'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

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Stair Isn't Just For Christmas!

If you wish to read The Stair in a readily available and easy to read format then it's available on Amazon. This is a print only version. At a later stage I will publish an illustrated version too including photographs.

Monday, 2 December 2013

St John's Church-An Update

Anonymous Comment

A well written piece Peter, again the memories came flooding back especially when I saw the photos. I am scared to admit that under the second row of seats my initials may still be scratched into the wood a sign of a misspent youth or a dare I can't remember.

It is ironic after all the publicity given to Colinton Parish Church over the R.L.S statue that another icon of the area St Johns is near the end of its tether.

All the better off locals used to go to Colinton Church those who were able to afford to live in the area, Colinton was quite an exclusive scheme back in the 50 and 60s and the more working class stayed in the council scheme e.g. Oxgangs the main advantage living in Oxgangs was we had a pub and a bookies they had a better address.

I knew a few teachers at Firrhill Secondary who stayed in the Colinton area, I can't recall any staying in Oxgangs.

Do you re-call the pour-oots the newly weds used to toss to eager bairns fighting each other for the best spot nearest the bridal car? The photo of the stairs strewn with Autumn leaves reminded me that a surprising amount of money used to end up at the bottom buried under the debris that used to collect in the centre as in the photo; some times if you were really lucky and the conditions were right you were able to see two mini tornadoes swirling the leaves about 

The amount of money that used land on the main road was unreal Health & Safety would be in their glory if that happened to-day, the danger of being born in the 50s is that I think we had more common sense than the generation of to-day ,you had to just to survive, a skelp on the lug is a good teacher so is a week's grounding especially if the schools were mid term.

I also remember after the pour-oot the queues in Ewarts the sweetie shop full of kids who couldn't wait to be parted from our pocket full off halfpennies, pennys, threepenny bits and silver sixpences. I remember once getting a two bob bit and thinking all my Christmases had come at once. In those days you could get a 16 bus to Morningside then get into the Dominion picture house to see the latest film (in my case it was Goldfinger)and buy a cone for about 5 shillings "25p"to the younger ones then get home and still have change.

It will be sad to see the demise of St John's even though I moved away in 1975 I still have very fond memories and that is something that can't be taken away, I will be at the service to-morrow, and also get some more photos to go with the ones I took at Hunters Tryst or what was left. I wonder what the next part in Oxgangs to vanish will be-is the air raid siren at the 27 bus terminus still there ?

Saturday November 23, 2013

Anonymous Comment 

Hi Peter, 

Well I attended the Thanksgiving Service today at St. John's. It was a lovely service and well attended. However, what I am interested in is your associations with this Church? Did you or Iain go to one of the organisations connected with it, Scouts or Cubs? Or was your father an occasional visitor to the Church? I know he used to join Churches from time to time especially when he was trying to stay away from the drink. Apparently the ground is being sold probably for the building of homes for older people and the Church demolished. A pity because it is a lovely church, so simple and with lovely clean lines internally. I know the local Fellowship church people wanted to buy the property but the Church of Scotland weren't having it. The Fellowship people have the old hall that was part of the Episcopalian Church, St Hilda's was it, which was demolished and houses built there. They hope in time to raise enough money to build a church of their own. Some people know them as the happy-clappy people. Local people and some of their family are pastors in that church. Next Sunday there is to be a joint service at St. John's with the Colinton Mains Church congregation followed by a lunch, like today, soup, bread and cheese, tea/coffee and fruit cake, but good company. I was sitting across from Jason Rust our local Conservative Councillor locally known as the Boy Wonder. Regards.  

Sunday 24 November, 2013

Comment From Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Hello Peter,

Sad to see another church close but guess time waits for no one wonder what they will do with the building?

Sunday 1 December, 2013

Comment From Lesley Orr

Thanks for your fascinating blog, evoking so well the story and spirit of Oxgangs in the 1960s and 70s. It has been particularly touching to read your reflections about St John's church, and especially your very kind words about my dad Jack and mum Janet Orr. As you note, my sister Kathy preached at the service last Sunday (and she quoted a wee bit from your blog!) I was there too, along with our brother Callum (whom you remember was also an athlete, and is now a headteacher in Loughborough). My husband Peter Macdonald, and Callum's son Colin were also there to represent the extended Orr family. (Brother David lives and works in London and wasn't able to be there). It was a lovely occasion, and of course a day of mixed emotions for us. I still live near Edinburgh, and have revisited St John's on occasion over the years. There are still many old (and getting older...) familiar faces who have been in Oxgangs since the early days, and there is always such a warm welcome from these good friends. People remember my parents with such love and enduring affection - and it means a lot to us to read about the positive impression and impact they made on folk who were not directly involved in the church.
Apart from the emotional connection I feel with the building, which holds so many happy memories, and which has been the space where so many significant markers in my life happened (I was the first baby baptised in St John's - in the hut which was used before the Riach building was opened - and was married there too) I love the clean and elegant lines, the combination of warmth and light, the fantastic chancel space. It speaks so eloquently of the spirit of optimism, hope for the future, participation of all, and community building which characterised the best of Oxgangs in the 1960s and 70s - and which your blog also captures.

I certainly remember the pouroots, the church fete, concerts and so much else...Keep on sharing the stories and pictures!

Sunday 1 December, 2013

Friday, 22 November 2013

St John's Church-For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee-An Update and a Special Church Service, 24 November, 2013

On the last day of December, 2013, the St John's Church, Oxgangs church bell may ring out one more time before becoming silent.

Last Sunday on a beautiful sun-kissed, mid-November morning I stopped by, to hear the bell ring out for perhaps the very last time for me. 

It was a still and frosty morn. 

I walked the 360 degrees around the church and the old church hall and then entered the Narthex or vestibule inside St John's and unobserved, watched an elderly church warden making ready for the church service. 

The gentleman was tall and erect as an old soldier and attired in a jerkin and cloth cap. 

He walked up and down the side aisle; at one stage he carried a kettle; and then some plates and also some other objects. 

Previously he had laid out the Order of Service at the front door of the church.

And all the while as he performed his duties he sang to himself.

He was oblivious to me standing there. And whilst he had a good voice it could be better described as a happy voice. 

His happiness and joy could be heard in his voice.

He was at one with himself. 

It was clear these were not really duties for him, He was so happy in making a contribution. 

I recalled the Latin phrase-ora et labora-to work is to pray. 

It turned out that he was the church bell-ringer too-who says men can't multi-task! 

The church bell rang out five minutes before the service commenced-ringing out, calling the parishioners to worship. 

The elderly gentleman then emerged from the door of the bell tower and glided up the path to enter the church by a side door to join the congregation.

The congregation was very small and the average age must have been around seventy. 

There was a feature on BBC Radio 4 the other morning saying Christianity in the United Kingdom may be dead in a generation. My visit brought this home.

Shortly before the service began I spoke  to a lovely and very pleasant older lady at the top of the steps on Oxgangs Road North

I mentioned that as I was in Edinburgh I was keen to hear the sound of the St John's Church bell ring out one last time and to record it for posterity. 

We exchanged some memories of times past. 

She has attended St John's for many decades since she first lived at Redford at the army houses back in the 1950s. She pointed out to me another parishioner who had attended the church each Sunday since St John's first opened in 1957, the year after I was born.

I spoke of happy memories of the annual summer fetes and the marvellous contribution made to the Oxgangs community by the Orr family-the Reverend Jack Orr and his wife who had taught at Hunters Tryst School, also sadly no more. 

The lady spoke to me about her sadness about the church closing on Auld Year's night and the challenges of joining up with Colinton Mains Church and how very good the incumbent minister, the Rev Iain Goring has been. 

She became quite emotional and I held her hand.

On a note of serendipity, she told me that next week, the Rev Orr's daughter, the Rev Dr Kathy Galloway, will be a guest preacher at a special church service (Sunday 24 November, 2013 at 11.00 a.m.) to celebrate the church's existence in Oxgangs, to be followed by a lunch in the church hall. 

Whether one is religious or not it's perhaps something to consider for anyone interested. Special occasions should always be acknowledged and marked.

John Donne has been mentioned by me before, particularly on a blog about the end of our school days at Hunters Tryst. And once again the sound of a church bell ringing out signifies something important; for when Donne spoke of 'For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee', it does indeed because when something dies, we all die a little; I guess what Donne was really saying was that whatever affects one, affects us all....

Sunday, 3 November 2013

RLS Day 13 November-A few of the highlights!

#RLSDay 2013
Start/End Date(s)
13 November 2013


Robert Louis Stevenson Day
13 November 2013
Robert Louis Stevenson Day (RLSDay) is ready to be roundly celebrated once more - 13th November, his birthday. 
Pre-RLSDay Delights
The marvellous Filmhouse will be screening adaptations of Stevenson's work in the days leading up to the event. Get into the spirit by going to see Muppet Treasure Island or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

And if you have missed it, after more than a century, Edinburgh finally has a statue of one of our city's favourite sons himself, thanks to the generous Colinton community.

A statue of the young RLS and his dog has just been unveiled by Ian Rankin, and it is on display outside Colinton Parish Church. Why not head over and give the wee dog a stroke yourself before its head shines as bright as Hume's toe?

All Day from 10.00
Free copies of Stevenson's Short Stories 
In partnership with the Association of Scottish Literary Studies and the RLS Club, you can pick up a copy of Strange Tales - Thrawn Janet, The Tale of Tod Lapraik and The Bottle Imp - for free at Edinburgh city libraries, as long as stock lasts.

All Day from 10.00
Tusitala, Teller of Tales Scottish Storytelling Centre
A master and pioneer of the short story form and a far finer poet then he ever claimed to be. To celebrate his diverse talents, the RLS Club are staging an all-day free reading of Stevenson's work at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Drop by and help celebrate Tusitala, Teller of Tales

10.30 - From Oxgangs to Swanston with RLS
Explore RLS's South Edinburgh haunts with Carol Marr. The guided walk From Oxgangs to Swanston with RLS begins at Oxgangs Library and ends at Swanston Golf Club for tea and scones.

11.00 - Tusitala's Colinton
RLS's childhood is closely linked to Colinton where his Grandfather was the Minister. Hear readings from A Child's Garden of Verses and meet Alan Beattie Herriot, the sculptor of a new statute of RLS as a boy. Discover Tusitala's Colinton and visit the Manse garden where RLS played.  

11.00 - Scenes (and Songs) From a Life 
Starting outside the Writers' Museum, Allan Foster, author of The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh, will tour the haunts of the young RLS before a sing-song and refreshments at Captain's Bar with Andy Chung.

11.50 - New Town, Old Tales
Join Colin Brown of Rebus Tours as he explores the New Town, Old Tales, with reference to RLS and other writers. Starting from Charlotte Square, Colin will explore the light and the dark sides of the city with two personalities, just like Jekyll and Hyde.

13.00 - Follow in the Footsteps of RLS

Get  your wellies on and join Scottish Natural Heritage for a walk from Stevenson's summer home in Swanston to the Hermitage of Braid. Follow in the Footsteps of RLS and enjoy the scenery, fresh air and listen to his well-written words.

14.00, 15.00 & 16.00
The Memories of an Edinburgh Boy
RLS loved Edinburgh, city of his birth and an important source of inspiration for him. Hear The Memories of an Edinburgh Boy and find out what the city meant to him through his own memoirs and A Child's Garden of Verses at The Writers Museum. 

19.00 - An Evening with RLS
... and Louise Welsh & James Naughtie

And why not catch Louise Welsh and James Naughtie discussing their lifelong fascination for the man, his writing and his travels? Attend the #RLSDay finale, An Evening with Robert Louis Stevenson, an excellent event brought to you by Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Literature and Writing (CLAW), in partnership with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust.     

Getting to Know Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. And though he lived most of his adult life elsewhere, and died in Samoa in 1894, he remains one of Edinburgh’s favourite sons. A law graduate of the University of Edinburgh, he chose not to follow his famous lighthouse engineer father into the trade.
He became instead a man of letters – of essays, novels, poetry, stories – his most famous work, Treasure Island, has never been out of print. As a letter writer, a practical joker, a moustache wearer, a whisky man, his words and his life continue to inspire and excite folk today, in Edinburgh and far beyond.
Become an expert on Robert Louis Stevenson at:
No Ticket Required

Friday, 1 November 2013

Comment From Iain Hoffmann re: Andy Williams and St Marks Church

Regarding Eric Mullen's query about Andy Williams visit to St Mark's Church I can confirm that he is indeed right and that his memory hasn't let him down! 

After doing some detective work liaising with Mark Duffy, he told me that his dad, Jim Duffy, Colinton, Edinburgh confirmed that St Mark's School sang with Andy Williams at St Mark's Church in 1981. This was beamed onto the Johnny Cash Christmas in Scotland Show.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Comment From Eric Mullen Re: Moon River, Andy Williams Post 27 September 2012

I seem to remember Andy Williams visiting St Marks Church around about 1980 - I don't know why he would have done this but maybe I am getting senile and it didn't happen. Can anyone confirm? 

Friday, 25 October 2013

For Whom The Bell Tolls Number Two-Comments and a Response

Comment From Alan Brown:
Hi Peter, I was christened at St John's by the Rev Orr in 1967. I have a photo of me with my parents, brother and Auntie standing outside. Sad to hear this news, another link to my past slowly fades away.

Comment From Anonymous:
Hello Peter 
I also was a member of St John's Church even although I was christened in Colinton Mains in 1956. I remember the concerts that used to be held in the main hall for the local community and also the BBs, the 17th I think would meet there as well as the Life Boys as they were called in the old days. 
I went to bible class then progressed to the big church.
My most abiding memory was the annual fair held in the grounds and the main hall where all sorts of stalls were set up to raise funds for the church everybody used to turn up even teachers from all the local primary schools catholic and CofS, Oxgangs was a real local community in those days everyone knew everyone else.
Unfortunately In this day and age those days are sadly gone but thankfully the memories remain, good and bad but in my case the good outweighs the bad.
I notice that they are talking about closing the police station in Oxgangs, ironically I have the same scenario up here with my local station, so much for progress, sorry cost cutting, as Alan B said another link with the past fades away.
I think I will have a trip to Edinburgh this weekend and take some pictures of St John's before it is turned into a building site.

Keep on doing the The Stair Peter you are slowly jogging the memories out of me that I thought were long gone Thank you. 

Thanks for your very interesting e mail.

Because I drew down the curtain on Hogmanay 2012 I never got around to doing a variety of planned blogs-your e mail touches on some of them. Like you I too recall with great fondness the St John's Church Fete held annually each June-it really was a highly enjoyable day out. Looking at the area of the church it couldn't have been that large, but in my mind's eye it remains so. I vividly recall the bendy 'electric wire' (battery operated) that one tried to take a handle with a ring on the end from the start to the finish without the buzzer sounding-not often achieved as it took a steady hand-certainly beyond me today as it was at the time. 

The ice cream sold was always very pleasant and like the occasionally held fete day at Colinton Mains Church they held a sprint race for boys and girls on the grass area adjacent to the church building-I still recall receiving a colouring book and paints as a prize. There were excellent stalls selling all sorts of serendipities-it was from here and long before eBay we garnered our knowledge of ancient Dandy and Beano annuals. 

They always seemed to be very lucky with the weather; they really were sunny occasions and the volunteers-presumably church goers were equally sunny in their disposition, smiling and friendly-a really great and lovely day out for all the family-it must have warmed the heart of the Rev Jack Orr as he strolled amongst the happy crowd.

Similarly, I also recall performing in local youth club drama productions at the church hall-it was also probably one of several venues for The Pentland Festival-a blog which I really should get around to. 

Writing this wee response and your planned visit to Edinburgh has just given me the idea to record the sound of the St John's Church bells before they are perhaps silenced for ever-I'm due to be down next month so will need to brush up on the technology.

Thanks again for your comments-keep in touch!


*:) happy  

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

For Whom The Bell Tolls-Number Two

One of the loveliest memories of living at Oxgangs between 1958 and 1972 was the sweet sound of the St John's Church bells which rang out every Sunday morning calling the parishioners to worship. They had a lovely tone to them, somehow fresh and inviting, but also serving as a reminder of church bells down the centuries too. Very sadly these bells may no longer ring out.

St John's Church, Oxgangs
Last year on 2 September, 2012 I did a blog which focused on the former St Hilda's Church, Oxgangs Avenue-the last paragraph of which said: And what of St Hilda's Church? The congregation first met in a cottage in Colinton and then moved to the existing hall in 1951. In 1966 a striking, state of the art Modernist building was opened; and yet less than half a century later the church was knocked down only a few years after the start of the 21st century. The coming and going of a church within a few generations says something about Christianity and lends some weight to recording these vignettes before they disappear of life at The Stair.

I got quite a surprise a few weeks ago when I noticed that St John's Church and Hall were up for sale-St John's-surely not? I decided to inquire a little further and entered into some correspondence. I received an update from the Rev Iain Goring as detailed below.

Hi Alison,
Last year I authored a blog entitled The Stair about eight families living in Oxgangs between the years 1958-1972 which has proved to be quite popular with followers from as far away as Australia-St John's Church is mentioned a few times and particularly Rev Jack Orr-I still put up occasional updates and noticed the church building and hall has been put up for sale. I wondered whether you would be kind enough to please give me an update on this and also the congregation.
Thanks Alison.
Peter Hoffmann

The charismatic, Rev Jack Orr
Hi Peter - Alison Swindells passed on to me your email to her about St John's Oxgangs.  I arrived here on 15th August as Interim Minister and it is my task to take this congregation and the congregation of Colinton Mains to the point of becoming a united congregation on 1st January 2014.  The two congregation are only half a mile apart and although they are very different in background and culture the Presbytery of Edinburgh has wanted them to unite and become St John's Colinton Mains.

Colinton Mains Parish Church
As you might imagine this is a difficult time for St John's people because the building chosen for the united congregation is Colinton Mains and they are deeply sad at losing their own building that has been so much a part of their life and the life of the area.  As you have discovered, the building is to be put up for sale.  That will be hard for people to see.  There is a real hope that the site might be used for housing rather than for a supermarket  which the area does not need - it already has two and a small local supermarket as well.  

Come 31st December the building will no longer be used - and that will be another difficult time for people to come to terms with.

I hope this gives you a little of the picture of what is happening, but if you need any more info, then please do let me know.

Every best wish


Iain M Goring Interim Minister
Colinton Main & St John's Oxgangs
Mob: 07762 254 140

I'm sure all followers of The Stair will join me in wishing Iain and the new united congregation well-I can't recall whether Colinton Mains Church had bells-I don't think it does-if so it's a pity that the old St John's bell tower couldn't somehow be incorporated into Colinton Mains Church-as well as combining the two names a merging of the two buildings might go some way towards making it easier for those from St John's to adapt to life at the church down the hill-just a thought!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dr Motley-An Update

Whilst editing The Stair into a book format (1 October, 2013) I came across the following extract from the Lincoln University Centennial Alumni Directory(1954)

MOTLEY, Arthur Philip, physician; b
Clarksville Tex June 18 1907; prep
L’Overature HS McAlester Okla; at-
tended Royal College of Surgeons Edin-
burgh: LMSSA (London) 1939; m Annette T H Comb Oct 1929; chil-Annette. Gen prac of med. Mem Brit Med Assn; assoc mem Brit Assn for the
Advance of Sci; mem Coun of Scotish
Health and Soil SOC; foundation mem of
the Coll of Gen Practioners; mem Edin-
burgh Clinical Club, Edinburgh Inter-
nat Hous. Ch of Scotland. Capt Royal
Army Med Corps 1940-46. Address:
(res) McAlester Cottage Oxgangs Rd
Edinburgh Scotland.

This puts a slightly different interpretation on one or two points in the vignette on Dr Motley on 16 December, 2012. First of all he married his wife much earlier than I had surmised-in 1929, not very long after he came to study in Edinburgh. And second that he was an army captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps between 1940 and 1946. The standard period of service in this unit was seven years which ties in with these dates. So clearly he served in the British Army rather than the British or American Navy. He would have needed to have trained for 6 months at RAMC Depot, Crookham Camp, Aldershot.  Immediately after leaving the army he would have sought work, so perhaps he either joined a practice in Edinburgh or set up on his own at Oxgangs. Again, I’m surmising here, but I wonder whether he recognised that because he was black and because many people would be prejudiced it would be very difficult for a local medical practice to appoint him and that he therefore realised he would have to branch out on his own and start his own practice?

Comment From Neil: Great article Peter, thank you. Dr Motley was always a classy person, we were fortunate to have him in Oxgangs. Your article got me thinking about the dentist - Dr Russell if my memory serves me correctly. Never had a problem going to Dr Motley but hated every visit to the dentist, Dr Russell !! 

Response: Aye-I can empathise-I did a swift paragraph on Mr Russell when I was wrapping up the The Stair back on 23 December, 2012. As part of the blog's raison d'etre a charming book well worth searching out is Leaves From The Lives Of A Country Doctor by Clement Gunn set in Peebleshire a century or so ago-a rather lovely read-you won't be disappointed! :-) 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Comment From Alan Brown

Comment: 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 Callum 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 

Response: Thanks Alan-my sister Anne had a similar view of Callum and held a candle for him. I didn't really know him and he started doing well at athletics after I stopped-he was a good all-rounder competing in decathlon reaching international level. There's a Power of 10 website that may give you some information. The last I heard he was the head of an academic institute in the Midlands area. If we were off on an adventure toward the Pentland Hills we occasionally were in the NAFFI-it always had an unusual feel to it compared to the likes of The Store. I had forgotten until you mentioned it, but the original janny at Hunters Tryst was a Mr Phillip who had a tied house outside the school at Oxgangs Rise-he too wore a brown warehouse coat, so I assume they were standard issue from Edinburgh Corporation-I guess with 300-400 kids there was always someone being sick thus the trail of sawdust! Sorry I don't recall the Dutch family-I moved away in 1972 so perhaps they arrived after me.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Comment From Alan B on The White Lady

Very interesting story! Recalling an account from the early 1970's by my pal Eric Mullen (Oxgangs Ave) he, his sister, Liz, and my brother Dougie Brown, Derek Aitken, Stuart Robertson and possibly Stevie Montgomery ventured up to Comiston House/Farm ruin as a dare, while exploring around, unknown to them, Liz Mullen climbed onto the roof and rang an old bell, resulting in 5 wee laddies doing somersaults in fear and taking off at great speed. :D

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Comment From Paul Kaszynski

myself, a brat who vaguely gazed
on the knee high nineteen fifties
and the waist high nineteen sixties
and couldn't figure numbers worth a damn
was always a chancer
and given three lines to add I'd put the middle row
down as the answer
but I would read all day if I could get away with it
and all night too with a flashlight under covers
of Merlin of the borders
and in seeking out the stories of Britain's ancient lineage
I delved
on days subtracted from the blackboard's paltry tyrannies
among dog eared authorities, back shelved in libraries 

I absolutely loved this comment which arrived yesterday from Paul Kaszynski. In the Comments section of the blog it arrived as a normal paragraph, however in my e mail box it was jumbled up as in the above extract-I think it's a startling piece of poetry which resonates with me with fantastic imagery-made me think of the great Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz-check out his poem Encounter. Thanks Paul!

Paul Kaszynski

Yesterday was a red letter day as I received e mails from Paul and Douglas Blades and a big, big surprise-a lovely update on the Douglas family from Ali Douglas who has featured so prominently in The Stair. I don't think I've see Ali for forty years, but I hope to remedy that!

For Paul's full e mail comment (slightly edited), see below:

I was pleasantry surprised after dropping down the internet rabbit hole to find my self remembered.on Sturmey-Archer; Zen; and Lance v Boo-Boo + The Hoffster v Eastern Scottish! My sons stay in Firrhill Loan and I still take a walk round the area usually Colinton Dell. We moved up to 6/3 Oxgangs Street from Slateford Village about 1962. Yes, I'm still cycling just the same but never as a sport-it's the freedom and the means to be. 

All these names, some forgotten some not-I can think of a few more that have not appeared in your blog and if you wish I could add. I now live in Livingston-its a bit like Oxgangs Woods with a view to the hills which is great. As for myself-a brat knee high in the nineteen fifties who vaguely gazed to the hills and then waist high in the nineteen sixties; and couldn't figure numbers worth a damn; was always a chancer and given three lines to add I'd put the middle row down as the answer; but I would read all day if I could get away with it and all night too with a flashlight under the covers of Merlin; of the Borders and seeking out the stories of Britain's ancients lineage I delved on days subtracted from the blackboard's paltry tyrannies among dog eared authorities, back shelved in libraries 

Thanks Paul Kaszynski,on Facebook. I'm now going to prove I'm not a robot , I like that!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

On The Cusp Of the Year

Today is Thursday, 15th August, 2013. It's the last day of the year since, on a whim, I first started the blog, The Stair, on Thursday 16 August, 2012. On the cusp of the year, both for the blog and when late summer is just turning to early autumn I thought I would display this lovely photograph of the season. 

The photograph has been taken up at Swanston Road with the T Woods in the background on the lower slopes of the Pentland Hills. A local farm worker is atop a cart and horse carrying hay; they are making gentle progress up the slope on a golden afternoon at the cusp as summer turns to autumn.

It was on such afternoons throughout the 1960s and on to 1972 that I along with the other twenty four children from The Stair contemplated our return to the classroom. Quite often the weather remained similarly fine and sunny which made it a struggle to return to stifling classrooms at Hunters Tryst, Firhill and Boroughmuir Schools. Those of us with an awareness of the English system would be envious that our peers across the border wouldn't return until September.

For most of the kids we didn't really want to go back-even if by the back end of the holidays being off school had perhaps lost a little of its sparkle. I've no doubt though that a few others like Gavin Swanson who were more studious actually looked forward to the start of the autumn term and the new school academic year. I don't think I ever did, but there was always a certain 'buzz' about going back. 

The boys had visited Ben Mackenzie for a haircut-Michael; Boo-Boo; Brian and Alan Hanlon will have had their number ones, whilst Iain Hoffmann and I had our hair plastered down with jungle juice. 

For those with new schoolbags (and that unforgettable smell of leather) or new school clothes and ties or perhaps those going up to secondary for the first time many will recall these days with a mixture of excitement and pleasure, but pain might be too extreme a word choice!

Many of us were keen to squeeze the last drops from the summer fruits and as the countdown began we managed to play amongst the hay in the fields at Swanston; have grass fights with the mown grass in the front garden of 6/2 Oxgangs Avenue; or late evening games of kick-the can or British Bulldog at The Field. Bike runs were still taking place-I note that in August 1972 Paul Forbes; Boo-Boo Hanlon; Iain Hoffmann and I cycled through Arthur's Seat to Portobello whilst young Colin Hanlon cycled so far. On another occasion Boo-Boo, Iain and I watched a world record at the Edinburgh Highland Games-little did I realise that a few years later I would take part myself. 

There was still a certain continuity in our lives as milk runs and paper runs were still being undertaken, because not many of us at The Stair went away on holiday other than Liz Blades to Stonehaven; Anne Hoffmann to our New Town cousins; or Alison and Fiona Blades; Iain; Paul and I camping at Stobo, Peebles. 

For a few summers we enjoyed our Mini-Olympics at the army's former running track at Redford Barracks which were great fun. We might even manage a final visit to go jumping the burn at Colinton Mains through to the Braid-Burn Valley, but by then the grass and wild flowers and weeds and nettles had perhaps become too overgrown. 

And if it was wet, Iain, Paul and I would enjoy card games at The Blades with Fiona and the girls or play mischievously with their giant tape-recorder with Paul blowing great rasps onto the tape.

The cusp of the year was further illustrated and articulated through the school calendar.What was truly lovely about the summer was that it brought many of us at The Stair together whilst school would unfortunately divide us. At the start of the autumn term The Duffys returned to St Augustine's whilst The Hanlons; The Hoggs; Norman Stewart; The Swansons; and The Hoffmanns were divided up between Boroughmuir; Firhill; The Royal High; and of course Hunters Tryst. The cusp was thus metaphorical and literal.

And on this last day of the year of the blog whilst it should perhaps be a time for reflection I'm not inclined to go down that road, and for whatever reason I'm not inclined to quite bring down the curtain on it-and certainly not before I do a Where Are They Now blog-and even that of course is unlikely to be a final hurrah.

So, on the cusp of the year after a golden 2013 summer good luck in your adventures-and I look forward to meeting and hearing from old acquaintances and making new. And by way of update, one former member at The Stair, Fiona Blades has been accepted to undertake a PhD whilst I'm joining Iain Hoffmann on holiday to Portugal. Any updates from others would be welcome!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Comment From Neil Kellock (2/2 The Stair, 1963-1976)

Comment: Had an interesting time reading many of the posts here, great fun and brought back a lot of memories.
Got me thinking about my "Stair" on Oxgangs Ave, number 2. The families I can re-call in Stair 2 are:
The Kellocks - Neil (that's me) brothers Willie and Graeme.
Miss Hood, the old spinster who live opposite us on the ground floor.
The Strachans, can't re-call all the kids but there was a David and a couple of Strachan girls.
The Burns, I think Irene and John were the Burns kids.
Lynn Steer or Mitchell.
I'm missing some here but it's who comes to mind so far.

Response: Neil, Possibly a little before you, but the McFarlanes used to live opposite at 2/1-Colin played football etc with my peers-he had an attractive younger sister called Linda. Above you lived the Mutch family with the Burns' opposite. Stephen Westbrook lived at 2/6 with his younger sister Gillian and older sister Connie. Was it Jacqueline Purvis (or similar) who stayed at 2/7? The Bonds-Phyllis, Robert and Helen lived at 2/8. I have a good story (unprintable!) about Robert after a visit to the polo fields at Dreghorn to watch Hearts at pre-season training. My brother Iain seems to recall your brother Willie who worked at Ferrantis like many others.
ps Lynn Steer was my sister Anne's best friend for many years. She was a real character and a very bright girl-I well recall her David Bowie phase-or perhaps it wasn't a phase!*B-) cool

Saturday, 13 July 2013


We at The Stair grew up knowing only flats at Oxgangs Avenue 

and for those with long memories also the old prefabs.

However before either were built it was only farmland at Oxgangs in the first part of the twentieth century. The oxgang represented the amount of land which could be ploughed using one ox, in a single annual season. 

Oxgangs Mains Farm-Ploughing in November

As land was normally ploughed by a team of eight oxen, an oxgang was thus one eighth the size of a ploughland-thus Oxgangs?
Oxgangs Police Station-formerly Oxgangs Mains Farmhouse-I remember climbing in to the building through the door/window on the far right hand side!