'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

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Anonymous Comment-'Today's Topic-The Broadway Shops'

Anonymous: Mr McNish had the post office and his wife run the wool shop during the eighties. The wool shop was the third shop in, Ewarts being one and two. Opposite was the butchers Armstrongs. The fruit shop became a video rental shop. If I remember correctly, the wool shop eventually moved to the opposite corner before closing down, and it's original spot was taken by a beauticians, a theme which has stayed ever since. The store became Dennis's, he still runs it today. Hairdressers up top is still there. The chip shop was owned by Carmen, and was family run until he passed away and his youngest son kinda made a mess of the business. Not seen a mention of The Vintry, the off licence that was part of the Good Companions, that finally closed in the late eighties(I think Dennis was taking too much business). Just some of the stuff I remember that may help, although more recent.

Response: Thanks for the comments on The Broadway shops-as you say slightly more recent. You're right about the location of McNish's wool shop-I had forgotten it was three shops in. 

Agree, 'The Vintry' has slipped through thus far on the blog-looking back the concept was a bit of an oddity-a place for people to buy alchohl without having to enter the bar-it always had a timeless, very early 1960s feel to it-a place to buy some 'Babycham'; 'Schweppes' Bitter Lemon'; and I think they were the only retailer to stock the no longer produced 'Tudor Crisps'. 

I assume back then there were no age restrictions either, because I'm sure I must have been sent there to buy a small bottle of spirits as a child. The counter wasn't manned-there must have been a bell on the counter to summon a member of bar staff to come through to the shop.

Friday, 12 December 2014

City of Edinburgh Libraries-The Stair

Pleasing to see (home) City of Edinburgh Libraries stocking -trust the local Oxgangs borrower is enjoying it! :-)

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Dr Who-An Unearthly Child

"When I am weak, then am I strong."—2 Corinthians 12:10.

Regular followers of the blog will know how much the author enjoys (apparent) paradoxes. Indeed, if one were into deconstruction, if there were such a thing as a format or style to these vignettes, some of them begin with a paradox and end with a cliché.

On 22 November, 2012, I posted the blog, Life and Death in Oxgangs and Dallas. It recorded my memory as a seven year old of the assassination of President Kennedy. What I had not recalled was that the following day, the 23 November, 1963, the first episode of Dr Who was televised.

I missed the first episode, but Norman Noggin Stewart (6/3) mentioned it to me. Many kids at Hunters Tryst Primary School enthused about the programme, particularly about how thrilling and scary it was. Although the first episode was shown on a Saturday tea-time on this date, fifty one years ago today, most unusually, it was then repeated the following week, immediately before the second episode was aired. This wasn't to cater for viewers such as myself who had missed it, but because there had been some technical hitches with the first screening the previous week.

Thus, on the following Saturday, I arrived back home in the early, but dark evening, straight from a Hearts match. Like millions of others I was captivated by the new series. In the first episode, The Unearthly Child, Ian and Barbara discover the Doctor and of course the Tardis in 1960s London. Thereafter, we were whisked off to the Stone Age. 

I always used to gulp each time they landed on a new planet and opened the Tardis’ door and hesitantly stepped out. Don’t do it!  Don't go out there-stay within the comfort, safety and security of the Tardis. Or, as Tolkien puts it more eloquently in The Lord of the Rings
It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.

It became even scarier when the Daleks appeared and Iain and I often hid behind the sofa. We would be watching intently, mouths agape and hadn’t noticed Father had crept up behind us. Living up to his Germanic last name he indulged in some Schadenfreude as he expertly chose his moment to suddenly grip one of our shoulders and bellow 'Whoa!' We'd leap into the air terrified.

So how could being weak, help make us strong? Perhaps, at a deeper level, when the Doctor and his companions opened the Tardis’ door and stepped out on a new adventure, for some of us it was part of the socialisation process. At a subconscious level we realised that in life to grow and mature and take one's place in the world, you can only do so by taking that brave step into the unknown-to become an earthly child, rather than an unearthly child.

ps An even scarier thought-many of us thought William Hartnell looked ancient in 1963-it's dawned on me, I'm now actually three years older than he was at the time-fifty eight years old to his fifty five-oh for a time machine!

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Birth of The Stair and A Christmas Carol

Birth: 'the coming into existence of something'.

In the bleak mid-winter, Dickens' Christmas stories give the reader images of hope and light; warmth and joy; as well as transformation and resurrection. However, the light is tempered by the darkness and cold too which makes it even more life enhancing. 

The hope comes from spring, surely following winter and the renewal of life as Scrooge is restored to the good values of his boyhood and youth. 

Six decades ago in the deep mid-winter of 1958, the Hanlon family moved into the newly built Edinburgh Corporation flats at 6 Oxgangs Avenue to take up residence at ‘The Stair’; Charlie and Hilda were full of hope at the beginning of the exciting adventure ahead and novelty of bringing up their family in a new home.

Like the other young families at ‘The Stair’ they had their dreams and aspirations of the good life and raising their children as well as they could, with all the fun, joys and worries inherent.

At this time, only Michael, the eldest brother had been born; he would only have been around one year old; Brian, Colin and Alan would come along in the following years.

When the family took up their tenancy at 6/7, like the other seven families in residence at ‘The Stair’, they were issued with a rent book. It records their rent as being eighteen shillings a week.

Most remarkably, Hilda, the last remaining original member at ‘The Stair’, still has the family's first rent book. It records their date of entry as 15th December, 1958.

In a way the document records the birth of ‘The Stair’, when one of the original inhabitants first took up residence there and is perhaps a unique document of its type. 


Brian speaks humorously about the family's first experience. Hilda recalled the Hoffmann family had already moved in downstairs to 6/2 slightly earlier. The coal-man was delivering coal to our family-Ken and Anne Hoffmann, the author (Peter aged two) and my brother, Iain (aged only a month).

Hilda wanted to buy some coal in too, to heat their new home. However, the coal merchant turned down her request as she lived on the top floor and he mustn't have fancied walking up another three flights of stairs. Given it was mid-winter and Michael, the eldest brother was still only a baby, the stone-hearted coal-man clearly wasn't full of the Christmas spirit.

He reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge to Bob Cratchit, that '...there will be no coal burned in this office today...'  

Hilda must have found a way forward, not only to heat their new top flat home with its fantastic views to the hills and the sea, as well as the prominent Edinburgh Castle, as she and Charlie went on to successfully raise their four boys in a happy household, throughout the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. 

'Edinburgh in Snow' William Crozier

Spring and indeed summer followed winter. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Swanston Reunion-'Boo-Boo'; Iain; and the Author

Iain Hoffmann; Brian 'Boo-Boo' Hanlon; and the author, Swanston Golf Club, 12 November, 2014
Lovely to meet up with Iain Hoffmann and Brian Hanlon, two of the stars of The Stair for a fun filled lunch at Swanston Golf Club today-first time we've all met up together for over 35 years when we used to walk the Pentlands as kids; sneaked up to Swanston to get our neeps from the farmer's field for our Halloween lanterns; visited Edinburgh Castle or a wild trip to the old Woolies on Princes Street! 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Oxgangs Library

Delighted to hear from Oxgangs Library that they intend to order a copy of 'The Stair' for their stock!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Edinburgh and Lothians Life Magazine Book Review

Very surprised and happy to see the November/December, 2014 issue of Edinburgh Life and the Lothians magazine list 'The Stair' 'As A Good Read This Christmas', not to mention it being on the same page as Alexander McCall-Smith, giving the great man some much needed publicity! ;-)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

'Neep!'-An 1960s Halloween Boo-Boo and Iain style.

Iain Hoffmann and 'Boo-Boo' Hanlon

Back in the 1960s around Halloween passersby would get a musical surprise when walking past the sheds at the back of The Stair. The startled neighbours would glance up to see Boo-Boo Hanlon and Iain Hoffmann perched on the middle of the shed roof singing 'Once in China there lived a great man...!

They had just returned from a visit up to Dreghorn Mains Farm Supermarket where they had acquired a couple of neeps. If you looked a bit closer, they were sitting cross legged preparing their lanterns and clearly practicing their harmonies for going out guising later in the evening. According to Boo-Boo they used to eat the insides of the raw turnips, to get rid of the evidence!

Abandoned Dreghorn Mains Farm buildings close by the Edinburgh city bypass. The site has been cleared recently, probably pending some development.

  © Copyright Callum Black and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Monday, 27 October 2014

A Leap of Faith-Jimmy’s Revenge!

This is the long awaited (!) follow up to 'Jimmy's Green Van' published on 21, September, 2012.

Jimmy got his revenge some time later. Lots of the boys at The Stair used to wait for the Green Van to drive off and we would then leap onto the back steps of the vehicle for a free hurl. He always drove about two hundred yards along Oxgangs Avenue to his next stop. On one occasion it was only me who had quietly hopped on-well blimey he must have seen me in the mirror and known it was me.

Instead of stopping, he kept on driving along the Avenue. The van built up speed and was soon travelling at 30 mph so I couldn't leap off. I was terrified! What would I do? Very fortunately, when the van reached Greenbank, it struggled to maintain the speed up the hill and slowed down. It was now or never, because at the top of the hill it was all downhill to Morningside. With a ‘leap of faith’ I jumped off backwards taking a quick pitter-patter step, the way we did getting off a moving number 16 bus. I managed to stay upright. It was with great relief I’d absconded-I’d escaped and was free to walk all the way home back to the safety of The Stair. I had lived to fight another day and to enjoy further adventures. 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Scottish Field November, 2014, Book Review, The Stair

I was standing in Tesco's haeing a free read o' the magazines, when I stumbled across this-couldn't resist buying a copy! :-)

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

'The Stair' Book Reviews

Now available in illustrated paperback from Amazon.

'Brought back many memories, a very enjoyable read, a must for all who were brought up in the Oxgangs area.' Vanessa Campbell 16 January, 2015

'Good read especially having been brought up in Edinburgh not far from Oxgangs in that time frame.' Pamocwylde 2 January, 2015

'Reading your wonderful book and loving it. I lived in the Crescent and have so many memories of Oxgangs.' Sandra Donnan

'A good read this Christmas.' Edinburgh Life and the Lothians, November/December, 2014

'Strangely compelling' The Scottish Field, November, 2014

'It's a good read.' Ray McMahon

'I am sure there is a movie in there, somewhere!' Ruth Kaye

'A trip back to the days when kids actually played outside. A great read whether you come from Oxgangs or not as it transports you to a time when you had ice on the INSIDE of the windows, hairy blankets in the pre-duvet days, hot water bottles, banana sandwiches at parties and roller skates on books.. Great job by Peter Hoffmann and would make an excellent Christmas present for any mum or dad who lived through 60s and 70s Oxgangs.' Jim Hunter

'As someone who was born in Oxgangs and still living there today, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It transported me back to the good old days with great memories of Oxgangs as it used to be (a great community) – wish it was still the same. Everyone in Oxgangs should have a copy of this book and most definitely all those who grew up in the Oxgangs of old.' June Marr

'Beautifully written ,this book is a loving and nostalgic reminiscence of a boyhood spent on an Edinburgh Council Estate. Buy and read this charming book. You will not regret it.' Anne Duncan

'I couldn't put it down!' Louise Melville

'This is a great book which brings back so many great memories and friendships; every time I visit my mum and walk through The Stair door at no 6, you can't help but go back in time and remember all the mischief most of us got up to 45 to 50 years ago-thanks Peter.' Brian Hanlon

Haven't finished this book yet but enjoying it so far. Although a child of the 70s and so coming to the era slighter later than the cover title advises, I've found this an enjoyable read which chimes with many of my memories of growing up in Oxgangs. Nearly all my memories of living there are also happy ones, I must confess, despite the power cuts, the cold winters and the "relative" poverty experienced by many living in the area. Hunters Tryst, Bar Ox, Swanston, Morningside, Sandy's, the High Flats they are all here. An affectionate, if slightly rose tinted, look back at a simpler time. Highly recommended. Thanks to the blogger, Peter Hoffmann, for capturing the essence of life back then. This was the kind of book I always hoped I'd write, but never have...yet. G Craig

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Drum Major

One of the most colourful little scenarios that used to take place each teatime at 'The Stair', throughout the summer evenings in the 1960s was the sight of the drum major who practiced throwing and twirling the regiment's mace at the side of 2 Oxgangs Street, in what was the wee field. Looking back he was probably appearing at the Edinburgh Tattoo at the castle later on in the evening.

The easiest way to learn to juggle, is to stand quite close to a wall, so perhaps that was why he stood so close to the building when he practiced.

Whilst we were in the living room eating our beans on toast and watching Robin Hood on the telly, for quarter of an hour or so, he used to go through his whole repertoire. He was quite amazing to watch as the mace weaved its way through his hands, especially given the size and weight of it-it must have been around six foot in length.

The routine began in a slightly conservative way with the mace at a diagonal across his body. Then it would begin to wend its way through his hands, twisting its way from side to side and round and round, followed by the mace spinning on its axis through the air. After some cycles it would then fly sky-wards, up into the air and as it dropped down, he would deftly catch it. Sometimes he might pause with the mace held horizontally under his nose, but mostly there was almost constant movement unless he made such a dramatic pause; then the cycle began once again, yet he never seemed to move from the one spot, unless he did some stationary marching. He was incredibly efficient and minimalist in his movements, indeed the only part of him which appeared to move most of the time were his hands and lower arms.

As he completed each cycle, the mace would be thrown higher and higher into the air until it was at around level two of 'The Stair'. The performance would build and build until the mace was heaved high into the air which signaled the dramatic end to a truly mesmeric and dazzling performance. In all the years of witnessing him practice, I never, ever saw him drop it-well if he had it was probably a court martial offence, plus I suspect he took a real pride in his craft!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Comment From Gerry Frew

Hi Peter,
I stumbled across your site the other day and have been totally wrapped up in it since. I grew up on Oxgangs Road North opposite the Park and just down from the store. I went to school with the Duffys (St Mark's then St Augustine's) and though John Duffy was in my brother's year we used to hang out together on occasion. I think Mary was in my year and I must confess I harboured a secret crush on her for a while. You mentioned the Dibley family and I recall trying to get off with Lesley at a party but like most things when you're that age, it didn't last long. I must say thanks for evoking so many happy memories.

Regards, Gerry Frew

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Colinton Mains Parish Church and the Pentlands 19 August, 2014

Down in Edinburgh for the Festival this week-a wee snap on the coffee walk on a fresh, late summer morn at Colinton Mains Park.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Lost in the Hills

Ronnie Browne and Roy Williamson aka 'The Corries'

Out-with our camping holiday to Stobo, the first real holiday which Anne and Iain Hoffmann and I ever had, was a wonderful autumn week at Ettrick Valley with the Browne family. In the family tree, the Brownes occupied the same spot as ourselves-'Pumpa' and 'Wee Nana' were grandparents and great-grandparents. At the time, 1970, Ronnie Browne of ‘The Corries’ fame had a lovely old farmhouse set within the Border hills.

Anne, Iain and I were driven down there by our grand-aunt, Violet, along the old country B roads from Dalkeith to Ettrick Valley. Great-Aunt Violet was over seventy years old at the time and a real character. She had a ‘baby Austin’. We sailed down on a golden early, autumnal Saturday afternoon, which was lovely and sunny. In the middle of the road I recall us seeing a dead grass snake.

The Browne’s farmhouse was quite magical and quite different from life at grey Oxgangs. There was a snooker table; Ronnie’s lovely paintings were on the wall; and there was a fascinating upstairs room, which you reached by entering what appeared to be a cupboard door in the kitchen-straight out of CS Lewis.

We loved that holiday, playing happily with Lauren, Gavin and Maurice. The family looked after us brilliantly; we were well fed and we had such great fun. We played outside during the day and when darkness fell, played spooky games in the evening. I recall thinking how clever Ronnie was when he was creating a new rose garden. He cut out a large circle in the lawn, by placing a stick in the ground in the centre; attached to this was string, pulled tight, with a knife on the other end; he thereafter stretched it out and marked out a perfect circle, which he used as the perimeter of the border, before lifting the turf.

Ettrick Valley

A major memory was me getting lost in the hills. I’d borrowed Gavin’s bike in the early morning and before anyone was awake, followed a Forestry Commission lorry deep into the forest and hills. I lost my way and cycled around lost, for six or seven hours. I of course ran out of energy and was getting quite desperate. 

God knows what the Browne household thought and Ronnie wouldn't have been looking forward to conveying the bad news to my mother. ‘Anne, I've got some bad news and good news. The bad news is we've lost one of your kids, but the good news is that it’s Peter!’ 

Anyway, after wandering around hopelessly in circles for hours, around tea-time, I heard the whine of the lorry’s engine which I’d tried to follow first thing. I chased after it and managed to stop it. After relaying my tale to the forestry worker, he threw the bike on the back of the lorry and took me into the cabin. He gave me the remains of his piece-Gales lemon curd and margarine sandwiches-nothing ever tasted so good again. 

Fortunately I’d remembered the house phone number (Ettrick Valley 320); with the heat of the cabin and my exertions, I quickly fell asleep. The Forestry workman stopped at a telephone box and phoned Ronnie, who was just about to call out the Mountain Rescue and the police! The next thing I knew was awakening, to the welcome and happy sight of Ronnie and my siblings and cousins.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Helen Blades and the Commonwealth Games

The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow are almost upon us.

Fifty summers ago, Helen Blades (6/6); Marion Dibley (4/4); and Anne Duncan (Hoffmann) loved to sit out in our back garden, which was a little sun-trap. It was a rare interlude from the drudgery of the everyday lives of the mums. They enjoyed the sun and the craic over a Kensitas or Players Number 6 cigarette.

Marion and Helen were such optimists, so there was always much laughter. With their children around them, sitting on chairs and blankets with their backs against the shed wall, they enjoyed the moment as they soaked up the sun's rays.

Peter; Anne; and Iain Hoffmann with their mother Anne circa 1962

Gail; Fiona; Liz; Ruth; and Esther Blades

On one occasion, I was showing off as usual, by sprinting around the four blocks. Helen said to me, 'Peter, one day you'll be in the Commonwealth Games.' I felt a million dollars, until Liz Blades (not unrealistically) said 'Don't be SILLY, mummy.' I was immediately deflated and my pride was stung.

Helen Blades

Helen died on 20, October, 1978. We attended her funeral, four days later on 24, October. I wore my Commonwealth Games blazer as a mark of respect, because she had helped light the spark.

1978 Scotland Commonwealth Games, Athletics Team
(Peter Hoffmann back row, third left; Paul Forbes, second row, fourth right)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

World Cup, Mexico 1970

One of the very few occasions I felt I had a relationship with my father, Mr Ken Hoffmann, was when the 1970 World Cup was on. I recall the Brazil v England match being transmitted to Oxgangs in the evening. On 7 June, 1970 he allowed me to stay up to watch the game. The two of us sat together. It felt strange because I wasn't used to being alone in his company-everyone else had gone off to bed. Also, aged thirteen, I was getting a little older and it was an early staging post in an evolving relationship.

My appetite for the tournament had been whetted in the weeks leading up to it. Esso were running a promotional scheme whereby World Cup coins of the England team were being offered with each visit to buy petrol. As ever, my grandfather looked after my interests. Whenever he gave me a few packets of the free gifts it was so exciting to open them up to see what player was inside.

The coins were lovely and very collectible with attractive designs and true to life depictions of each player. The full set of coins were set in a blue board.