Childhood is made up of sights and sounds and smells, as Betjeman put it. I think. Might be misquoting.

I’m not sure what made me mention it, but over lunch today, I started talking about gripe water.  LT thought it sounded rather horrid – oh, I’ve remembered, I’ll start again.

Tim took me out to lunch, to a jolly good local restaurant which received a rave review from AA Gill in The Times a few weeks ago – he rarely praises anything outside London so this was quite a coup.  When our pints arrived, I sank a good draught of it and spoke in praise of good English beer.  “A couple of hundred years ago, they gave children small beer to drink, of course.  Likely to be safer than water.”  We debated how much alcohol there was in small beer and decided it must have very little, but they were more relaxed about alcohol for children anyway in those days.  And this was why I said that I was quite sure that gripe water used to be spirit based.

That made us think about other things that we hadn’t tasted or thought about for years, but were very distinctive.  I can’t remember the flavour of gripe water, actually.  Fennel?  Dill?  My mother bought it when Weeza was a rather colicky baby for a while and she loved it, though I’m not sure whether it helped her digestion.

Virol was the first thing I thought of.  LT hadn’t come across it.  A thick brown paste, much the consistency of Marmite, though not so dark, it was a malt extract.  I was given a spoonful a day at one time, it was such a distinctive taste, but I can’t describe it.  I’d recognise it instantly, though.

Tim mentioned Bemax.  He was given it sprinkled on breakfast cereal.  We didn’t normally eat cereal when I was a child, but I remember my father-in-law used to put it on All Bran, which presumably made the stuff more palatable.

We drifted a bit after that, on to the highly distinctive smells of TCP and Dettol.  Later, in the supermarket, someone stopped abruptly in front of me and, braking and swerving, I stubbed my toe painfully on my trolley.  I realised when my toe felt damp later that I was rather bloody.  So I’ve made use of TCP myself, as well as there-there cream (the ointment that has a local anaesthetic in, though that’s worn off now and I throb rather).  But now that’s reminded me of the tubs of pink Germolene.  Surely, dipping a finger in wasn’t very hygienic?

3 comments on “Childhood is made up of sights and sounds and smells, as Betjeman put it. I think. Might be misquoting.

  1. Liz

    How spooky; we were talking about small bear earlier and wondering whether anyone still makes such a thing.

    I sympathise with your sore toe. I have form for bashing my feet on the furniture (a hazard of going about the house bare foot) and a bashed toe is so painful.

  2. PixieMum

    One of my ‘flavour’ memories is Vick Vapour rub and Vick inhalers, better smell than Ventolin the modern prescribed alternative. Can’t find Vick inhalers now, instead it is Olbas that helps to clear sinuses.

    Z, you always find interesting topics about which to blog, thanks.

  3. Z Post author

    I rarely have bare feet in the house, not downstairs. With gravel outside, it can be painful as it’s inevitably trodden indoors. And I have several friends who have broken toes by hitting them on doors or furniture, so I keep shoes or slippers on.

    Of course, how could I not have thought of that? My mother was a great believer in rubbing Vick on the soles of my feet when I had a cough – I’ve seen it touted as a new idea recently but this was over 60 years ago.

    Tim and I chat a lot about experiences and memories, as you can imagine, and I’m getting ideas from our conversations. Thank you.


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