When I was a kid, winter started immediately after Easter.
It didn’t matter whether Easter fell in March or at the end of April, as soon as it was over, my mother moved into winter mode.
It was as though some sort of trans-seasonal switch was flicked. Cotton sheets were replaced with flannelette ones. The eiderdowns were taken down from the top of the linen cupboard, aired and fluffed, ready for service. Short summer pyjamas were put away in favour of long warm pj’s. Salads disappeared from the table. We started having stews and casseroles for dinner.
My brother and I were ordered to wear our singlets so that we would not catch colds. I hated wearing a singlet. I hated the way it made the rest of my clothes feel tighter. I hated the way it made me extra hot and sweaty when I was playing. I hated that the shoulder straps had a way of falling off my shoulders and becoming tangled around my upper arms.
The singlet was particularly hateful when worn with a flannelette petticoat (because of the westerly winds) under one’s school uniform. When the winds blew or if I had shown any signs of having a sniffle, a little bag of camphor would be pinned to my singlet to help keep my airways clear and to add to my already enhanced state of embarrassment. The camphor could be smelt miles away. I was probably not the only kid in school who had to wear all this paraphernalia, but I felt like I was and I was mortified. Hate, hate, hated it.
Along with the camphor bag, mum had a whole swag of folk medicines to inflict upon us at the change of seasons. Firstly there was the laxative to give us “a nice clean out”. At first it was castor oil that was administered but then a product called Laxettes came along. This was like a little block of chocolate but with a secret ‘cleansing’ ingredient. Far more palatable but just as effective.
Then there was a cocktail of milk, raw egg and honey that had to be drunk each evening to build our immune systems. Oh my, that was so horrible. I remember volunteering to dry the dishes so that I could take my icky drink with me to the kitchen and, surreptitiously tip it down the sink. I know Mum meant well, but we were sure she was trying to poison us. Surely, we weren’t that bad!
Finally, every morning, we set off to school with a vitamin C tablet in our mouths. We didn’t mind these. They were like little orange sweets. Whether they helped us to avoid colds, I don’t know, but they were an essential part of winter for us.
The best thing about winter, apart from going to the football with Dad, was cocoa. We were allowed to have a lovely cup of cocoa before bed. I would curl up with my book and sip the wonderful chocolatey drink as I read about the Famous Five. Bliss!
In fact, I still like to do that on a chilly evening…curl up with a good book and enjoy a warming cup of cocoa.
But, I am not wearing a singlet!