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A Shout From The Attic: Chapped Legs And Chilblains

...The struggle to get warm and then keep warm occupied a large part of our lives. It was not called The Frozen North for nothing, and our homes were cold cheerless places that sported no central heating. This meant that once we left the room that had the coal fire in it, we walked into a frigidity known only to Esquimaux, polar bears, penguins, and Yorkshire folk, and life expectancy plunged immediately to about twenty minutes...

With a pronouced shiver, Ronnie Bray recalls the chills of childhood.

To read more of Ronnie's life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

One of the left-handed blessings of being an English schoolboy when I was but a lad was the short trousers that were standard wear until the bubbling days of youth dawned. The Northern climate has its fair share of rain, wet fog, snow, slush, and a murrain of damp and chimney muck that wet the exposed parts of the legs, which, when my socks were ‘asleep,’ extended from my ankles to a point four inches above the knee. When it was not only wet but also chilly, then my legs quickly became chapped, sometime to a painful rawness that was sore to the touch, unattractive to see, and slow to heal.

Chilblains affected the hands and fingers mostly, although thin socks and the wrong grade of footwear invited them to assault the feet and toes also. Chilblains were very painful, and those who attempted to cure them by plunging their extremities into hot water were doubly insulted as nerve endings screamed from heat pain overlaid on cold pain to an exquisite degree. Chilblains were to be avoided at all costs, and although the short trousers invited chapping, they did have deep pockets into which threatened hands could be thrust.

The struggle to get warm and then keep warm occupied a large part of our lives. It was not called The Frozen North for nothing, and our homes were cold cheerless places that sported no central heating. This meant that once we left the room that had the coal fire in it, we walked into a frigidity known only to Esquimaux, polar bears, penguins, and Yorkshire folk, and life expectancy plunged immediately to about twenty minutes.

The room that had the fire was a gathering place for the socially adept; the non-adept took themselves to bed where they slept with stone hot water bottles under counterpanes that had buttons, buttonholes, and pockets. The drawback to the stone bottles is that when they got cold, they got cold! The “things that went bump in the night” were frozen bottles being kicked out of bed by frozen feet in the small cold hours of the morning bouncing off the floorboards a couple of times!

Some Yorkshire people were unusually cold blooded, and sat close to the fire with their legs almost up the chimney. The proximity to the heat had a peculiar effect on leg skin closest to the flames,. It became mottled, sometimes permanently so with a bright red pattern, but the cosmetic loss was considered a worthwhile trade off for not freezing to death. My Auntie Nora was so decorated. The official medical term for this condition was, ‘Corned Beef Legs.’

There were some hot summers, but none that could be described as long and hot, and so avoiding extremes of heat was not something we either bothered about or developed strategies for. Our energies were fully occupied in keeping dry and warm when the coolness of Winter’s chilly breath blasted us with the harsh realities of our common lot, a task that we did not always accomplish.

A pleasure it is to be able to say that it is many years since I had chapped legs, chilblains, or finger so icy that I could feel nothing but intense pain, and do nothing but cry. I miss them not at all, and do not bid them return to either thee or me.

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