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'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, 26 December 2012

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!


3 comments:

Ruth Kaye said...

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

Alan B said...

Hi Peter, First off can I just say your blog is fantastic!, all the photos and stories just bring Oxgangs back to life, the trips down Braidburn valley everything you've mentioned throughout this Blog has had me going 'We used to do that too!' (did you roll your easter eggs down the 'grass steps' at the Braidburn Valley?). As I got older, I can remember Burn jumping all the way through the Braidburn Valley, trips to 'The Gully', Crab Apple fights (crab apples were collected from the trees by the Braidburn and stored in bags for each team then the battle would commence ~ what a mess we made!), British Bulldogs, walking up the Pentlands, Skateboarding down Naffi Hill. I also owned a Raleigh Chopper 1976 model, it was the best bike I ever owned although the Gear stick position was in a dodgy place.

I can remember Calum Orr, he was in my class (72'-75'). I have a vague recollection of him bringing some fantastic toys to school, a bright and clever lad, he seemed like the ultimate model pupil at Hunters Tryst. Teachers ~ I can only remember Headmaster Mr Conway and a Mrs Sym but not much else, I can remember the strong smell of sawdust which seemed to follow the Janny as he stalked the corridors in his long Brown coat and pail.

I realise that my time at Hunters Tryst began long after you had moved on but I wonder if you have any recollection of a Scot/dutch family who lived in one of the stairs on Oxgangs St, either one of the ones next to the main road or the next one up. My classmate and pal Tony (Whinnier?) I can't remember the exact spelling. He had an older brother Stuart? and an older Sister, I think. They spoke English with heavily accented dutch which always had me laughing. They were good friends of mine and I always wondered what happened to them as I left H.T. in '75. Cheers, Alan Brown

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