'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

Friday, 23 October 2020

OXGANGS - A Capital Story

 'Strangely compelling' - Scottish Field

OXGANGS – A Capital Story
If you would like to read what life was like in Oxgangs half a century ago then this may be the book for you or as a thoughtful gift for a family member or friend.
Told through over 200 highly readable vignettes it covers the social and cultural life of growing up in the area.
Each of the seasons of the year is covered with school-life, play and work featuring prominently within the key milestones in the ‘Oxgangs Season of the Year’ whether it’s Harvest Festival, Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Christmas and New Year then on to Easter, The Pentland Festival, the St John’s Summer Fete all rounded off with School Sports Day.
There are tales of summer outings to the local hills and jumping the burn - stealing apples and neeps - sledging down The Field in midwinter – early morning paper and milk rounds – legendary local characters including Dr Motley and the Reverend Orr and mythical ones such as The White Lady who all put in significant appearances too – then there’s the inimitable Miss Sulley and of course the great shopkeepers including such pioneers as Mr Forgan and Ian Ewart. And further - as our comics (which of course feature prominently) would say there’s also much much more!
The African proverb says ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and this story exemplifies this.
OXGANGS - A Capital Story is an updated and considerably expanded version of the book The Stair which first came out in 2012 but now with around 400 pages, 40,000 extra words and dozens of illustrations.
The book describes what life was like for a boy growing up in 1960s Oxgangs on a council housing estate in the lea of the Pentland Hills. Told through a series of over two hundred stories it paints a picture of one family living alongside seven other families in an atypical ‘stair’ telling the everyday story of their lives – the story of the sixteen adults and twenty-five children who lived at 6 Oxgangs Avenue between the years 1958 and 1972.
Since the book first appeared in 2012 new information has come to light and become available primarily through our Facebook group Oxgangs – A Pastime from Time Past. The Coronavirus lockdown gave me the opportunity to revisit the book through the prism of the group page by posting many of my vignettes on a daily basis providing some entertainment and general escape to many people during a period of national emergency. It gave members the opportunity to engage and feed in to the ongoing process - editing the book in real time so to speak.
Members’ comments and memories were gratefully received and some of them have been incorporated into the book helping to expand the story which I’ve tried to write and the portrait I’ve painted of the early days of Oxgangs and the development of the area from over half a century ago. It’s a ‘capital tale’ of a young Edinburgh community and of a stair of people seen through the eyes of not just the author but also through the eyes of others too - a local story but one with universal themes of growing up in a community.
Whilst The Stair was written from memory, ironically I had some perfect reference material available from my last two years of Oxgangs life for the years 1971 and 1972 as I have two complete Letts Schoolboy Diaries with entries for every day of the year, but when writing the book I didn’t refer to them. It occurred to me that for this new edition and new introduction that perhaps I should include some extracts from some key dates to help further set the scene and the context for the story I’ve attempted to tell and some such extracts kick off the new book.
Peter Hoffmann

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