Street Life: Proper Poorly

It’s a long time since I heard anyone refer to powks, gathers, carbuncles or a glide. That’s how we talked about a stye, skin blemish, infected boil or squint (strabismus) before we had TV medical programmes to educate us.

And what about chin cough? The popular myth is that you caught it from sitting on cold stone steps. In real life, a proportion of the 30 people buried at St. Patricks Collyhurst, on New Years day 1857, died of it. Today we call it whooping cough.Until mass vaccination all but eradicated whooping cough, diphtheria and scarlet fever, their spectres remained ever present, especially in poorer areas.

In 1869, it was an epidemic of scarlet fever which prompted Medical Officer John Leigh to demand more isolation facilities in Manchester. However it was smallpox which filled most of the 96 beds at the newly opened Barnes House of Recovery and Convalescent Home for Fever patients in 1871. There were workhouse paupers amongst the sufferers, but it was thought necessary to keep their presence secret from the general public.

Twenty years later, the House of Recovery had been enlarged and renamed Monsall Fever Hospital. By then, 80 per cent of patients were under fifteen. Unless a patient was on the ‘critical list’, visiting hours were infrequent and strictly regulated. Children who spent months convalescing at Monsall, must have felt totally abandoned.In the fifties, the belief was that, sooner or later, every child would contract mumps, chicken pox and measles. To get it over with quickly, we were sent to play at the homes of contagious friends.

Bed was the place to be poorly, and if the illness was considered serious, a paraffin stove might be used to warm a freezing bedroom. Acquaintances say they remember hours spent staring at the reflection of the perforated pattern cast on the ceiling by the heater. Others recall a soothing drink made by stirring a spoonful of blackcurrant jam into hot water.Throughout my childhood, TB and polio were the demon diseases. When I was about 9, there was a polio scare. Banner headlines exhorted parents not to allow children near open water. The previous afternoon, my friend Anne and I had been up to our welly tops in the Moston Brook, trying to build a dam. We kept the escapade from our parents, but visions of ‘iron lungs’ and metal leg callipers haunted our thoughts.Later, a polio vaccine became available. Subsequently it would be administered as syrup or on a sugar lump, but for us it was the dreaded ‘prick’, as injections were then commonly known.

My sister went through the whole spectrum of illness, while tonsillitis was my speciality. Our generation’s tonsils were the first to benefit from the miracle drug, penicillin. I had many a spoonful of thick pink liquid that was supposed to taste like strawberries. It didn’t, and the red penicillin sweets, sucked between doses of medicine, reminded me of barley sugars (horrible).Eventually my tonsils burst, and had to be removed at Booth Hall. Two days in hospital was followed by a fortnight off school to convalesce.

Adults seem to think coughs and colds were caught because children simply wouldn’t ‘do as they were told’. Going outside after having a bath or with wet hair, or even walking about the house with nothing on your feet, meant you were asking to be ill. I suspect old remedies like having a sock full of hot onion wrapped around the throat was supposed to remind us to ‘think on’ next time.Although complaints from the past seem to be re-surfacing, I don’t hear anyone mentioning chilblains these days. Girls at my school were repeatedly warned not to stand against the cloakroom radiators as it would only increase the agony. And as yet, I haven’t spotted a ring worm sufferer with a shaven head adorned with Gentian Violet. And when did they stop painting it on throats?

When playing out, a ‘scrawp’ (graze) from a tumble would likely be ignored. But in pre-antibiotic days, it could easily become septic and cause ‘blood poisoning’. A wound that looked nasty would be poulticed first of all, but if that failed, the doctor would be consulted. On two different occasions, I had to have wounds dressed daily by a graduate of the Spanish Inquisition school of torture.

Being poorly in the fifties was no joke, but it was certainly character building.

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Zooming in on North Manchester Fitness

Back in March, when lockdown began how long did you think it would last? I thought 6 weeks, honestly.

I got off to a reasonable start; a good walk each day, a few exercises, that sort of thing. But, as the weeks became months, I flagged.

North Manchester Fitness, on the other hand didn’t. With regular classes on hold they’ve kept in touch with their members through two WhatsApp groups.

Normally, Lorraine Platt leads weekly walking sessions and heads up most of the Pilates classes. They’re not exclusively for the over 50’s but it’s fair to say that many of those attending are in that age-group, so lockdown has been especially restrictive for them.

From the early days, Lorraine routinely shared, on WhatsApp and email, exercises that members were familiar with and could safely do in their own homes.Towards the end of May, she began holding small classes on the meeting platform ‘Zoom’. It was challenging to get everyone tuned in but, two months on, it’s in full swing and so successful that it may continue well into the future.

Lorraine’s one amazing lady. I first met her in 2017 and produced a write-up for Another Music about one of her groups. I suffered a broken ankle the following year. Then, at a chance meeting, she encouraged me to take up Pilates believing it would help with my recovery. She was right.

Pilates concentrates on three main physical aspects – ‘balance’ ‘core’ and ‘flexibility’. The overall health benefits are wide-ranging. Here are just some of them….

  • increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
  • balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body
  • improved stabilisation of your spine
  • improved posture
  • rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances
  • improved physical coordination and balance
  • safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries
  • increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing
  • improved concentration
  • increased body awareness
  • stress management and relaxation

NMF’s achievement in continuing to connect with their members goes way beyond maintaining good physical fitness though.

“There is a social element to the group too,” says Lorraine. “So many new friendships have been made through NMF.  It is lovely to see, especially in this time of isolation.

I am so pleased to see how the Zoom sessions have taken off.  Zoom was a word we had hardly heard of 3 months ago.  Now we’re all becoming experts.”

Sharing experiences, photographs, jokes and ideas, the members have helped each other stay positive. They’ve dropped off food supplies, swapped books, CD’s, DVD’s, even spare wool, sent good wishes and flowers to anyone with anything to celebrate and offered support to those suffering illness, bereavement or just the blues. It doesn’t stop there. They’ve knitted blankets, hats and bootees for newborns, ordered, paid for and delivered luxury hand creams to NHS hospital staff, rallied support and sponsored a local charity in desperate need… the list goes on.

Behind the scenes, the North Manchester Fitness team have been working on the best, safest way to restart the rest of their activities. Walking in Boggart Hole Clough is a likely candidate. Some of the regulars on a winter’s day, pre-lockdown

In the meantime, Pilates by Zoom suits me…and, no excuses, Lorraine can see if I’m flagging!

Information about North Manchester Fitness activities including Hiitstep, marathon training, sprints, and more can be found on their website, just click here. Or follow them on Facebook.

Ready for the off!

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Writing Well… and more at No 93 Church Lane

From the outside the building on Church Lane looks pretty much the same. What was the North Manchester Wellbeing Centre is now No 93. The signage has been updated but there’s still a striking mosaic on the end wall. Inside, the layout’s slightly different; the open courtyard in the middle is still my favourite bit.

There’s plenty going on and, tonight, they’re hosting a Residents Information Market organised by the City Council Neighbourhood team for Harpurhey.I’ve already picked up some leaflets in the corridor from the ‘We Love MCR Charity’ before spotting a familiar face in the art room/gym where the main event is set up. It’s Stephen Evans from Writing Well.

“We’re looking to fill a few more places for our next course later this month.” He tells me as I off-load my stuff. “And we’re running another one in South Manchester too.”

We had a quick catch up before I wandered off to see who else was there.

Jamie, from Citizens Advice, was promoting local drop-in sessions where residents can get access to on-line support. Manchester’s Waste Management Team was represented and there was a wealth of information about NHS mental health services.

There was also a craft initiative, based at the Fire Station on Rochdale Road, Blackley, called ‘Shed 17’. It was a new one on me and I loved the photos they had on display.Donna explained, “Some are from a green woodworking course, others are from a glass etching session. We have a qualified tutor and they make some lovely things.”

Next, I had a chat with Lauren Evans, Neighbourhood Health Worker, about her work in the community before working my way back to Stephen to pick up my things. He handed me one of his leaflets too.

“Look.” He said pointing out a photo. “Two of the South Manchester writers have had their books published. What about you?”

I put my coat back on. “Oh, I’ll stick to blogs thanks.”

Stephen and his colleague Veronica Hyde run the Writing Well course together at No 93. Stephen’s a published writer/lecturer in English and Veronica’s a qualified counsellor. They combine their skills to teach the process of creative writing and, at the same time, improve your emotional wellbeing.

Late last year I was struggling, couldn’t breathe properly or sleep and felt exhausted. So I decided to give ‘Writing Well’ a try.

It wasn’t a big group. We were typically shy to start with, although it didn’t stay that way for long. Stephen and Veronica kept us busy. Over the 10 sessions we had lots to learn and plenty to think about.That’s Stephen, far right, and Veronica in the middle.

I’m calmer now, feel more confident and enjoy writing more than I used to. If you fancy giving it a try too the next Writing Well course starts on Monday 24th February and it’s free. Full details, including how to register, are on their website below.

No 93 has plenty more on offer; the original North Manchester Wellbeing Centre (NMWBC) still run the Heartbeat Exercise class, Knit and Natter, mosaics group, yoga, Tai Chi, mixed crafts, relaxation class, sewing/dressmaking and Reiki.

You can also join a gardening club, play table tennis or take part in the pool tournament. Manchester Carers Centre has regular coffee mornings and the National Lottery Funding support even have a regular slot. To find out more just click the link to No 93 below or call in.

Or, don’t do anything at all. The café’s re-opened. If you want, just pop in, take a break and have a bite to eat, it’s not expensive.

Here are some useful links (click on one and then click the back arrow <- to return)…

Writing WellNHS No 93Shed 17 (on Twitter)Self Help ServicesWe Love MCR CharityCitizens Advice digital help serviceManchester Recycling,  Buzz Community Health 

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