Hi Liz-nice to hear from you once again-it is a rather lovely, if poignant thought about Helen-she would have been perfectly suited to Oz, not only because of the sun, but because she was such a hard worker and such an engaging and outgoing personality-she would have positively thrived there!
It was at Helen's funeral that many of us last met up. I note from my diary of Tuesday, 24 October, 1978... We all went to Helen Blades' funeral service at Charlotte Chapel and after the burial we went to Liz's house for a tea. Very sad circumstances, but it was lovely to see Douglas and all the girls again, reminding me of many happy old times...
|Helen Blades cleaning The Stair-An appropriate photo given she rarely stopped working-but still smiling!|
(Photograph by Douglas Blades)
I met Douglas for an hour earlier this evening (he looks very well you will be glad to hear!) and although we were flitting around a vast number of topics (goodness knows what the waitress thought, especially my Robert Bond, (2/8) story!), his and my memories of Charles and Ken coincide. It is very sad for all involved because both the fathers and children were losers, not to mention the wives too.
Anne Hoffmann is a fount of stories and was very friendly and terribly fond of Helen; you're right, I think she and Helen were a mutual support group. Whilst, she had an ambivalent relationship with Charles, partly because he wasn't pleased when Anne had to intervene and support Helen on one difficult occasion, she did like Charles. They used to sit beside each other on the number 4 bus in the morning travelling to work.
I had forgotten about Lady Blades' car, but I now have a vague memory of it-what an extraordinary juxtaposition! I wonder if I offered to look after it for a couple of bob to prevent the wheels being removed! There would certainly have been no trouble parking it as cars were as scarce as hens' teeth!
When Ken was drinking it really was a nightmare-quite frightening for a child-there are endless tales! Unfortunately, he seemed to take against me and I often took the brunt of it-I've still got the mental scars if not the physical ones!
Ironically, whilst his behaviour was understandable when he was on the bottle, what is less understandable is how he behaved when he was sober. For much of the time, his was a brooding, grumpy, disputatious and menacing presence. He took no pleasure or interest in having two sons, but did have a warmer relationship with my sister Anne. That said, I loved to sit and listen to him and my mother, Anne Hoffmann, converse over our Sunday breakfast of tea and rolls-their conversation was of a really high quality punctuated with many laughs!
He did battle his alcoholism hard by attending AA at The Rooms at Cockburn Street for years and years. I have occasionally tried to understand Ken through vividly re-imagining his upbringing (a phenomenological approach?) at 14 Dean Park Street, Stockbridge in the late 1920s and 1930s and with the type of parents that he had.
That gives me certain clues, in that he was certainly a child of his times; but whilst it partly explains who he was, ultimately, if you are an intelligent and reflective individual, it is probably not enough of an excuse. As a husband and father he failed to get to grips to try to overcome particular personality traits and weaknesses. And, whilst Dr Spock manuals on rearing children weren't exactly dotted around, I don't think he ever gave his demeanour and behaviour much thought-for example I don't recall receiving any real praise from him-it was the stick rather than the carrot!
|A Rare Outing to Edinburgh Zoo|
Iain; Ken; Anne; and Peter Hoffmann (circa 1964)
Although I bore the brunt of his wrath I have only ever felt warmly toward him after he left home. I intend to do some future blogs on the topic of foreign letters-(it was you and Fifi! who introduced me to a New York pen pal!)-I am lucky to have a dozen or so letters from Ken from throughout the world from 1971 to around 1980-I have not looked at them for years but when I did a decade ago I was completely, but pleasantly surprised to see he did actually care for me, and in his way tried looking after me from afar, Magwitch style, with some well meaning advice.
And, because he was so keen on sport I think it came as a pleasant surprise to him that I had done something-there is a 1976 telegram addressed to the Olympic Village, Montreal-he heard of my selection on the BBC World Service whilst on board a ship off the coast of South Africa; also, I was incredibly surprised to see he had watched an 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games semi-final whilst in a pub in Oz!
A last and very late memory of him from just before he died over twenty years ago-we were down at Meggetland-Iain and me, plus his son Roddy (from his second marriage)-he was treating the three of us to a Boroughmuir Rugby jersey-we had to hang around for quarter of an hour before they handed them out to us-despite his poor health the four of us passed the time by throwing and passing a rugby ball to one another-it was great fun with much laughter and leg pulling-extraordinarily it was something we had never done as children-I think he knew in that moment what he had missed-for me it's an abiding memory and drew a veil over much that had gone before.
Apart from his Boroughmuir tie, the jersey is all I inherited from him-it's worn so well that my son, Will wears it today. Whilst it may be a perverse observation I sometimes reflect on the fantastic legacy which he left me, for when I had two sons of my own, I knew exactly how I wanted to bring them up and how I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible before they would come to fly the nest!
ps Check out a rather lovely track, My Old Man by Steve Goodman!
Comment From Liz Blades: Peter, thank you for your extended comments. I was amazed to read that you all came back to my house after mummy's funeral. At first I didn't even recall that I did that, and I'm sorry that I do not remember you being there. The mind does strange things when you are under stress.
I'm afraid mummy hated that photo of her cleaning the stair. She was embarrassed to be photographed in those particular circumstances. She would be appalled to know that it is now on the world wide web for all and sundry to view! But you can see that grin on her face all the same :)
Love the photo of you and Douglas and glad to hear it was a happy reunion.
It occurred to me that Charles and Ken grew up almost within a stone's throw of one another. I wonder if they ever encountered one another before Oxgangs? Charles grew up in India Street just around the corner from Stockbridge. Liz Blades
Response: Sorry about that Liz-it would be nice to access a better photo of Helen. I had forgotten too-I have very detailed diaries going back over forty years ago, although I have not really referred to them for the blog. Douglas too had forgotten we were at the funeral. After seeing your interesting comments last night I took the 1978 diary off the bookshelf-there is more in there. I was supposed to be in Dundee that morning for something important, but turned the car back at the Maybury Roundabout! Something I discovered fairly recently from Anne Hoffmann was that my Nana Hoffmann was the housekeeper for Lord Aitchison who was a contemporary to Lord Blades-I very much like the paintings by his artist son the late Craigie Aitchison-I enjoyed an exhibition at a recent Edinburgh Festival. I was really quite excited about meeting Douglas yesterday-although I mixed with a wide variety of the kids I always really liked and looked up to Douglas-not just because he was the oldest child at The Stair, but because he was such an interesting character-whether with his collection of records; his call-sign; his interest in transport; and the way he worked very hard-not to say he was a saint of course, because when I needed it he very occasionally told me off too! NEEEP! Peter Hoffmann