It smelled of Shield soap, not the kind of soap you get nowadays, this was soapy soap, functional soap that had a magnet pushed into it and attached to a white plastic holder that was stuck to a tile near the sink. The bath was in a little room next door, which struck me as not a very practical arrangement at all.
What if you need a wee mid bath? A common predicament in our house when my Mum would have to ‘hoik’ either myself or my brother out, despite her having repeatedly asked us before we had got in if either of us needed to go.
I liked the knitted lady that sat on the window ledge. I used to think she was Sindy’s Nana, because she had a Sindy kind of head but then an old lady knitted dress with a very full skirt. It wasn’t until I was tall enough to reach her on my tippy-toes that I discovered her secret. She hid a spare toilet roll. Never had I been more pleased with a surprise, who’d have thought it? Sindy’s Nan has a toilet roll up her dress! I liked her even more after that and I didn’t ever tell my brother – because a girl’s secret was to be kept between us girls. I did tell my Mum but she barely acknowledged how marvellous it was and she point blank refused to get us one for at home.
It was always colder in the toilet than the rest of the flat, like the opposite of arriving in Majorca and opening the plane doors. The window had a metal frame and crusty corners. My Grandad had painted them white at some point and he’d either used paint that didn’t stick properly or it had been a long time since he’d done them. Once there was a big dead fly next to Sindy’s Nan, so I tore off a square of the toilet roll (which wasn’t soft like ours) and I scrunched up the fly in all it’s deadness and flushed it along with my wee.
We were allowed to keep our shoes on in Nana and Grandad’s flat. I don’t know why? Perhaps it was because the brown swirly carpet didn’t show the dirt as much as our waffly one did? Whenever I sat on their rug in the front room and looked at it for long enough it made me want a fizzy drink. My Dad said it was because they had pub carpet, but as I had only ever been in a pub once or twice, I wasn’t sure if he was right.
The front room was always warm and smelled of the gas heater and roll ups. The windows were huge and covered in white net curtains which were so long that they would gather on the floor. We were not allowed to go behind the net curtains at anytime because if a window broke it would ‘cut us to ribbons’, instead we played on the rug with Grandad’s glass bowl of lighters and penknives!
“Who is having who today?” my Grandad would ask.
“Mr Pepperpot,” we would both request, but my Grandad always gave him to my brother – either because he was older or because he had always wanted a son, I’m not sure.
“Here you are sweetie,” he would say as he handed me Corn Dolly from inside the glasses cabinet.
The four of us; me, my brother, Mr Pepperpot and Corn Dolly, played together on the rug swapping flints from inside one lighter to another. We would sniff the gold lighter that had special liquid that had soaked into the cotton wool inside of it and had a lid that flicked open. As soon as my Nana had made the lunch, we would leave Mr Pepperpot and Corn Dolly on their own, with the lighters on the rug, while we sat at the square table. Nana and Grandad didn’t make us wash our hands like Mum did, and we were always given white bread and butter on a side plate to accompany our baked beans and little sausages, out of a tin that my Nana made.
“I wish we could have this at home,” my brother would say with his mouth full.
There was always a table cloth and there was always strong tea. It was very scary trying not to spill it. My brother didn’t usually drink tea but he did if my Grandad did. He copied him exactly down to the ‘ahh’ after the first sip. I copied my brother because that’s how it was back then. Then my Grandad would laugh, but we never did find out why. I used to wonder if he laughed after every cup.
We could hear my Dad coming to collect us because the hallway outside had lino that squeaked under foot and a door that sucked air as it opened. There were plants in the hallway that never grew and had dusty bright green leaves and pink flowers that never died.
“I need to wash them,” my Nana said once as we went past them on our way to feed the ducks. I squinted my eyes and tried to see if she was joking, she didn’t laugh, not even in the edges of her mouth. It struck me as a very odd thing to say.