Era of Great Unwashed Is Dead and Gone. Good Hygiene May Have Wiped out Diseases That Have Blighted Previous: Generations, but It's Not All Good News: Nit Nurses, Tin Baths and Penicillin - Writer and Western Mail Columnist Elaine Morgan Explains How Our Health Has Changed and Whether There's Any Hope of Tackling the Obesity Epidemic

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

Era of Great Unwashed Is Dead and Gone. Good Hygiene May Have Wiped out Diseases That Have Blighted Previous: Generations, but It's Not All Good News: Nit Nurses, Tin Baths and Penicillin - Writer and Western Mail Columnist Elaine Morgan Explains How Our Health Has Changed and Whether There's Any Hope of Tackling the Obesity Epidemic


IN THE time and place where I was born, children were not very healthy, and often, to be honest, not very prepossessing. Much of the time we tended to be grubby, with scabby knees and runny noses. Some had additional problems like rickets and ringworm. Every so often, infections like measles, mumps and whooping cough swept through the community like wildfire. Two children in my primary school class died.

When I caught scarlet fever, the isolation hospitals were too full to take me in so I was stuck in my bedroom, forbidden to play with other children for three weeks.

Up to the age of seven I was plagued with chronic "bilious attacks", and diagnosed as anaemic.

There were other little forgotten things like the fact that we always had to rub the "sand" out of our eyes on waking up - some gummy stuff that got encrusted on the lashes and originated the fable of the sandman who came and sprinkled it there in the night.

Keeping clean was not very easy or universally popular. My grandparents, who lived with us belonged to the generation of Eliza Doolittle, for whom "I washed my face and hands" constituted all the ablutions anyone would ever need.

That wasn't entirely true of Grandma - she was vain about her hair, and would stick her head under the tap and rub it with a bar of soap. It ended up white and fluffy like a dandelion clock.

Until I was 18, we only had a tin bath and no privacy to use it until everyone else was in bed. It was common to use a bowl of hot water on the kitchen table instead, and proceed in terms of the old joke: "Take your blouse off and wash down as far as possible. Take your stockings off and wash up as far as possible. Then wash possible".

Nurses - known as nit nurses - periodically visited the schools to monitor cleanliness and general health.

I was one of a batch sent to the cottage hospital for the removal of tonsils and adenoids - a swift assembly-belt operation with 14 of us stretched out still unconscious on the floor of a side room.

Later, everything began to improve. The new council houses had indoor flush lavatories and bathrooms and other houses began to install them too.

Pithead baths arrived and vacuum cleaners, washing machines and the era of the Great Unwashed was dead and gone.

In Medical research brought even greater changes - contraception, new operations and, after the war, the miracle of penicillin. time, 'Over the course of the last century life expectancy in Britain rose steadily. People lived longer and healthier lives than at any time in history and the statistics improved with every passing year. than be Until now. Recently some experts have begun predicting that for the first time in 100 years, babies born today may be less likely than their parents to reach a ripe old age.

Even more unexpectedly, they seem to imply that at least some aspects of the way we lived in those faraway days had been good for us.

years' Most children had plenty of exercise and fresh air. …

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Era of Great Unwashed Is Dead and Gone. Good Hygiene May Have Wiped out Diseases That Have Blighted Previous: Generations, but It's Not All Good News: Nit Nurses, Tin Baths and Penicillin - Writer and Western Mail Columnist Elaine Morgan Explains How Our Health Has Changed and Whether There's Any Hope of Tackling the Obesity Epidemic
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