Were my wellies red, or were my toes?
The recent “big chill” in the UK has taken me back to the much bigger freeze of 1963 and one of my few memories of my mother.
I recall playing out in the snow for much too long, despite being ordered to come inside on many occasions. I think I was wearing red wellies. Wellies, definitely, but maybe in those days they were boring black ones and the red I remember is the colour of my feet.
Going back inside, I took my boots off and sat with my feet by the paraffin (kerosene) fire. The awful ache as the circulation returned…
The paraffin fire (a “Sankey Senator”) was very effective at heating the small cottage and easier than the alternative of a coal fire in the grate. Although years later, when my mother died, my father blamed himself for ever buying it, as he thought it might have made her asthma worse and contributed to her early death. He had bought it to try to keep her warm…
But back to the feet… My mother would shriek at me: “You’ll get chilblains!” and indeed she was right.
I haven’t seen a chilblain, apart from the gruesome picture on Wikipedia, for donkey’s years. They can be caused by bad circulation, but in the old days before central heating we would get them simply from heating up our feet too quickly after getting them cold. So we were warned against holding our feet too close to the fire and from using a too-hot hot-water bottle in bed at night and resting our feet on it.
Remember hot-water bottles? That smell of rubber and the wobbly feel when you picked it up? Ours were usually pink, occasionally blue. Once my hot-water bottle burst in the middle of the night, when it had already cooled off, so I woke up in a chilly puddle in the bed.
But back to chilblains… They are hot, red and shiny and very itchy areas on your toes and do go eventually, but they are very annoying and you blame yourself for being so stupid in the first place. Put cold feet close to a hot fire? You’ll get chilblains!
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