Comments

'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



Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Neep!-The Inimitable Douglas Blades!



Douglas Blades (6/6) and Peter Hoffmann (6/2) The Stair
(Strathpeffer Station Bookshop 31/10/2012) 

Just back from a lovely meeting with the charismatic Douglas Blades, a role model for me when I was young-hot chocolate and scones at the former Strathpeffer Railway Station Cafe-absolutely wonderful to meet up with Douglas again, probably for the first time in over thirty years. It was a rushed hour between meetings for Douglas as we went over some old photographs, had a few laughs and exchanged memories of living at The Stair half a century ago-some of which will no doubt appear in future blogs!

ps Can't believe I forgot to ask Douglas the origin of his call sign-NEEEP!

Halloween-Providing a Light in the Darkness

In the general cycle of the year, whilst New Year; Burns Day; Easter; Church FĂȘtes  the School Summer Holidays; Elections; the Harvest Festival; Victoria Day and Guy Fawkes bonfires; and of course Christmas were all marked and celebrated significantly in their own way, Halloween was perhaps slightly less so in Oxgangs and at The Stair during the decade of the 1960s. Masks were certainly quite common-old fashioned cardboard types were the dominant type, but plastic masks grew in popularity-possibly this was because the band which you pulled around your head eventually tore the cardboard type apart, making the mask redundant. There was a definite move from it being low key at the start of the decade toward something much more significant and by 1972 it was certainly an integral part of the calendar.

In America, Trick or Treat, has been a significant tradition in the year from the 1930s; the UK has probably followed suit-like in many other areas of life! Although, a bit like Bob Dylan and traditional folk songs, it all becomes inter-weaved over the generations, with cross fertilisation.



In an earlier blog, Neep, Neeps and Apples I made mention of stealing turnips or suedes from the local farmers' fields at Dreghorn and Swanston. Making lanterns from these root vegetables was the main way that Halloween was marked at The Stair; I can recall Iain Hoffmann toiling over his lanterns-making the lanterns was hard going because the neeps were particularly tough-rock hard in the centre- unlike the more fleshy pumpkins that have become so prominent in the shops over the past twenty years-again something which we've taken from America; although they got the idea of lanterns from Scots and Irish immigrants. Another thing in favour of pumpkins is they don't give off the same pungent smell that emanates from neep lanterns and candles!

d'Artagnan assisting his Mum!

Living in a quiet, small hamlet in the Highlands, but where there are over twenty children, has meant that it has always been a major event here; indeed d'Artagnan is a dab hand at assisting his mum to make the lanterns which stand menacingly outside the kitchen door to welcome and scare the 'guisers' in equal measure.

Guising became much more prominent in the latter part of the 1960s-it was never something which I indulged in, but certainly I can recall some of the kids from The Stair and also their pals from numbers 2, 4 and 8 Oxgangs Avenue, going door to door, where they picked up a few bob. Their costumes were nothing compared to today-occasionally some of the kids were imaginatively dressed up, particularly with some make up, but I'm afraid the standard fare was a bed-sheet and a tea-towel on the head, to pass as an Egyptian!


Halloween has a long and fascinating tradition-a mix of All Hallows Eve; a celebration of the end of the harvest; the passing of summer into winter and so on. Lanterns were important-they were left on gate-posts, in windows or door-ways, to guide folk back from the fairs and festivities; then there was Jack'O'Lantern in Somerset with allusions to the flickering lights in the marshes signifying the souls of unbaptised children


Looking back, if you'll excuse the pun, I clearly missed a trick-indeed this blog could just as easily featured under the series (Not) Being Entrepreneurial!-I appreciate though that for much of the decade it was low key, but that we followed the long tradition of lanterns-there's something very special about providing a light in the darkness.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Singer's Hidden Secrets

An important feature in the sitting room at 6/2 Oxgangs Avenue was the large Singer sewing machine which sat in the far corner. It mostly was used as a piece of furniture with the rented television set sitting on top. It was just the right height to enjoy the small screen from either the two chairs or sofa. When it was used by Mrs Anne Hoffmann for dress making then the room became somewhat chaotic-the heavy television had to be moved and the floor space was completely occupied-dress patterns lay pinned on top of material waiting to be cut, before sown together on the machine.


When the sewing machine was in action it was a good opportunity to open the far left hand door which revealed five or six drawers which contained some interesting serendipities. Medals lay in one of the drawers-they must have been presented to Ken Hoffmann from his days in service in the merchant navy during the second world war. They were identical to those below. He never spoke about them. I never asked. I don't know what happened to them in the half century or so since then.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Social Relationships at The Stair

Generally social relationships could be neatly divided up-adults and children.

The Stair 6 Oxgangs Avenue
For the most part of the decade of the 1960s, The Stair was a very pleasant place to stay. Although it was a decade of incredible change and liberation compared to any decade before or since, what didn't change was that there was an underlying respect by, for and between the eight families.

Each family realised that they had to live together in the one building and by and large everyone was generally considerate, within certain parameters. I guess at a subconsciousness level Game Theory with its management of conflict and cooperation was being played out.

Any niggles were very small beer-the extent of which was that perhaps the worst sin committed was blocking the chute. If a family managed to block the chute there would be grumblings because it meant that waste and rubbish would build up in each flat-no joke if like the Blades at 6/6 there were as many as ten members of the family living in the household.




Noise was kept to a minimum, particularly in the evening. Any semi-fractious situations might be caused by children-me playing knock door run on Dougal Swanson's front door was counter productive and immature-Dougal gave such a great chase though, that I kept being drawn back to doing it-I can still experience the thrill!

Social relationships were generally kept at arms length between most of the adults-exchanging pleasantries as  they passed one another inside The Stair or perhaps on a bus. Out-with the Duffys and the Hanlons (in later years) the adults tended not to socialise with one another. In the 1970s and beyond I think the Hanlons and the Duffys belonged to a social club where they went on a Saturday evening?

None of the men from The Stair went out for a pint together-The Good Companions pub wasn't The Rovers Return. 

Certainly there were no such things as being invited round for dinner to experience the decade's standard fare of prawn cocktail; gammon and pineapple; and Black Forest gateaux!

As ever, the women of The Stair were more sociable than the men. That's common as a generality, but at The Stair there were also perhaps specific reasons for this, because the men were quite different.

Charlie Hanlon (6/7) and Eric Smith (6/5) were friendly-both were non-skilled workers; Mr Duffy was at one stage a salesman (?) before having to settle for more menial work; again he was friendly with Charlie Hanlon.

As mentioned Charles Blades had trained as a doctor before dropping out and as the son of Lord Blades was an oddity in The Stair so to an extent was a fish out of water-to me he always seemed remote and I don't recall ever speaking to him, but my mother, Anne Hoffmann spoke warmly of him.

George Hogg was the one skilled tradesman in The Stair but always seemed a very quiet man who was either working or at home-he's quite a phantom in my memory bank! Again, as mentioned, by nature of work as a policeman, but also by dint of personality and incline, Mr Stewart kept himself to himself as the saying goes.

Dougal Swanson was a real family man who spent most of his leisure time with his family and would never have considered going out for a pint-like Charles Blades, George Hogg and Mr Stewart, Dougal didn't socialise whatsoever. As a grocer's shop worker, albeit possibly the manager(?) he was at one level the same social class as many others, but he may have regarded himself as being of a different class and having little in common.

Ken Hoffmann was another oddity, who had next to nothing to do with the other men in The Stair. I suspect he wasn't popular at all-at that time, rather sadly, we kids didn't like him so I don't think anyone else could have thought differently. I see him back then as being serious and grumpy-amongst his peers, there was perhaps a grudging respect-he wasn't someone to mess with! And yet as a keen sportsman playing cricket and rugby he was clearly very sociable-indeed there were a few Saturday evenings when he turned up with the whole of the cricket team!

To an extent, like Charles Blades, if it hadn't been for his alcoholism, things would have worked out differently-he would have been a captain on a Ben Line ship and we would have lived in a middle class area in Edinburgh. Anne Hoffmann was different too, being the only woman who had gone into further education having been at Edinburgh University in the early 1950s. Women straddle different worlds better than men, so. although there might be Latin textbooks or stories of the Greek Tragedies on the bookshelves, being a young mother trumped everything, creating a shared sensibility amongst the women of The Stair.

The seasons and the weather had an influence-when the sun came out, then Helen Blades came out-there's a nice correlation there! Helen loved the sun and grabbed any opportunity to sun-bathe and get a little colour.

Peter; Anne Junior; Anne; and Iain Hoffmann
6/2 Oxgangs Avenue back garden suntrap
(circa summer, 1962)
At the rear of 6 Oxgangs Avenue our back garden was a sun-trap and was of course quiet compared to the front of the building which was north facing, with the road, vehicles and passers-by. Helen Blades; Marion Dibley (4/4) and Anne Hoffmann would often sit out in the garden on chairs or blankets with their backs to the shed wall and the sun on their faces, enjoy a cigarette and blether away-as Anne Hoffmann says who could ever forget Helen's marvellous, deep throaty, laughter. Anne and Helen were quite friendly, but with young families usually always too busy to spend much time together. We children often sat around to listen in-I can certainly recall the likes of Liz Blades sitting out too; after a while I'd get restless and go off and run around.

Anne Hoffmann was also on friendly cordial terms with Molly and Dougal Swanson, but more at the level of having a blether if they met on the ground floor; out-with that it would only for important, serious or emergencies issues that Anne would knock on their door.

Looking back, it was more of an arms length social relationship culture which evolved-it wasn't one of the oft spoken types, of borrowing some sugar or milk from one's neighbours, but neither was it one often spoken of in the 21st Century, where one didn't know one's neighbours. I think there was a nice balance there which was effective-I also think it was broadly similar to The Stairs at numbers 2, 4 and 8 Oxgangs Avenue and beyond.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Blog Works Its Magic Rescuing Some Things From The Mists Of Time, But Not Everything Including Koolapop!

I began typing this as a comment response to David Lines' comments which were a very pleasant surprise indeed, but quickly realised it was going to be too large a response for the comments column; not to mention the need to get my elder son Will to install a widget to prevent the distortions which appear whenever a respondent includes an apostrophe (hint, hint Will!). Anyway, great to hear from you David after all these decades.

There was an element of serendipity in us being photographed with Rhona Clelland and Marion Scott at the Boroughmuir School dance as it was the photographer who set the group up-although I certainly held a candle for Marion and I suspect David was fond of Rhona-two very bonny girls so we clearly had excellent taste! I met Marion well over twenty years ago and I think she had three children at quite a young age.

David Lines; Rhona Clelland; Marion Scott; and Peter Hoffmann
Boroughmuir Dance circa 1969/1970
Similar to Rhona many local girls from Oxgangs attended the very well run Patricia Browne Dance and Ballet School at Churchill, my sister Anne included. Several of the girls went on to enjoy professional careers including Carol Ramage (4/3) in Portugal and also Audrey Smith (6/6 Oxgangs Street) who was my girlfriend at Hunters Tryst School and who I rather liked but lost contact with when she went to Firhill School and I went to Boroughmuir School. We met up years afterwards for a drink and went dancing, but by then she was engaged to an older chap. I always looked out for her on the New Year Specials where she was a member of the dance troupe. She had a younger brother Alan-the Smiths were a rather lovely family.

Audrey Smith, Hunters Tryst Primary School circa 1965/1966
I intend doing some future blogs on the very shops which David mentions-like him they are the most significant in my memory. Similar to David, but different because of staying at the end of Oxgangs Avenue, we mostly attended the other three main shopping locations-it was only during school lunches I went to the Crescent-as David say Cruickshanks' was excellent, particularly given its size-they sold Koolapop cola which seems to have vanished into the mists of time for ever; we also used to buy collectors' cards with a piece of chewing gum, including the American Civil War series.

I agree about the smell of paraffin-it was very addictive-it was from the dry-salter's/ironmongers that depending on the season of the year we used to get either Airfix balsa wood planes; fishing nets; or cinnamon sticks (for smoking!); Campbells' Newsagents was a regular, particularly on a Sunday-I can still picture old Mr Campbell who was a gruff, but pleasant character.

I think David arrived at Hunters Tryst around P3 or P4. I always had a tremendous respect for his athletics ability-he was the one individual who I always feared at the school sports in the sprint race, knowing I would always have to be at my very best if I hoped to win-most of the races between us were probably photo-finishes! Another lad in the class who I think was quite under-rated was Stephen Drysdale-I don't think he quite realised how good he really was, which was perhaps fortuitous! I met him thirty years ago playing tennis-he was a very nice guy.

Stephen Drysdale, Hunters Tryst School, 1967
As David says, changed days-I exchanged some communications this week with a lady in America just now who is a singer-she told me she used to stay at Capelaw Court (village in the sky)-small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Neeep!-Look Out It's Dougie Blades!


I'm meeting one of The Stair's great characters, Douglas Blades (6/6)  in Strathpeffer next Wednesday (Halloween) when he's up on business. I don't think we've met up since 1978-Douglas is likely to be a mine of information so if anyone's got any questions or information or memories they want me to ask Douglas about, please let me know.

Rissi's Fish and Chip Shop

Throughout the 1960s Ben Mackenzie's hairdresser shop was situated on the south-west corner at the back of the Oxgangs Broadway shops, whilst Rissi's Fish and Chip shop occupied the other corner on the south-east; in between there were no shops; instead these units were used as storage areas for the shops down below. There was a lit up red/orange sign in the window which glowed on a winter's evening attracting customers in like moths to the light.

The fish and chip shop was run by two incredibly striking sisters-I assume they were called Rissi and had a strong Italian heritage? I can't recall their first names, but often when I was in the queue I would hear a name being mentioned. The sisters were in their mid to late fifties and were immaculately turned out with their grey hair worn high up on their head, beehive style-at least one of them wore stylish spectacles. I don't think they were twins, but they may have been. A man also accompanied them in the shop which was very efficiently run.

We occasionally had a fish supper on a Saturday evening and it really was a treat. It was usually during the winter and it was a pleasure to enter the warmth of Rissi's, which was a small shop and join the queue. Venturing out afterwards into the cold was no hardship when you were carrying a large wrapped up hot  bundle containing four or five fish suppers.


The lowest price I recall paying for a supper was between two shillings and two and six (two shillings and sixpence)-between ten and twelve and a half pence in modern money-can you imagine getting eight fish suppers for a quid!



I would hurry home, running downhill all the way-descending the street-lit Oxgangs Street leaving a trail of frosted breath hanging in the night air, turn into Oxgangs Avenue at the junction and seconds later be back home to The Stair to join the family at 6/2 for high tea! 

Friday, 26 October 2012

It's Friday. It's Five O'Clock. And, It's...CRACKERJACK!



It's Friday. It's five o'clock. And it's...CRACKERJACK!

Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze

Friday wasn't Friday without watching Crackerjack! 

Because the series ran for the bulk of the school year from autumn until late spring, I guess the weekend proper started with our tea whilst watching the charismatic Leslie Crowther and the more pompous straight man Peter Glaze. It was a popular programme. The programme had a standard format, which was comforting in its way-it looked as if it were broadcast live, like many of the programmes from the era. It was filmed in front of a bunch of rowdy kids who all sat on the edge of their seats, almost wetting themselves, waiting for a member of the cast to purposely (Crowther) or by mistake (Glaze) utter the word Crackerjack so that they could scream back at the top of their voices, parrot fashion, Crack-er-jack! 

The programme featured competitive games for teams of children-I always fancied the Crackerjack pencils which were handed out as minor prizes; also there was a music and a comedy spot; and at the end of the show the cast performed a short comic play, which incorporated pop songs from the charts-it was a good vehicle for Leslie Crowther to display his many talents-charm, cheekiness and wit amongst others.

Crack-er-jack!-Aye we were easily entertained in the 1960s, but by clever and talented performers.



Thursday, 25 October 2012

Hawkers, Pedlars and Salesmen-Onion Johnny

I don't think any of us realised quite what an interesting and exotic place Oxgangs was half a century ago.

Another of the great characters who visited The Stair was Onion Johnny. For the younger followers of The Stair, Onion Johnnies went from door to door selling onions from their bikes. The onions hung, drooped over the bicycle's handle-bars and cross bar. Early on in the day it must have been difficult to ride the bicycle and often Onion Johnny would be seen wheeling his bicycle.


Whilst we thought he was unique to Oxgangs, there were Onion Johnnies all over the country. Looking back, I wonder how our Onion Johnny coordinated his work. Where were the onions stored in Edinburgh? How did he organise and replenish his stock throughout the day? Where did he eat and sleep? And, how on earth did he make it pay?

Having done a wee bit research, a clearer picture begins to emerge. We were actually very lucky to have our own Onion Johnny as by 1973 there were only one hundred and sixty Onion Johnnies left in the whole of the UK. They came from Breton in northern France, bringing across the distinctive red onions after the harvest in July. They rented local barns where the onions were stored, often not returning to France until January of the following year. So perhaps our Onion Johnny rented a barn from one of our local farmers at Dreghorn or Swanston? Often they slept on or were wrapped up in their onion-sacks in sheds, barns and derelict houses-tough going as the warmth of summer, faded to the cold and frosts of late autumn and winter. It must have been lonely too-these weren't the days of mobile phones. Their families must have worried about them and the onion sellers must have missed their children dreadfully, as they strived to earn money to support them so far from home.

Onion Johnny-yet another example of the colourful, admirable and gutsy Hawkers, Pedlars and Salesmen who served our community and added to the richness of life at The Stair!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sparky; Stereotyping and The Power of Marketing and Advertising!


This advert for the new Sparky comic appeared in my weekly copy of The Victor in January 1965.

There is an interesting mix of stereotyping-the assumption that it was only boys who read The Victor-or perhaps DC Thomson was aware that comics such as The Victor; The Hornet; The Bunty; or Judy were effectively ruling out half the potential market in one swoop and with the introduction of Sparky for Boys and Girls was a move away from previous approaches? That said, comics such as The Dandy and The Beano were probably for both boys and girls.



Although there were some good strips in the comic-the best was Peter's Pipes-a boy with magic pipes which could bring inanimate objects or characters in adverts to life-very handy whenever he was in a scrape; two good creations were Keyhole Kate and Hungry Horace who could eat for Scotland-by the way there weren't many Horaces in Oxgangs! The comic was initially targeted at readers younger than those who read The Dandy and The Beano. Even though I was nine years old when it came out, I must have been aware of this-The Sparky didn't quite capture my imagination-I much preferred comics with good story lines that ran from issue to issue.



At 6/2 we bought The Sparky only intermittently-particularly if there was a free gift with it-I of course got my Whizz-Bang! with the first issue-shades of me being captured by the power of marketing, advertising and of course salesmen with interesting suitcases!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Strange Case of the Man in the Velvet Coat


Check out this enjoyable play on BBC Radio 3 from Sunday evening-set in Edinburgh in 1873-available for five more days.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b016kdcg

Yet Another Interesting Pedlar



Did you ever come across a tiny wee tin of polish?

'Another salesman was a Pakistani gentleman who my brother Douglas irreverently called 'Sambo'. I have no idea what his real name was but I always admired him because it took guts to do what he did. He wore a traditional trench coat like Humphrey Bogart and carried a large brown suitcase stuffed with all manner of goods.' Liz Blades

As Liz says one of the many itinerant pedlars, hawkers and salesmen who visited The Stair each week was a small Pakistani or Indian travelling salesman. Liz Blades and I recall that the salesman was always dressed the same way, no matter whether it was summer or winter, he wore a fawn coloured raincoat/trench-coat. Mrs Anne Hoffmann seemed to recall that he wore a turban-I don't recall whether he did or not. If he did, the odds are that he was Indian. Perhaps when I see Douglas Blades towards the end of October I can ask him for his memory.As Liz said she admired him-it took a lot of chutzpah to go from household to household trying to peddle wares. He was always impeccably mannered with a ready smile on his face. For me he was like the rag n bone man because of his suitcase full of curiosities. Whereas Liz admired him, I admired the content of his suitcase-when he opened it to tempt his customers I of course was captivated; Mrs Anne Hoffmann was naturally less excited.

The only occasion I recall us getting something from him was a little tin of polish which he recommended to me for cleaning my bicycle. Ironically, I don't think we bought it-instead it was a free sample to thereafter tempt us to purchase the normal size tin. I believe the manufacturers produced these sample tins for that purpose.



I wonder what happened to him and his family over the years and decades? His was such an exotic appearance and visitation that he left an indelible mark on my memory.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Happiness



Most often the paper run was done alone. 

On the rare occasions when one had company, the run was a doddle. Sometimes my sister Anne Hoffmann Junior would accompany me on Saturday mornings. During the run I would send her up to a house to deliver a newspaper-when she came back, I'd vanished behind a tree or a wall, only to leap out and scare her. I'm afraid I haven't changed-d'Artagnan (16) and I (56) still do the same to each other!

The other person I occasionally paired up with was Fiona Blades-sometimes it was to learn a new run for which one might have to provide holiday cover for or simply to learn a new run that one was to take future responsibility for.Raymond Carver's poem, Happiness, below, captures some of the feelings of doing a paper round in company.

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Some Good News About d'Artagnan!



Alexander Dumas would have been pleased or as we say in our household, imitating Sir Alex Ferguson, Oh pwoud, vewy pwoud!-d'Artagnan has been awarded his first GB cap-he's been picked for the British Cadet Team at epee for a tournament in Copenhagen, Denmark in December-Well Done Tom!





Working at Bairds' Newsagents-Hong Kong Improving The Lives Of Paper Boys And Girls!

The 1960s were very much an age of change-a rapid movement from the austerity of the 1940s and 1950s to the pop movement of the 1960s with a change of attitudes, embracing a youth culture in clothes, music and technology. 

All the way from Hong Kong the advent of technology made a positive impact on the quality of life on our early morning paper runs. We could now work to music! In the late 1960s there was an explosion of cheap mini radios that came on to the market. For many of us of a certain age it was a must have purchase. Instead of solitary contemplative walks we could now enjoy the dubious charms of Tony Blackburn on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show.

I remember on one occasion Fiona Blades and me teasing an old postie who we were friendly with. I'd got a tiny, minuscule plastic toy radio out of a Lucky Bag-although the technology was fast moving, it hadn't quite reached that stage-however we tried to pass it off to him as being the real thing, whilst we had the mini radio switched on hidden in my paper bag. He held it up to his ear and declared it 'A marvellous thing!'

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Working At Bairds' Newsagents-The Darkness and The Light-The Darkness

From behind the keyboards it's too easy to romanticise the past. And it's ridiculously too easy to romanticise getting up early to do a morning paper run and reflect upon its character-building qualities. At the same time it's also too easy to overplay one's hand too.


Getting up early in the dark was rarely easy; even if you had gone to bed early the evening before. However, once you had got over the initial shock of the Big Ben repeater alarm going off and got a bit of tea and toast into the system, the travelling down to Bairds' Newsagents, Morningside Drive for our paper rounds on the 6.00 am Number 16 bus wasn't too bad in the winter months-the bus was cosy-the company of Liz, Fiona and Gail Blades and Christina and Maureen Hogg was good-and the craic between the conductor and the cleaners was funny. 


Once inside  the shop you were out of the cold, the wet and the dark. I wish I had a photograph of the old newsagent's shop. For half an hour it was quite Dickensian, like a small factory through the back of the shop where we folded the newspapers on the worktop in preparation for Pamela Baird arriving later to make up the paper runs. Being Morningside most of the newspapers were broadsheets. Liz and Fiona were like robots-the speed at which they folded the papers was uncanny-they were like lightning. I could never keep up with them. When they weren't about I enjoyed appearing fast to the novices. When we had finished, our hands were dark and dirty from the ink.

Pamela Baird
I liked Pamela and warmed to her; I also admired the way she assumed responsibility for the business after her father died. She wasn't an early morning person, so it was a struggle for her too; and running the business  must have placed a heavy burden placed upon her at that time-in the afternoon she could be fun. I wonder what became of her in the decades after the shop was sold?

She came from a different class to us; Fiona and I would give one another knowing smiles and glances when Pamela answered the telephone and put on a posh accent for the benefit of her customers-there would be exaggerated pauses as she said 'Mmmh, yaass....mmmh yaass...mmmh yass'. 

I liked working for Bairds, however, the thing which brassed me off slightly was that although we arrived at the shop half an hour earlier than the children from Morningside Pamela would make up their runs first-I always felt this was class discrimination-I assumed they were the children of friends and neighbours and who attended more local schools such as George Watsons School. However, Fiona was smart as a whip and actually memorised her run so she didn't have to hang around.


I did the Morningside Drive run which was one of the biggest runs at the shop-I had to collect a second bundle of papers from Pamela's brother, Stuart, who dropped it off on the garden wall at St Clair Terrace from his little Triumph Herald car-what was even more irritating was that he was always late! Although this was effectively a double paper round, Bairds paid well-at a pound a week it was double the going rate and our bus fares were paid for too. We also felt a certain ownership too-despite the size, length and time taken I regarded the Morningside Drive run as mine, (until I took over the City Hospital from Douglas Blades) and took a certain pride in ensuring the post got through no matter the obstacles. Was it Tuesdays or Fridays that were the worst because the Daily Telegraph had a magazine insert in it which considerably added to already heavy bags.


Saturday bags were also heavier, with a weekend magazine, but somehow, Saturdays were never a struggle.

Once you had set out from the warmth and company of the shop we cut lonely, solitary figures-the winter mornings were dark and often quite bitter-Morningside Drive was quiet-the graveyard was on the opposite side of the road for a stretch-lovely mansion and town houses by day were surprisingly spooky and shadowy in the dark, especially when the wind blew through the swaying, leafless branches of the big old trees that lined  Mornngside Drive.


Looking back it was certainly character building-athletics training in such conditions in later years I took in my stride, probably because I had been steeled and inured in those earlier years working for Bairds. Whilst I do see a certain value in the overall experience, it was not conducive to performing well at school and reaching one's potential-when d'Artangnan asked me a few years ago if he could do an early morning paper run I admired his chutzpah and work ethic, but I said no, because I wanted him to get as much sleep as possible to grow and to be fresh for school; and today I guess we're more aware of the health & safety dimension too.

More in later blogs on life at Bairds and observations and reflections-under The Light I also want to mention a poem Happiness by Raymond Carver.


Friday, 19 October 2012

The Key To The 1960s?

Jeanette Winterson writes in her latest book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal about never having a key to the front door and being regularly locked out of her home.


For very different reasons, throughout our childhood at 6/2 The Stair a set of keys remained in the front door. With three children in the house coming and going throughout the day it saved Mrs Anne Hoffmann from having to get up every ten minutes or so to let children back in to the house.

The Stair was busy with forty adults and children living there; friends came and went; and a range of Hawkers, Pedlars and Salesmen arrived throughout the day to sell their wares and services.That the keys were never removed or stolen and that there was never a break-in to the house says much about the decade and the culture of the community at that time.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Books No 1-'Dreams Of A Life In The Greenwood'

Were any children in The Stair keen readers of books?

Gavin Swanson was the most studious child in The Stair so I suspect he may have been. Certainly, as previously mentioned Norman Stewart had a lovely collection of Rupert Annuals and being a solitary child perhaps felt the need to fall back on books. Many of the children were keen readers of comics. Comics are a great basis for developing the sensibility and habit of reading so no doubt some of the twenty four children will have become ardent readers.

We had a decent small adult library of books at 6/2 because Mrs Anne Hoffmann read every day of life. I picked up the same habit from around the age of sixteen. Before then like many of the more active kids I preferred to be out and about.

Developing a reading habit or sensibility is similar to any other pursuit or mode of life-the first stage is some thing or event that creates the initial spark to fire an interest or passion-thereafter one needs access, resources and support to participate and develop which fosters and encourages-people become motivated and before one knows it, it's becomes an integral part of one's lifestyle-thereafter the whole process is ongoing and cyclical. Reading is such a wonderful activity and transports one to another world.

Reader at Morningside being transported to another world-this time to
 Treasure Island-RLS would have been pleased! 
(Peter Hoffmann  13/10/2012)

From a practical perspective it's the primary influences-the home, school, peers and friends as well as having the access, time and space to read too. Today Oxgangs has an excellent library; back in the 1960s and as mentioned by Ruth Blades, we mainly got our books from the Edinburgh Corporation mobile library. 


Mobile Library, 1963 (Robin Hill)
notice the sign for Children's Books at the back of the van where we used to browse 

Photograph by John Campbell Harper

The library was sited at the corner of Oxgangs Terrace. We read more in the second half of the year and on dark late autumn or winter evenings it was always a nice break to venture down to the mobile library and be transported to another world; the children's books were kept at the rear of the van and my favourites were always the Folk Tales or Fairy Tales of other lands-in particular Rumpelstilskin or The Tinder Box.


'Cosy' (Peter Hoffmann, 2006)

There were weather influences too-after morning papers or milk deliveries I enjoyed sitting on the inside window ledge of my bedroom on miserable Saturday mornings reading my comics, drinking some Koolapop cola and eating some Paris Buns from the bakers.


There are three books from my childhood at The Stair which I recall with great affection. The first of these is Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. It was the Regent Classics version, although Dean & Son produced the same story format, but without the nice black and white illustrations inside. It's a lovely read, with thirty seven self contained stories, beautifully written and which would inspire any child to run away to enjoy life in the greenwood! It seems a shame the author isn't acknowledged. Will and Tom loved it too-even reading it with them a decade or so ago I appreciated it. If you've got children or grandchildren go on to eBay and buy a copy for them-or even yourself-you won't regret it!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Buses Good, Bad and Mysterious (2)-The Number 27

Of the buses that serviced Oxgangs, perhaps the loveliest route was the Number 27. It was always worth sitting upstairs to take in the views, despite the smoke!


The Number 27 wound its way down Craiglockhart, past Meggetland and the Union Canal, and on through the stone built houses at Polwarth; and then on through Tollcross to George IV Bridge and down The Mound with its majestic view over Princes Street and beyond to the Forth and the Highlands to the north; and then down Dundas Street and along Inverleith Row and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Gardens were as far as we ever went for very occasional picnics. The bus of course went further to Silverknowes-were any members of The Stair adventurous enough to have travelled that far for a family outing to the sea?


I was on the Number 27 regularly for my first two years at Boroughmuir School where I was at the Junior School which was located at West Bryson Road; although on occasions we might have to walk as a class snake like to the main school at Viewforth for science lessons.

The Number 27 always felt a safe bus to be on. Mike Scott of The Waterboys speaks eloquently of buses-I recall him saying what a lovely bus the Number 23 was-essentially it was a sister bus to the Number 27, but instead of taking in the working class area of Oxgangs, it finished its terminus at Balcarres Street, Morningside. Scott mentions the bus in the song Edinburgh Castle.

I jumped on a bus 
a trusty number 23

to the Royal Botanical Gardens

where a ghost was calling me

I saw a brace of weeping willows,

a burnt and withered land

I saw a man and a little boy
holding hands


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Pedlars, Hawkers and Salesmen-Carrying Coals to Newcastle?

Throughout the 1960s the source of heating and hot water in each house in The Stair was the small open fire in the sitting room. It was at the fireplace that we would dry our sodden socks n wellies after playing out in the snow or from getting wet jumping the burn. On late autumn tea times and cold winter nights we would gather around the fire. Many's the tea time when my grandfather dropped by most week days for a cuppa and to slip us some pocket money or on Tuesdays a box of fruit and veg.

There was more than one coal-man who came to The Stair. The Hoffmanns' coal-man was Veitch. He used to come to the house each Friday lunchtime. On many occasions it would be me who hosted the visit. It was either Alex Veitch and/or the second man on the lorry, who may have been his brother-certainly there has been a Veitch Brothers Transport business at Loanhead for many years. I assume they got their coal from Monktonhall Colliery? In the quieter summer months I wonder if they did other types of transport to maintain an income?




I always found the 'coal-man' gruff and unrecognisable under their sooty faces-although one would have thought that after years of delivery there would be a relationship, instead it was only ever a transaction for me. We used to get a bag of coal and a bag of something called 'chirles'-although I haven't been able to track that word down-basically it was very small pieces of coal-I suspect it was cheaper, and it was also good for getting the fire going, before larger lumps were put on the glowing fire later.


The Coalman Mike Jones

I wouldn't have recognised him, but Mrs Anne Hoffmann knew and liked Alex Veitch. She said he used to scrub up well when she saw him at the dancing at The Plaza at Morningside. She also spoke of his kindness too. On occasions when we had run out of money and couldn't buy coal in the winter months he would have a look at the empty coal bunker and put in a free bag of coal.

Plaza, Morningside Road, Edinburgh

In later years I may even have come across him when I worked in Midlothian where the Council used to help out the Loanhead Gala Day.

Monday, 15 October 2012

First and Last Times

Alan Clark in his wonderful Diaries mentions the importance of first and last times and recognising,  celebrating and paying salute to the occasion-going out with style.

The rather wonderful Alan Clark!

That's fine of course if you know it's actually going to be the last time-more often than not I suspect one is unaware that it is actually the last time or that one is so in the moment there is an inability to step back from the experience and recognise it as such. It's not necessarily something which only adults sense-some young people and a few children have an awareness too.

As a kid, like most of the other boys at Oxgangs, football was my sport-the beautiful game-I loved my games of football and played endlessly, giving every match my all. A lot of the time I played up in the back field-often three games of an evening-with the big boys; then the bigger boys; and then with boys my own age.

At six o'clock there was the big match which mainly featured boys who were around four or five years older than me. For whatever reason I seemed to be the only boy of my age who played in these matches. As mentioned in an earlier blog Andy Allan (Captain Fantastic) picked one team whilst a guy named Richard Kennedy? (Merc?) captained the other team.

Eric Carruthers Signing For Hearts

Some good players featured in these games at Oxgangs who thereafter went on to play professionally for the likes of Hearts including Eric Carruthers. However, one player was metaphorically if not literally head and shoulders above the rest-he was a class apart. His name was 'Titch' Macmillan-he was brilliant-as skilful as Messi-I loved watching that guy on the ball-he was an absolute artist, poetry in motion. His younger brother, Rab Macmillan, who was a couple of years older than me, wasn't that far behind 'Titch'.

Messi, Barcelona FC
'Titch' didn't make it to the same high level as Eric-was it because they thought him too small?-although I think he may have gone on to play in Australia at a semi-professional level. Some people thought that he was perhaps too greedy on the ball-there's a happy balance between being an individualist and doing the right thing by the team. 'Titch' was the perfect size for today's Barcelona team. Physically he was a doppelganger for Messi in size, skill and appearance.

'Don't Know How The Trees Survived!'
Back Field Oxgangs Road North
(Peter Hoffmann)

When I played with these older boys it always lifted my game-I loved the challenge of playing with them and trying to take the ball past their defence or to show some vision with a nicely weighted pass. Playing with Andy as my captain facilitated this approach and gave me the confidence to try to do these things and express myself. He complimented me when it worked and if on occasions it didn't quite come off, he didn't criticise me. It was the carrot rather than the stick approach to management-admirable and mature given that Andy would have been around sixteen years old.

At the age of twelve I went away to Boroughmuir Secondary School where I played rugby for the school, which was the tradition-at that time they didn't play football-inverted snobbery? Apart from occasionally playing for Michael Hanlon's teams in their matches against a Joe Rendall Select or a Kenny Taylor Select I gave up football altogether. I only resumed playing again in my forties and fifties with Will and Tom and colleagues at work. Looking back I should have stuck with the footie.

Even when I was playing in these games in the back field and getting so much pleasure from the matches and being in the moment, I would occasionally pause and try to take the whole scenario in, reflecting:

This is wonderful, but one day I'll play my last game here and worryingly, will I recognise and appreciate the moment?