'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

Monday, 6 August 2018

The Sunday Post #3 On the Cusp of the Year and the Return to School

Whilst summer is not quite yet on the heels of early autumn, still the above scene signifies the dreaded return to school after the summer holidays and the start of a new autumn school term. 

The photograph taken up at Swanston Road with the T Woods in the background on the lower slopes of the Pentland Hills and a local farm worker atop a cart and horse carrying hay making gentle progress up the slope on a golden afternoon hints at the cusp when summer very slowly moves toward 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 at 6 Oxgangs Avenue contemplated our return to the classroom. 

And yet perversely, quite often the weather remained similarly fine and sunny which made it a struggle to return to stifling classrooms at Hunters Tryst, Firrhill 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, which seems much more sensible.

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 (6/1 Oxgangs Avenue) 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 the hairdresser at Oxgangs Broadway for a Ben Mackenzie 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 Ben's famous 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 up at the field.

Bike runs were still taking place - I note that on the 11th August 1972, Paul Forbes (Oxgangs Place); Boo-Boo Hanlon (6/7 Oxgangs Avenue); Iain Hoffmann and I cycled from Oxgangs down through Arthur's Seat to Portobello whilst young Colin Hanlon cycled so far. 

Photograph, Wullie Croal

There was still a certain continuity in our lives as milk runs and paper runs were still being undertaken, because not many of us from the stair went away on holiday.

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 with members of the Blades family or play mischievously with their giant tape-recorder with Paul blowing great rasps onto the tape.

Four of the six Blades girls and Anne Hoffmann circa 1963

The cusp of the year was further illustrated and articulated through the school calendar.

But on reflection, 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 (6/8) returned to St Augustine's whilst the Hanlons (6/7); the Hoggs (6/4); Norman Stewart (6/3); the Swansons (6/1); and the Hoffmanns were divided up between Boroughmuir; Firrhill; the Royal High; and of course Hunters Tryst. 

The cusp was thus metaphorical and literal.

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