'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, 10 June 2020

There Was A Gully Between Us

Second Back Row second left Peter next to the gorgeous and vivacious Joyce; Audrey Smith in the row in front four in from the right

Thus far romance hasn’t really featured within The Stair.

At primary school I took the gorgeous Joyce Colbron to ‘The Quali’ - the school-leavers’ Qualifying Dance, although I’m unsure what that meant – qualifying for what? I think I asked Joyce rather than t’other way around but who knows with Joyce. 

Peter and Joyce at Oxgangs Farm Drive before heading down to 'The Quali'

Certainly earlier on she’d invited me to one of her fantastic memorable birthday parties that her mum used to put on at Oxgangs Farm Drive so I was clearly a smart part of her life. But as alluded to on For Whom The Bell Tolls when we went our separate ways at the end of P7 I never saw Joyce again until we met up at one of the class lunches at Swanston half a century thereafter – she was still as vivacious and outgoing as ever. Serendipitously we’re sitting beside each other in the 1965 class photograph too as we were at our lunch fifty years later.

Hunters Tryst lunch June 2019 Back row Peter with his arm around Joyce

I was also quite friendly with Audrey Smith including venturing down with her and some of her dancing pals one summer to Portobello Open Air Pool. Of a summer’s evening if I couldn’t get to sleep I used to fantasise how I’d come and rescue Audrey, Rapunzel-like from her top floor flat at 6/8 Oxgangs Street in my open top sports car – boy what an imagination; little did I know she was already leading a full life on her way to carving out a successful professional dancing career. But in later years we did meet up with her again but by then she had already met the man I think she was to go on to marry.

21st April 1975 I spent several hours in the Meadowbank Cafe chatting to a variety of people including Audrey Smith my Hunters Tryst Primary School girl-friend. She’s a professional dancer appearing on the Andy Stewart shows at Hogmanay, etc. She's still as lovely in all senses of the word, a gentle girl with just an innate loveliness to her.

27th April 1975 I noticed that Audrey Smith was down at Meadowbank again today so I spoke to her for a few minutes – she’s as lovely as ever.

5th June 1975 Earlier in the day I was out with Audrey Smith, then out to Heriot-Watt and I also was up at Robin Morris’s bank (Credit Lyonnais) and then had a wee kick about at Oxgangs.

6th June 1975 In the evening I took my old Hunters Tryst Primary School girlfriend Audrey Smith to a dance but she had to leave early…

But before I left The Stair for the last time on St Andrew’s Day 1972 I had experienced both the joys and the despair that young love brings.

Tuesday 1st June 1971 I was off Boroughmuir again so no History; no Geography; no French et al. There's a very bonny looking girl called Shona who regularly walks past 6 Oxgangs Avenue with a large Red Setter dog who I quite fancy – the girl, no the dug!. I think she lives out toward Firrhill Crescent. She's tall, very thin, with long straight dark brown hair and almond eyes; she's an absolute stunner. Anyway I introduced myself by ‘accidentally’ crashing the Chopper bike into her as she passed 6 Oxgangs Avenue whilst out walking the dog on the lead. I felt dreadful afterwards for doing it but it enabled me to start speaking to her as I had to apologise profusely. She walks by daily so I'll be able to speak to her when I just ‘happen’ to be about.

Tuesday 16th November 1971 A good day for me. First thing I headed down to Morningside early doors to do my papers however what was a bit of a pain was that the staff who were supposed to be covering didn’t bother turning up on time which held us all back - the girls and I were not happy bunnies - pretty shoddy. School was fine today. The next piece of good news is that I'm totally in love with the prettiest girl who walks past 6 Oxgangs Avenue each afternoon. She takes a Red Setter dog out for a long walk away up round by the Gully. Her name's Shona Smith. I just about fell over when I saw this vision of beauty floating along outside the house. I'm already bitterly regretting my disastrous Iain administered haircut. She lives up at Firrhill Crescent. I came in quite early tonight because it was absolutely freezing cold - I'll need to wrap up for the morn's early start. The final part of the jigsaw today was that I made a wee contribution as I helped Iain with his French homework.

Wednesday 17th November 1971 I didn’t go to Dr Roger’s - that was an earlier entry and as I'd predicted I'd no intention of returning to see him. It was a right beezer out this morning; with my short hair I needed to keep my Fair Isle hat on. In to school again today; we were given the dreaded Boroughmuir exam timetable which gave me a queer feeling in my stomach. However the BIG NEWS is that I got off with Shona. We walked the dog. I thought it was her's but she walks it for a friend. She's a lovely girl and we had a good chat. It's easier to talk when you're out walking. I walked her all the way home to 26 Firrhill Crescent. It had started snowing and I ran all the way back home feeling very happy. I must start saving up hard so that I can take her out. Being a Wednesday I watched Sportsnight with Coleman. There was a big boxing match on - Britain's Jack Bodell against the famous American Jerry Quarry who’d fought Cassius. It was over in a minute - fair play to Bodell coming forward but Quarry took him out with a big right hand - it was the first time he's been knocked out - he couldn’t get up as his legs were wobbling like a jelly. The blinking announcer doesn’t hang about though - he had the microphone in his paw whilst poor old Jack was still being dragged back to his corner - aye they don’t muck about at the boxing.

Note To Self - Save Up.

Thursday 18th November 1971 I was out and about in some snow this morning doing my papers. Rather than trudging up Morningside Drive I had a wee spring in my step as I was looking forward to seeing Shona after school. I went in to school too - it was fine; I skived off mid-afternoon but it was only table tennis so I don’t think that really counts. I took the 16 bus home to get ready to go out with Shona. We had another nice walk up to The Gully then back down to Firrhill Crescent. I skipped back home to 6/2 with a light step for my tea. Top of the Pops was the only decent thing on the telly - it featured Olivia Newton-John's very catchy ‘Banks of the Ohio.’ The programme ended with Cher's ‘Gypsies Tramps and Thieves’ - there's something very haunting about that song.

Note To Self - Save Up.

Friday 19th November 1971 I did my papers but for some totally unknown reason I didn’t bother going in to school today. I don’t know why as Fridays are easy with the weekend ahead - and it would have given me more or less a full house for the week. The long and eagerly awaited guitar finally arrived in the post this morning from the Chorlton Catalogue. I don't know what I was expecting but come the end of the day I still can’t play it. After Firrhill was out Shona and I went off for a walk but we got off to a bad start - we soon made up but you don’t half need to dance around the houses to keep some people happy. It was another of our long walks. Back at Firrhill Crescent I met her dad - he seems a nice bloke. We've exchanged photos. 

Saturday 21st November 1971 Today was probably the best day of the year. Being a Saturday alone is cause to celebrate but that was only for starters. I collected my pay from Pamela Baird - always a good moment. I just kind of glided through the paper round, the reason being that I was already looking forward and planning for my first 'official' date with Shona. We were going out to the cinema to see The Go Between. Being out early made for quite a long day but it gave me plenty of time to plan ahead and get myself organised. I wanted to look my very best subject of course to the limitations of my haircut which is the only cloud on the horizon. I wore my new pair of Levi's, my Ben Sherman shirt and my parka. I collected Shona from 26/5 Firrhill Crescent and then we took a number 16 bus in to town. It was a really successful evening - better than I could have hoped for. The film was excellent; I perhaps enjoyed it more than Shona. When I'd been planning out the evening you're never quite sure how it might pan out but everything went brilliantly. Afterwards we got a bus home from Morningside no problem. I felt like I was in a dream walking Shona home along the burn and back to Firrhill Crescent. She invited me in and we sat in watching the telly and talking with her mum and dad. I managed to converse okay with them trying not to commit any faux - pas' - I think I managed. They're dead nice and even thoughtfully went off to bed shortly before I left. I didn’t get home until 12.30 a.m. I got a row for being out late but I wasn’t too bothered. I'm off to bed now to dream about Shona. 

Sunday 21st November 1971 This morning I was like the cat with the cream still purring over last evening's date with the lovely Shona. I was on cloud 9. It was a nice sunny fresh day and Shona and I went out for a long walk with the Red Setter. We were out for a good few hours wending our way around The Gully and back homeward through Braidburn Valley and on to Firrhill Crescent. It's a great feeling out walking with your girlfriend on a soft autumn Sunday - what could be better in life? A wee change from running about wild down at Meadowbank with Paul Forbes. Once I got back home to 6/2 I tidied up my bedroom adding a wee artistic touch by pinning some of my album covers on to the wall. It's not an original idea - I've seen it in the likes of the Jackie magazine and Fiona and Liz Blades from upstairs have done it too - I guess I'm trying to show Shona that I'm trendy. Early evening I nipped across to Shona’s to give her a loan of an album before running back home for a telly evening in. The Royal Variety Show was on. It was so-so - Shirley Bassey was the big star. I’m off to bed now; what a weekend - I'm on a high but of course the cautious side of me asks can it last?

Monday 22nd November 1971 I'm disappointed to write that Friday's day off from Boroughmuir extended into the start of this week as I didn't go in to school today. I did my papers okay first thing and came back home to Oxgangs and then the shutter just seems to come down. The thought flashes across my mind How do you fancy a wee day off school? and that's it - it's a bit like the Oor Wullie’s devil tempting him but without the counter balance of the angel saying ‘Now William - or Retep - just ignore that devil of a rascal.’  It's like my subconscious just closes down that side of my brain so that there's no internal debate at all. So that was that - off for the day. The only positive was being about at 6/2 for the postie - a surprising number of presents arrived from abroad from the old boy. Now that was a turn-up for the books. I could hardly wait for the school bell to ring out and for Shona to come wandering by with the dog. The two of us then went for another long walk and I ended up kissing her for the very first time - FANTASTIC - I felt dead happy. We then went back to 6/2 where we watched a wee bit of Blue Peter on the telly together before she left. 

Tuesday 23rd November 1971 I was off school again. A lovely wee repeat of yesterday as the lovely Shona and I went for a walk hand and hand (apart from when I would break off to show off a bit.). However this time we ended up kissing tons of times. After tea I was invited around to the Smiths house at 26/5 Firrhill Crescent. I was along there in a flash - well a couple of minutes as it's about half a mile away. We had a nice evening sitting in with her parents watching the telly - a film was on called Comrade X with old Clark Gable; however I wasn’t taking much of it in. Telly or not we still managed to get lots of kissing done on her doorstep before I left for home at 10.30 p.m. VERY HAPPY DAYS. I skipped home across the Oxgangs streets to 6/2. It all must have taken it clean out of me as I had some porridge and milk for my supper - I've never done that before. I sat in and penned part of a wee letter to Shona before reading for a while.

Wednesday 24th November 1971 I did my paper run first thing but once again I skived off school. The recent posts have been some of the happiest of 1971 - this one is the saddest at least so's a single subject entry - Shona. The bad news is that the BIG ROMANCE whilst not fully snuffed out I'm afraid the flame is flickering very badly. As per usual I sprinted down to Firrhill Crescent full of the joys but I never saw the train-crash coming. I know Shona likes me but she's told me she doesn’t love me. I'm the opposite. I wrote her a wee note using all the literary powers at my command partly because I'm better on paper but also it meant she'd be able to read it again after I was gone. After she read the ‘masterpiece’ she told me she'd speak to me tomorrow after school. Anyway I ran home in the bitterly cold wind in tears thinking about our likely split up.  When rather than if we break up whatever girls I meet in future I'll never care for them as much as I love Shona. She'll move smoothly on to the next man in her life. If I had access to a genie my single wish would be for her to be head over heels in love with me. I'm off to bed; I reckon it could be a sleepless night. I know you can’t hear me across the night air Shona but I love you.

Note To Self - Get letter

Thursday 25th November 1971 I still managed to get out of my bed to do the morning papers. The dark November morning reflected my dark mood as I trudged up dimly lit Morningside Drive - no oomph in my step as I thought about last night. I came home to 6/2 and of course didn’t bother going in to Boroughmuir. If I had it probably would have been good for me and taken my mind off things but how can you go back to school on a Thursday? After school Shona and I went for our usual walk with the dog up and around The Gully at Fairmilehead Park. We've decided we're not going to be serious for about a year. After tea I was out with everyone else playing at Singles. It was good running about until I took a bad fall - I've hurt my hand quite badly - probably a sprained wrist or something. When I came in I played some of my singles; I've moved the record-player; it's pretty good and actually quite cheered me up. 

Friday 26th November 1971 I put in a wee shift and did my papers first thing but no Boroughmuir afterwards I'm afraid. Instead of going in to Bruntsfield I went into town and bought myself two new records. In the evening we all had some good fun. We had a full bedroom with Shona; Joyce Vert; Steve Westbrook and Gilbert Fraser in. We heard a bit of noise outside - it was the Craigs from the bottom of Oxgangs Avenue - we chased them halfway down the road. Late on we went up to watch the Friday evening horror film at Gilbert's but it wasn’t very good at all. 

Saturday 27th November 1971 I had a bit more of a spring in my step not just because it was a Saturday and that I'd just collected my pay but because I was looking forward to spending time with Shona. It turned in to one of the best Saturdays of the year which could only have been bettered if I'd been at the school during the week to truly savour and appreciate the weekend rather than life being one long flippin holiday. After breakfast and making sure I was looking my best Shona and I spent the morning in town. We went in to Princes Street and went for a wee walk around the shops including going in to Woolies at the east end. I felt like a million dollars with such a beautiful girl on my arm. In the afternoon I enjoyed a good game of football. There was a surprisingly good crowd out. It helped that autumn hasn't quite turned in to winter. Afterwards a few of us went up to see Joyce Vert at Oxgangs Farm Drive. Mike Hanlon got off with her - she's a bonny and fun girl. In the evening I was round at 26/5 Firrhill Crescent; we spent some of the evening watching the telly including the Cilla Black Show. Later we chatted away and had a wee late night kiss - a fantastic day - back home to 6/2 at midnight. I started and finished the day with a spring in my step - it's great to be in love.

Sunday 28th November 1971 Since the Frasers moved in up above they seem to have acted as a catalyst for us all to get back out playing again. We all enjoyed a very good game of footie all helped by the decent spell of weather. It surely can’t last as winter starts officially in a couple of days’ time.  Mid-afternoon I met up with Shona and we enjoyed a wee walk out with the dog. I guess we're falling a long standing tradition of couples walking out on a Sunday. When I came back home I noticed John Fraser who’s the older brother of Gilbert and Liz out fixing his bike in the back shed. Up to now it's only ever been me who’s ever done that at 6 Oxgangs Avenue. I was speaking to him - he's a real expert on the bikes whereas I'm a bit of an amateur and a bit ham-fisted. In the evening I enjoyed a good blether with Ali Douglas and Tam Smith, two of the best lads around. I then settled back on my bed and read my Shoot football magazine. It's been a good weekend after a poor week on the schooling front.

Note To Self - Iain’s Birthday

Monday 29th November 1971 Well I went back to Boroughmuir today. In some ways it was a bit of a breeze because it was the start of the exams week. I'm not sure if that came as a surprise to me or not but I've not done any studying and had a very full weekend but I should have known better as we got the timetable a week or two back. Anyway on the good news front my absence wasn’t even commented upon or perhaps even noticed. It was the English exam today - hopefully I've got a pass. So a wee bit of English and that was that for the day I couldn’t wait to get back off home to Oxgangs where both Iain and Anne were off for the afternoon from Firrhill and Hunters Tryst. Later on a few of us had a game of football across in the playground - it’s great as it's floodlit by the street lamps. It was Iain's birthday today so we all settled down for a special wee tea including Nana’s chocolate cake; he's a teenager today so it was an even more special birthday. At night I was hanging about talking with the bunch. I still love Shona.

Note To Self - Ali Douglas’ Birthday

Tuesday 30th November 1971 Today I had two exams. We had History in the morning and Geography in the afternoon. Geography was a bit of a struggle. After school I met up with Shona. I was pretty sure we'd split up but no in fact we ended up getting on pretty well - maybe I'm winning her over with my charm.

Wednesday 1st December 1971 I perhaps spoke too soon; we had the Arithmetic Exam today and I found it pretty hard going. In the afternoon Shona wandered by and I joined her for a walk up to Fairmilehead Park and The Gully. I was going to split up with her but instead I'm now off with her - it's OFFICIAL. Later on I watched Sportsnight with Coleman. Scotland were beaten by the Hollanders 2-1; Cruyff scored early on then they got a late goal - a pity as it's a nice balanced wee team we've got there and good to see Hibs’ Pat Stanton playing for the team again

Thursday 2nd December 1971 The day started full of hope and ended in disaster. Not my Biology exam - that was always going to end in tears but my relationship with Shona. I met her after school was out and we've split up.

Wednesday 8th December 1971 With my exams out the way I didn’t bother going in to the school today. After getting Baird’s out the way, instead of going in to Boroughmuir I went in to town instead. It was a successful trip to the shops. I bought myself a new jersey at Goldbergs - it's brilliant. I also bought some Christmas cards - good to be organised. I'm not quite sure how it happened but in the evening I ended up going back down to the training at Meadowbank Sports Centre. I guess it's partly down to not going about with Shona - if she'd still been on the go I probably wouldn’t have bothered ever going back to athletics. Anyway I haven't been back since we were turfed out of the club by the Edinburgh Athletic coach Mr Walker several weeks ago. I think Wednesdays are more an evening for Edinburgh Southern Harriers; I was chatting up the lovely Jan McCall - she's as beautiful as Shona. I'm hoping to get off with her tomorrow.

Sunday 12th December 1971 My day off from papers but I was still up at a reasonable hour to fetch in the Sunday papers and rolls from Ewart’s at Oxgangs Broadway. The fair winter weather continues and late morning we all enjoyed an excellent side of football. The Robertsons have moved away now from 4/ 2 Oxgangs Avenue to Penicuik but Keith was down to visit us so it was good that he could join in with a big group of us for a game.  Mid-afternoon it was back home to 6/2 for the rest of the day. At this time of the year the light's fading pretty fast. What was good was that the telly was excellent. First of all we watched a film called Random Harvest. It was a long film but it had us all hooked from the start to the finish as it wended its way through all sorts of ups and downs caused by Ronald Colman's amnesia which ebbed and flowed throughout the film - all's well that ends well – you can’t beat a good romantic film with a happy ending. Talking about happy endings unfortunately for me Jonathon Taylor's got off with Shona. She didn't hang around. Benny Hill's number one just now and as he says in the Ernie the Milkman song: ‘But a woman's needs are many fold and soon she married Ted.’ Appropriately enough there was a film on in the evening called The Man In Between. It was another good film but quite different from this afternoon as it was a thriller rather than a romance. It starred James Mason who’s a really interesting actor. He’s got something extra - there's something about both his looks and brooding presence but I especially like his languid clipped whispering voice which I find quite mesmerising. He's obviously bright too - I read in The Sunday Express that he got a First from Oxford or Cambridge - somebody to aspire to.

Sunday 5th March 1972 Well that’s Dougie Blades in business - Edinburgh’s newest entrepreneur. He’s started his milk business at Wester Hailes and I started working as his new assistant early this morning. We drove down to Murchie’s Dairy at Tollcross to collect crates of milk etc. and then out to Clovenstone. After breakfast mid-morning Paul and I travelled across Edinburgh to Meadowbank Sports Centre to do some training; it’s the first time we’ve been down there for ages. We spent most of the day there. First we did some training then went up to the café for some chips. Later we did some more training then played some table tennis - it’s easy to sneak on. I quite fancy this girl but I’ve got no chance. However Shona Smith wants off with me again.

Monday 6th March 1972 I went in to Boroughmuir today and I have to say it was okay - not a bad day at all. And on the love-life I’m due to be getting back off with Shona again tomorrow. On top of that I went training in the evening so all round a pretty good day in the life of Retep Nnamffoh. We seem to have been accepted back in to the Edinburgh Athletic Club set up again and I quite enjoyed myself. I was doing the high jump at Meadowbank; it’s brilliant landing on the big soft mats. Oh I’ve been entered by the club in the Scottish Cross Country Championships. I got back to Oxgangs to watch Steptoe and Son; always a wee treat - ‘AROLD!’

Tuesday 7th March 1972 Having been on the go from early morning until late at night it was no wonder that I slept in for the milk this morning but I did go into Boroughmuir and once again I really enjoyed it. After I got home I went up to Joyce Vert’s before heading across to Firrhill Crescent to Shona Smith’s; we watched the Cliff Richard film Finders-Keepers. I kissed her. I ran home to 6/2 Oxgangs on the wings of love - I was just floating along. I’m off to my bed to eat some juice and crisps - Globe Red Kola and Golden Wonder Smokey Bacon.

Wednesday 8th March 1972 I was up with the dawn chorus to join Dougie for the milk run. It takes us a few hours by the time we drive down to Lochrin Place then out to Clovenstone to do the work and then back to Oxgangs before then heading into Viewforth for school. What a flipping laugh we had today. Back home to Oxgangs where I was able to watch the Ujpest Dozsa v Celtic European Cup match; it was on STV and because it was an early kick off I was able to watch it when I got in at 4 o’clock. Richard Burton and Liz Taylor were in the city filming and paid for a party for the fans - £5000 worth. In the evening Joyce Vert; Stephen Westbrooke and I went down to Shona’s. It took a while but I got round to kissing and cuddling her. I’m back home; now that I’ve written up my diary I’m off to bed.

Thursday 9th March 1972 Another not bad day at Boroughmuir again; school’s been going surprisingly well. However a disaster on the love front as Shona packed me in. It was disappointing but as it’s the second time my heart isn’t broken the way it was last November; but I’m still licking my wounds. After school and with the light really stretching out we had a great game of football down at Colinton Mains Park. I played really well; despite not playing for ages the silky touches are still there, the fitness is good and I’m still the quickest player on the pitch. Afterwards Paul and I went down to Meadowbank in the evening. It wasn’t very good but I was impressed at Helen Thomson jumping five feet - much higher than I could do and she’s younger. She’s good looking. I got home late evening. I’m sitting in the bedroom playing my records.


A few years later I bumped into the lovely Shona at Meadowbank; we must have exchanged letters. I can’t quite recall if we went out afterwards. But I don’t think so. 1975 was a busy summer for me – I was off to the European Championships, running for Britain and in love with lovely Alison Cutting so for me the world had moved on.


June Clark said...

Loved this blog! I knew the Smiths well. Shona was a few years younger than me and her brother was Craig. I lived at 26/1 Firrhill Drive in1971 and the Smiths were top flat at 26/5

Peter Hoffmann said...

Hi June - thanks for your kind comment - do you ever hear from Shona? If so please tell her I was asking after her! x

June Clark said...

I don’t Peter I moved from Edinburgh to Fife around 1985 and retired to Mexico. I do come home often and in fact last year got bus from Trinity where my sister now stays and got off at the stop for Firrhill School and City Hospital. I walked to Firrhill Drive past Oxgangs School and I do confess to having a lump in my throat remembering happy times in the street. I then walked along the side of the burn and through the Braidburn Valley into Comiston and then Morningside past the site of the Co-op where I had a Saturday job. I then carried on foot to Viewforth to have a look at Boroughmuir.
My sister Anne(Moir) still lives in Edinburgh and may know what became of the Smiths.

Peter Hoffmann said...

Thanks June - such an evocative and wistful post.