'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, 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