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The Day Before Yesterday: 7 - Close Inspections

Gladys Schofield tells of school bobbies, "crawlers'' and shaved heads.

As people didn't have cars yet, tradesmen took their goods to the people, travelling door to door. We had a man calling who sold blankets, like a club. You paid a small amount weekly until a pair of blankets was paid for. Mum always had to order more blankets for our large family. It seemed an on-going thing for us.

A truant officer was also employed by the education committee. If a child had not a good reason for being away, this man would call at the house, and sometimes this was the first time this mum knew the offending child was missing. They called him the school bobby and were afraid, not so much of him, but the headmaster who called them to his room on their return.

A grocer called once a week delivering our food and taking the next week's order. He had an old blue van, anything on wheels was very interesting as they were very rare. Our house was the last he called at as he travelled around the neighbourhood, and the boys would pester him for a ride each time he called.
The back of his van was full of empty boxes from the groceries he had delivered. After a few weeks of pleading he gave in one day and said, "Right, just a short ride mind you as you have to walk home."

In we climbed amongst the empty boxes in the back of the van, my two brothers and myself. "Come straight back home," Mum called as the door fastened behind us.

It was very uncomfortable as we squatted on the floor, the van creaking and lurching down the bumpy road. It seemed no time at all before the van stopped at the bottom of Ben Hill. "Right kids", the grocer called, opening the van door, "straight home mind you, don't linger." And away he went, heading in the same direction a little girl had wandered not so very long ago. It must have been the thrill of doing something new that made us endure this torture time and time again after that.

Dental nurses did not visit school. If you did get a toothache, as I did at age six, it was a right performance. I was taken by my mother to a place in Huddersfield, a large gloomy building, which looked as though it had stood there forever.

We sat on seats downstairs waiting our turn, but all the action was upstairs. Every now and then a nurse would appear from somewhere andd, running down the steep flight of stairs, would say, "Next please".

The system was that a strange lady would take your hand and present you to the dentist and then take her child, who had already been attended to, back down the stairs and home. My mother had to follow suit with the next child when I had been attended to, and so it went on until there were no more patients.

This was a free service for school children but one I wouldn't recommend. I felt so scared not having my mother with me. I remember this man working the big chair up so he could gaze into my mouth. They didn't fill the offending tooth, just injected my gum and took it out.

It must have worried me so much because I never went back to a dentist until I was seventeen. How things had changed again. The dentists were human beings at last. I took an interest in cleaning my teeth after this incident. We used a small cake of solid pink toothpaste in a tin. Gibbs made it long before the plastic tubes came into use.

Every now and again in the summer months, a nurse would arrive at school to check if our hair was free of nits and lice. We had to line up in single file. She inspected each child in turn and gently tapped each one if they could return to their seats. There were always two or three who had to stand on one side. The nurse took their names and no doubt contacted their mothers.

I hated this day. It was so easy to catch these things. I knew Mum was always on the watch because she had a fine comb handy each time our hair was washed, and she would use it inspect our heads. She couldn't afford to let crawlers, as we called them, get a hold of our hair with so many little ones around.

It was sad. These children were frowned on at that time. I knew one little girl who had her hair shaved completely off, for she was too infested to do anything else. But it was usually kept under control. I can't see why they have to let it get so out of control today. It's not fair on the ones who do care.

Children were also examined for any health defects. Again a nurse came to school and children were brought into the head mistress's sitting room one at a time for this. Not every year - the first year then at about ten years of age and again in school leaving year. Eyesight and hearing difficulties could be found early this way.

When a child was born it was usually vaccinated for smallpox, a deadly disease. This was continued although no cases had occurred for a long time in England. It was not compulsory and many chose not to have their babies done.
Immunisation was not in force, although a lot of deadly diseases like diphtheria, scarlet fever and lung diseases were quite common. Through the winters we would have swabs taken in our throats at this time by a nurse. We seemed to be always clear. No germ would dare to lurk in one of our throats.

As soon as Mum heard one of those diseases was around, out would come her little bottle of colourless liquid - quinine. It tasted bitter and we got three drops on a teaspoon of sugar. It was taken from the bark of a tree in Africa. Mum used to say the natives chewed this bark when they had a fever and what was good for them was also good for us. Whether she had a point or not I can't say, but none of us ever got any of these diseases. We shared measles and chickenpox generously around but that was all.


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