ALICE THOMAS ELLIS
IHAVE BEEN SMITTEN with the current affliction. in common with almost everyone else I know. It begins with those "mild 'flu-like" symptoms that can herald mild 'flu or develop into the Black Death. They can mean almost anything. are usually diagnosed as the result of a virus and, so we are told, are not capable of treatment with antibiotics. Aspirin seems to be the only means of alleviation.
I think I read in the papers the other day (I can hardly believe it) that the government, by way of experiment in the '50s and '60s, caused the country to be sprayed with some strain of nerve gas to see what would happen. If this is really so then the time has long come for revolution. No wonder we are all tottering about, missing days at work, putting unwanted pressure on the NHS and suffering from strange ailments. Why are we not storming the seats of power? Probably because we don't feel well enough. I used to think that our leaders were using beauracracy and those miles of meaningless forms that we have to fill in as a means to keep the population in a state of sullen submission, but nerve gas is going too far. What else are they up to? I used to tell myself that. medically speaking, things were worse in the old days. as indeed they were, but I don't believe that even our Norman overlords tried to poison the lot of us.
Still. looking on the bright side. let us be thankful for aspirin. At one time a decoction of slugs was recommended as a cure for roughness in the chest, while for "Spitting of Blood" it was suggested that you "take the Dung of Mice, beat it to a Powder, put as much as will lie upon a sixpence in a quarter pint of juice of Plantene, and sweeten with a little sugar. Give it in a morning. fasting, and at night going to Bed. Continue this for some time and it will complete the cure." I don't know what it was about mice that struck them as so beneficial: a nice fat mouse, fried, was thought to be a certain cure for whooping cough and some people carried dead ones round their necks as a specific against the "Falling Sickness". I suppose the human race has gone on simply because those who survived both the illness and the "cure" must have had constitutions of iron.
Our ancestors werealightly more sensible when it came to vegetable rather than animal or Mineral medicines (they were also lavish in the use of substances like lead and mercury) and seemed to have an instinctive knowledge of the value of, eg, foxgloves in treating heart conditions.
Country people suffering from scurvy after the winter, "the blew spottes" as it was known because of the underskin haemorrhages, knew that fresh green stuff was the remedy and in the spring fell upon and devoured "scurvy grass", young nettles and hawthorn shoots and underwent miraculous recov
eries. More problems arose when cleverclpgs "doctors", early scientists sthrted from mistaken premises. reached erroneous conclusions and acted on them. One finished Queen Anne's only surviving child by bleeding him during a fever. They must have killed thousands.
From a Belgian au pair I learned a very un-English but efficacious treatment for a bad cold and congested nose and chest. Wring out a towel in cold water, wrap it round your neck, put on your warmest pyjamas and a scarf on top of the towel and go to bed with a hot water bottle. My mother, who was terrified of damp (continentals are more frightened of draughts) was appalled at the very idea, certain it must kill the patient, but it works surprisingly well.