Saturday 8th October
Of all the childhood remedies Germolene was my favourite, and I still love that comforting smell. It comes now in small squeezable tubes, but back in the fifties it was only available in flat little tins, cream with blue writing. Grandma only had to start unscrewing the tin, (or actually sliding it a bit and lifting, as it was a close fitting but not a screw tin) and I would begin to feel better. Ah the remarkable healing properties of that wafting aroma, almost instantly the grazed knee or the sore spot would begin to heal, and I would watch intently as the blob of unreal pink slowly congealed and faded in intensity as it was absorbed into the hurt place. Sometimes I would insist it still hurt, just to repeat the process, and intensify my pleasure.
Quite a few things came in flat little tins back then; shoe polish, with that annoying little metal twist opener on the side, which if it broke meant you had to break into the tin and could never lock it again, and would be forever chasing a hard nut of polish round and round with your “putting on” brush. Nowadays nobody really bothers to clean their shoes anyway, but cleaning everyone’s shoes was my daily task; between breakfast and leaving for school I would clean not only my own shoes but Grandma’s court shoes and sometimes even my mother would leave a pair of her flat lace-ups out for me. Then there was real toothpaste; before the invention of tubes filled with an emulsion of chalk and bleach, toothpaste came as a dry solid block which you wetted with your toothbrush, worked up into a little paste and brushed away, I cannot really remember what it tasted like, but it was pretty gritty if I recall. Furniture polish came in round tins too, and you would always have a bit of torn up old blouse or sheet to use to rub it on with, and a soft duster for buffing up. No spray on Pledge for us, elbow grease was the order of the day.
The other dreaded childhood remedy was TCP, a foul smelling and even more disgusting tasting cure-all, brought out for any sore throat, or even a sniffle of a cold. Gargling with TCP was akin to a punishment, and I would deliberately hide the fact of my annual winter cold just to avoid TCP. Then there was Hills Balsam, a tincture added to a large bowl of hot water on the table, you then had to lean over and a towel would be placed over your head enclosing you, the bowl and the fumes. This was meant to clean your tubes and assist in all sorts of respiratory problems, and under the towel the effect was certainly claustrophobic, I was always gagging to escape. Vicks Vapour Rub was applied liberally to your chest before going to sleep, again to try to clear the airways and ensure a good nights’ sleep. And then there was always Grandma’s favourite standby, Beechams Powders, which came in a neatly folded paper package which Grandma delighted in opening and carefully tipping into a small glass of water. It barely dissolved and was really bitter tasting. “If it tastes awful, it must be doing you some good” was the belief, and really it is a wonder so many of us actually made it into adulthood given these amazing childhood remedies.