May 9 2005

We didn’t carry donor cards, but half the eight-year-olds of Stafford had an organ or two removed in the 1950s whether we liked it or not.
A generation like ours, raised on a ration book diet supplemented by daily doses of cod liver oil, Virol, Radio Malt, concentrated orange juice and National Dried Milk, should have been healthy and we were.
Except for our tonsils.
They seemed to get the blame for everything from sore throats to scarlet fever and impetigo.
In my case, it was nosebleeds.
Better out than in was the received medical wisdom. So our tonsils had to go.
Enter The Bogeyman: the ear, nose and throat surgeon.
(Actually, there were two Bogeymen. The other was the school dentist, but we kept him at bay with a daily Gibb’s Dentifrice scrub, a ritual that earned gold stars for our Ivory Tower cards)
There was, though, no way to avoid our appointment with the ENT man.
He was the stuff of nightmares, a shadowy figure armed with gas mask and shears, lurking at the other end of an NHS waiting list which even in those days stretched more than a year into the future.
His lair was Anson Ward in the old Staffordshire General Infirmary where in the decade or so after the war hundreds of us spent three days in an anaesthetic stupor and left minus our tonsils (often our adenoids, too) unable to eat anything firmer than jelly and ice-cream.
We had no choice, of course. But the pill was easier to swallow, before the operation at least, with a bribe.
What did you get for yours? Football boots? A Hopalong Cassidy watch?
Me? I traded mine in for a crystal set.
It was the cat’s whiskers, a state-of-the-art receiver made by a neighbour’s son just back from two years’ National Service in Egypt and eager to show off his Army-acquired skills as a radio engineer. The works were housed in a four-inch square plywood box with a huge Bakelite knob and a set of ex-War department headphones so heavy I developed a stoop.
An aerial from my bedroom window to the washing post at the top of the back garden made it possible to listen to Radio Luxembourg which taught me among other things that Friday night was Amami Night and that the Bristol-based pools guru Horace Batchelor knew how to spell Keynsham (“that’s K, E, Y, N . . .”).
On a clear night I could catch short bursts of the American Forces Network in Germany, too.
Cool or what?
Even cooler was the fact that because it didn’t need electricity my crystal set was portable.
It went everywhere with me.
Once when I stayed overnight at my Gran’s in South Walls I suspended the aerial across the street to a neighbour’s handy line-prop and fell asleep with the headphones on.
Jerked awake early next morning, I looked out of the window to see an irate milkman disentangling his horse from 50 feet of copper wire.
My nose bled for hours.

 

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