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A Doctor Writes #298

As a doctor, I am often asked: what are Spangles and are they dangerous to women of "a certain age"? These are not easy questions to answer; not least because the public's perception of spangles is confused, misinformed and often based upon serious misidentification. These problems have, themselves, been further complicated by rapidly evolving ideas about what precisely is meant by "a woman of a certain age"*. The clinical impact of spangles has also proven susceptible to uninformed and frequently panic-driven, speculation; often with reference to what can only be described as ancient practices and old old-wives' tales.

* the definition of "a woman of a certain age" - never the outcome of scientific calibration - has ranged from 26 ["Women, carbolic soap and life-induced hysteria" Dorset Medical Journal, February 1864] to 60 ["When does a Woman Reach "a Certain Age"", Modern Medicine: Preconceptions, Perceptions and Praxis, 2015]

To begin to unravel this tortured question, it is probably best to begin by distinguishing between Spangles [fructus dulcis] and Shingles [herpes zoster]**.

** for reasons of simplicity we exclude consideration of spandex - a synthetic polyether-polyurea copolymer known for its exceptional elasticity and general association with genital [particularly scrotal] chancre.

Not Spangles: note absence of wrapping and other appealing/enticing packaging.

To be clear: shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. A key to its recognition and identification is that it rarely comes wrapped in colourful packaging and is not available at local branches of Edna's. Although shingles can occur anywhere on the body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters around either the left or the right side of the torso and rarely if ever comes in a variety of "mouthwatering flavours". Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox - which can lie inactive in nerve tissue near to the spinal cord and brain. Years later, as the patient becomes old, decrepit, unpleasant, possibly malodorous and finally invisible, the virus may reactivate as shingles. Whilst it isn't a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines are available and can help reduce the risk of shingles and lessen the chance of complications [as can flushing with Tizer], though the type of people who get shingles are very unlikely to take advantage of this being insular, difficult, typically tight, bad-tempered, self-obsessed and "a bit weird" - as in "That tight, self-obsessed, bad-tempered and smelly old twat next door is acting a bit weird again".

Not Shingles: note presence of wrappers and other appealing/enticing packaging.

Spangles, on the other hand, are a brand of boiled sweet manufactured by The Threadbone Sugar Corporation. According to "women of a certain age" [usually over-fussy mothers] they are the second most dangerous object a person can place in their mouth and attempt to swallow***. They first appeared in the general Dorset area in the 1950s and spread rapidly thereafter - particularly amongst the working classes. Levels of presence are typically highest amongst children, though adults are not immune. Generally announcing their presence through an innocuous paper packet with individual sweets originally unwrapped but later cellophane wrapped, they can be identified by their shape which was a rounded square with a circular depression on each face. Detection rates can be improved through the use of advanced clinical equipment, but such is the size of a spangle, that microscopes are rarely necessary for positive identification and they may even be visible to the averagely sighted layperson with an ounce of common sense.

The original 1950s advertising campaign promoted flavour over health risk!

*** A detailed adumbration of the most dangerous object and how it can be safely ingested is available to persons over 18 years of age contemplating a serious relationship. Please send a plain stamped addressed envelope to "A Doctor Writes..." c/o, Great Heaving, Dorset. Discretion guaranteed.

The history of Spangles is notable for the fact that, at the time of their introduction, sweets were still rationed, and their purchase required the surrender of tokens or points from a ration book, but Spangles required only one point instead of the usual two and this, accompanied by effective marketing, made spangles even more popular amongst the importunate. Unidexter war veteran actor William Boyd-Thrupiece was chosen to front the advertising campaign in the guise of his most famous character Limpalong Cassidy, along with the slogan "Limppy's favourite sweet". Another slogan - perhaps unfortunate to today's more modern ears - was "The sweet way to go gay!" [Another source of maternal anxiety - see below]

Sometimes physically shaking a child until it was senseless was the only way a mother could rid it of the dreaded Spangles. The approbrium which attatched to this is in part responsible for the decline in the popularity of Spangles in better-regulated households.

The regular Spangles packet [labelled simply "Spangles"] contained a variety of translucent, fruit-flavoured sweets: strawberry, blackcurrant, orange, pineapple, lemon and lime and cola. The Spangles epidemic began to die down in the 1970s and disappeared completely in 1984. It briefly resurfaced in 1995, but only in branches of Woolbones and only in three varieties – orange, lime, or blackcurrant.

Medical evidence suggests that Spangles are not as dangerous as many self-interested and unforgivably mean "killjoy" mothers often suggested. Contrary to popular female adult opinion, spangles do not [a] make your teeth rot, [b] choke you to death, [c] put you off your tea, or [d] make you especially friendly with boys of the same age and inclination. They have also become considerably less dangerous over time; particularly since 1984 when they were discontinued.

"Women of a certain age" should be heartened by all of the above provided they have not reached a point at which dry mouth, throat constriction, intimacy issues or sharing-avoidance have already "kicked in".

Next week: Should I try sucking a Jolly Rancher?

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