Does Childhood Dirt lead to Healthy Ageing?

Healthy Ageing: Because of Dirt?

Science has just discovered that dirt is good for children, it challenges their immune system, strengthens their resistance etc. They are right of course. Many of us healthy 80 year olds knew it instinctively.

You have got to eat a peck of dirt before you die

It was the accepted folklore of my childhood.  No one worried if you got dirty playing. Looking at today’s ultra sanitised world and then back to my childhood I have few doubts about why I have been able to travel the world, backpacking, India, Egypt, Mexico with ne’er a qualm.

I was immunised by my Mother.

Childhood was a dirty place in the 1940s. Well our house was, though my Mother, except that we cremated her, would be turning in her grave to hear that. She would never have admitted it. She rather saw herself as a lady. There were flowers, nice decor and always something happening; a project, a committee, a book to be read to us. So much so, that she really did not have time for housework …waste of time in her opinion.
The result was dirt. Though she would of course have blamed the soot, our old cast iron open range or the dog. All of them, quite correctly.

We lived in a mining village near steel works and in the early 1940s the air itself was black. Soot flakes inches big floated around, especially on wash days, as we all believed. It made keeping clean a mammoth, almost impossible, task for any housewife. The women of the village were proud of their skill at defeating it.Steps were white stoned weekly, net curtains every three weeks and a proud white line of washing challenged the elements every Monday.

However, that dirt, real dirt that shows, isn’t the kind of DIRT I am talking about. Looking back I realise that what was so different was my mother’s approach to what we now would regard as Hygeine. Not sure we ever heard the word. The mysterious invisible world of bacteria wasn’t discussed. Yes, you dabbed grazes with antiseptic Germoline, and once a week our clothes were washed and we had a bath.  A Des. Res. for germs, that was our house. We lived in a cosy relationship with them.

The Key secret was the Cloth

It was an old piece of towel that lived somewhere near the sink, wet, smelly and used for everything. Anything which called for a wipe was the job of The Cloth. Around the sink itself of course, but food split on the floor, mud trailed in from the garden, the interior if a saucepan which couldn’t be washed up. “Why not ?” I hear you ask. Well, because we cooked on an open fire and the outside of the pan was black with soot. You couldn’t put it in the sink. Simpler just give it a wipe with the cloth. I presume subsequent boiling killed off anything too lethal that got into the food. Though I expect the cloth ‘s germs were happy to be fed yet again.

The Cloth was in continual use. I imagine the germs bred happily and found new mates on a regular basis. We rinsed it with soap, but I can’t remember it being boiled or bleached.

“Throw it away it’s got too smelly” seemed to be the principle, which was usually said by some scruffy child whose face was being scoured.

Do you suppose children have some instinct about what is the right dose of germs? Was the cloth, or at least, more dirt, an important part of childhood?

Think about it!     Quite a thought.




  1. October 22, 2016 / 12:55 am

    I don’t think today’s kids would be able to stand up to the sort of environments you experienced in the 1940s and I experienced in the 1950s. Most kids did survive all that.

    • October 22, 2016 / 5:14 am

      Yes. I took a neighbours grandson, along with my two, for a play in the woods. My youngest fell over in a muddy pond and I asked this older child, who was wearing wellies, to lift him up.
      “But he’s dirty!” he said, refusing.

      • October 22, 2016 / 1:00 pm

        Haha! I can visualise that!

  2. October 22, 2016 / 10:16 pm

    I agree completely!

    • October 23, 2016 / 9:35 pm

      Great to hear that. Do you think the message is getting over?

      • October 23, 2016 / 9:38 pm

        Not sure the current generation can cope with the idea! I took a neighbours grandson, along with my two, for a play in the woods. My youngest fell over in a muddy pond and I asked this older child, who was wearing wellies, to lift him up.
        “I’m not touching him, he’s dirty!” he said,

      • October 23, 2016 / 9:51 pm

        Naw. I wish it was but everywhere I look people are all so sanitized!

  3. November 1, 2016 / 1:18 am

    Today’s kids are institutionalised, deprived not only of natural immunisation but also socialisation through friendship with real peers instead of those with whom they can only communicate through pressing buttons on their phones and tablets.

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