I am very fond of Candlemas, both the Christian festival of Feb 2nd superimposed on the old pagan beliefs, and of the pagan beliefs themselves.
When I first began this blog I wrote that February in Finnish is helmikuu, the month of the pearl,when ice melts to pearls and refreezes, and this is appropriate for Bride is also associated with healing wells. But it is fire that I'm thinking of today, in particular a fire you can't see but that I experienced a long time ago. This is from part of my diary.
Post-natal in the “Swell Hotel”, 1960’s.
That’s what it was called, the Rotunda lying-in Hospital. Giving birth there, unless you were a private patient, was considered a penance.
The only uses I had ever known for Jeyes fluid had been on farms, for swilling down the floors of the milking parlour, or for swabbing animals down after injury. When it was poured into a bucket of water its white density spread out slowly, pale threads spiralled up through the water until all the liquid in the bucket looked like a thin, treacherous milk. The smell of it never left your nose.
In this ward for the newly-delivered the nurses came each day with their cruel Aladdin’s lamp of the stuff, forced each of us in turn onto our backs with our knees raised and while one of the harridans forced your legs apart, the other slipped a bedpan under you and poured a gush of the savage fluid between your legs. Your skin went on fire, you wanted to leap from bed and run screaming to find plain water and douse yourself. They held you down.
“Now,” they said as they moved on down the ward “none of ye’s ‘ll get an infection down there!”
Soon the ward was full of ripe curses, howls and roars, none of it coming from the cosy bundles in the rocking cradles suspended at the end of our beds. The needle-sharp, burning stink of it filled the air and by lunchtime when we were all prodded out of our beds to sit at the long table down the centre of the ward the sausages and potatoes stank of it too.
Later when you lay back and watched the flames of the huge open fire at the end of the ward flickering cheerfully and the terry nappies drying round it on the wooden clothes-airers, even the sweet smell of the laundry soap would not banish the Jeyes. And you shuddered as you remembered that next morning they’d be back to do it all over again.