'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 February 2018

Pavlov's Bells

Why do many of us eat less ice cream and sweets today when they are much more readily available?

Photograph, Daniel Jackson

One of the daily rituals at Oxgangs Avenue was the sight, sound and smell of the regular ice cream vans which visited us. There were vans which visited on a daily basis and others which were like swallows, arriving in early summer and departing at the start of autumn.

Our favourite ice cream van in Oxgangs was Tony's who ran his business from a large, blue van. Tony wasn't his real name; it was actually Mario. Was it his own business or did Mario work for someone? Mario scored a ten for his film star looks, dark hair and flashing brown eyes-a bit like Seve Ballesteros; however that dropped to perhaps a six or a seven because when he emerged from the van he was quite tiny. I only ever saw him from outside the van from where he looked down on us below, so I was never aware of his diminutive height until years afterwards when Les Ramage told me.

Mario was a lovely guy. He had that great gift, you always felt that when he served you, that you were his favourite customer. His van always looked quite classy and clean. The ice cream was good. In addition to the ice cream I went through long phases of buying Topics, and also packets of Oddfellows. I wouldn't thank you for the latter today, quite medicinal. For many years Tony's Ice Cream Van appeared at four o'clock opposite The Stair, on the other side of the road. This was nicely timed for just after school. And then in the evening, the musical chimes could be heard around seven o'clock, but now on The Stair's side where he parked outside 4 Oxgangs Avenue. This was perfect timing for a post tea, pudding.

The other ice cream van which visited us regularly was Jola's-a most odd name. There was less of a relationship there; instead it was more of a transaction. The ice cream wasn't particularly nice; however we enjoyed the Payne's Poppets. I naturally thought there was only one Jola‘s ice cream van. However, on one occasion at Morningside Road I thought I was seeing double-two stationary Jola's vans were parked in a line. I guess they were taking stock on board; one served Oxgangs whilst the other must have served another community.

The irregulars were Mr Bongo who served up bongos. These were hard frozen balls of ice cream covered in chocolate on the end of a stick. Paul Forbes told us a suspicious story about one of the men who operated the van.

The other more interesting van was Mr Whippy who only seemed to ply his trade in the summer months. He always kept the van’s engine running. The combination of diesel, the distinctive ice cream and the summer heat was a powerful mixture. The ice cream was good and it was magical to see the way it emerged from the tap and the expert way the vendor curled the ice cream on top of the cone.

Tara Cottage Garden, Jamestown, with ruined Free Church in background; early evening, Saturday, 22 September, 2012  
d'Artagnan and Atticus on Pentland Hills-next stop, Lucas! 2005

Ice cream vans are a rarity nowadays-particularly here in the Highlands where I live today. Occasionally, on a quiet summer's evening, drifting across from Strathpeffer to Jamestown carried on a zephyr breeze we hear the sound of musical chimes. About six years ago when visiting Mother at Stenhouse, Edinburgh I got a lovely surprise to see Mario driving along in an ice cream van. This time the van had his own name on it; although his hair was grey, he looked as handsome as ever. Atticus and d’Artagnan were both there and were thrilled because they'd been brought up hearing about the novelty of ice cream vans

d'Artagnan and Atticus in Australia-on their way for an ice cream, January, 2006

So, today with fridges at home and more disposable income to spend on bumper packs of sweets and chocolate, why do some of us not eat confectionery quite as often? Perhaps, it's because we no longer hear the sound of Pavlovian musical chimes to draw us in.

Postscript: Mario Angelucci (‘Tony) died peacefully on 21, May, 2008 at St Columbas Hospice.

Comment We were just reminiscing about Oxgangs at the Sunday dinner table Toni's real name was Mario Angelucci and I always remember him parking at Firrhill School and no matter what you never got any change if it was 10p or less, Toni would always throw down a couple of chews or something to round it off ! Happy Daze!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Pentland Festival

One vignette that slipped through the net in my book, The Stair, was the Pentland Festival.

Not that I had forgotten it, but more because, out with the writing of the great local historian, Charles J. Smith, there was a dearth of material out there. Anyway, yesterday, whilst cycling along our Highland country lane in Jamestown I thought it’s a while since I’ve posted on The Stair blog so I thought I would pen a small post to see if it stirs up any memories amongst our readers.

The first Pentland Festival was held in April, 1964 and lasted for three days.

The name was chosen as it unified the various local communities in the area and as Smith writes the programme featured a silhouette of the Pentland Hills.

I have two main memories of the festival-one that was wonderful; t’other which was less so; but both of which summed up my personality-playing to the gallery successfully, then unsuccessfully!

In the former, I recall taking part with some of my Hunters Tryst class-mates around 1965 or 1966 in a very successful production featuring a popular one act play. I can no longer recall the name of it-was it something along the lines of ‘The Princess Chooses’? Any help on this would be very welcome!

We performed the one act play over the three evenings and received a rapturous reception from full audiences; by the third night we were well in to our stride, full of confidence and exhilarating in the event.

The programme was mainly held at the old Hunters Tryst Primary School in the main hall which was an excellent facility-not only as an auditorium, but it was spacious, with a good stage at eye level, fine heavy curtains et al.

Other events were held at the former St John’s Church-sadly, like the school, no more and also Firhill School. The overall programme included both children, young people and adults and featured not only plays, but music, singing and dancing and very professionally produced.

The ballet probably called on the services of the extra-ordinary talents of the Patricia Browne School of Dancing; whereas our play was directed, I think, by the lady who used to facilitate the annual visit to the school by a professional company.

Either Hunters Tryst or the Education Department rather imaginatively hosted the event to entertain the school with several performances throughout the day catering for P1 through to P7.

The lady who hosted the event was quite mesmerising. From behind the curtain a head would suddenly appear. The audience was hushed into silence. She would then say ‘CUCKOO! CUCKOO! CUCKOO! Act 1’ or ‘Act 2’. 

There was something rather eerie about seeing this floating head and the way she held the audience and our anticipation about what was to follow.

The driver behind the festival was to help unify the new community of Oxgangs with Firhill and Colinton, bringing disparate individuals and groups together and to help engender our cultural sensibility. 

The concept was successfully facilitated through the efforts of the charismatic Rev. Jack Orr-no surprise there and the St. John’s Church’ Women’s Guild. I certainly recall appearing in a youth group variety performance at the old church hall, but I’m unsure whether it was a part of the festival or a church event.

Smith recalls a particular highlight of the inaugural Pentland Festival being a local pop group who when they took to the stage how the younger members of the audience surged to the front of the stage. Given the City Fathers, including the Lord Provost, were present there was a certain consternation, but the event was deemed to be a major success.

Less successfully in my small world, I had a smaller role come P7-only a minor part in the choir. Probably seeking attention I got booted out for misbehaviour. Of course I couldn’t inform my parents about this so for three evenings I had to go through the charade of getting dressed up smartly in my Hunters Tryst tie and white shirt to kid on that I was going up to perform, but instead spending a lonely evening sitting on a park bench in Colinton Village until I deemed it safe to return home to comment on the evening-an Oscar winning performance which of course went completely unrecognised!

My only concern was that on the last evening-a Friday-our next door neighbours, Molly and Dougal Swanson were to be in attendance. Either their eye-sight was poor or they just kept mum, because when she enquired they replied, ‘Oh yes Anne (mother), he was very good!’


Interestingly, Smith makes mention of a regularly produced periodical entitled The Pentland Review. In the unlikely chance any reader has copies of this magazine it would be interesting to see it; and surely still, no-one out there has a copy of an old Pentland Festival programme-or do they?

Photographs detailed of the Hunters Tryst 1961-1968 class above courtesy of Catherine McQueen's Mum; those below, Scotsman Publications