'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

Monday, 31 December 2012

Comment From Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Yes I always thought Iain was a wee bit crazy but he did make me laugh. I remember dreeping off the roof one day and really winding myself and I ran off to the house and Brian and Iain came to the door to ask my mum if I was ok. Enjoy your new year celebrations having a quiet time down here I have just returned from Zanzibar so am not finding all this rain very amusing on Dreeping-Ruth Kaye (Blades) and Peter Hoffmann

Dreeping-Ruth Kaye (Blades) and Peter Hoffmann

Hello Peter
I cannot remember if you mentioned about the dreeping off the shed roof at the back we used to do that often. The stair fashion also fascinated me everyone was very into the 70's look I remember fiona and Liz with their loons. My mother always used to dress the 3 youngest in the same outfits all the time. Bu I guess it was easy for her. She always had our play clothes laid out on our beds when we came back from school. I had forgotten your mother was always a natty dresser and very colourful I do not think I ever saw her in trousers whereas my mum wore trousers all the time. I know your mum loved sewing and made a lots of dolls clothes I am sure she could have made a very successful business out of it
Kind regards

Excellent-that one passed me by-I used the term with d'Artagnan not so long ago when he was up in the attic and he just gave me this blank look...duh!...Dreeping-what's that? Yes, it was very popular-we sometimes had to coax one or two people down who would take fricht and end up in the hanging position for five minutes so good was their power to weight ratio! 

I don't remember Mrs Anne Hoffmann making doll's clothes-I'm likely to catch up with her and Anne Junior on Saturday when I'm down in Edinburgh for the weekend with d'Artagnan-she certainly was brilliant at making her own clothes-if we came in from school or out playing and cloth covered with patterns and pins encompassed the sitting room floor we made a quick body swerve out of the house as we knew from experience that the language might get rather colourful and choice if things didn't always go to plan! We could have done with your creative thinking back then Ruth-it would have been good pin money-sorry, me and my pins, uh, puns again!

ps Iain and his wife are up staying with us over New Year-he was saying you were always his favourite and how he enjoyed chatting with you coming back from Firhill School-he said you were always great fun!

Response To Ruth Kaye (Blades) From Peter Hoffmann

Ruth-ta-I like the Facebook suggestion-I hadn't considered that angle-will discuss with d'Artagnan!

Recent Comment Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Thanks Peter it has been a great blog maybe some others are not so tuned into using the Internet. As you say others may stumble across it at a later date and I know that some of my old Edinburgh pals enjoyed the read. You could always set it up with its own Facebook page and others from Oxgangs could comment. Makes me think I must try to make it up to Edinburgh in 2013 for a wee visit to The Stair. on I May As Well Try And Catch The Wind-Signing Off And Final Thoughts From The Stair Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Recent Comments From Liz Blades and Neil Black

Peter, you have done a marvellous job and some of the research was most impressive. I wouldn't chide yourself for what might have been. As my daughter Victoria would say 'it was what it was'. It will also likely stand for some time, perhaps to be discovered latterly by other former residents. It was hard to advertise I expect, except by word of mouth so perhaps there were many who did not even know of its existence. But I think you might also find that, for many former residents, it was not such a happy place. You seem to have been more fortunate in some respects. For example the fact that Ken Hoffman was away for long periods allowed your household some respite which ours did not enjoy. The other was your extended family, grandparents etc., who all had a supporting and nurturing role. It seems to me that some former residents were just not interested in going back there. There was nothing that you could do about that. Yes of course it was a PH-centric blog, but that was also part on of its charm. I learned things about Oxgangs, you and others, that I did not know. 

I think its interesting too that some of us could not wait to distance ourselves from the stair. Ruth and I did that geographically which I think is quite telling. Others have distanced themselves in other ways and perhaps had little interest in revisiting. I know that some members of my family do not remember the stair with the fondness that you clearly do. It was likely those different experiences more than any other that created a distance and that lack of engagement with the blog.

There is also the aspect of time. It may take some time for word to reach all former residents, the forty-one. You might find it springs to life again at some point!

Happy New Year and all the best with whatever ventures await you in 2013.

Monday, December 31, 2012
 DeleteHelp-The Forty One! Liz Blades

Peter. So gutted that The Stair is coming to an end it seems. I have been following and reading avidly since spotting the blog in the summer. Being slightly younger than yourself and staying just outside Oxgangs - in Swan Spring Avenue - I can relate to a lot of your tales, and those I can't serve to educate and enlighten me to how things were only a few years before me. I've loved the nostalgia as well as the education that your blog has given. Maybe you'd consider keeping it going? Maybe a weekly rather than daily entry? Failing that I hope that you would consider having it published as it is? You have a great way with words and a vast memory too. I know it would be a success! If this is truely the final entry to your journal then may I take this oppertunity to thank you for your efforts and entertaining read these past few months. Best wishes, Neil Black on Recent Comments

Recent Comment From Liz Blades

Hi Peter, I think I remember those winters and the sledding more so than the summer. Maybe because the snow made things seem pristine, new, and fresh. It made things sparkle - a pleasant change from the dull concrete jungle that was Oxgangs. I remember the treacherous ice slides on the pavements and the hard packed snow on the field. It was exhilarating flying down the hill on a sled. I remember using a light low sled, basically a flat 'bed' to lie or sit on with 2 short wooden runners attached. I don't think this was the sled Mr Hogg made, which I don't remember, but thinking back it seemed similarly home-made. Anyway I was about 9 or 10 yrs and I wanted to emulate the older lads who ran with the sled and launched themselves to lie on it in motion. I unfortunately allowed the rope to trail under the sled as I ran forwards and trod on it just as I launched myself. Of course the sled stopped sharply as I continued going! As you said the hard packed snow was iron hard and my face on The Field In Winter Liz Blades

I May As Well Try And Catch The Wind-Signing Off And Final Thoughts From The Stair

This blog feels rather like the last page of the Oor Wullie annuals when he signs off-Wee Wullie sitting on his bucket contemplating, philosophically on the Auld Year as it draws to a close and then cheerily wishing all his readers all the best for the New Year ahead.

Serendipity, perhaps, but  it feels appropriate to be signing off from the blog on Auld Year's Night allowing the followers and me too, to move on to pastures new. There's no handing over of the torch however-it's just occurred to me that an interesting twist on such blogs would be if the role of 'editor' passed on Olympic Torch like to others!

On a recent response to Ruth Kaye (Blades)-the most ardent supporter of the blog, we mentioned that it had been slightly disappointing not to have received more feedback from those still alive of the 'original cast of forty one'; however, including my responses to comments there's actually approximately 10,000 words. Because they disappeared off the side bar, for the sake of completion I will pull them all together and post them as a Comments blog later in the week.

The blog will continue to exist on the net for any current readers to revisit or for those who may stumble upon its existence by happen-stance in future-it may even become a useful resource for children doing a project on life at The Stairs half a century ago.

I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the trouble to make contributions since I started the blog in the summer-either through the Comments button or who I have spoken to. In particular I'd like to mention Ruth Kaye (Blades), Liz Blades and Iain Hoffmann. There's nothing like a comment, a reaction or a response winging its way through the ether to raise the author's spirits!

I will probably do a blog sometime in the New Year giving a succinct update on Where Are They Now-I'm short on material on the likes of The Duffys; The Smiths; The Hoggs; Norman Stewart and Alison Blades.

I've tried to paint a picture or to give a flavour of what life was like at an atypical Stair in the years between 1958 and 1972, but to quote Donovan's 1965 hit I may as well have tried to Catch The Wind. I haven't quite managed to capture life there-perhaps because I haven't deployed a more thoughtful, intellectual, methodical or chronological approach to it. Instead I've largely gone on instinct-I've tried to present or tell the story through little vignettes that I trusted would be local, but also have some universal appeal too. And yet, I've not really captured what day to day life was really like for the sixteen adults and the twenty five children who lived at 6 Oxgangs Avenue over these fourteen years or so. Indeed, I haven't even captured the sights, the sounds and the smells of the days-I've not even mentioned the smell of chips wafting down the landings as Mrs Hilda Hanlon cooked dinner for Mr Charlie Hanlon and her darling boys Michael, Boo-Boo, Colin and Alan-never mind an atypical day-A Life in the Day of The Stair.

Also I haven't managed to convey the enormous changes that subtly and then more quickly impacted upon us all, because the decade of the 1960s produced perhaps the biggest changes socially, culturally and technologically of any decade-certainly if I'd continued into 2013 I would have written about the likes of Neil Armstrong and the moon landings which feature prominently in old diaries. There are some excellent academic books out there including two works that I have at home by Dominic Sandbrook, but perhaps even to my surprise I've avoided even referring to them opting to take a more folksy approach and to try to see things from the eyes of a boy and a youth-thus the absence of areas such as politics which dominate my day to day interest now. I rarely referred to my journals until quite late on which is a mistake-they are thorough, honest, timeous and immediate snapshots.

It's been an interesting experience writing day in and day out-it's given me an insight into what life is like for some journalists. On many occasions I've thought, What the hell are you doing Peter and on other fleeting occasions I've thought, Yes, this is worthwhile-it's recording times past before particular experiences vanish and disappear for ever. Also hearing from the likes of David Lines, Douglas Blades, Ruth Kaye (Blades) and Liz Blades alone has made it worthwhile.

I would have liked to have heard from others and the wealth of experiences that they could have brought to the table because too much of the story was me, me, me-I had subconsciously hoped for a dialogue-a conversation and the blog would have been so much better if it had consisted of more input from those other residents at The Stair-more of their story, their adventures-how they saw, viewed and interpreted life at The Stair-but of course it's still not too late for anyone to add future comments if the whim takes them, for as long as the blog exists on the net, others can continue to add their story too.

When I started the blog around two hundred episodes ago I said that I was taking more of an instinctive rather than an intellectual approach. It's thus begun and ended in the same way. Because of the approach taken there's no objective idea or measure as to whether it's been a success or a failure-in management speak no SMART objectives were set so there are no performance indicators. There's a part of me that perhaps hoped it might take wings and fly, but without knowing how and to where.

I feel that where the blog did take off to give a much more interesting take on The Stair is some of the on-line discussions and dialogue that I've enjoyed with Liz Blades who lives today in Melbourne, Australia. These gave some insights into some of the darker aspects of life back then as well as taking the conversation into unexpected detours adding in new information and re-awakening seemingly lost or forgotten memories. If there had been many more of these dialogues then the blog would have improved immeasurably, because people could have sparked off one another.

Some interesting themes have surfaced-The Elephant in the Room whereby two of the eight families had alcoholics as the head of the household; life through a child's eyes rather than an adult's; slips of memory; freedom and autonomy; hard work; fun; a general malaise of the importance of promoting a positive academic sensibility; a good, healthy place to live compared to the pre-war generations; values; lifestyle; interesting personalities and interesting families; entrepreneurship; relationships giving way to transactions; a time of stability and yet paradoxically a period of great change; transition; the celebration of the seasons; friendship and companionship; stable employment; and the advancement in technology  We were lucky too whether at a micro level enjoying the golden age of comics to the macro because we enjoyed and benefited from everything that Bevan instigated in 1947 in terms of new housing, new schools and the NHS. And from a personal angle it's given me a better insight into my father-many colourful tales of his adventures which will never see the light of day!

Finally to all those individuals who lived at The Stair-grew up, grew old and to those who have long since died from those days-many of them very happy indeed could I say thank you for the years at The Stair. When I think of these times it is with great affection for all my fellow travellers and whilst not all of the experiences were good they influenced the people we became and continue to be.

Could I apologise if I've inadvertently upset either you or those close to you-I've undoubtedly been clumsy or somewhat thoughtless on occasion.

Once again a big thank you too, to all the contributors to the blog and also all those anonymous followers too-ironically over the past few days the blog's been getting 250 hits or so a day!

I will visit the blog regularly in case anyone leaves any comments in future-I would be delighted to hear from anyone; indeed, because it still has the potential to be a live forum, anyone can still add their own comments, their stories and their tales of life at The Stair as they see fit or when the motivation takes them. And although it's no longer alive, yet it isn't dead either-and of course those readers who have followed the blog since it started will know that I enjoy these little quirks and paradoxes, not to mention the titles-was Adolf Hitler Kept Me Out Of... either the best or the worst of such examples!

Take care; keep busy; look after your health; and good luck in all your adventures-one of mine may be to edit the 90,000 words of The Stair!

Peter Hoffmann
Twitter: @thehoffster
Mobile: 07799 673290
'd'Artagnan' (Tom Hoffmann) is on Facebook and would communicate any messages to me too.

ps Look out for my Edinburgh coffee and cakes invites!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Recent Comments

I always remember the summer holidays being sunny and warm although I am sure that cannot be true it's obviously the rose tinted glasses. Like you I remember disappearing for the day with your parents having no idea where you were or how to get hold of you and we would then reappear at tea time Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Very true Ruth-remarkable looking back compared to our own children and I suppose, on balance, the wonderful invention of mobiles! Peter Hoffmann

The Field In Winter

I've alluded to The Field on several occasions over the months. It served all the kids at The Stair well as a playground over the four seasons of the year. And although we at the four Stairs at 2, 4, 6 and 8 Oxgangs Avenue saw it as our personal fiefdom it actually also represented a neutral point in the community which drew in others from Oxgangs Street and also across Oxgangs Road North including teenagers from Oxgangs Farm Drive. In the main this was to play football-occasionally someone would fly a kite-and for one summer we actually played some cricket! This was courtesy of Norman Stewart who had received the cricket set from his grandparents for a birthday. It was actually good fun. For Norman it was a game in which he could play and compete on a level playing ground so to speak as he didn't play much football.

These were all mainly boys orientated, but the one game which was gender neutral and all the better for it was the games of rounders that both girls and boys participated in. Rounders were great fun and normally no team was in for too long which kept the interest going.

From around 1966 and onwards the annual bonfires that used to be held in the wee field directly out the back of The Stair were deemed by the Fire Brigade and Edinburgh Corporation as being far too close to us all-as it indeed was-certainly The Blades, The Hoggs and The Hoffmanns didn't need a fire on bonfire night such was the heat that emanated toward The Stair. At least The Swansons, The Stewarts and The Smiths were on the wrong-or should that be the right side of the bonfire. The Duffys and The Hanlons were a bit safer on the top landing.

Where the field really came alive however was when the snows of winter came. It was then that The Field truly came into its own. The ground may have been frozen hard as iron and to all extents dead, but it was alive with children and young people both girls and boys. What a sight it was to behold-a carpet of white adorned with well wrapped up stick like figures-some quite colourful, but more likely inside the dark blue nylon anoraks that many of us wore at that time-starkly contrasted against the landscape-black on white, the scenario was straight out of a Lowrie painting. And then when dusk came and the night fell and the street-lights on Oxgangs Road North slowly began to flicker on and the dancing headlamps of the cars and buses carrying the workers home, watchers by the threshold could catch happy flitting figures dancing across the white landscape of The Field.

Dozens of sledges of different sizes would come down the hill. The more adventurous ones had polished up the runners so that the sledge flew-others were much more apprehensive and went down with their feet hanging over either side. The more daring would aim to both extend the length of the run by skilfully manoeuvring through the gap in the fence and fly into the drying green-some were even full hardy enough to fly over the steps too coming down to rest adjacent our back garden at 6/2!

As mentioned on a profile of Douglas Blades the Blades family enjoyed using the big sledge that Mr George Hogg had built; and again as mentioned Norman Stewart had the classiest sledge in the district The Flying Dutchman.

Gavin and Heather had sledges but were quite conservative on the slope. The Ramage twins, Les and Derek from 4/3 had nice light sledges, I don't recall The Hanlons having sledges. The Hoffmanns didn't have sledges, although Iain may have used an old beer tray that Mr Ken Hoffmann possibly brought home from a pub-essentially we never owned a sledge so we became boarders instead-not always popular with many sledgers because we would await for a passing sledge and then try to run alongside and dive on board it-those individuals who were lying on their stomach on the sledge were particularly prone to being dived upon or sat upon. Of course we were not always successful and ended up missing the sledge or falling off or indeed bringing the owner off too-still great fun ending up rolling in the snow!

We'd play outside for hours until we became too cold, too wet or we were called in and then we'd head for home chittering as our mothers pulled off our wet clothes that had stuck to our backs and we'd hop around as we encouraged others to pull off our Wellington boots. The drying cupboard in the sitting room would be chock-full of clothes and our Wellington boots would be lined up like soldiers in front of the coal fire to dry out

Just before coming in we'd have made sure we'd taken part in one of the other fun rituals of playing at The Field-this was throwing snowballs at the slow moving vehicles going up the gauntlet of Oxgangs Road North-we mainly chose the buses as they were large slow moving targets-as many as a dozen of us would line up and at a given call an array of snowballs would be fired at the windows-it must have pissed the passengers off no end-it was like medieval warfare in the dark midwinter as many as twenty snowballs flew through the air and bombarded and thudded against the windows of the bus.

Once home and inside and later into the evening I would occasionally glance out from our living room window and look out to The Field-it had become quieter-numbers had dwindled as children made their weary way home, until there might be only a solitary figure left, sledging down-hill-of a sudden the last sledge run would take place and The Field became eerily silent.

Today The Field remains in winter, but winter throughout the spring, summer and autumn seasons of the year too-the only figures there are the trees which have been planted and of course the ghosts of The Hanlons; The Duffys; The Blades'; The Hoggs; Norman Stewart; The Swansons; and The Hoffmanns and all the hundreds of other children from all those decades ago. I wonder what child was the very last sledger?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

School Summer Holidays

Many books which recall childhood and youth remember the school holidays as a time filled with sunshine-literally and metaphorically-I'm no different. It was always a delicious moment awakening on the first few days knowing that I didn't need to attend school.

For many of us at The Stair-those of us in our teens it didn't mean a long lie in bed as we would always have a job on the go, either delivering milk or newspapers-usually the latter. However, out-with our paper runs and Sundays when we visited our grandparents at Portobello, there was no structure to each day. Games of football would occur spontaneously, but mainly in the early evening. During the day we’d go jumping the burn, following the burn from the lower part of Redford, through Colinton Mains, Firhill and on to Braid Burn Valley.

Small villages would appear at the back field when the girls draped blankets on the fence to form tents. Sometimes families packed a picnic and some blankets and headed to Braid Burn Valley for an outing. We’d go far into the Valley toward the grass steps-an outing wasn't an outing without the children rolling over and over down steps from the top to the bottom. The picnic wouldn't include anything more than a sandwich.

As we got a little older there were other adventures to be sought out-Happy Valley at Craiglockhart; the Craiglockhart Hills and the Pentland Hills too. Once deep into the Pentlands apart from the occasional plane overhead, we had entered a different kingdom-it was a world where the air was fresh, light zephyrs blew through the long grass-sheep grazed in parts-birds flitted through the air-Stevenson wrote of the whoop of the curlews and they continue there to this day. On a visit to Swanston last autumn I ventured there for old times' sake and watched them float on the breeze.

The Craiglockhart Hills are a delightful small set of hills just a fifteen minute walk from Oxgangs across the Colinton Mains Park sports fields and the burn. As with the Pentlands we only visited these hills during the summer months-although in later decades Alison and I used to visit the Merchants Golf Course when the winter snows were there-indeed she was the most exuberant sledger there when around seven months pregnant with Atticus much to her sister's and my concern!

And as with the Pentlands I always felt a certain sense of apprehension and excitement when I ventured to The Craigies, because they always felt both familiar and unfamiliar-this was because we would only visit them once or twice each summer. Part of the excitement of the Craiglockhart Hills was that we (always visited as a group) might bump into other older, bigger boys who could be menacing and second the grounds men who looked after the Merchants Golf Course who often spotted us when they were out on their tractors. They would chase us away-this gave us a real frisson of excitement. On the blind par three third hole we'd sprint on to the green, place a golfer's ball in the cup as if they'd achieved a hole in one and then hide in the woods. The golfer would search all around for his golf ball before taking a desultory glance in the cup followed by a merry jig!

Another memory was the hypnotic effect I felt whilst standing high up on the top of one of the hills, quite close to the edge, and looking down at the long grass on the valley floor which was gently swaying in the wind-I thought how easy it might be to be drawn over the edge such was the effect.

It was great fun being up on the Craiglockhart Hills because it would have been a sunny day which had attracted us up there-and sitting up high, on the dry ground, with the grass gently swaying and the sun beating down, looking over 360 degree views enabled us to take in the panoramic view and enjoy everything that is wonderful about the city. The whole of Edinburgh was laid out before us and being a clear day we could see clear across the River Forth and to the north and the Highlands; turning around we could look to the Pentland Hills and to the south.

As a boy I was getting my bearings, locating and fixing the world-it was a moment of meditation and contemplation.

Friday, 28 December 2012

School Sports Day

Hunters Tryst did Sports Day well and it was always superbly organised and very well attended and presented with a sense of theatre; it was serious and yet it was fun-there was drama, disappointment, glory and joy; white running lanes marked out the 100 yards sprint and an oval track was laid out on the grass field; several rows of school benches lined the whole of one side of the 100 yards straight which led to the sense of occasion, anticipation and theatre-if parents didn't arrive early with their little ones and little picnics then they were condemned to stand at the back and spill out behind on to the grass-Sports Day was a rather glorious and fun Friday morning, followed by a half day-which for many years was also held on the last day of the summer term.

Rather classy pencils were handed out to the winners of the races-the pencils were purple in colour with the name Hunters Tryst Primary School embedded in yellow along the side. These were prized-back in the 1960s I’d never come across such a thing so they were rare and valued. Were they introduced in 1963? I think in my first year in 1962 the prizes were perhaps a blue badge for second and another colour for first place?

Hunters Tryst School, 1967
(Edinburgh Evening News)
Back Row: Martin McAlpine? Terry Workman Stephen Drysdale ? John Whyte Guy Henderson ?
Third Row: Alan Fisher Patricia ? Ann Breslin ? ? ? Geoff Hunter Elizabeth ? Ronnie Smith
Second Row: Joyce Colbron Colin Benson Jaqueline? Graeme McKiernan  ? Peter Hoffmann ? David Lines
Front Row: Susan Le Grice Marjory? Doreen Rutherford ?

I'm unsure how well the children from The Stair got on, on Sports Day? The only slight unhappiness for me was that my brother Iain Hoffmann wasn't the most athletic of children. Although he struggled at Sports Day he had the right attitude-he really enjoyed the occasion and took it in the right spirit competing with a smile on his face-on one occasion he won either or indeed both the sack race and/or the obstacle race and I was overjoyed for him. Having tried to will him to victory for many years-I got more pleasure from that win of Iain’s than all my victories put together. Anne came to school when I was in P5 or P6; she performed quite well usually winning a race.

There were some excellent athletes at Hunters Tryst-David Lines and Stephen Drysdale were particularly good. I recall a girl called Ann Breslin who was a nice wee runner and went on to run for Edinburgh Southern Harriers. When I first began to go down to Meadowbank Sports Centre at the end of the summer of 1971 her dad sometimes gave me a lift back to the other end of Oxgangs Avenue where they stayed. Depending on the year the relay varied between being run back and forward along the 100 yards straight or around the oval track. For many years the team of David Lines, Geoff Hunter, Graham McKiernan and I did well-however on one occasion I had a fall out and recruited a team from the year below who were six months younger than our class-Terry Workman, Kenny Ruickby and another lad and took some satisfaction from overtaking my usual team on the last leg.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Further Shops At The Broadway And The Crescent And Colinton Mains

'Every day, I walk up the high street to work, and as I pass those little shops, a nice, friendly, warm atmosphere seems to come wafting out...' Sergeant Wilson, Dad's Army

The shops not thus far covered in the blog which were important parts of the lives of those who lived at The Stair included three butchers shops; a fruit and vegetable shop; Allans Grocery; Campbells Newsagents; and Cruickshanks Grocery.

The butcher's shop at The Broadway was a well run clean shop which was above the average. It was owned by Crombie Smith. My memory may be playing tricks but I think it was here that Iain Hoffmann and Boo-Boo Hanlon began work as apprentice butchers.  Les and Iain went on to work and have adventures at Leslies Butcher's shop at Comiston Road just around the corner from Bairds newsagents shop. The shop remained there for many decades. They had many adventures there which I'm sure they'd happily tell you about. I think what eventually drove Les from the shop was that he used to panic when serving customers because he found it difficult to work out the change when he was serving customers! Only Boo-Boo stayed with this trade as a career.

Neil's Butcher's shop at Colinton Mains was there for many decades too-again it was a relatively high class shop for the area. It was his brother, Dr Neil who opened the lovely garden at Duddingston Village to the public. 

Both brothers died in fairly recent years. However, if we ever had to visit a butcher then it was at The Store-this would be for Ayrshire Middle bacon-also for a quarter pound of chopped pork which made my stomach turn! Meanwhile, the butcher's shop at The Crescent was George Bowyer. I was never in this shop. He may have had a club hand, having lost his fingers in the mincer one day!

There was an old fashioned fruit and vegetable shop at The Broadway-it was there for decades and must have been one of the original shops-it always had that particular smell unique to such shops. These shops have mostly disappeared although there is still one in Dingwall. When we lived at Colinton for seven very happy years between 1989 and 1996 there was a similar fruiterer's shop in Colinton Village-I visited it because it took me back to The Broadway. Even then I thought it must close down, but it's kept soldiering away with the same lady owner, who never seemed to change in appearance-she had the look of a gypsy with died black hair. A few years ago we took a family walk from the flat at Gilsland Park up though Colinton Dell and stopped off in the village for coffee and cakes-well blow me down it was still on the go-it was like walking through a time-warp-it's surely gone to the great shop cemetery in the sky? (It's not!)

A Mr McNish ran a little wool shop both at Oxgangs Broadway and Colinton Mains and at a later date  also took on the post office in both locations too. As mentioned in an earlier blog on Ewarts Newsagents,  originally he had the first shop unit at The Broadway. He must have realised that in the years ahead it would be difficult to earn a living for his family from selling wool, cotton reels and items of school uniform-does anyone remember the snake Hunters Tryst school belts as well as the school tie and badge? When the opportunities arose for both Post Office franchises he must have seized the moment.

He wasn't a very popular chap-serious and pinched, he didn't have the easy personal skills that made for a good shopkeeper. Even I would notice this as a wee boy when I was collecting the Family Allowance-the magical money that my mother received every fortnight. I believe the McNish family stayed at Greenbank. His would have been another of these tales of entrepreneurship at The Broadway now probably sadly vanished and untold-we need a social historian going visiting with a tape recorder!

Allans the grocers I've alluded to when remembering Helen Blades. Was it two sisters and a brother who ran the shop? A friend of Liz Blades married the son of one of the Allans-also Douglas Blades worked there as a bicycle delivery boy. The Hoffmanns didn't give any trade to this shop-instead we got the vast amount of our provisions at The Store. Also, it was quite expensive at Allans-being able to sell wines and spirits must have helped the business survive over the period 1958 to 1972. The Blades seemed to be the only family from the The Stair who regularly shopped there.

The two shops which I visited regularly at The Crescent were Campbells Newsagents and Cruickshanks Store. The Campbell family must have led a similarly good life to the Ewarts at The Broadway. They had a monopoly in that part of Oxgangs and Firhill. The shop always seemed to me scruffier compared to Ewarts and although it too sold confectionery, wasn't so well organised; unlike Ewarts it didn't have the jars of penny sweets lined up in military precision. Like Ewarts it sold rolls on a Sunday-buying in the dozen rolls and the Sunday Post sometimes took me in this direction. As I said I found old man Campbell a wee bit gruff, but humorous.

My main visits to The Crescent were to Cruikshank's which in essence was a baker's, but really a small grocer's and sweet shop. For such a small shop unit they seemed to have found the magic formula. At lunchtimes the schoolchildren swarmed over the shop like wasps to jam. I suppose it was less a baker's than a grocer's but less of a grocer's and more a baker cum sweet-shop-if you know what I mean! A bakery of  sorts and also a grocer's of sorts, but selling a limited amount of products-what it had hit upon were the sweets, chocolate and juice that kids liked. We were able to buy Koolapop here-a brand of fizzy juice that I've never been able to come across since. It's a brand that has vanished off the planet. I don't know who manufactured it. It came in a bottle larger than a Coca Cola bottle, but only the top part of the glass had that novel twist. It had a screw top, but not metal-instead it was akin to a rubber cork that screwed into the bottle. The taste wasn't as strong as Coke. The bottle was the perfect size to wash down one's Paris buns or pies from the shop and also slaked one's thirst. Returning the bottle meant one got threepence old money back-thus it really cost one shilling and threepence. Everything was piled high in Cruikshank's making the most of very limited space-even the jars of sweets at the front counter meant it was difficult to see over. 

They also sold the popular ABC cards and gum-many footballers series which the boys enjoyed swapping; they also sold The Beatles and The Monkees cards as well as the American Civil War. They were clearly a good example of a business which worked back from the market and provided and satisfied a need with a rapid turnover.

One other shop which we visited at Colinton Mains and was similar to Cruikshanks was a grocer's shop called Andretti's; it also sold rolls and we visited it for many years. Mrs Andretti was a lovely woman.For those who remember the shop, they will also remember that it closed down for tragic reasons. Very unfortunately the son of the owner's was disturbed and had a mental health disability. A little girl in the neighbourhood was murdered by him and hidden in the flat above the shop. The Andrettis will have naturally have found it impossible to run the shop into the future, although they bravely tried to.

As I've said on more than one occasion I believe that a social history of the original shopkeepers at The Broadway; The Crescent; and Colinton Mains who were pioneers in the first decade or so of the new housing schemes which arose at Oxgangs after the Second World War would have made a very interesting book. All parties benefited-the residents at Oxgangs were provided with a service; some local employment was created; and the owners made a living for their own families through their brave entrepreneurship.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Help-The Forty One!

On the last blog it would be good to conclude the project by mentioning each resident and what happened to them in the days after 1972. It's forty years ago now-four decades, so even the youngest residents from The Stair will be moving toward their half century and of course I'm very aware that many of those mentioned over the past five months are sadly no longer alive and with us today. If anyone wishes to send me a comment or two and some brief information on themselves/others that they are still in touch with or know a little of their story it would be interesting to make mention of them in a small pen portrait.

Recent Comments Ruth Kaye And Peter Hoffmann

Hello Peter-have really enjoyed the blog it has been a little window in to the past. Shame that not more people contributed but I have enjoyed it. It is interesting that we all remember things differently often wish I had kept a diary I assume I will remember things and then I forget. It has made me realise how fleeting life can be and you need to make the most of every day. Ruth Kaye on Figures On The Edge No 3-James Duffy and Esther Blades; Colin and Alan Hanlon; The Sibbalds; The Douglases; Rab Moir; The Ramages; The Robertsons; Kenny Given; Reverend Orr; and Mr Russell

Thanks once again for your comments Ruth-you've been the most regular contributor throughout! It's been great whenever I've received feedback from you and it's been an encouraging wee spur each time a message has come through the ether. I feel some of the photographs of you from back then which convey certain qualities-chirpiness, positiveness, fun and a great appetite for life are still with you and have served you well.

Amongst the blogs that I had in mind, but won't get round to now one would have been on the subject of accidents. I can't recall the detail, but I remember you had an awful accident with glass which cut you quite badly. Another incident which has been on my conscience for decades and which I no longer know whether it was my imagination or not, was as a wee boy I was across Oxgangs Avenue at the top of Oxgangs Place about to go down to The Store-Boo-Boo spotted me and said Wait for me and ran straight out in front of the bucketmens' lorry-I absolutely panicked and ran away down to the The Store-when I walked back up with a very heavy heart not knowing whether he was alive or dead I couldn't believe my eyes-he was running about fine! I've never ever raised the incident until now-was it my imagination or was the vehicle slow moving and he fell in between the wheels?

Your comment gives me the opportunity to reflect on what may have gone in to the final blog. I agree that the biggest failure has been the lack of engagement with others-it's therefore meant that it's been far too much about me and my story and my interpretation of life at The Stair which I had hoped to avoid-honest guv!.

When I started the journey I decided to take more of an instinctive approach rather than an intellectual one-a nice change from spending fifteen years writing committee reports and 100 page plus strategies and plans! Whilst I didn't therefore have any specific objectives in mind I had hoped to stimulate an on-line dialogue-a conversation if you like, which engaged many others, particularly to get much more rounded perspectives, views and insights-and of course hers+his(tories). 

That's been the single frustration for me. On a number of the blogs some people have spoken to me and conveyed interesting wee tales and I've said Why not put that up as a comment-others will find that really interesting and illuminating! But that very rarely happened-even after I've shown them how to comment! I think this is what made me decide to stop writing it-again instinctive rather than intellectual, but finishing on Hogmanay has a certain synchronism to it.

Out-with your comments Iain has occasionally put some welcome comments up too. However, the moments where I feel the blog showed its real potential-where it flew if you like, were the occasions that Liz and I sparked off one another-that was enjoyable and offered some fascinating insights and perspectives on topics as well as a window on the world within worlds that I was unaware of. We all had a shared world-a shared culture-a shared history, but also lived in worlds of our own too. It would have been interesting to have heard more about and shared the world of the forty other residents. Also,whether naively or not Liz and I both went out on a limb airing some delicate topics-in the long run I believe we'll be glad we did that-but who knows! Because, for the sake of balance, it wasn't all sweetness and light!

I've had a wee stab at painting a picture of a world that we grew up in forty plus years ago before it disappears for ever-in future one or two people may stumble across it and may enjoy its contents-no doubt it will continue to exist on the airwaves.

What's been wonderful and an absolute joy is getting back in touch with the likes of yourself, Liz and meeting up with Douglas-real highlights! Looking back there was perhaps an element of serendipity or luck in that generally The Stair was originally populated by eight families who lived together cheek by jowl and overall got on pretty well-The Blades in particular were great!

Overall whilst there is a slight feeling of failure, I put that firmly and squarely down to myself-whether the writing, the choice of subject or not trying hard enough to engage more with previous residents at The Stair e,g Iain is just flagging the blog's existence up to Les Ramage today! However, if occasional, informal coffee get-togethers come about in future I'll take that as a positive outcome!

Figures On The Edge No 3-James Duffy and Esther Blades; Colin and Alan Hanlon; The Sibbalds; The Douglases; Rab Moir; The Ramages; The Robertsons; Reverend Orr; and Mr Russell

As I move toward winding up the blog I thought I must do a quick Cooke's Tour of some figures both from and also, for good or bad, closely associated with The Stair

James Duffy, Esther Blades, Colin and Alan Hanlon haven't featured significantly in the blog only flitting in and out occasionally. I'm not entirely sure why this is. If I were to have kept it going into next year for another six months I'm sure they would come more into prominence. It may also be because they were four of the youngest children at The Stair-James and Esther were the two youngest children.

There's no excuse for my lapse with regard to James. It's only because I was checking out some dates for the recent blogs on spring and summer and was skimming through some of the journals from over forty years ago that James' name cropped up. He was a very pleasant lad.

James Duffy
Esther should have cropped up far more often even though she was the youngest member of the forty one people who stayed at The Stair. I usually associate her with Ruth-they were the two youngest members of The Blades family and played together regularly. As previously mentioned I can recall taking the two of them on a few bus outings into town-they were both good fun. There are a few references to her in old diaries often just a group of us talking casually whilst hanging out at The Stair or through attendance at the church. Being the youngest at The Stair everyone liked Esther and we all looked out for her-she was a lovely and very pretty girl.

Esther Blades
Colin and Alan Hanlon should have cropped up more often, Colin in particular. He was ages with my sister Anne Hoffmann. He was a very friendly and pleasant lad. He was an enthusiastic footballer and part of the very good Hunters Tryst School football team that made the final of one of the city's premier primary school cup competitions-a group of us went down to watch them play in the final at Warriston Park. I liked Colin a lot-as he got older he occasionally used to stay with a group of us for the Friday Horror Night-more of further down. He was an integral part of all our football games. In later years I sometimes saw Colin out on the town on a Saturday evening!

Colin and Alan Hanlon
Alan meanwhile was one of the three youngest members at The Stair. Similar to Colin he was a nice lad and an enthusiastic football player. Again, I liked him too. However, after I had left The Stair and as people got older, some bonds grew closer and others lessened-I can recall Iain Hoffmann saying in latter years that Alan seemed to be a little more distant than in earlier years. My memory of him is from an earlier time and I always found him to be a charming and likeable lad-as I've said The Hanlons were a great family at The Stair. I may be wrong, but Alan may well have been the brightest of the four Hanlon brothers. I haven't seen or heard of Alan in forty years so have no idea what course his life took.

The first time that death impinged upon our lives at The Stair was at one of the neighbouring Stairs, 8/2 when Mr Jack Sibbald died. I think his death was unexpected. The Sibbalds were a lovely family-very much similar to The Douglas' at 8/3. At that time they had two children Gordon and Dawn. Gordon was a little older than me and was a bright lad with a lot of get up and go-an interesting character. Dawn was younger-she was blonde and had a certain class to her. I recall they were quite unusual in that they went an annual holiday to Milport each year-I think Mr Sibbald was originally from the west. His death came as a real shock-even to we children-I know it certainly stopped me in my tracks and made me reflect-nothing is for ever. The Sibbald family eventually moved to neighbouring Colinton Mains to a terraced house-we clearly still kept in touch with Gordon-indeed when we all went jumping the burn we often joined its route two hundred yards from their house and this section was always known to us all as Gordon's Burn-what a soubriquet! Mrs Sibbald was a handsome, strong and clearly very able woman-to support the family she became a receptionist at Dr Motley's surgery where she was very competent running a tight, but friendly ship. I think she remarried and also happily had another child. The other death that impinged on us a few years later was when Keith and Mark Robertson's father died. They stayed at 4/2 Oxgangs Avenue. His death came as a complete shock too-I recall Mr Robertson as a strong, robust, dark haired man. Similar to Mrs Sibbald, Mrs Robertson too was to be admired because she too went out to work and supported the family by driving a van which delivered small motor parts to a range of garages.

Ali Douglas has cropped up surprisingly regularly in the blog-if someone had said this to me before I started the blog then I would have raised a quizzical eyebrow. It was no surprise however that he was such a very nice lad, because his whole family were absolutely lovely. Ali's dad was an aircraft fitter out at the old Turnhouse Airport so was in employment in the one job throughout the whole period which meant the family will have enjoyed tremendous stability. They were a quiet family who achieved a delightful balance of being very good neighbours, charming to speak to with a ready smile and an innate gentleness. Our key interaction with them was primarily through Iain because he and Ali were best friends-it was always Ali that was invited to Iain's birthday teas and vice versa. From earlier diaries I can see I had some interactions with Ali too-mainly within groups and he has featured regularly in such adventures as .the chip shop; the City Hospital; and the spring Arthur's Seat outing.

Ali had much older sisters and a brother. Alec was the oldest and Jean the elder sister-they were around Douglas Blades and Liz Blades' age-similarly they were both at Boroughmuir Secondary School-they would have been bright teenagers who no doubt applied themselves too-I know that Alec joined the Civil Service, possibly rather than going on to university? If he had, then it's just occurred to me that he would have been the first of all the children in the four featured Stairs at 2, 4, 6 and 8 Oxgangs Avenue-instead that honour fell to Gavin Swanson who went to Edinburgh and then either Cambridge or Oxford. Alec had a ready smile, was handsome and absolutely charming-looking back he may well have the eldest of all the children at the four Stairs. Jean Douglas I recall as being very pleasant and a serious person. In between Jean and Ali was Elaine Douglas who must have been around ages with Fiona Blades. Like Ali, Elaine went to Firhill School-like the rest of the family Elaine had the same lovely, gentle manner, but what everyone will immediately recall about Elaine was that she was drop dead gorgeous! She was absolutely stunning-a beautiful girl with long dark straight hair and a lovely smile.

I mentioned in a very early blog The Calder family who lived at 8/6-there were four children all of whom were older than me-Bernard, Lawrence, Pamela and Rosemary. I didn't have a great deal to do with them, but I recall liking Lawrence-perhaps he was involved with Douglas Blades in such exploits as racing around the four blocks (four Stairs) pushing an old pram with one of us crouched in it hidden in a blanket? When I met Douglas Blades at the end of October he mentioned that he used to go up to play with the Calders and was envious that they had a top of the range Hornby Dublo train set with a displayed certificate on the wall whilst Douglas had to make do with a Tri-ang.

In the news column I made mention of how Bernard had worked all his life at our beloved Dominion Cinema before dying a few years ago.

The Dominion's chief projectionist Bernard Calder has passed away. The cinema said: "Over the last 44 years he had threaded the projector, prepped the lighting and lit the screens of the Dominion Cinema for tens of thousands of performances. His professionalism, dedication and love for the medium of film made him a pleasure to work with. We will miss him
A later arrival at 8/6 who took over the flat when the Calders left were the Moirs. I was the first person to meet Rab Moir who was older than me. Rab will be remembered for his large Alsation dog and love of motorbikes-he was a a few years older than me, but he was small and squarely built-I had a friendly relationship with him and perhaps because I was the first person to befriend him, felt he looked out for me. He didn't join in at football or much else, but clearly he had been a player, playing in the great St Anthony's School team which I think dominated Edinburgh schools football in the 1960s. 

At primary school  I was occasionally involved in fights with the likes of George Catterson-but not because I liked fighting; I'd walk out along the narrow exit from Hunters Tryst School with a heavy heart as I heard the shouts of Fight, Fight! and I espied the crowd vying for a ringside seat for Mark 4 or whatever it was against George or one of the other protagonists waiting for me-the school-bag would come off and the blazer and then the grappling would commence and the fists would fly-the fight would end with whoever got the first bleeding nose or cut lip-usually me!; there was the rare victory against George et al which made it seem worthwhile. My sister was usually my second in the corner proffering a handkerchief. Despite being on the receiving end, by refusing to kow-tow to whatever their demands were they tended to leave me alone after a while and instead pick on other easier more yielding targets. This happened much less so at secondary school although I can recall one bully awaiting me after games at Meggetland because I'd refused to give him one of the rugby balls to play with when we were warming up! Ce la vie!
From the other Stairs I clearly spent a lot of time with boys such as Keith Robertson, Colin McFarlane and Steve Westbrook as well as Jonathan and Willie Taylor from the Stair behind us at Oxgangs Street, but I can now see it was mainly playing football or jumping the burn or going for adventures to the Pentland Hills which facilitated these interactions-whereas I would say people like Michael Hanlon were more friends with these lads.

Les Ramage has flitted in and out of the blog regularly-he had a twin brother Derek-they were the same age as Iain Hoffmann and Ali Douglas-all in the same class at Hunters Tryst School and as mentioned the four lads who owned the original Raleigh Chopper bicycles. Les and Derek always struck me as getting on fine with each other, but their relationship must have been fractious at times because I think they had to be separated at school because they fought with one another-I may be wrong, but I think Derek was then put into a separate class. When we were young I had a bit of an up and down relationship with Derek, however when we were older I grew to like him much more-he's a nice bloke. He joined the RAF on the administrative side. Back in the early 1990s I was quite proactive in organising games of golf at sleepy Gifford and Vogrie-for a while Derek joined the likes of Les, Iain and me. I admired the way that Derek and his wife were committed to bringing up their children in as positive a manner as possible-they're son and daughter were lovely kids.

Les and Derek had an older sister, Carol, who was around eighteen months younger than me-she crops up regularly in diaries-mainly when groups of us hung about around the Stairs and played running games of singles. She also attended the influential Patricia Browne Dance and Ballet School which must have helped launch her career as a professional dancer-she settled in Portugal over thirty years ago. Iain and Les visited her a few times and I recall driving them through to Glasgow Airport to drop them off for the flights.

It's interesting reflecting about those days-whilst I've said how Iain Hoffmann and Ali Douglas were best friends, then equally I'm sure that Les Ramage and Boo-Boo Hanlon might also have said that Iain was also their best friend too-Iain clearly had an easy facility for getting on with people which meant they warmed to his likeability-he still attracts people thus today-my younger son Tom (d'Artagnan) reminds me of Iain in that respect-I think one of the qualities is that they're non-threatening individuals-they're not individuals who are prone to disagree or argue-they naturally look for common ground and for fun.

Les is the one lad from the Stairs that Iain and I kept friendly with in the decades after we had long left The Stair-Iain still occasionally meets up with Les-they've gone fishing together once or twice to the Pentland Hills to Flotterstone Resevoir. Indeed, he dropped by yesterday to wish him a Happy Christmas! Until I left Edinburgh in 1996 I used to organise a nine hole game of golf most weeks-these games were mainly a foursome of Les Ramage and Iain Hoffmann against Mr John Duncan (Mrs Anne Hoffmann's second husband) and me-we enjoyed this Saturday afternoon ritual for a good decade. Sometimes others from the days at The Stair joined us too-as mentioned Derek Ramage, but also Paul Forbes too. Before we got into this habit, in the early 1980s Les, Iain and I along with others regularly played games on the lovely Braid Hills, where if one wasn't hitting the ball well could instead enjoy the spectacular views over Edinburgh.

Les Ramage was a key and integral part of days and nights at The Stair and features in many of the adventures. For several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s we hosted sleepovers at 6/2-once Mr Ken Hoffmann had departed the scene there was a much more relaxed atmosphere at our home-our mother Mrs Anne Hoffmann was really excellent in this respect-our friends liked her-they felt very relaxed and at home in our household-it was a fun, easy going atmosphere and our pals clearly enjoyed hanging out with us-in these years there was rarely a Friday night that there wasn't children staying-for such a small flat-only two bedrooms-friends such as Les Ramage; Ali Douglas; Boo-Boo Hanlon; Paul Forbes; Colin Hanlon and others all stayed on occasion. We fostered these evenings around the Friday night horror film which was a staple for years and years-Dracula; Frankenstein; Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of the Rue Morgue-even in a group and despite our jocularity we were all shitting ourselves watching the films. These evenings would be fuelled with bottles of juice, bags of crisps and chips and sweets and chocolates. Because The Hoffmanns had paper runs or milk runs early the following Saturday morning a bonus was that often the kids staying overnight would accompany us rather than doing a solitary run-for a while we were all decked out in our Woolworths' gold crosses in case we stumbled across Count Dracula in the dark, creepy Morningside tenement flats!

Two important figureheads in the community when we were young were the minister and the dentist. The Reverend Jack Orr was a truly remarkable, charismatic and kind man. Although I never really attended his church, there was always an enlightened friendly light touch to it. For a period I was part of a group of teenagers there who put on a play in the St John's Church Hall at one of the church festivals-it may have been part of the annual Pentland Festival. Our main dealings with him were his weekly visit to Hunters Tryst School to take the weekly service as well as those special staging posts in the year-Harvest Festival; Christmas; and Easter. He did great pastoral work in the community-I don't think he was someone who rammed religion down one's throat-it was more akin to living in imitation of Christ-I guess leading by example-the good life which one could aspire to,too. He was highly regarded in the Church of Scotland hierarchy and at least one of the future church leaders worked as a young apprentice under him. His wife, Mrs Orr taught at the school. I think my sister was in her class. What a contribution they must have made to the community of Oxgangs over the decades.There were children too, one of whom, Calum went on to become a Scottish International athlete.

Rev Jack Orr
Mr Russell was the local dentist for decades. His surgery was located next door to Dr Motley-a very handy arrangement. For all of us at The Stair to have these services located a minute or so walk away was very handy and convenient. I had a relationship with Mr Russell-not a transaction. I can recall sending postcards to the surgery during the 1970s from such locations as Montreal, Prague and Edmonton when major championships were being held. Part of the conditions of being part of these teams was that we had to have full medicals which were duly signed off for me by Dr Motley and Mr Russell. Ironically my largest memory of the dentist was as a young boy coming round from having received gas looking out at the lovely blooms on the trees and foliage out the large window of his surgery room-it was like awaking in paradise, before I recovered my senses!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Under Fire (1941)

Check out this very interesting little nine minute film, Christmas Under Fire (1941) on You-tube:


Christmas Day

Christmas Day was always the best day of the year. We always spent the whole day at our grandparents’ home at Durham Road, Portobello. I therefore have no knowledge of how The Swansons; The Stewarts; The Hoggs; The Smiths; The Blades; The Hanlons; or The Duffys spent their Christmas Day.

Christmas Day is always a popular church day. Perhaps the Swansons may have attended Colinton Mains Parish Church of Scotland; The Blades one of the Baptist churches; whilst The Duffys probably celebrated at St Marks RC Church.

The drive from Oxgangs to Portobello from The Stair was always the quietest of the whole year. Sundays were normally quiet, but on Christmas Day there were few other cars on the road and we just sailed down as if we were the Royal Family.

Grandma Jo; Aunt Heather; and the author, Gleneagles Hotel, 1985
It was our grandmother who made Christmas the day that it was. She would be there to greet us in the hallway and we would give her a formal light kiss on the cheek. Although she loved us all very dearly, she wasn't one to be effusive, instead expressing her great love for others with innumerable acts of kindness to the family and many others throughout the decades.

The hall looked resplendent-there would be a flower arrangement and the royal blue carpet had been hovered clean. As a busy artist, jeweller, pottery decorator, lace-woman and gardener our grandmother didn't want to be remembered for dusting the house-she had more important priorities. And, because her house resembled the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’, full of fascinating antiques and interesting items from throughout the world, the hall didn't need any Christmas d├ęcor. Although, I suppose one could have hung some tinsel from the African buffalo's antlers high on one wall! I lived there from the winter of 1972; whenever I invited a friend, a colleague or a journalist into the front room, their first comment on entering was always ‘What a fascinating room this is!’

Apart from the tiny kitchen her house was perfect to host the large Christmas gatherings which took place there for over half a century. The hatch linking the kitchen to the sitting room was a clever little idea. As the kitchen had no work space or work tops at all the Buchan's pottery casseroles containing hot vegetables were delicately placed and balanced on top of the washing machine. Grandma Jo had the most wonderful grace under pressure-I never saw her get flustered. Indeed when I think about it I never recall her raising her voice in all the subsequent years that I stayed with her. The only hint of colourful language emanating from the kitchen would be from my father whipping the cream by hand. Our grandmother served up those wonderful Christmas dinners through the magic little hatch, year in and year out, until well into her eighties, when I took over hosting Christmas as the Laird 'O Plewlands; then at West Mill, Colinton; and for a few years at Moorlands, Dingwall.

Anne Duncan (Hoffmann); John Duncan; Anne Hoffmann Junior; Iain Hoffmann; Peter Hoffmann; Willie Robertson

The first course was usually home-made soup. This was followed by the traditional roast turkey; mashed and roasted potatoes; various vegetables; and two types of stuffing-sage and onion and sausage-meat, with gravy. Despite being a butcher, our grandfather didn’t carve the bird, which was left to our grandmother too.

The table was lovely to behold. With the eye of the trained artist the table was laid out with colourful antiques and glassware. It looked like something out of a Dickens novel. There would also be beer, lemonade and as we children got older, the excitement of having some Woodpeckers Cider too.

Around the table the craic was good-some teasing-some wit-some awful jokes-pulling crackers and several of us all cajoling our grandmother ‘Come on through Josephine and enjoy your dinner too!’ Atypically, she was always the last to join us.

There were various pudding-trifles, a mix of milk and water jellies and single, double and whipped cream. Some of us would go outside into the winter air and stroll around the back garden before we could face our pudding. She always made a home-made Christmas plum pudding and the children would ‘ooh and ahh’ when the brandy was poured on top of it and lit. The flame puffed up almost taking one's eyebrows off. To accompany the pudding there was both custard and ice cream, the latter coming from either the wonderful Arcari's or Lucas Italian ice cream shops.

Because of the number of people at the table-the very young; the young; adults; the middle aged; the old; and the very old, these occasions were quite magical throughout the 1960s. Sometimes there would be a dozen or so present. Was it Old Aunt Mary or our great-grandmother, Wee Nana, who always said ‘Now, Josephine...where's the silver know I can't eat my pudding without it!’ 

‘Wee Nana’ and Anne Hoffmann Junior, circa 1962

And of course I've mentioned how ‘The Miser’ aka Pumpa (great-grandfather) tried to slip me a penny, which I turned down. The age range of those sitting around the table covered approximately ninety years, therefore stretching back to when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Iain, Anne and Peter Hoffmann
Once Christmas Dinner was over and before the Queen came on the television, people would retire to various rooms throughout the house to allow their food to digest. Our mother would enjoy a snooze in one of the bedrooms-usually my grandmother’s south facing room, which always had a very comforting and quiet feel to it. Aunt Heather would be in the kitchen with her sleeves rolled up washing dishes in the sink, often with our father giving her a hand. Others would find a spot on a spare sofa, put their feet up and place their head on a soft cushion and shortly be happily asleep. We children might go out to the garden for a while. It was good to come out from the warmth of the house with Iain and in to the fresh cold air in the winter garden. We enjoyed having a blether about our presents or to kick a ball around. In its bare winter December state the garden had a completely different feel to July when it was lush and adorned in its summer clothes. In its hibernated state all that remained were the skeletons and structures of trees, hedges and shrubs. As the afternoon coolness descended and the light quickly began to disappear, I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the garden and the slightly brooding presence of the season. All that separated the light from the dark, the cold from the warmth, was a solitary door. It made me think of some lines from Buchan’s The Power-House where the hero, Sir Edward Leithen is told: ‘You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.’ And then, it was braw to go back into the warmth of the house and the bosom of the family and to be reminded yet again, that it was still Christmas Day!

After the Queen's broadcast, a highlight for me was to sit quietly in the Smoking Room at the front of the house. This was the front room, which was a fascinating room to be in because it was full of antiques, paintings, glassware, snuff bottles and old French clocks. I sat on the big old sofa alongside my grandfather, whilst my great grandfather and father sat on the large squishy chairs. There was a large old gramophone come radio cabinet in the corner and a Christmas tree in the bay window. It was here that the men retired to enjoy the home-made sweets which our grandmother made annually for Christmas-marzipan and walnuts, peppermint creams; fudge et al. Most of all I liked when the men enjoyed a cigar. I loved the smell of the cigar smoke. It’s a smell which immediately transports me back through the mists of time.

I loved sitting quietly, listening to my great-grandfather, grandfather and father talking and conversing. I always kept very quiet and tried not to be intrusive in case I wasn't allowed to stay. And, as the light outside slowly began to fade and darkness fell and the street-lights flickered on outside and then we switched the Christmas tree lights on. The lights were a novelty as we didn’t have them back at The Stair at 6/2 Oxgangs Avenue. In that room, surrounded by three older generations, I felt part of a line going back to Victorian times.  I also felt warm, secure and at peace. I didn't want these moments to end and savoured the hour or two before someone would look around the door to say that ‘Tea was now being served up and would the men come through and join the rest of the party.’

We'd all trot through to enjoy some fresh cut bread, salad and John West salmon which was a luxury item in the 1960s. There would also be a variety of shortbread, Christmas cake, mincemeat pies and for the gutsy perhaps seconds of trifle and cream.

By then a good fire was blazing in the grate and one of the nice things about Christmas Day, compared to our Sunday visitations, was that we got to stay on a little longer into the evening. Our grandfather would give our great-grandparents a lift back home to London Road, Dalkeith, before then returning the seven or so miles back to Portobello to give the Hoffmanns a lift back home to Oxgangs Avenue and The Stair. It was of course a stark contrast coming home to 6/2. The house was quiet. It was cold, but slightly more inviting than usual, because the Christmas tree decorated the corner of the living room and we had the pleasure of going back to our presents.