* * *
The first time I threw up all over my mother's pillow was the last time I was dosed with licorice powder. The practise of dosing children with purgatives whenever they were off colour seems to me to be a particularly dangerous practise but was a common one when I was a child. I think that the packet of licorice powder was given to my mother by Mrs Nextdoor because the first time I ever saw it it was open and half empty. It was a khaki brown powder with a foul taste and was mixed to drinking consistency with water. Unlike the legendary Pink Medicine, which was at least attractive to look at, this stuff looked rather like the action which it invoked and the taste was awful.
I must have been feeling particularly queasy that day because no sooner had I swallowed the hateful brew that I brought it up all over my mother's bed. One of the perks of being ill was that I was allowed to spend the day in my mother's bed. She was very angry with me for the damage which I had wrought to her bed since everything had to be washed - but that was the last we saw of the licorice powder and it was replaced with the almost pleasant Syrup of Figs.
Treating the ill in the days before antibiotics was a much more chancy affair - some things worked better than others.
One thing which worked particularly well - and which as a last resort I have even used on my children to very good effect was the One-Two-Three Compress for coughs and sore throats. It consists of a mixture of one part methylated spirits, two parts of vinegar and three parts of water. A strip of woollen cloth (I used one of my father's socks) is soaked in this mixture and wrapped around the throat of the sufferer. Some waterproofing material is used to cover it - though the liquid still drips through and the whole thing feels very clammy. For some reason this remedy works well. I used on on my youngest daughter when she had an acute attack of tonsillitis when we were staying with my parents in the country where no doctor was available in the middle of the night, even if you were dying. She was unable to stop coughing and none of us was getting any sleep - and it worked.
Conjunctivitis called for Argerol, a brown liquid which had to be dropped into the eyes every hour. The world looked brown for about five minutes after these drops were administered and left a brown rim around the eyes with brown runnels down the cheeks.
The cure-all for sores and sprains was Zambuk - a green ointment with menthol in it. It stung a bit but worked wonders. I think that it is still available at pharmacies.
My mother's treatment for cystitis was plenty of water to drink and threepence every time I managed to pee.
Croup called for the Euchresol lamp - a small kerosene burner with a bowl above it into which the euchresol was poured. The fumes given off were very effective and it is something which I used for my children as well. It was left burning in the patient's bedroom while the child slept and ensured an easy night with little coughing.
There was tar ointment for itching skin - black and sticky but very effective. The therepeutic effects of tar have been harnessed into Pinetarsol which comes in various forms to relieve itching skin.
Eucalyptus inhalations are still used today to relieve respiratory congestion - and Vicks!!!!!
When I went to boarding school at the age of ten the matron was one of the old fashioned sort and I very soon discovered that she had only two methods of treating everything - anything external was painted with iodine and if the condition was internal we were given Mist Expectorant - brown and aniseed flavoured and not very effective for aches and pains but actually worked well for coughs.
And as for the legendary pink medicine - I only ever had it once.