26 SEPTEMBER 1998, Page 66



Medical memories


IN COMPETITION NO. 2052 you were invited to write a poem in praise of some old-fashioned remedy or patent medicine.

Ouch, how you made my nostalgia ache! Germolene, Friar's Balsam, Zam-Buk, California Syrup of Figs, Gregory Powders, Pomade Divine, Proctor's Pastilles, Anti- phlogistine, Ipecacuanha, Sanatogen and its anagrammatic twin Genatosan — 'just reeling off their names is ever so comfy,' as Auden wrote in another context.

The prizewinners, printed below, take £25 each, and the bottle of The Macallan The Malt Scotch whisky (chosen by one competitor as his recommended potion) goes to Sebastian Robinson.

When I was a nipper, they fed me tots Of Patent Emulsions (Angier's, Scott's), Till I fell in love, at the age of nine, With Dr J. Collis Browne's Chlorodyne.

A marvellous medicine, oxymoronic — The `Chloro' sedative, the `dyne' so tonic It bucks you up and it soothes you down, That panacea of Dr Browne.

The Yanks used to swear, we read with titters, By Dr Hostetter's Stomach Bitters, Or waste a major part of their income On the Vegetal Compound of Lydia Pinkham. But truth will out, whether later or sooner: Where is Davis's Pain-Killer? Where is Peruna? The rest are gone. Like a vintage wine Let us raise our glasses of Chlorodyne.

(Sebastian Robinson) When I was young and rent the calm With cruelly racking cough, My mother grabbed me by the arm And led me swiftly off To where, before my smarting eyes, The healing potion lay Beneath a cork of wondrous size (You won't see that today).

Deep brown it shone, and had a zing Magnificently queer - Not sweet, not sour, not anything Roget could stumble near.

No cough could thwart that matchless brew (A spoonful was enough). The birds sang out, the sun shone through. Creosote, that's the stuff! (Chris Tingley) I had a cough. My mother came across An advert in a women's magazine (May '32) for Bonnington's Irish Moss With pectoral oxymel of carrageen.

She read that phrase as if it were a bell Which, tolling, told her this: You can be sure That anything with pectoral oxymel Of carrageen will bring about a cure.

To know the oxymel was pectoral, To learn it came from carrageen, no less, Persuaded her that in no time at all I'd be restored to health and happiness.

And so I was: and it can still effect The same dehacking of my cough today. Gracias, Mr Bonnington, for your pect- Oral oxymel of carrageen! 016! (Ray Kelley) I sing the 'sacred bark' with which Nanny brewed a potent potion, Foully flavoured, dark as pitch, Deep as the ocean.

`Drink this, child, it does you good — Tasty Cascara Sagradar Murkier medicine never stood In witch's larder.

Once a month the dubious treat Kept us regular as clockwork, Steady as a chamois' feet On treacherous rockwork.

Childhood precedents endure: I've fared from Pole to sub-Sahara, Peristaltically secure - Thanks to Cascara. (Jeremy Lawrence) When she believed I'd caught a cold My mother hastily unrolled A magic mat of shaggy gold.

She laid it flat upon my breast Beneath my little woolly vest To ease the wheezing of my chest.

I don't know how its name was spelt Or of what chemical it smelt, That square of fleece like lion's pelt.

I basked within its soothing glow With but one fear to cause me woe: What if my `Thermagen' should show?

And did it cure? I couldn't say. In time the wheezing went away And, what's more, I'm alive today. (0. Smith) I will cherish the day My granny told me About the powers Of the herb comfrey.

Some call it bone-set, Others knit-bone; But the healing part's Called allantoin.

Comfrey favours fens And banks of brooks; It's found in clumps In shady nooks.

It replaces cells After injury.

`It restores' (Granny blushed)