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Onion juice on your chilblains and other weird medical fixes

Onion juice on your chilblains and other weird medical fixes

Far too many will take that as a cue to share a mounting pile of ailments, some of them yet to find a way into any medical handbook.

I run the risk regularly on my Cromer rounds and even beyond if my poor old feet and aching shoulders aren’t playing up too much. It came as a big relief recently when a local woman answered my gentle probing  about her general condition with an emphatic “You don’t want to know!”

I resisted the temptation to persist with that delightfully inane inquiry still going strong after countless sniffs of derision over many years: “But how are you in yourself?” That kind of analysis should remain way out of reach during broad daylight.

We’ve come a fair way since village bulletins featured rustic classics  as “Betterannerhebbin” and “ Wassannwoterwuz” (say them both out loud) in response to homely concerns regarding family and friends. Well, they made a change  from “fair ter middlin’ “or “my corns ent harf angry.”

It was notable how all sorts of afflictions sounded less painful or contagious when coated in broad Norfolk…..multiplication of the bowls, haricot veins, kangerene of the fut and wiper’s darnse for a start.

Poor souls shivering were “all of  dudder “. A boil or carbuncle turned into a “push.” A troublesome cough transformed into a “tizzick,” The “bronickle” brigade were out in force on a wintry morning.

Those in severe pain would exclaim “Blarst, that give me some clorth!,” Those merely off colour might mutter “I dunt feel up to a sight.” The vast majority, wary of pre-empting the overworked doctor, satisfied themselves by joining the queue anticipating treatment for Norfolk’s most common complaint – “suffin’ gorn abowt,”

As a serial wimp who hears angels calling me home as soon as the nose clogs up, I seek a mite of solace  in what our Norfolk ancestors went through in the poorly stakes without a chance to discover what daytime television is all about.

Parson James Woodforde looked after his Weston Longville flock about nine miles north-west of Norwich and kept a comprehensive diary in last part of the 18th century. He favoured port wine to keep sore throats at bay and dollops of rhubarb and ginger for just about everything else.

When he cut himself shaving  he killed a small moth passing by and applied it to the mole which “instantaneously stopped the bleeding.” He cured a nasty stye on the right eyelid by rubbing it with the tail of his black cat – although he admitted other cats’ tails may have been as good.

When his servant Jack suffered another touch of the ague ,“I gave him a dram of gin at beginning of the fit and pushed him headlong into a pond and ordered him to bed immediately. He was better after it …”

The good parson’s ailments multiplied on his final lap – he died on New Year’s Day in 1803 – and appeared to suffer his own prolonged bout of “suffin’ gorn abowt”. He wrote: “I am never well or ill and have at times strange feelings about me. Cold streams running over my shoulders and restless nights.”

He could have done with a few chilblains to give him something new to worry about. A bit of toe-toasting in front of a log fire followed by bedtime bliss with a hot-water bottle could bring them on nicely.

I suffered constantly in the good old days when we had proper winters. Dipping them in a chamber pot of fresh urine became a popular means of easing the pain, much preferred to other suggestions like rubbing onion juice, paraffin or turpentine on them or thrashing them with holly until they bled.

Running barefoot in the snow for five minutes also seemed a bit drastic although rumours that posh people dipped their chilblains in wine moved me to compromise with half a bottle of dandelion and burdock. My toes went a funny colour  and I returned to taking pot luck.

I also recall enduring prolonged bouts of the hot-aches, painful physical reaction in hands and feet  to extreme cold, on dank winter mornings while biking from my Beeston home to Fransham station to catch my daily train to grammar school in Swaffham.

That certainly concentrated my mind whenever the topic of blood circulation cropped up in biology lessons.

Does anyone suffer from hot-aches or chilblains nowadays? How many bedrooms have a “guzunder” for medical use? Who still uses a dirty sock wrapped around the throat for a fortnight as Ye Olde Norfolke Colde Cure? 

How many still embrace that old proverb defying medical science – whisky may not cure the common cold but it fails more agreeably than most other things?

Voltaire said the art of medicine  consists of amusing the patients while nature cures the disease. Bet he didn’t search  green pastures in search of a cowpat still warm and fold in linen to make a poultice to draw out a nasty infection.

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