YOU may not believe this, but
there was a time when meadow, grove and stream, the earth and every common
sight, to me did seem apparell’d in celestial light, especially when I
entered the world of advertisements. There, I have seen wondrous sights of
breakfast cereals that probably exceeded the flavour and nut-crunching
nutritiousness of ambrosia, the low-fat, cholesterol-cutting,
vitamin-lavish grub of the gods and, in like manna, bed-time beverages
that soothed the nerves and slugged the mind into sleep and anti-ageing
moisturisers, allegedly so potent, that they could probably transform
those resembling newly dug-up Pharaohs into the likenesses of
wrinkle-free, wind-blowing cherubs in corners of old maps.
not only been invited to sample the tastebud treasures of polyunsaturated
fat margarine, but also the delights of driving a car of engine-purring
perfection, probably with perfumed air in the tyres and beyond even my
dreams of avarice, and experienced holidays in brochure-coloured lands,
where hotels are stately pleasure domes surpassing the dreamland decrees
of the poet Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.
I remember when I wondered
where the yellow went when I brushed my teeth with Pepsodent, when the
Esso sign meant happy motoring and when I was promised (unfulfilled, of
course) that I would look a little lovelier each day if I used fabulous
Pink Camay. All these were, to greater or less degrees, siren songs with
no denigrating descants sounded in the interests of stark reality, unlike
a recent newspaper advertisement for a medicament called Pulmo Bailly
which states: "Anything that tastes this bad must be doing you good." In
describing the product as "powerful cough control", it adds with
premonitory frankness: "It’s not nice."
DESPITE being a cough medicine
connoisseur, who has judiciously laid down a pipe of rare old expectorant,
I have not encountered that product, so I am unable to judge its
effectiveness, but it has rung a new note on an old moral and therapeutic
The credos, "If it tastes bad, it must do you good"
and "no gain without pain", have been extant in Britain at least since
Victorian days and were especially evident when helpless children were
given spoonfuls of brimstone (sulphur) and treacle to cleanse their
cringing systems of physical and probably moral impurities so that they
would be fit to give the empire a stiff dose of British rule.
my childhood medicines seemed to have had repellent tastes that ranged
from rotten eggs beaten up in seawater to rhubarb juice added to battery
fluid. In my day, parents seemed obsessed with the "regularity" of their
children. Any hint of bowel backsliding brought a devastating
Friday night bedtimes were often purgative periods
and when we staggered out pallidly to play next day, we scrutinised each
other’s pinched faces to see if force of character had overcome the
previous night’s purgatory. Sarah Bostock had serenely survived Syrup of
Figs, Angus McEnemy was terse and seemed retarded after two tablespoonfuls
of castor oil, Bunty Sinclair was spectral after the dread ipecacuanha,
but Janet Thrawn was an ebullient Gregory’s Powder girl, and no wonder -
her doting parents used to give her a charcoal health biscuit to take away
IT WAS the anti-cough artillery that made school
mixed infants sag, not just at the prospect of being hit with yet another
cold but at the shot-and-shell suppressants and expectorants deployed.
Some products felt as if torchlight processions had been swallowed, many
suggested wasps’ blood and gunpowder, while others hinted at distilled
water from a rusty tank with a dash of creosote. As we struggled to get
our breath after some peculiarly pungent potion, our parents would intone
the mantra: "If it tastes bad ..."
That assumption did not apply
to some chest rubs that could smell like 1,000 tomcats shut in a room all
night. Occasionally, some of us children would go about with our
germicidal patinas wafting hospital corridor scents. Bacteria probably
recoiled from us; so, unfortunately, did people.
They are, my chemist tells me, seldom prescribed or retailed now, but
once, those who felt "run down" or who just wanted to put a spring in
their step on their way to the doctor’s surgery, would down draughts of
them, some seemingly strong enough to bring an ox to its knees. My
grandfather had one that contained strychnine, took his breath away
temporarily and produced a faint humming in his ears, but he swore it made
him feel a new, if slightly stunned man afterwards.
a time when ill-tasting pharmaceutical cures, preventives and pick-me-ups
to me did seem apparelled in a health-giving light. No longer; I want them
all top-quality ambrosial but, if not, I insist on a spoonful of flavour-rich
nectar or equivalent to help the medicines go down.