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The Dreaded Nit Nurse

We dreaded the nit nurse, but she was not as bad as your mother armed with the dickey comb.

There were a few good reasons for skiving (playing hooky) from school in the 1940s and 50s (my era) and we kids thought we were justified if we could not fool our mothers that we felt sick, had a headache or bad pains in the stomach.

What would make us react the way we did?  The dreaded “nit nurse” (to us kids “that dickey wife”), but she was not as bad as your mother armed with the dickey comb on a Friday night bath night in the tin bath in front of the fire.  The younger you were the warmer the bath, but father always got a top-up of more hot water. After your bath, your eyes stung with the coal-tar soap and your scalp was sore where it had been rubbed that hard.

Thinking back I am sure nothing could have lived for long in one’s hair, but the trouble was there were families that either had no money, which meant no fires, which meant no hot water and no money for soap which equals dirt, but there were also some families who were just lazy dirty.

After we were in our night gear and glowing red from being scrubbed with carbolic soap, we waited our turn for the dreaded dickey comb which is a fine small toothcomb.  When your turn came you knelt down in front of your mam with your head bent down over a newspaper.  No wonder there weren’t many kids in those days with sticky-out ears because every time you shouted or complained you got your ears boxed (hence flat ears).

When your mam had finished next stop was the examination of the newspaper and big sighs of relief all-round when nothing moved on the paper.  If it did look out – mother would start going on like a distressed mother hen, kids starting to cry because out came the scissors, off went the hair and of course everybody at school knew why you had had your hair cut.  Even the teachers would treat those children affected as if they had some contagious disease.

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