Every time (and that’s not very often) I stand in front of our full-length mirror to check the progress of my second belly and wondering whether I could afford liposuction or even breast reduction, I always scope a neat circular scar just above my starboard moob.
It impressed a number of girls back in my youth when I told them how I acquired it. I explained it was a bullet wound sustained in North Africa when I was in the Foreign Legion fighting Bedouin rebels following an unrequited love affair with Helen Mirren’s grandmother.
In fact there was a scintilla of truth in all that rhubarb. The wound was inflicted by a granny. Mine.
My dear old ‘lally’, who was born before the Boer war, was brought up when a visit to the doctor was ruinously expensive –a bit like taking your pooch to the vet today.
She was a superb DIY practitioner and could treat anything from ingrowing toenails and lancing boils to extracting loose teeth and even assisting in surgical procedures.
She assisted the doctor when he yanked my tonsils on the kitchen table, which she had earlier scrubbed to a state of sterile germlessness. She also wore a clean apron for the occasion.
Lally’s medical chest was stuffed with long-forgotten panaceas like Singleton Eye ointment, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Bile Beans, Iron Jelloids and the dreaded Dr Watson’s Working Medicine which was powerful enough to produce a dramatic bowel movement in a wooden rocking horse.
There was also a mysterious compound which was a sort of multi-cure in the event that nothing else had worked.
It was only used very rarely, which was a good thing because cannabis resin dissolved in snake oil and pure old panther p*ss needed a mighty effort from the patient to survive. I’m not certain about the ingredients but this was my dad’s theory.
To get back to my chest, lally smashed on a poultice to stop me wheezing. It almost stopped me breathing. It was about the temperature of molten lava. Then the whole disaster area was lagged with a product called, I think, Thermogene, which was a bit like loft insulation.
Hours later when it was all removed, my chest must have looked like a welder’s slab. The treatment gave lally a bonus –a blister the size of a two-bob bit. This was popped by a big-calibre needle and the crater sluiced with iodine.
I was a wartime kid and we had to be tough in those days. The blitz was bad enough, but lally’s ministrations would have left the Gestapo looking like amiable amateurs.