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My late grandmother Wyneth - she was too fancy to even consider using a "g" - was a great believer in old wives' tales. She was consumed with a tick-list of what we could and couldn't do and reasons why not.

Aside from that cheery little saying of hers whenever we were in danger of having too much of a good time - "You be warned, my gell, laughing always comes to crying" - she was convinced a poultice could solve every ailment under the sun.

Mustard was the favourite zinger of choice, the anchor in her warm concoctions of smells and flavours you wouldn't even wish on a soggy crisp.

If any of us fell - and sadly I was always tripping over my size 7s - out would come the mustard powder, some old bits of bandage or flannelette sheet and a few tablespoons of flour.

I think hot water was in there somewhere, and definitely a box of tissues so that you could wipe away your tears from the burning while the yellow beast did its best.

And if you were really smart - and she was - you could whip up enough mixture to set aside to accompany a ham sandwich for later.

My last poultice came when I was about 17.

I'd tripped over - again - and I clearly remember sitting in the living room and bawling my eyes out.

It was a Sunday; I know this for a fact for reasons which will become obvious.

I'd gone to chapel and I'd run - ha! - home because my Spidey sense always knew when dinner would be ready.

And this being a Sunday, I knew that what was waiting for me was Yorkshire puds the size of dormer bungalows, gravy thick enough to use as wallpaper paste and a groaning plate of meat and 87 veg.

My very, very favourite thing then - and now, when my mother/husband/father/ anyone else isn't looking - was a chunk of bread dipped into the beef dripping.

Vegans, I apologise for nothing.

So there I was, leg akimbo and crying, when my nan walked in carrying a doorstopper from a fresh cob.

Thinking it was saturated with brown beefy bits to cheer me up in my hour of need, my mouth opened to accept it only for it to miss my waiting gob and be plonked on my wounds instead.

Sting, I know how you got your name now, love.

The pain was sharp, quick and hit me between the eyes, while my ears were filled with laugher as Nan and Mam Jones replayed the look of disappointment on my face as the devil's sludge went straight past my cakehole to, let's face it, an altogether needier area of my body.

My nan is no longer here to make me poultices - or bread and dripping amuse-bouche.

But I do remember her bits of lifestyle advice, which were worthy of inclusion in the recenty redisovered Health and Beauty Hints.

It's a book dating back to 1910 by good old Margaret Mixter, who offers tips to ladies who don't yet lunch such as "walking in the rain is an excellent tonic for the complexion" and "I consider it an error to wash the hair on a damp or cloudy day".

Mixter the minx thought girls shouldn't wash their hair on a cloudy day and at night they should apply a mixture of almond oil, white wax, lanoline, elderflower water, witch hazel and spermaceti - a wax made from the head cavities of sperm whales.

Not sure if you'll be able to get that in the new Bargoed Morrisons, but I'll check the fancy food section.

When it comes to hair care, Mixter only shampoos once every three weeks.

But, she concedes, "should the hair become heavy with grease during the intervening weeks much of it can be removed by sprinkling the locks thickly with fine corn meal".

The cornmeal is then "brushed out after absorbing the dirt, with a long but soft-bristled brush".

Whereas the Estee Lauder of the last century told women to massage their faces to stop the skin from going south, Nan, a busy businesswoman with a Songs of Praise boxset to get through, knew time wasn't always a luxury that girls on the go could afford.

So she advocated going to bed with a tie tied around your face instead.

It'll get rid of a double chin, she said, and your other half will always know where to find it when he's getting dressed in the morning.

Drink a cup of hot water and lemon every morning, she preached from her lofty perch.

Then, to save even more time, leave just enough in the cup so you can give your false teeth a good soak.

Waste not, want not, and all that.

I'm not sure how much of this I really believe, but I have to say my nan had the softest hair, the whitest dentures and you'd have to send out a search party to find her wrinkles or hint of a double chin.

Old wives' tales may well be a load of old nonsense, but you really should see the scars on my leg.

What's that you say? You can't see them? As Wyneth and Madge might well say: exactly.

'The pain was sharp, quick and hit me between the eyes, while my ears were filled with laughter as Nan and Mam Jones replayed the look of disappointment on my face as the devil's sludge went straight past my cakehole to an altogether needier area of my body. Nan is no longer here to make me poultices - or bread and dripping amuse-bouche'


Nan, queen of the old wives' tales, had a cure or treatment for everything... no matter what it looked like
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 22, 2013
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