'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

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.”

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