends would be lost for ever.
I only ever experienced that cure once, but it left an indelible mark on my psyche. After 40 years I still cannot bear to have vinegar in my home. And should I ever visit the local fish and chip shop I insist: “No vinegar, please!” Not all Granny’s remedies for coughs and fevers were quite so bad, though. Boiled lemonade just before you got into bed to sweat out the fever was rather tasty, but as lemonade
was somewhat of a luxury in our household we rarely had the fortune to try the remedy. Hot lemon juice, mixed with butter and sugar, was also recommended. Sickly at first, it left a delicious after-taste in the mouth and sugar-coated lips which could be sucked afterwards. Once again, though, expense proved its undoing. We were stuck with Granny’s cheap cures.
Strange as Granny’s concoctions may sound, she could never be accused of being a charlatan. All her remedies had been tried, tested and proved to her satisfaction on her own children. With four strapping lads and two daughters who could argue?
She pooh-poohed any stupid ideas. Mustard baths were only for the stupid. And as for wearing an old sock around the neck with an onion in it, that was too silly for words. Mixing milk and whisky to be drunk before getting into bed had its good points, but it spoiled both the milk and the whisky. Far better to drink both separately when you weren’t ill.
As time passed and we moved away from Granny’s influence, mother introduced us to such marvels as Vick’s Vapour Rub and Fennings’ Fever Cure – sweeter-smelling and slightly tastier, but somewhat lacking in nostalgia and the personal touch.
Commenting on that to Granny, just months before her death at the grand age of 88, I inadvertently mentioned a touch of indigestion that I had. Immediately she was up and disappearing into the kitchen. Minutes later she emerged with a piece of coal.
“Here, suck on this. It’ll get rid of that in no time,” she said. And it did!