RogerBW's Blog

Things I Have Missed 05 May 2019

I have spent much of my life hanging about with people a little older than me; I'm used to it. But there is occasionally some need for translation. Here are some things I have never experienced, by virtue of not having been born until just before the Unix epoch, which for many people I know were simply part of life when they were young.

Chilblains – when I was small we were told by old people not to warm our hands on radiators when coming in from the cold, "or you'll get chilblains". Said old people clearly thought that this would mean something to us. I have never knowingly suffered a chilblain, nor heard anyone saying that they had one; I wouldn't know one if I saw it.

Rude waiters – they were apparently common enough to be worthy of jokes in Monty Python, but I've never met one. Even at Wong Kei which is supposed to have "the rudest waiters in London". (They just want you to come in, have your food, and get out to make room for the next party; I've never felt pressured to leave, but I don't dawdle for hours either.) I don't expect waiters to be fawning or subservient (I don't like that from anyone), and I suppose people who did might regard them as rude when they weren't; instead, I've always expected a waiter to be a person who's doing a job, rather than a component of the food-serving mechanism.

Partial application of Bank Holidays – Good Friday and Christmas Day have never been made statutory bank holidays because they were already public holidays from time immemorial. I'm told that some places used to stay open on Good Friday, or would let their employees out for religious purposes but not for anything else. Not in my experience.

Childhood illnesses – I had rubella (German measles) but none of the others (measles, mumps, whooping-cough), and had all the vaccinations that were going. Other people I knew were in similar positions; they might have had one of those illnesses, but no more. Nobody had scarlet fever any more; it was talked about in hushed tones. (Yes, I know some of them are coming back. There are very few people whom I actively want dead, but Andrew Wakefield is high on the list.)

Broken limbs – the only people I knew who broke things were people who went skiing. They didn't fall off their bikes (they mostly did have bikes), or get damaged climbing trees or playing the endless games of football that were apparently utterly fascinating to almost everyone except me.

Tags: real life

  1. Posted by John Dallman at 10:03am on 05 May 2019

    Most of those childhood illnesses didn't have vaccinations when I was a child. I had measles and rubella (we think - Mum was never quite sure), but never mumps or whooping cough. Far-sighted parents would deliberately try get their kids infected while they were young, especially for girls and rubella.

  2. Posted by Dr Bob at 10:12am on 05 May 2019

    I think I'm about the same age as you. My Gran and Mum used to go on about chilblains, but never explained what they were or pointed at one. I remember a character in a girls' comic who got chilblains because she had a job washing dishes in a restaurant and couldn't afford rubber gloves. Though I wouldn't rely on 70s girls' comics for medical accuracy!

    I had scarlet fever (we called it scarletina) and remember it being much less horrible than having chickenpox. I've never had mumps and was unaware of anyone at my school every having it, though measles and German measles did the rounds.

    Brother #1 has broken limbs several times, mainly by falling off walls, out of trees, etc. Me and Brother #2 just got sprains and cuts when we plummeted. I suppose back in Ye Olden Days of my Gran's youth, when diets were poor enough that some folk got rickets, kids' bones were less robust?

  3. Posted by The Fellow Nutter at 11:15am on 05 May 2019

    Let's see... measles, chickenpox, three goes at mumps (left, right and finally both sides to actually trigger immunity - I was either enjoying it or just bad enough at it to need three goes) and scarlet fever. Skipped rubella and tonsillitis, though!

  4. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:08pm on 05 May 2019

    Chilblains? You were lucky! When I were a lad my elders and betters used to warn me that if I sat on the radiators I'd get piles!

    (And we didn't have any poncy Internet to consult: we'd have to go up to Manchester to look stuff up in t'Reference Library. Took me weeks sometimes to find out what my elders and betters were going on about.)

    I know there were days and weeks when I was young that I was really ill and miserable but I never managed to keep track of what was what. I know I never had my tonsils out but beyond that my childhood afflictions are a bit vague in my memory.

  5. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:03pm on 05 May 2019

    My parents think I caught chickenpox but were never sure. I had all the vaccinations going, I recently got my childhood vaccinations card out (mum kept it!) to check Measles, it was new (written on in pencil) but I did have the vaccination. I never had Mumps or Rubella vaccinations though (they didn't exist), I might see if I can get an MMR vaccination. My tetanus is due to for a booster too, it's 10 years since the last one.

    The only bone I've ever broken was a third finger, trying to catch a toilet roll I dropped in the bathroom a few years ago. Falling out of trees or off bicycles as a child wasn't a problem, I did plenty of both. I was also run over by a moped once.

    Death is too good for Andrew Wakefield. He needs to suffer horribly first after catching some hideous disease that he hasn't been vaccinated against but for which a routine vaccine exists. Ebola is no good sadly, it's not on the regular vaccination list.

    I find I can't have the annual flu vaccine. Well I can, but if I do I end up off work for a week feeling terrible. That doesn't seem like a good trade off to me.

  6. Posted by Chris Bell at 03:28pm on 05 May 2019

    A couple of decades clearly made a lot of difference, in second half of the twentieth century.

    I am that bit older than all of you, and believe me, you should thank God fasting if you don't know what chilblains are. They hurt, and they itch, and they are a thoroughly horrible thing to have. They go along with unheated bedrooms -- for all my childhood, and at boarding-school until I was sixteen, I slept in unheated rooms and woke in winter with frost on the inside of the windows and sometimes a crust of ice over the water in the mug by my bed, and I had chilblains on and off, mostly on, all winter every winter until I was eleven and we got central heating. That winter I didn't get them, and haven't since.

    Perhaps you don't go to places where waiters are rude, Roger; nor would I, given a choice. There was a remarkably rude female waiter working at the Marriott over Eastercon; it took nearly two-and-a-half hours to have a mediocre meal there, with a waiter who was surly, tardy and apparently incapable of any expression other than sullen resentment when she was actively forced to notice that we existed by being waved at and beckoned to after trying to catch her eye had completely failed. Perhaps she was ill; she stood with her back to the room for much of the time. Perhaps she was trying not to cry. Or maybe she was simply rude? Had I been alone, I would have stood up, walked out and gone somewhere else after the first inadequate course; I bet she would have been able to get the bill to me even if the water we asked for took an hour to arrive...

    I have distinct memories of Good Friday not being a holiday for everyone in the fifties, and shops being open. As for Christmas Day: Time Immemorial was 13-something, and Dickens has Scrooge buying the goose for the Cratchits on Christmas morning, as well as Martha being late to get home that morning because the milliners where she worked had only just let her go. It wasn't just Scrooge for whom people worked on Christmas Day in 1842 and 3. When Scrooge's Third Visitor is leading him around on Christmas morning, "The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory.... The Grocers’! oh, the Grocers’! nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one...." And the bakers making the meals of people too poor to have anywhere of their own to cook were all open; Scrooge remarked on them, and that if they were closed for the Sabbath as the Church wanted, then poor people would not be able to eat hot food on Sundays.

    Illnesses? I almost certainly had diphtheria and tetanus inoculations when I was a baby but don't remember them; the only vaccination I remember having was polio, and we all had that when it came out in 1956 because my father had had polio in his twenties and as a result had trouble walking. It hurt! A lot! For days! By the time the others arrived it was rather too late for me. I'd had measles for six weeks (and nearly lost my eyesight), mumps for a month immediately afterwards which nearly killed me, German measles, whooping cough for what seemed like all one winter term, and tonsillitis for about eight weeks out of every winter and spring. I had scarlet fever, which compared with the others was more like a cold than anything else. I was nearly killed by flu in the winter of 1957-8. People my age whom I knew did sometimes die, when I was a child: not because of being hit by a car, but just of what were called "childhood diseases".

    I never broke any bone, and still haven't (touch wood!) apart from a finger which was trodden on by a horse, and a small bone in my ankle when I hit it hard against one of the bannisters falling downstairs on my 21st birthday. One of my cousins, though, broke if you breathed hard at her, or so it seemed to us. And one of my brothers broke one bone or other at the beginning of every rugby season at school; does that count? My other brother as far as I know never broke as much as a fingernail in his entire life. So that may depend on something other than being alive in the fifties and earlier.

    Rickets has made a comeback, by the way. In 2014 there were more cases than in any year of the previous fifty.

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 03:54pm on 05 May 2019

    I don't remember ever being told as a child that someone I knew (other than an elderly relative) had died.

    Chris, well, I wrote a whole post some years back on why some sorts of hotel don't need to make any effort; if one gets a good one, it's basically by chance, because nobody says "oh, chain X is good, I'll go there" - almost everyone will instead pick it because it's where the event is happening, or because they have a corporate deal with them. But even that "Hark Hinn Hottingham" had waiters who were trying to appear polite, while blaming the kitchen for everything that went wrong.

    I think that one of the factors in terms of holidays may have been that bank holidays were not regarded as universal days off until relatively recently.

  8. Posted by Nick Marsh at 04:23pm on 05 May 2019

    This resonates greatly with me, although I have actually had scarlet fever myself, for the record. I don’t want anyone dead, but I agree that Andrew Wakefield is an awful person. I thought he was just misguided until I read some of the story behind his dismissal from the NHS and realised that he actually said much of his damaging bullshit for personal gain. I wonder how many deaths he is personally responsible for?

    Similarly, I have spent much of my life friends with people older than myself. Cultural references that were part of my friends’ childhoods but are mysteries to me include Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog, half-day closing on Wednesday (although I have vague memories of this), boxes for milk bottles (to prevent birds nicking it all), Dutch Elm Disease, public information films, and Jim Callaghan (who, in my head, is basically Dirty Harry, with whom he shares a surname).

  9. Posted by Chris Bell at 04:37pm on 05 May 2019

    "I don't remember ever being told as a child that someone I knew (other than an elderly relative) had died."

    This was three people at school, in three different years. Maybe I was just at an unlucky school!

  10. Posted by RogerBW at 04:56pm on 05 May 2019

    Nick, about half those things trigger personal recollections for me. Does anyone else remember Fingerbobs? (That's not just something I made up, though it feels like it sometimes; I have a DVD somewhere.)

    As for public information films specifically, I remember Tufty, but I only saw the Green Cross Code Man in comics. (I didn't watch a lot of television.) The really good ones that are now findable on YouTube (like "don't go into the electricity substation to get a football", aka "JIMMMAAAAAAAAY!") were mostly before my time.

  11. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:46pm on 05 May 2019

    I went to town (Huddersfield) once on the bus, only to find it was half day closing when I got there. Bloody stupid idea! And different towns shut for half day on different days of the week, you just had to know which town shut when! Madness!

    I remember Bagpuss, Noggin the Nogg, and Fingerbobs. You aren't making Fingerbobs up Roger! I didn't see many public information films, though I remember the Green Cross Code man and frankly we could do with him back the way people cross roads now oblivious with headphones on and head down looking at their phone.

    I remember Jim Callaghan, the three day week, power cuts and other 1970s malaise. We had a standard lamp in the lounge that my dad got 24V bulbs for (we still have them!), and he rigged up crocodile clips and two old car batteries in series. I remember being shown as a 12 year old how to connect them up when the power went off, and how to put one of the batteries on charge when the power came back. We were the only house with a light on when the power went off. I'm not sure what health and safety would think of that today.

    Chris, you still haven't answered the question of what actually are chillblains.

  12. Posted by RogerBW at 11:54pm on 05 May 2019

    Fortunately we have the Internet: it's a form of tissue damage often triggered by temperature changes. It would show up most obviously as red itchy skin. Wikipedia.

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