'And finally, not everyone’s being doing topical. In fact, here’s the rather lovely 6 Oxgangs Avenue devoted to the history of the development of the area, this week highlighting how the block of flats came into being. Could have been prompted by Who do you think you are? Or just a timely reminder that not everything worth blogging about is in the here and now.'

Kate Higgins, Scottish Roundup 26/08/2012

Friday, 31 August 2012

Sturmey-Archer; Zen; and Lance v Boo-Boo + The Hoffster v Eastern Scottish!

We're big fans of the Tour de France-each summer my wife Alison and I settle back on the sofas and become immersed in it-Brad is Alison's favourite-I enjoyed watching Lance Armstrong's exploits and before him the five time winner, from Spain, Miguel Indurain.

Cycling was big at Oxgangs in the 1960s-today you would be lucky to spot a kid on a bike. Most of the bikes back then were built from scratch-there was a great trade going in bike frames which could be picked up for five bob-this trade was supplemented by trips up to Thomas Piper's cycle shop at Churchill at the top of Morningside Road, just along from the Churchill Theatre. The shop was a great place to visit-a real Aladdin's Cave -it had a distinctive smell from the rubber; it existed for decades and only closed in the past ten years or so. Even then the shop had passed on to new owners as Thomas Piper died in 1939. At the top end of the price range wheels and gimmicky items like speedometers, bottles and bottle-holders were occasionally purchased-more often it was inner tubes, puncture repair kits or spanners at the lower end of the scale.

(photo by The Invisible Agent)
If you were lucky you had a bike with 3 speed Sturmey-Archer gears-Dougie Blades had 5 gears which was unheard of! It must have bugged him because I was always up at his door borrowing his racer-looking back he was pretty decent to allow me the use of it, although often it was perhaps his mum, Helen, who gave me the go ahead to use it when he was out.

I enjoyed sitting out in the back alleyway where the sheds were.

Back Alley and Sheds-There were no stairs there in the 1960s (Photograph Peter Hoffmann 31/08/2012)
It was here that I pottered away with my bikes-fixing a puncture or tinkering with the gears-there was something very satisfying about working with your hands. The experience was enhanced if it was raining outside because one was sheltered under the alley roof but the entrance was open on two sides, one of which was the entrance to our back garden.

Entrance to 6/2 Back Garden (Peter Hoffmann 31/08/2012)

It was a Zen like experience, focusing on working on the bike while being vaguely aware of the rain pitter-pattering down outside, whilst one kept dry inside-a lovely feeling. Because of the weather I'd usually be working alone as everyone else was inside in their homes-occasionally someone would pass by and pop their head in and exchange pleasantries.

Great fun was had playing in The Gully which lay between Oxgangs and the Braids; it was located to the south of nice houses at Pentland View and lay in a small shallow or valley. I guess it was a fore-runner to BMX riding with the circular paths with rises, declines and jumps.

(photo by Thomas Lee)

That I'm alive to write this blog is down to good luck; one afternoon after playing at The Gully I came home via Comiston Road on a made up bike which had no brakes. I was flying down the road when an Eastern Scottish bus was leaving a bus stop adjacent to Braid-Burn Valley. I was going so fast that I would have hit the back of the bus-I had to take evasive action by overtaking it. This was a struggle as the bus was gaining speed all the time-I peddled furiously just managing to overtake it to the astonishment of the passengers on the lower deck-however as I edged in front of the bus I had to take a sharp 90 degree left hander veering into Greenbank Crescent to go back home to Oxgangs-I knew it was going to be difficult to make it-I did manage to keep upright, but of course with the formidable speed I swung straight on to the other side of the road before mounting the pavement-very fortunately there was no oncoming traffic.

(photo by Regentlad)
Occasionally some of the older boys up Oxgangs Street organised bike races out to Currie. The boy who surprisingly dominated was someone who didn't excel in any other sports or activities-I think his father was Polish and his name was Paul Kaszynski. I was really impressed at how good he was and even at a young age it occurred to me that one needed a certain fortitude and mental resilience to put in such a strong performance in sport.

For me however, the most extraordinary performance on a bike was Boo-Boo-a group of us used to go on long cycle adventures in the summer holidays including Les Ramage (4/3); Ali Douglas (8/3); and Iain-this one was to Dalkeith and home via Liberton Brae-we all had passable bikes-except for Boo-Boo who borrowed one of mine which had a puncture-Boo-Boo was so keen to go on the outing that he rode the whole way, there and back, with no air in one of the wheels-respect!

More on bikes in a future blog-including the famous Raleigh Chopper.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

An Act of Kindness

A popular picnic was to the Braid Hills-I might struggle to find it today, but there was a very shallow open cave where we would eat our picnic-if the weather turned sour it gave us some shelter too. It served as a good base from which to play. Sometimes we would venture further to the Elfin Pond on the private Mortonhall Golf Course to collect frogs.

On one occasion a group of us were setting out for a picnic-all that Iain and I had was a bottle of water each which I'd stored in my small brown haversack. All the others had sandwiches and perhaps a few sweets. I don't know how, but Hilda Hanlon somehow must have noticed this-she leaned out her window and threw down a tanner-three-pence each-and told us to get something at Jimmy's Green Van which was parked outside the stair.

 I bought us two packets of Golden Wonder crisps.

'An Act of Kindness' (Peter Hoffmann, 2008)
Or, was it Smiths?

Great blog Peter evokes many memories I especially remember the mini Olympics you used to organise and we would run between the lamposts and you would time us happy days
Ruth Blades
Great to hear from you Ruth-thanks for the prompt-definitely a future blog item! For years I had a wee notebook with all the times as well as triple jump on the small grass area across the road.Later on we held a couple of mini-Olympics at the army track at Redford Baracks-second one not completed because we got chased off by the soldiers! Peter Hoffmann

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Pensieve, The Wrecking Ball and Hunting Christ

Unlike Dumbledore, who had the particularly useful tool of the Pensieve, which allows him to siphon off memories and examine them at leisure, each previous resident carries around their own memories of The Stair. Some are particularly strong ones while others are more ephemeral and ebb and flow. One of the benefits of producing this blog is that it records a way of life, in a written and pictorial format, before it vanishes for ever. It's too easy to assume that these shared memories will always be there and yet nothing's permanent. A significant feature that's gone is Hunter’s Tryst School which no longer exists.

Hunters Tryst School (Mick Travis March 2008)
The school was combined with another local school, Comiston and named Pentland Primary School. When I discovered the building was also being knocked down a few years ago it gave me quite a shock. It must have been there for over half a century-fifty years times tens of thousands of individual memories, before facing the wrecking ball. The school had been an integral part of the day to day life of the community. 

Almost as tragic is that the school name, Hunters Tryst no longer exists-such a lovely name for a school. Tryst was never properly pronounced i.e. ending in the sound '' This created some problems for me. When I was very young and in P1, my Nana Hoffmann from Stockbridge asked me the name of the school I was now attending? Pleased with myself, I rather proudly replied, ‘’Hunting Christ!''

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Roundabouts, Police Pillar Boxes and Cutbacks

Does anyone remember the old police pillar boxes? Fiona Blades and I-possibly also Liz Blades or one of the Hogg girls too, used to walk from Oxgangs to the play-park at Morningside Drive. The attraction was to play on the children's roundabout. There was no roundabout at the Oxgangs play-park. It was a long walk, particularly on hot summer days, because we had to walk the length of Oxgangs Avenue and then work our way through the sweeping avenues and bungalows of Greenbank, not to mention all the way back home. We must have been keen and devoid of alternatives-there must have been only so many times one could take a spin on a roundabout.

I said to Fiona do you recall us making rogue phone calls on the emergency services speaker-phone which was located along Greenbank Road? Fiona couldn't even recall the pillar, never mind the calls. Anyway, we would open the small door which formed the torso of the police pillar, pick up the speaker-phone-once we heard the operator on the other end, we usually panicked and hung up-possibly on a few occasions, we had the chutzpah to go further and report a kitchen fire or some such emergency-after doing this we took to our heels and ran like the clappers and absolutely flew along the road, for fear of the 'bobbies' appearing; we didn't feel safe until we reached Oxgangs.

A main reason why I recall the police pillar was that I always looked forward to seeing it as I found the design to be aesthetically pleasing-I wasn't thinking in such conceptual terms at that age-all I knew was that I liked the shape, the blue colour (I've just discovered some were red) and that it represented something from a bygone era. The design is clearly based on the human body-if I could get hold of one now I'd have it as a garden sculpture!

Looking back, I never saw another one anywhere else-however, after doing a wee bit research, Edinburgh was a significant area for them-over 500 miles of lines were laid throughout the city-they were designed by the Ericsson company and were introduced around 1931-I think this was the design of the one at Greenbank, but I may be wrong-a mark 2 came out around 1938 and then further designs in the 1950s which are less appealing. The idea behind them must have been to give households access to a phone to contact the emergency services-fire, ambulance or police-these were the days when very few homes had their own telephone-also pre-police radios it was a way of peripatetic police officers out on patrol being able to contact police stations-it was also promoted as a way of saving money and allowing the city to close twenty five police stations-yes even before David Cameron's dad was born, they were looking at cutbacks!

Monday, 27 August 2012

6/4 The Hoggs

The Hoggs lived at 6/4-above us (The Hoffmanns) and below The Blades. They were a lovely family. The father, George, was a joiner-he was a very quiet man. His wife was the home-maker and seemed to be the more dominant figure.There were three daughters-Christina, Maureen and Eileen. Christine and Maureen were quite close in age-a few years older than me, whilst Eileen was a lot younger-there must have been at least a seven year gap. They took after George in that they had red hair, but none of the traits often associated with red hair!

One couldn't but help like the girls. Christina and Maureen shared a bedroom which was above ours-sometimes we had fun tapping out signals on the ceiling above. Christina was a very likeable, pleasant and sensible person-she seemed quite tall in appearance at that time; Maureen was closer in age to me. I always thought of her as being quite handsome, quite fashionable and good fun-she reminded me a lot of Fiona and Liz Blades at 6/6. I remember the cool way she used to wear her Firhill School tie low down on her blouse, in a large knot.

Maureen Hogg
Eileen was very thin and white-initially she may have appeared plain, but was actually quite beautiful-as she got older with her red hair set against white skin and being very slim, she looked like an artist.

Eilleen Hogg

Probably because of the age gap, they were quite motherly toward Eileen and looked after her.The girls were fond of my sister Anne and had a lot of fun dressing up both Eileen and Anne in exotic outfits-it was as if instead of Barbie or Sindy dolls, even better, they had live dolls of their own  to dress and play with. My sister has very fond memories of these times.

Along with the Blades we used to all work together at Bairds Newsagents at Morningside Drive. Whilst Douglas Blades used to cycle down earlier to open the shop, we all got the six o'clock  number 16 bus. Liz, Fiona and in later years, Gail Blades, the girls would come rushing down the stairs from level 2, to be joined by Christina and Maureen Hogg from level 1, to thereafter be met by me on the ground floor to cross Oxgangs Avenue to get the bus. It was good fun and made the early rises much easier. I enjoyed being the only boy in the company of four or five girls and felt part of a pretty cool gang!.There was good crack on the bus with the early morning school cleaners who were setting out to work too; they were a sparky, humorous bunch.

The Hoggs had cousins-two boys who were at Oxgangs Primary School who were renowned footballers and good runners. I recall them being at the Hoggs one Monday public holiday and hearing The Beatles track Yellow Submarine being played in the background. It's a very haunting track which immediately takes me back in time.

As mentioned, I think George Hogg was part of a cooperative of tradesmen who all built their own houses at Oxgangs Green; when they moved, it was a sad loss for The Stair, but they will have loved moving to their own house with upstairs and downstairs.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Ken Hoffmann Being Different, No 2

Another example of just how different my father, Ken Hoffmann, was from the rest of the fathers in the neighbourhood was that he played cricket all summer and rugby all winter. I suspect he must have been the only man in Oxgangs who did this. He played full back for Boroughmuir at rugby and cricket, for of all clubs, the Grange, perhaps the poshest club in town? Sometimes he also played cricket for Boroughmuir too-perhaps that was when he couldn't afford the the Grange subscription fees? More remarkably he was one of the oldest fathers in the area-when I was ten he was forty. He carried on playing both sports into his mid-forties when his heavy smoking and heavy drinking caught up with him.

A match being played at the Grange Cricket Ground, Stockbridge, Edinburgh
Football was clearly the working class sport, but fathers had long since given up the game. Looking back, such pastimes were given up to youth at a very young age indeed; many of the local fathers must have been really quite young compared to fathers today. Nowadays, the value of sport and exercise are promulgated and encouraged and it’s common practice see fifty and sixty year olds playing sport. Indeed, such a large part of the NHS budget is spent on early knee and hip replacements to keep the middle aged on the tennis court and the golf course, there is a threat to start charging them!

Boroughmuir v Dundee, Meggetland (Photo Jon Mussen)
Back in the 1960s,in Oxgangs out with bowls or for the lucky few, golf, it was unheard of to see dads playing sport or being active. An exception to this was Eric Smith coming out to play a few games of football with the kids, before tearing a hamstring; on one occasion Charlie Hanlon came out to play. Both Eric and Charlie used to sit at their sitting room windows watching the kids games-I'd notice them and it always lifted my performance-clearly wanting to play to the gallery.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

A Village Springs Up Overnight and The Never-ending Circle of Life

Cosmetically, a little worn and neglected, 6 Oxgangs Avenue still looks okay today almost sixty years on since it would have been built. Building work must have commenced around the year I was born, 1956. I don’t know what the expected lifespan of these buildings was as they weren’t built of the fine old sandstone of the Victorian or Edwardian flats at Morningside, Bruntsfield and Marchmont.No doubt there will be records of the Edinburgh Corporation of the time. As suggested earlier I assume it will have been part of the legacy of the Labour government which came into power after the Second World War and Beveridge’s  proposals to end the general poverty that had impacted on much of Britain. That said I suspect it will have been Tory Administrations at the council who implemented them?

6 Oxgangs Avenue (Peter Hoffmann)
6 Oxgangs Avenue was a block of eight flats-there was four such blocks located at the far end of Oxgangs Avenue where it formed a T junction with Oxgangs Road North. Five of the flats had two bedrooms whilst three had three bedrooms, with balconies-unfortunately these were north facing-please excuse another pun, but not very bright!

Oxgangs Street (Gazetteer for Scotland)
Oxgangs Park
Of course there were far more people living in the area because these flats were surrounded by other properties. On the other side of Oxgangs Road North, along Oxgangs Farm Avenue were slightly older blocks of Council flats containing six flats i.e. a ground floor with a first and a second floor, whereas our flats had a third floor. Much nearer, off Oxgangs Street at Oxgangs Park were a series of rows of blocks of flats identical to those at Oxgangs Farm Avenue.

'Prefabs' at Oxgangs Avenue-Photo taken by Douglas Blades,  6/6 Oxgangs Avenue from his balcony-rather wonderful that Douglas captured this moment in time-perhaps the only record of this significant change to Oxgangs
Prefabricated House in Edinburgh (Photo by Ron Ross, Ontario, Canada)

Across from us were what was called the Prefabs-small tin cottages that had been thrown up after the war. They were very quaint, but regarded as a temporary way of housing families. There were 229 located in Oxgangs, now all gone. The ones at Oxgangs Avenue were all torn down in the 1960s and replaced by modern flats. My best friend, Paul Forbes lived in one of the cottages. When the flats were being built the building site was a great adventure playground-at one time we even had a key to one of the new flats!

Directly behind our block was a small enclosed field, only used for bonfires. Behind this field lay an area of park land where we played hundreds if not thousands of games of football. Children can no longer play football there as the young trees which were planted in the 1970s, have thrived and grown. I'm unsure how they ever survived local children's' attentions. It actually looks very pleasant, but is an atypical example of a lack of communication with the residents-removing a leisure asset and replacing it with something else-Big Brother knows best.

The field, now small wood, forms a boundary between the road and the five rows of two blocks of identical flats on the other side, which are approached from Oxgangs Street. Thus, there were fourteen identical blocks of flats with eight families in each, making for a grand total of one hundred and twelve families-probably around four hundred people-the size of a village, who all arrived around the same time-the late 1950s, to begin a new chapter, forming new friendships, growing up, living together-many of whom will have spent their whole life there and are still there today; others who will have died there and the many others who left and moved away as they approached and reached adulthood to begin a new life for themselves-the never-ending circle of life..

Friday, 24 August 2012

Ken Hoffmann Being Different, No 1

In many respects my father was quite different from the other fathers in The Stair. For one thing, he smoked French cigarettes-either Disque Bleu or  Gauloises. It’s a long time since I’ve smelt the smoke, but I would recognise it instantly as it pervaded the house.

If he’d run out of cigarettes I would be sent on a little adventure on the number 16 bus to either Morningside or the century old Boroughmuirhead Post Office to buy him a packet. They weren’t sold locally. Also, in the 1960s it was very rare for any shop to remain open in the evening. 

Dave Henniker

When I returned home with the cigarettes, it was almost the only time he seemed to be pleased with me.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Never Had It So Good?

(Daily Mirror cartoon)
In the 1950s the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, told the electorate  that they had never had it so good. His comments will have been partly based on the progress made in implementing the Beveridge report and tackling the five evils of want; ignorance; disease; squalor; and idleness. Clearly the young families who moved into the newly built 6 Oxgangs Avenue from 1958 were direct beneficiaries of what men had gone to war for and the new vision of a country fit for them to live in afterwards.

Generally the families at number 6 (always referred to by us as The Stair)  lived in harmony. Yes, there was occasional friction, but it was very mild and occasional-all the families were good neighbours. The culture was a happy one which probably reflected the optimism of the 1960s. Compared to the housing which had existed a decade before the new housing schemes were great places to live and bring up young families-modern flats; indoor loos; open coal fires. Children played safely. There were formal playgrounds, sports pitches and tennis courts; adventures were on the near doorstep to Redford Burn, the army polo field and Braidburn Valley. 

(Braid-Burn Valley looking NW toward open air theatre) MJ Richards Licenced for reuse Creative Commons Licence

There was Dr Motley's surgery and Mr Russell the dentist. There was a new school with the beautiful title of Hunters Tryst set in lovely spacious grounds that had large playgrounds, its own small wood and large sports pitches.

It was a period of stability. Families were generally happy with mums and dads, despite the daily grind, enjoying the novelty of parenthood. Women were the home-makers-men were the breadwinners-access to employment was relatively easy. No one was well off as each household would be described as working class e.g. no-one owned a car, however people weren't desperately poor even if Child Benefit made the difference between eating or not. 

The Stair has reflected the changing decades. If the 1970s were about strife, then some of the new inhabitants were not as neighbourly. The 1980s of Thatcher led to families buying their own houses. The 1990s were a period of growth and better wages and no doubt those now at number 6 will have enjoyed foreign holidays and car ownership. The Noughties and the impact of the recession could be seen when I paid a visit last month to Oxgangs, where The Stair was looking a little neglected.

As mentioned Dougal worked as a shop assistant at Coopers Grocery shop and then as a stock-keeper at Brown Brothers Engineering Company. As for my father Ken-my mother Anne gave up counting at thirty the number of jobs that he had been in-assistant cinema manager; stock clerk; lorry driver for Bains delivering meat to butchers shops in Edinburgh and the Borders; long distance driver for John Bryce; he had however also been a Chief Officer in the merchant navy, training at the renowned Edinburgh company Ben Line-his qualification was probably the equivalent of a degree in physics or maths, but those were before the days of NVQs, so he found he could not use transferable management skills to gain better employment. The other issue was that being an alcoholic made it difficult for him to hold down a job for any length of time. 

Ben Cruachan 1946

Mr Stewart was a policeman and like many others in this line of work he kept a complete distance from any other neighbour in The Stair. George Hogg was a joiner. I think he was part of a cooperative of skilled tradesmen who built their own houses toward Oxgangs Green. In later years Eric Smith worked as a general helper at Marks and Spencer which was a secure job. Charles Blades worked for many years at Ferranti's where he was a Personal Assistant to Basil de Ferranti. He regularly accompanied him to meetings in London. Charles had initially trained as a doctor, but late on in the course dropped out. Like my father Ken he was an alcoholic which prevented him reaching his full potential and also blighting others' lives too. Dougal, Ken and Charles were clearly bright individuals-Charles father was Lord Blades, the respected judge and Solicitor General for Scotland. 

Charlie Hanlon worked for many years at the Uniroyal Rubber Mill which superseded the North British Company -a secure job for many years. He worked shifts-sometimes Hilda would hang out the top floor sitting room window and chastise the kids for being too loud and 'keeping my Charlie awake when he's on the night-shift'. I liked the way he brought home a 'Friday Treat' of chocolate bars for Michael, Boo-Boo, Colin and Alan-if you'll forgive the pun, it was a very sweet thing to do.

Workers leaving rubber mill at Fountainbridge after a shift (Edinburgh Evening News)

Mr Duffy was a general labourer and scaffy in later years; previously he may have worked elsewhere but that change may have been brought on when he perhaps lost his driving licence?

Comment From Will Hoffmann: Interesting as usual but it would perhaps be better served as the very first blog entry as it sort of sets the scene and introduces the 'characters'? 

Response: 'Thanks for dipping your toe in the water Will. I'll have to come up with a small reward as you're the first person to comment.Did you recognise old Fountainbridge-007's old haunt and close to your beloved Zizi's? It's a useful comment because it's forced me to articulate what was only in my 'mind's eye'! I think you're right-it could have been used as an initial blog, but equally, given the motivation and impetus for the blog is a valid approach too. Early posts do need to set the context and the characters. However, I don't want to follow an academic or chronological approach, although some of it will be the latter. Instead I want to go for something which is more free flowing, whilst having a certain shape in mind. I thought Shell-Shocked for example is a very powerful piece which allowed me to present two main characters, Fiona and Peter (me) in a situation interfacing with an old man who was an interesting character. Rather than describing us, it gave me the opportunity to show our behaviour allowing you to form an opinion of us and our personalities and also an important aspect of day to day life at the time. Some posts will occur to me by accident, others will flow from one post to another e.g. meals, crockery and Buchan's Pottery! There are endless little diversions that could be followed. I've devoted a post to 6/1, The Swansons-clearly I intend to work my way through each family all the way to 6/8, The Duffy's, but I want to intersperse these posts with stories and events that will hopefully be of interest and over a period of time allow readers to see the characters evolve, grow and develop in 1960s Edinburgh-a bit like a tv soap opera!' 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Rowntree's Cocoa

There was an old tin of Rowntrees Cocoa in our food cupboard. It sat there untouched, for years. The tin was a dull light chocolate brown, with a cream picture of a young maid in old fashioned dress carrying a mug of steaming hot cocoa on a tray. It was probably one of the few luxury items in the food cupboard. Perhaps none of us knew what to do with it! Alongside it was an old jar of Sharwoods’ mango chutney-there weren't too many curry nights at 6/2 Oxgangs Avenue so it too lasted for years!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

School Day Lunches and our Buchan's Pottery bowls

For a long period in my earlier school years I came home at lunchtime-it was only a five minute jog. Certainly I can recall Iain coming home with me too, but I've fewer memories whether we ever came home by the time Anne had gone to Hunters Tryst. 

Going home at lunch time broke up the day and meant one was less likely to get into any bother. A distinct memory was of watching the One O’clock Show-an entertainment show.

(Photo from The Museum of Edinburgh)
As described in yesterday's blog my mother had prepared lunch-we enjoyed a small bowl of a meat and veg which varied depending on the day of the week. It might be tripe, onions and potatoes; mince and potatoes; stew (or Irish stew) and potatoes; or stovies. We each had our own Buchan’s  Pottery bowl which had been decorated by our nana (Grandma Jo) who worked as a designer at the old factory in Portobello. 

We ate the meal standing up in the kitchen off the small work surface. We never had a pudding. On one memorable occasion we had to have our lunch from Molly Swanson next door and absolutely loved a chocolate custard that she served up with sliced bananas-it was such a novelty, chocolate custard, who would have thought it (I guess all it was, was custard with some Rowntrees Cocoa added in) but the memory of that little twist has remained clearly with me. 

There were some long periods of us having school lunches-either paid for when ‘the old boy’ was working or the infamous blue ticket which was handed out to those pupils who came from poorer families. Blue tickets were a badge of shame-something which took the Education Authorities years to do away with.

School lunches were of a mixed quality. The likes of mince and potatoes might be passable, whilst macaroni would make one feel sick. Puddings were most certainly preferable to soups-often it was a seasonal thing. Jam filled slabs of pastry or even an apple slice served with custard were very popular. As I got older and realised that I didn’t have to spend my lunch money on school lunches gave me the freedom to visit the shops at Oxgangs Broadway where I’d buy three Paris buns and a bottle of Kool-a Pop for the grand total of one shilling and sixpence-when I’d consumed the last drop I returned the empty bottle for three old pence which was spent on sports mixtures or fruit salad chews.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Oxgangs Diet

I'm thinking of promoting the Oxgangs Diet-the ultimate answer to those seeking to lose weight. Fifty years on it’s only just dawned on me how relatively sparsely we ate, but probably relatively healthily.

When we were quite young, each day and each week hardly varied, unless with the season-breakfast was corn flakes, sugar and milk (hot milk in winter) served up with a mug of sweet tea (from a pre-school age)-sometimes we varied the cereal with a slice of toast; my children didn’t have tea until they were well into secondary school! 

Lunch was either school lunches (free if my father was out of work) or a visit home where we were served up, in a small Buchan’s Pottery bowl, stovies or stew and potatoes (sometimes Irish stew), or mince and potatoes or tripe. 

At tea-time, this time on a small Buchan’s Pottery plate, we enjoyed a slice of toast with Stork margarine and a small helping of either scrambled eggs, tinned Heinz spaghetti or beans, all washed down with a single mug of sweet tea. 

Out-with these meals there were no extras or nibbles-in later years a treat was a small cheap two shillings pack of custard creams bought at the Store (St Cuthbert's Cooperative, Oxgangs Road North) on a late Friday afternoon and finished before evening came. I suspect the average calories consumed each day could only have been around 1200 to 1500 absolute maximum.

I was an energetic kid and it didn't seem to hold me back. Each of us (Anne, Iain and I) could be described as being slightly below average in height-I was 1.78 (5'10") until I lost my hair a few years back and old age crept up on me-however compared to my two young sons who are six feet and six feet one, the boys regularly remind me I’m the smallest male in the household.

The only tweaks to this were on a Sunday when we visited our grandparents at Durham Road, Portobello-much more of this in a later blog; also for periods of time my father's mother, known to us as Nana Hoffmann visited us on a Wednesday afternoon and brought fish along. Also from her work as a housekeeper or at a school there would be a coffee cake which we hated and biscuits, which out-with the Empire biscuit were inedible too.

I'm unsure what other families served up-Mrs Hanlon served up a treat for her four boys Michael, Boo-Boo, Colin and Alan of treacle pieces-if I were in the vicinity she very kindly gave me a piece too, but I could never manage to eat it and used to slip it down the chute when no-one was looking!

Chute provided  on each landing for rubbish to descend to large wheeled bin (Peter Hoffmann)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Bed in Summer

We had to go to bed far too early on summer evenings when we were young. We children had the back bedroom which faced toward the Pentland Hills and the scree slopes of Caerketton and Allermuir. It was south  to south west facing and therefore enjoyed the sun from lunch time until early evening. The curtains would hardly contain the light and I would lie in bed on the top bunk watching the shadows of the numbers 4, 27 or 16 Edinburgh Corporation buses move and circulate around three of the four walls of our bedroom. Occasionally there would be the sound of footsteps going past of an adult returning home from work to Oxgangs Street or going out for an evening outing. Worst of all were the sounds of other children laughing and shouting, still out enjoying themselves playing. I suppose it must have been the same for the Hoggs, the Blades and the Duffy children too? It may have been a small comfort if we'd realised we weren't alone-a century before Stevenson clearly experienced the same thing too.

Hi Peter

Fiona here. It took me a while to get round to responding to your text to visit the blog. It’s good. You've done a lot of work, lots of good pictures, lots of information to stimulate thought.

I knew you had a connection to Buchan pottery somewhere but I didn’t know exactly what it was, so thanks for clarifying that. Whenever I think of your grandfather, and I can picture him quite clearly, I think of Buchan pottery. I visited his house on several occasions with you and I must have seen examples of it there because I always make that connection. 

In your Bed in Summer item, you spoke about buses and I suddenly remembered the incident with the number 16, when one morning one fell on to its side and slewed into the fence of St Hilda’s Church across the road. I guess it must have been around 1967/8. I suppose it may be mentioned somewhere in the Scotsman Archive. Apparently what had happened was that it had been turning right into Oxgangs Avenue from the main road, Oxgangs Road North (?) one morning, when a lorry going straight on had clipped its back quarter, knocking it off balance. It made a loud BANG as it hit the ground and we were all the window in our house like a shot to see what had happened. We never expected that! Fortunately the bus had been fairly empty and no one was seriously hurt, just a little stunned. Great excitement though. I don’t know how they got it back up again because we had to go to school and it was gone when we got home.

Just one comment about the blog, the script is laborious to read.
I’m going to tell some others about your blog, so hopefully you will get some more comments fairly soon. Fiona Blades

Thanks Fiona-good to hear from you. Yes, I remember about the bus toppling over-interesting and illuminating that it was a lorry that had caused the accident-I'd probably have wrongly surmised that it must have happened in winter-a mixture of a right hander and ice-a useful wee reminder of just how easy it will be to get things wrong in future! When I worked on the Edinburgh & Dumfries-shire three wheel milk floats there was always the excitement in winter of going down the very steep Craighouse Road before the 90 degree turn into Craighouse Gardens (Balcarres St)-all the milk boys had to go onto the driver's side to prevent the float going over. Good point on the font-Will's spoken to me before about that. Fiona Blades

Fiona again.

Hi Peter

The Duffy you can't remember is 'Ann'

I like the reminder about the milk floats. Even as I read I can hear the whining sound of the motor. just as when I saw the picture of the rubbish chute I could instantly smell the odour it effused; a mixture of ash and damp vegetable peelings. Fiona Blades

Well spotted-the second I read Ann, her face came back to me immediately. I'll devote a future blog to the milk floats and also some of the adventures a few of us got up to when I delivered milk for a couple of dairies from a small metal two wheeled cart. One of the dairies was Berry's at Falcon Road West-can't remember the one I worked for up at Bruntsfield Place. The chute works on a very simple premise, yet when it became blocked, I was always very impressed when one of the practical men in the stair cleared it-I had assumed it must have taken a great feat of engineering! Peter Hoffmann

Saturday, 18 August 2012

6/1 The Swansons

Iain Hoffmann; Peter Hoffmann; Norman Stewart; Gavin Swanson (Back garden, 6/2, circa 1961)


The Swansons, 6/1

The Swansons were a very pleasant family who lived opposite us (The Hoffmanns) on the ground floor. The family consisted of Dougal, Molly and their two children, Gavin and Heather. I liked them very much indeed, although Dougal was a bete noire to us children and we couldn't resist teasing him or annoying him with games of knock door run. Dougal was a very fine looking man. He was immaculately presented, always wearing a tie, even for gardening. He lived a very orderly and disciplined life. H breakfasted on eggs and bacon each morning-home at lunchtimes-and he had the best garden in the local area. He seemed to look down on us, literally and metaphorically. I think he worked for many years at a branch of the high class grocer’s, Coopers, at Comiston Road, Morningside. When it eventually closed he worked at Brown Brothers Engineering, possibly as a stock-keeper. He was an intelligent man who worked in positions below his ability.

My abiding memory of Molly is a more recent one from the late 1980s. Each day I travelled to work across the Braid Hills to Midlothian. I recall seeing Molly going to work at the Royal Bank of Scotland at Liberton Brae. She looked so happy and she was such a handsome woman.

Along with The Hoggs at 6/4, The Swansons were perhaps the most stable family unit at The Stair. Dougal and Molly Swanson took the raising of their children more seriously than any other of the eight families. This could be seen in the way that Gavin and Heather were raised in a positive culture of safety, stimulation, guidance, boundaries and education and also the way they were presented socially-they were always very neat, tidy and clean. 

Colinton Mains Parish Church (Peter Hoffmann 31/08/2012)

Each Sunday they attended the rather lovely local Church of Scotland, Colinton Mains Parish Church. I don't think they were big on religion at all, but it was another aspect of the socialisation process at work and it distanced them slightly from the rest of us, as no-one else attended that church, apart from my father intermittently. 

Whilst the rest of the children at The Stair eagerly consumed our comics, Gavin used to get the Look and Learn magazine although Heather got either Robin or the Bimbo.

Socially, they didn't really integrate much with the other families. It wasn't that they were disliked because in many ways they were immaculate neighbours. Gavin wasn't allowed to run free the way the rest of the boys were. Only on very rare occasions did he come out to play. In the photograph of him with Norman Stewart (6/3), my brother Iain and me which was taken in our back garden. In he’s certainly the best looking of the four boys. 

One rare summer I recall him being allowed out to play. He joined me sitting on the back of my guider (bogie) while I steered it down the hill of the road opposite, Oxgangs Place. It was good fun and as there were few cars back then, not too dangerous. However, when Molly got wind of this, it was immediately stopped and Gavin was back inside for the rest of the summer. I seemed to be the only boy he was allowed to play with, but as I had a poor reputation that didn't continue for long.

Alison Blades; Heather Swanson; Eilleen Hogg
Ruth Blades; and Anne Hoffmann

Heather meanwhile seemed to be allowed slightly more freedom and she mixed a little with my sister, Anne and one or two others; she struck me as being slightly more rebellious than Gavin. Also, she attended the local secondary school, Firhill, whilst Gavin, like me and several of the Blades attended Boroughmuir Secondary School.

The summer holidays would have been the obvious time to have mixed with other children, but I think their granny, who lived at Colinton Mains, often looked after them. This was slightly restrictive, however, we might play with them briefly in the early morning before they left to go and join her. They were close to their granny and this seemed to be the dominant social relations which they enjoyed as a family, apart from a weekly visit from a most lovely lady called Nettie, who lived in posh Morningside. She was a gem and suffered a great tragedy when her only child, Pamela died in her early teens. I recall Pam playing with us occasionally. Nettie may still be alive and if so, will be a very old and noble lady. I once thought I saw her standing waiting for a bus at Morningside and regret that I didn't introduce myself.

The Swansons were possibly closer to us than the other families at The Stair. My mother, Anne was close to Molly, who was very supportive when we had the ups and downs caused by my father. They exchanged Christmas presents each year-my mother always gave Gavin and Heather a tin of Woolworths’ toffees. We got some imaginative presents from Molly. I once recall taking what I thought was a book from my Christmas stocking, but when I opened it up there were six or seven tubes of fruit sweets arranged horizontally inside. Molly always checked on my sister Anne, brother Iain and me if my mother was out dancing at The Plaza, Morningside on a Friday evening.

I know that my mother Anne and her second husband, John Duncan attended Heather's wedding. Heather became a nurse and went to live in Florida, America. Gavin studied at Edinburgh University and then at either Cambridge or Oxford University-I believe he’s now an editor at the Cambridge Press. Along with his own very hard work Dr Gavin Swanson's successes are partly due to his mum and dad's approach to parenting and they must have been very proud of him. 

Postscript: I came across this article last year about Gavin-I hope he's keeping well. 

Medical student saves rower's life after heart attack
Jennie Baker

A medical student has told how he raced to save the life of a rower who had suffered a heart attack.
Dr Gavin Swanson, a Cantabrigian rower, suffered a cardiac arrest at Baits Bite Lock during a major rowing competition on the River Cam.
Several rowers helped him before emergency services arrived – including a graduate medical student who is also a rowing coach.
The January 22 incident has led to a review of rowing safety by authorities.
Dr Swanson, 53, who was discharged from Addenbrooke’s earlier this month, said: “I’m completely lucky and fortunate that there were people around to do that.”
Dominic Silk, 37, a graduate medical student and rowing coach, ran to Dr Swanson and gave him cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), helped by others, until the ambulance arrived to resuscitate him.
Mr Silk said: “I’m very lucky I have been trained to do it, I have done it lots of times on a dummy.”
He added: “I think everyone could do it.
“I think everyone should do it, frankly, I think it’s a no-brainer. It’s a great skill to have.”