Oliff’s Life

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Whenever there was a rap at the front door it would invariably be my mum or dad that would answer. On one particular occasion, mum was up to her neck in flour and baking in the kitchen and dad was busy in the shed well away from the house.

It was left to me to answer the knock. Standing outside was a man whose general demeanour and appearance took me by surprise. He asked to speak with my mum or dad. I thought it probably best to scurry off to the shed to get dad. “Who is it?” asked dad. I tried to explain in as clear and concise a way as was possible for a boy of seven in 1962.

“Well, he’s wearing a suit, err, I think he’s Welsh, and he has an amazing tan”. Dad just looked at me.

“Oh ... and he must have really hurt his head”. Dad asked what he wanted but I didn’t know. Then I remembered that he was also carrying a large suitcase.

Dad stopped what he was doing and followed me to the front of the house still carrying a hammer in his left hand. The poor caller’s mortified face told its own story. Although unaware at the time, he had obviously assumed that dad was taking an aggressive stance.

The last I saw of him he was scampering gingerly towards the front gate muttering words of self-survivalist sycophancy, obviously convinced that my dad had meant him serious harm. Little did he know that my dad would never harm a fly.

The whole scenario left me with so many questions, not least of which was the need to know what this intriguing stranger had wanted. This was my first ever direct experience of meeting anyone from a different cultural background. Until that point I had never met anyone whose skin was a different colour to mine or whose religion was denoted by anything other than a cross.

It was this man’s turban that lead me to research the beliefs of other faiths, consequently leading to a greater understanding and empathy later in life.

Those were the days when all kinds of people would come to the door selling all kinds of things from encyclopaedias, double glazing, showers, cosmetics, insurance and, yes, even religion.

There was one man who would turn up on a pushbike wearing a very distinctive cowboy hat. He’d park himself on the pavement outside the house, raise the front wheel of his bike off the ground, add a rubber flywheel of some description and, hey presto, he became our favourite knife sharpener.

Vans would drive up and down the street selling beer-at-home and lemonade: does anyone remember the ‘She’or ‘Carona’ man? All of these individuals were retail trailblazers, many selling things that seemed quite far-fetched at the time.

After all, why would anyone put two panes of glass in a single window frame? Or stand in a tray being showered with water when one could simply have a bath?