• Auntie Olive anecdotes

    Auntie Olive anecdotes

    Here’s another series of anecdotes, after Grandma and Monsieur Père. It’s a real pleasure to talk about Auntie Olive, because relations with her, for me at least, have always been great, perhaps because she wasn’t in a position of authority regarding us. I don’t dream of Grandma anymore, I think, but of the two great-Aunties, yes. In those dreams, I’m crossing over from n°9, and arriving in the kitchen at n°7, where I’m only half surprised to see them both alive, even if a little diminished, and they’re busy with some needlework or baking, and faintly they answer my questions. I understand they’re rather weak and shouldn’t disturbed too long…

    Auntie Olive was a great one for games and books. On the first score, she’s the one who introduced us to such standards as Snakes and Ladders, Spite and Malice, and Roulette, but the wonderful thing is that she was usually ready for anything! She had lots of resources: music, drawing books, reading books (there were some quaint French ones, learner’s books, with records! which perhaps served for long ago students of hers – she wasn’t bad at French), and she was ever so nice with us, not minding it a bit if she lost. She served as a kind of friendly duplicate to Grandma: you could go over to n°7, and find the same welcome, the same interest, the same quiet loving and discreet attention, the same (if not better) conversation. There was also fantastic food at n°7 (Auntie Olive’s larder, so deep and full!!)

    Auntie Olive anecdotes

    She was certainly the one who encouraged us most to read in English, and went out of her way to find the books we wanted or suggest some new ones. Ah, this was where the former headmistress was at her best! She used to take us to the Library in Broomfield Lane (and of this place too, I still dream!), where I would always, rather ridiculously, check the French books department… but anyway, I had all the English books I needed thanks to her: the Enid Blyton ones in particular. There was the Secret Seven series, the Famous four, the Adventure series (the Sea of Adventure, the Valley of Adventure…) And I also swallowed up the Adventurous Four. Auntie Olive was active in providing us with the books of the series we hadn’t yet read, either by ordering them or being on the lookout for them when they were difficult to find. The Famous Five were a particular thrill for me. Arriving in Palmers Green for the holidays often meant the unadulterated pleasure of yet a few unread volumes from a beloved series! I would hope, or half-know, that two or more new books lay waiting for me, freshly out of the shops, and I spent days on mummy’s bed, plunged in the fictitious world that Enid Blyton had invented, a total dupe of her clever art. But I have no regrets. Enid Blyton was loved. I ask for no excuse!

    With Tini we have been trying unsuccessfully to locate a book which we both fondly remember Auntie Olive reading to us, called the Story of the Little Round Man, but it isn’t the one you’re liable to find if you google the name (there’s another story with the same title). This funny round man lived in a ball-shaped house that could roll around very fast. In the story he saves some children wandering in the woods who find some beautiful shoes which, it seems, someone has left there for them to try. Tempted, they do try them on, but the shoes immediately force them to follow them all the way to a cave where a bad witch lives. They are her prisoners! The Little round man has to find a way to be directed to the witch’s lair. He puts on only one of the magic shoes, and, asking his rolling house to follow him, controls the shoe enough to discover where the witch lives, and can plan the escape of the children. The house is left outside the entrance and is spotted by the witch. Intrigued by the house, she steps inside, but the Little round Man jumps out from hiding, bangs the door shut, and orders the house to move as fast as possible with the witch inside (she’s all bones and angles), until she relents and accepts to save the children. We loved this story, and I don’t know how many times Auntie Olive told it to us. If anyone knows where this book is, that is, if it still exists somewhere…

    (later addition: here's the book's whole story! - it's Roundy, not round!)

    I have decided to tell a rather embarrassing anecdote, because anyway now time has gone by, and really it was innocent: I once actually prodded Auntie Olive’s chest, and asked her “What’s that?” Can you imagine? I remember exactly the spot where we stood, at the junction of the two gardens. With a slightly demure tone, she answered “It’s my bosom”, and I was to remember that word so generously proffered. Until this day, I swear I had never felt attracted in any way, and I don’t quite understand what had made me do this, but happen it did.

    One habit of the Aunties was, when we ate together at n°9 (often on Sundays) to get up before dinner was over, and start the washing up in the scullery, and while I didn’t realize then why it was they didn’t stay with us until the end of the dinner, it became a sort of joke: whoever did the same in our family in Bonnebosq later on, was likened to them. Perhaps they felt it was their way to show their gratitude for the invitation? Or a do-gooder’s attitude of people who anticipated the duty which everyone would feel of giving a hand, and wanted to be there first? Also they never ate much pudding, so this might be another reason: they thought their time was best used in a helpful way.

    Once in Bonnebosq when Auntie Olive was staying with us, we went for a walk together in the countryside, and I made a mistake in the choice of the route back to the village: instead of the shorter, normal one, I chose the much, much longer one, and we did a walk three or four times what I had planned for her. When I realized my mistake, it was perhaps not too late to go back, but I was too proud to admit it, and we walked all the long way. I never knew whether she knew, whether she too had realized, because she didn’t tell me. An old lady of 70 keeping quiet about her 10 year old grandson’s blunder, which meant reaching much later and tired: for me today this is a sign of her discretion and wonderful tact. I think she wanted to trust me, to appear to be guided by me. Amazing. Will I be like that with my grand-nephews and nieces?

    There is a little gesture which I do every day and that comes from her. She taught me to wash my hands by placing the four fingers of one hand in the hold of the four fingers of the other hands, and rub nails and fingertips one against the others in a sort a twisting gesture. Before she showed me this gesture, I remember distinctly that my handwashing was palm against palm only. You might think that this is insignificant, or worse, a puritan-inspired teaching aimed at keeping children’s nails clean. I see it as a handshake with her.  

    Auntie Olive anecdotes

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  • Comments

    Thursday 26th September 2013 at 22:03

    Weird. Now you mention it I can also visualise that hand washing technique. Probably the legacy of some wartime public information notice when soap was scarce. Explains why she bought in bulk too :-)

    Helene Pavey
    Friday 27th September 2013 at 09:47

    How lovely. I remember the bit about the bosom, quite clearly. Who knows it wasn't one of us who said, I bet you can't do it! Anyway, I have another memory: Auntie Olive taught us how to knit! Yes, both of us. We were 6 and 5 and started knitting with huge needles and red wool. I continued of course, but...

    Helene Pavey
    Friday 27th September 2013 at 09:48

    I think I have some of the original Enid Blyton books...

    Friday 27th September 2013 at 21:38

    You continued, but I didn't! Don't know if I wish I did, though...

    Friday 27th September 2013 at 21:43

    Mark, did you actually see bulk soap at Auntie Olive's? I don't recall it.

    Helene Pavey
    Friday 27th September 2013 at 23:30

    Neither did I, then again, she bought zips in bulk.

    Btw, I thought the story of the little round man involved a sorcerer not a witch.????


    Friday 27th September 2013 at 23:52

    Sorcerer? Hm, yes, might have been. Noel Tried to locate it on the net, but he only came up with this: link which dates back to (only) 1979 and whose story is thus described "The little round man who loves to gloat over his money finally learns to give up his miserly ways."

    Helene Pavey
    Saturday 28th September 2013 at 15:45

    It was probably part of an almanach for boys and/or girls, one of many stories. I have seen loads of those in old bookshops, but never came across it.

    Saturday 28th September 2013 at 16:05

    Somehow I don't think so; I have a picture of it being an individual volume of its own, no? But then again, I'm really not sure.

    Sunday 29th September 2013 at 21:32

    Cases of soap were stacked in the tiny front "box" room at 7DR. More than enough for several people's lifetimes. It gave the room its overpowering fragrance. If only eBay had been around then.

    A few of AO's 1960s Ladybird books came to me via Carol. As an educator she may have got them as free samples. She also had a range of Biggles and Gimlet books by "Capt." WE Johns.

    Sunday 29th September 2013 at 22:32

    During that stay in France in August 1975, after my stay at St Iggs, Mark, do you remember you have devoured all the English books at Bonnebosq?

    Tuesday 1st October 2013 at 17:21

    Yes and your mum recommended I read Le Grand Meaulnes and some other book in French, which I never did. I also read the Eagle comics. I can tell you that I had had such a great time that summer at your house, I felt quite bereft when I got home. Anyway, we did it all again two years later...

    Tuesday 1st October 2013 at 23:37

    Le grand Meaulnes! Funny that you should mention this thwarted parental plan connected to this book, because you're not the only one! It happened exactly in the same way with one French person I know, whose parent had so strongly advocated that he read Le Grand Meaulnes that he never did it! One can be discouragingly laudative.

    And about that stay of yours in Bonnebosq that year, it's surprizing that in my diary I wrote more than once that you were bored, and so you had to resort to reading all those English books. Shows how one person's analysis of a situation can be different from another's.

    BTW, have you thought about my "Art museum" loan?!

    Thursday 3rd October 2013 at 22:19

    I was probably just waiting for that wonderful call: "on mange!".

    Friday 9th May 2014 at 18:44

    Ha! I too remember the soaps, the blue sailing boat in the little window in the box room and all the spectacles in the wooden boxes in the front bedroom. What I really loved about 7DW is that we used to ask Auntie Olive if we could go upstairs and 'investigate'. She always said yes, as long as we didn't go in her bedroom. We LOVED (carefully) rumaging around all her stuff.

    Yes Mark, I also have fond memories of 'on mange!' or was it 'on bouche!'

    Friday 9th May 2014 at 19:12

    Jan, I don't remember where this box room used to be... Was it a little room opening inside AO's large front room?

    'On bouche' would have been very strange...Could you have meant 'On bouge' (for let's move)?

    Friday 9th May 2014 at 19:25
    Oops! Silly me ..... actually wasn't it 'on goutte'..... the box room was a tiny little room to the right of the front bedroom with all the walnut furniture and where I once remember the onion harvest hang out to dry. To the right of the box room were very tall white cupboards with all kind of materials in them. So the box room was so tiny and I remember there were huge wooden chests( where the soap was) and also these little wooden chairs for really small children.
    Friday 9th May 2014 at 19:48

    'On goute' certainly would have been shouted just as 'On mange', yes!!

    This box room is a strange non-memory for me...Thanks for the detailed and interesting description: so where was it accessed from? A door on the hallway?

    Friday 9th May 2014 at 20:35
    Yes. It was the tiniest bedroom but with no bed. I think stuff just got dumped there but it seemed organised enough. It wasn't the most interesting room in our regular investigations ;)
    Friday 9th May 2014 at 20:39
    I think 9DW had merged the two room together
    Friday 9th May 2014 at 21:09

    Hmm... So going out of AO's kitchen and going left towards her front room, it would have been a door on the left, before the front room, I suppose? Very strange I don't remember it! And you say that the symmetric room in 9DR would have been merged - with Grandma's front room? or with the kitchen? It's funny because it seems to me the respective sizes of the rooms (front room & kitchen) were the same at n° 7 and at n°9...

    Friday 9th May 2014 at 21:20
    Haha. No yves. It was upstairs. As you go up the stairs, turn back on yourself at he top, heading away from the bathroom to the front. The box room is straight ahead..... cupboards on the right and on the left is the front bedroom with the massively high bed. It had a little window facing the street and that's where the toy boat sat. ;)
    Friday 9th May 2014 at 21:37

    Upstairs!! Okay, now that's why I didn't remember it! So yes, now I see it. Indeed I can visualize the little window with the toy boat. But the rest with the boxes, the soap...no, I don't recall these. Probably hadn't been allowed to (even carefully) rummage among her things sarcastic

    Saturday 10th May 2014 at 08:47
    Lol yes well you'd have had to open the big wooden chest....... you never saw so much soap! But you surely would have smelt it!
    Friday 16th May 2014 at 23:22

    I remember the bulk soap.

    Saturday 17th May 2014 at 00:06
    Ha! It was strangely fascinating all that soap. ;)
    Saturday 17th May 2014 at 01:35

    Perhaps it was meant to wash something whose dirt was hard to get rid of... but what?

    Saturday 17th May 2014 at 22:26
    I think they anticipated a shortage..... imagine...... no soap!
    Sunday 18th May 2014 at 22:46

    Do you know if they stored other things in bulk?

    Sunday 18th May 2014 at 23:32
    I know... I did wonder that too. But I have no idea. ;)
    carol phillips
    Sunday 25th May 2014 at 23:29

    I remember the soap too, and the room smelled lovely. Auntie Olive let us ' explore' and we rummaged everywhere. I also remember dressing up clothes she kept in that room too. Not much, just a pair of blue shorts I think and maybe a dress? The front bedroom did have a huge bed which I slept many times. The mattress  was slim and was made of horse hair - it was the base that gave the bed it's height. Auntie Olive paid £29 old money for it. She showed me the receipt and I did have the bed at one time too when I moved to Hertfordshire when my girls were tiny. The bed was very hard. I also loved looking at the round specs and the chain mail purse in those boxes that were not wooden but maybe ivory or bakerlite?

    I also remember in AO's room she had a wonderful statue of st. Christopher holding the baby Jesus on his shoulder I think. It was on her masterpiece.

    Sunday 25th May 2014 at 23:52

    It's crazy you should recall all those facts!! I wonder shy Auntie Olive would have shown you this receipt?! Were you interested in buying such a bed?

    Monday 26th May 2014 at 16:55
    Yes. Of course. The boxes were back lite. I can hear them closing now like they don't seem to fit but they do. And the specs.and buts and pieces. I also remember the saint Christopher when peeking round AOs door. There were some rather eerie paintings at the top of the stairs. Like landscapes of bogs and wildernesses. Enchanting and mysterious
    Monday 26th May 2014 at 16:56
    * oops..... bacolite. ;)
    Monday 26th May 2014 at 18:30

    Bakelite in fact! Do you have an idea as to where this statue might be??

    Monday 26th May 2014 at 19:51
    Even Bakelite! No. I'm afraid I don't.
    Monday 26th May 2014 at 22:07

    Didn't Serge Gainsbourg talk to AO about that bakélite?

    Monday 26th May 2014 at 22:17


    Monday 26th May 2014 at 22:17
    Hang on..... explain yourself.... serge gainsourg?
    Monday 26th May 2014 at 22:46

    He's going to have trouble doing that, but yes, go on Noël!

    Monday 26th May 2014 at 22:52
    Haha..... is it a french thang?
    Monday 26th May 2014 at 23:09

    Slang... no, not exactly!

    Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 00:21
    Hah! You know you guys, you get me every time!;)
    Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 01:00

    Ok, so let's see how he gets you this time.

    Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 13:27

    Well, Serge Gainsbourg once sang a song entitled 'Sea, sex and sun". See here for the video clip :Sea, sex and sun

    You'll also find the lyrics here : http://www.paroles-musique.com/paroles-Serge_Gainsbourg-Sea_Sex_And_Sun-lyrics,p12769

    The word "bakélite" is used in quite a different context. I let you find out by yourself, since this a very respectable site.

    Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 19:58
    Hahahah!!! It had me smiling all the way through it, trying to listen out for the bake light bit.... then I went back and found the lyrics there..... so funny. They've got all my dance moves? I thought you might be referring to our over zealous exhilaration over fond memories of inanimate objects......' moi je t'aime'
    Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 21:35

    Jan did you know Serge Gainsbourg? He's a very clever musician, but thoroughly provocative.

    Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 21:50
    Yes....;)..... especially with Jane Berkin.... all rather smutty don't y'know...
    carol phillips
    Thursday 29th May 2014 at 22:23

    The statue I mentioned earlier was in fact st. Joseph. Mum says he was holding a lily in one hand and baby Jesus in the other. She thinks that maybe Auntie Mary has the figure. The soap thing wasn't bought in bulk for future savings on hand washing, more of being ' done over' so mum tells me. Pressure selling I think!

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