Nana and Dettol

Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self Realization by Karen Horney
[Image credit: Wikipedia. 1st Ed. (1950)]
Neurosis is believed to develop sometime in childhood. It can manifest itself in anxiety and sometimes obsessive compulsive behaviours. The full spectrum is buried under the term and can pretty much explain why people are the way they are. This holds true to my own neurosis. In our family, neurosis is referred to by a slightly different word. The word is Dettol. An antiseptic, non-poisonous, germicidal solution that can cure anything.

Not to make a grand sweeping connection or anything but Nana’s father came from German roots and I am certain that Nana would have made for an interesting case study for Karen Horney, the famous German psychoanalyst. Horney produced several works on the subject and in her final work, Neurosis and Human Growth, she “discusses the neurotic process as a special form of human development, the antithesis of healthy growth” (taken directly from the jacket cover).

Do you remember the funny movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), where the dad, Gus Portokalos, is convinced that Windex can treat any ailment? Well Dettol was Nana’s secret weapon. You see, anything that could be disinfected with Dettol, Nana championed. Dettol removed all possible germs. In our family, germs have another name too. That word is Tooksie but I have already written about that.

To put this in a another context, I did a quick search on Google and stumbled across a goldmine of information about the stuff. I now completely get why Nana swore by it. On the back of an old vintage Dettol bottle, you will find this:

Vintage Dettol Bottles[Photo credit: Aina-Liyana on Flickr]

 “DETTOL is a germicide 3 times more efficient (Rideal-Walker test) than pure Carbolic Acid, yet is NON-POISINOUS AND NON-STAINING”.

Dettol can be used for cuts, bites, abrasions, insect stings, epidemics, dandruff, personal uses (douching, deodorant, bathing, mouthwash and gargle), surgical, medical, midwifery. That’s according to the label of the old bottle that Nana would have used. Perhaps it may be best that you refer to the official UK site for more information on what Dettol protects:

Dettol-protecting health for over 80 years
[image credit:]

So what does neurosis have to do with this magical elixir? Perhaps I can describe Dettol in our family by telling you a story about the day Nana went to Bridgetown with Papa. This is a story that was told to me and I am going to do my best to do it justice. Call it my case study.

It was just another ordinary sunny day in Barbados. The night before, Selma Husbands, our local weather reporter on CBC (Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation) would let us all know that the day was to be “fair, to partly cloudy, with some scattered showers, and the chance of an isolated thunder shower”. This was pretty much the forecast given every single day. Convenient come to think of it because it just about covers the entire gamut of any possible weather scenario. But on this day, it meant that it was a good day for going to town.

Nana walked with Papa down Broad Street on the north side, having parked at the Independence Square carpark on the other side of the bridge. They were on their way to Cave Shepherd, or maybe Harrison’s, one of the main department stores. Not sure what was on her to-do list that day as I was far too young to be included in such micro details. Maybe they were heading to Swan Street to buy some fabric to make my doll a dress.

What Nana and Papa did not know was that Selma had forgot to include one detail in her sweeping forecast. Wind. As a result,  a large straw hat made its way to the street ground and started to roll like tumbleweed towards Nana, passing her and stopping right at the foot of an innocent bystander. As he looked ahead to see who the hat might belong to, he spotted a lady walking a few steps ahead.

 He did what any good citizen would have done. One could argue he went above and beyond. He bent down, picked up the straw hat and walked right up to Nana from behind. He then proceeded to place the hat securely on her head. It was windy after all. He was doing his best. “There you go.”

Nana, taken by surprise, could now not see as the hat covered not only her head but came to eye level. She reacted by grabbing the hat off her head immediately and throwing it into the middle of Broad Street. “Chu… that is NOT my hat!” She quickly smoothed her hair back into place as best as she could, given the wind and introduction of a stranger’s hat on her head. She looked over to Papa and said in a firm voice, “Herbert, let’s go home!”.

I have no doubt in my mind that Nana took the bottle of Dettol into the shower with her. How could that good samaritan possibly know that what he did on that windy day in Bridgetown would result in a story that could make us all laugh, including, perhaps, Nana, once she had a bath.

Nana and Dettol by loopylocks

An aunt wisely told me that everyone suffers with neurosis. Our job is to find out what our own neurosis is so we can better understand ourselves and learn from it. In this case, I came to such a finding. As I look back, I have learned that the ‘antithesis of healthy growth’ I observed as a child growing up with Nana’s antics has paved the way for another kind of elixir: humour. While it may not be the solution to every situation, unlike Windex or Dettol, it is a 100% organic and natural.


Vintage Dettol Bottles[Photo Credit: Aina-Liyana on Flickr]


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