It was the first time my husband visited my grandparent’s house at Olive Road that I realised my family’s greeting to each other was unusual. ‘What’s ooo-oooh?’ Craig asked smirking. A pebble dashed house on the edge of a London suburban housing estate, I always entered around the back and sang out ‘ooo-oooh’ as we pushed open the door. All the family did. ‘With the back door permanently open perhaps it is a way to signal to Nan and Grandad that it is one of us’ my auntie Barbara offered as an explanation.
For over sixty years, my grandparents had lived in this end of terrace house, where they raised their five daughters. Being the eldest grandchild, my youngest auntie Lisa was only aged 5 when I was born. ‘I don’t want to go home’ I would whine to my mum as I battled through the rainbow coloured strips of rubber hanging from the door frame. Once through, I would be standing in a compact kitchen. How my nan cooked for seven in this tiny room was always beyond me. A formica table surrounded by a corner bench covered in terracotta vinyl took up most of the space. The bench doubled up as a storage cupboard so we would often have to stand up mid-mouthful so my nan could fish out the chocolate Angel Delight, a regular dessert favourite.
By the time my eldest brother and I had come along, all but one of the daughters had married and left home but they didn’t move far. A constant flow of visitors through that back door, our family grew with the arrival of an Irish family who lived in an identical house a short skip through the back gate. Two boys and two girls, the Rocks became part of the gang.
‘Better pass that over love, as it will be cold by the time you get round’ Grandad said dryly to my mum one Sunday afternoon. With us squashed in the kitchen enjoying a roast dinner, Grandad preferred his on his lap. This was the early 1980’s and Nan had bought a corner suite from the local Co-Op in soft grey velour to accommodate everyone. The problem was, it reached from one side of the room to the other with only a narrow gap to expertly navigate through to actually sit down.
To me, Olive Road was an endless supply of friends to play with. Living on a busy road, my brother and I were not able to play on the street at our own home. My Nan’s house was surrounded by quiet roads, children playing on every corner. Forty-Forty, kerbside, chalking up the pavement for hopscotch, British Bulldog and the endless cry of the ice cream van. We owned the summer. With so many aunties, birthdays were full of gifts, one of them being a compact black vinyl vanity case from my Auntie Kay. Knowing how much I loved to stay overnight at Olive Road, it had just enough room for my rag doll, clean undies and a set of pyjamas. I would keep it packed, ready to go by my bedroom door. When my mum announced we were going to Nan’s, I was prepared for the ‘I’m not going home’ argument.
This little vanity case has served me well. Stuffed with samples of clothes I had made and accompanying me to fashion college interviews. Now it sits pride of place in my studio and at vintage fairs. A small momento of the tiny house packed with so many memories and sadly no longer in the family since my grandparents died. Customers often ask how much the case is and I’m always quick to reply ‘it is not for sale’.