'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, 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.