Sunday, 13 April 2014

An epidemic (Part 1)

Fantasy Bob is reminded by the BBC website that this year sees the 50th anniversary of one of the more significant events that FB has lived through.

The 1964 typhoid epidemic in Aberdeen. At its peak on 16 June there were 450 patients in hospital in the Aberdeen area; 398 confirmed and 52 suspected cases. The outbreak was contained without a single reported death, and the city was declared typhoid free at the end of July.

FB recalls an inappropriate sense of pride at his home town being mentioned at the top of every news bulletin for several weeks. This was partly the result of a high profile media campaign by the City's Medical Officer of Health Dr Ian MacQueen who made regular media appearances reporting not only the up to date victim count but urging all manner of hygienic practices on the public.

The report of the death was an exaggeration.....
Apparently there was some criticism at the time that this contributed to scaremongering in the media and the public which led to suggestions that Aberdeen should be entirely quarantined from the rest of the nation with special passports issues to its citizens. This seemed an exciting prospect to the young FB.  But there were some strange reactions for example many many NE caravan sites refused to take bookings from folk from Aberdeen (thinking they were fleeing the City suitcases stuffed with germs) and Grantown Town Council banned Aberdonians from the locality (a prohibition which FB assumes has now been lifted since he has more recently walked the dangerous streets of Grantown without being challenged and run out of town).

The rituals of handwashing came to the fore as never previously.

FB was at primary school. The toilets were a roofless outdoor block - as was traditional in Scottish schools at the time and, shamefully, in some places until very recently.  Facilities of this kind were not all bad - they ensured continual competition among the older boys as to whether they could pee high enough to clear the wall. In those days people had to make their own entertainment.

Those facilities had no wash basins. So the powers that be ordained that there should be a twice, or thrice, daily ritual of classes being trooped to the lavatory and then trooped indoors to wash their hands in the prescribed manner. This focus on handwashing was recalled in the lyrics of a wistful song presented by the great Scotland the What comedy team. The singer is remembering a long list of how things used to be in Aberdeen and says ‘I can mind the typhoid epidemic at its worst, we never washed wir hands unless we did the lavvie first’.

To many young minds, including FB's, that is how things appeared - the authorities insisted that everyone had to go to the toilet so that they could wash their hands.

Nowadays there is a renewed focus on handwashing in public health circles.  The Scottish Government had a major campaign on it as few years ago.  Recent official guidance described a 10 stage approach to washing hands. 10 stages and none of them involves going to the lavvie first.  Such is progress.

The authorities have not so far targeted cricketers, but well they might.  Regularly FB urges his young charges in Carlton's world famous All Star 4th XI as they comie in from the field to wash their hands of the dirt of combat before proceeding to the tea table.

He might as well speak Greek to them.  They look at him askance.

'But we haven't been to the lavvie.....'


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