It’s now springtime here in Australia … my favourite time of the year. Not that winter in Brisbane is too bad mind you – shirtsleeves weather for much of the time.
Anyway, springtime invariably brings strong memories of my childhood, growing up in a sleepy seaside suburb full of old timber houses that time forgot (mostly gentrified now and worth a million dollars).
Backyards full of citrus trees and vegetable patches. Trellises loaded with sweet peas and climbing beans. Wild patches at the bottom of the garden overgrown with lantana and canna lillies and bordered by rampant nasturtiums. Tumbledown chook sheds (chicken runs) and clumps of bananas and pawpaws.
It was a Huckleberry Finn type of growing up. We’d disappear from home after breakfast and reappear for dinner. Our days were filled with sailing, fishing, swimming, beachcombing, climbing cliffs, playing games in the parks, annoying neighbours and generally engaging in the sort of mischief that most small boys (and tomboys) get up to.
One of our occupational hazards in spring was bee sting. Bees were everywhere in our overgrown world of backyards, parks and beachside jungle. The clover sprang up in most gardens and footpaths – and of course we never wore shoes.
Everyday, one or other of us was down yowling and trying to pull the sting out of our foot without squeezing the poison sac attached to it (this was an intricate and hard earned skill). After that it was either a dunking in the water and some hobbling around or else a call for the universal remedy if we were within sight of home.
My memory of this was triggered a few days ago when a little kid down my street stepped on a bee on the footpath. His sister pulled out the sting and then went searching for something exotic in an aerosol can to spray on it. It reminded me of the gulf between now and then.
Back before automatic washing machines and washing powders with space age ingredients, we had boilers or coppers that contained very hot water and were ‘stirred’ with large wooden implements. Most shirts and sheets were white then of course and rarely made out of synthetic blends, so boiling the hell out of them and then wringing through manual devices like mangles was the order of the day. Wash sheds resembled medieval torture chambers.
There was one magic ingredient however that my grandmother added to the wash. It was called a blue bag. It was a small muslin wrapped bag of synthetic ultramarine and sodium bicarbonate. Ultramarine is a very blue, blue and strangely enough (probably because it absorbs yellow light) clothes came out fantastically white. Not that I cared much about that of course.
Its great magical use was on bee stings. Whenever the inevitable happened, one of our mothers or grandmothers would produce a wet blue bag, place it on the wound and … no more pain. None of us knew why of course, but we were grateful for this piece of passed down lore.
The other day as I watched the little fellow wriggling around while his sister was obviously rummaging around inside looking for some anti-sting product or other, I thought of my grandmother, always having to hand a simple product used everyday for washing and able to be deployed for other reasons. We’ve become a society of specialists – in needs and expectations.
Oh for the world of the generalist, analogue solutions, and grandmothers who were prescient when it came to the casualty needs of junior Huck Finns.
Kindly donated by Paul Holland from his blog at: http://erraticmusings.typepad.com/