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Backwords: DIY Health Care

Fiery Jack, Friarís Balsam, Fenningís Fever Mixture Ė Mike Shaw recalls home remedies of yesteryear.

Pulling a tooth out was a simple do-it-yourself job when I was a kid.

It was all over in a flash, or rather in the few seconds it takes to shut an oven door.

There was no anaesthetic and the operation was almost - but not quite - painless and remarkably successful.

Every time a milk tooth was hanging loose in my gums. one end of a length of cotton thread was knotted firmly around it.

The other end was fastened to the open door of the gas oven. Then it was simply a matter of slamming the oven door. And nine times out of ten, out shot the loose tooth.

On the odd occasion when it didnít work first time my mother stepped in to give the door a hefty second slam - before I had time to think about changing my mind.

Fifty years on, it all has a masochistic ring about it. But, you see, I knew there was always a reward at the end of it.

Not immediately, of course, because exchanging the tooth for a tanner was a deal worked out with the fairies.

At least thatís what I was told as I popped the tooth under my pillow at bedtime. And it must have been true, because when I awoke the next morning there was a shining sixpence in its place.

In later boyhood, toothache posed more serious problems. Iíve never been able to work out why but toothache nearly always seems to start in the middle of the night.

Perhaps itís the evil equivalent of the fairies, some fearful little demons that get to work after dark on rotting a perfectly healthy molar.

Whatever the reason, oil of cloves or even a few drops of whisky were rubbed on the offending tooth to give temporary relief.

Home remedies or patent medicines were probably used more in those days. But home doctoring could go excruciatingly wrong, as I found out to my cost after suffering a rather bad groin strain in a Saturday afternoon Red Triangle League football match.

A good rubdown with a drop of embrocation was clearly called for. So out came the bottle of Fiery Jack for a quick massage at bedtime.

In the middle of the night, when my slumbers were shattered by this terrible burning in my nether regions, I realised too late that the liniment must have been applied carelessly as well as liberally.

The only relief I could think of was to lower myself, with what I could swear was a gentle sizzling sound, into a bath of cold water.

That was the moment when I came to the swift conclusion that this particular embrocation lived up to its name far too realistically for me ever to think about using it again.

Friarís Balsam was a family favourite for colds, and many a winterís night saw at least one of us crouched with our head beneath a towel, sniffing the supposedly beneficial vapours after putting a few drops of the stuff in a bowl of boiling water.

Fenningís Fever Mixture certainly did the trick on one famous occasion when I was given a hefty dose after being sent to bed with the flu.

When my mother came back from a shopping expedition she found me fast asleep, with pyjamas, sheets and just about everything else soaked in sweat.

I was in a worse state then than I have been during some of our tropical global-warming nights. But when I was a boy I could always retreat outside to a makeshift tent consisting of a bed sheet thrown over a wooden clothes horse.

But grown-ups canít really do that sort of thing. Or can they?


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