Comments

'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, 30 September 2012

Whit, nae Sunday Post!


How many families didn't read The Sunday Post in the 1960s?

For many years we didn't buy a copy of The Sunday Post, but read my grandfather's copy on our weekly family visits. As children in the early 1960s it was mainly the Fun Section that we read. This was a double spread on either side of the page. The Broons were the main feature on one side, and Oor Wullie on the other. Sometimes my grandfather would just remove the Fun Section for us if he was reading the newspaper.

The Broons and Oor Wullie

The Broons were good, but wee Wullie probably just shaded it. There were also other features which I enjoyed-some jokes, puzzles and for many years, Nero and Zero, two Roman guards who were supposed to look after Caesar; there was also Nosey Parker. This Sunday ritual with Family Favourites and either Jean Metcalfe or Cliff Michelmore on the radio in the background was always a very relaxing and a key part of these Sundays mornings at our grandparents home at Durham Road, Portobello before the Sunday roast dinner was served up .

As we grew older in the late 1960s we began to alternate our Sunday visits and so like millions of others, we started to buy our own copy at 6/2. Gradually, I was able to progress  from just reading the Fun Section to the sports pages and then regular columns such as The Hon Man. His adventures could be quite interesting, particularly if the editor had perhaps sent him away to live on a pound a day or to tour around the Highlands camping and of course report back weekly, in a humorous vein.

Tom and Will Hoffmann, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, January 2004
Tom Hoffmann reading Oor Wullie Stockbridge,
Edinburgh, January 2004 

Will and Tom were brought up on the annuals-more of in a future blog. Reading the sauce bottle at the dinner table, leads on to Oor Wullie; The Four Marys; Alf Tupper; Peter Pan; Robin Hood; and then Holden Cauldfield; Atticus Finch; Pip; and Anna Karenina....

Given the dramatic reduction in newspaper buying The Sunday Post's circulation is still very high, however back in the 1960s I believe it had the highest reader penetration per head of the population of any newspaper in the world.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

No Pedlars, Hawkers or Salesmen!

I was going to entitle this blog, Balloon or a Balloon? after an exchange of comments with Liz Blades-Hamilton in Australia, previously 6/6, The Stair. However, apart from going easy on my younger self and saving it for another day, I was also reflecting on the number of  salesmen who had featured in this little run of blogs-Jock the Fishman; Jimmy the Grocer; Mario the Ice Cream-man.



It made me think of a door plate that I saw at a few houses at Morningside when I was doing my early morning paper run for Bairds Newsagents. The sign said No pedlars, hawkers or salesmen. I didn't have a clue what the first two terms meant, but always found the sign interesting. When I read the sentence out loud  it had a certain rhythm to it-like the title of a Cher song. It also seemed quite intriguing too. Even now, there's almost a medieval feel to it.

It's made me reflect on how lucky we were in some respects to be brought up in Oxgangs at The Stair. There was a certain richness of experience in our lives which might have been missing if we'd been brought up elsewhere. We met all these wonderful characters and shared in the vibrancy and colour of communal living. If we'd stayed in the leafy suburbs of Morningside life would have been quieter and much more solitary.

So, No Pedlars, Hawkers or Salesmen certainly wasn't the kind of door-plate that appeared on any door at The Stair. Perhaps, if there had been, it might have been as below!


Or on second thought it might have been any or all of these!
For the earlier blog on Jimmy's Green Van either of the following two badges might have been appropriate!

The Y is unfortunately missing!

Friday, 28 September 2012

6/8 The Duffys Or Tell Laura I Love Her!

Of the eight families who were a core part of The Stair the Duffys were the last family to move in. I knew them less well than other families for three main reasons. 

First because they were the last family to move in and other relationships had formed and developed. Second, because they didn't mix with the other families to quite the same extent-they were well brought up and led quite orderly lives-I don't recall seeing them out and about much. And third, because of religion. 

The Duffys were the only Catholic family in The Stair and it meant that for substantial parts of the week, our paths didn't cross. Between Monday and Friday each of the four Duffy children-Ann; Laura; Mary; and John attended different schools to the rest of the children. And on a Sunday they were regular worshippers at St Mark's Catholic Church and we were away visiting our grandparents. So for six of the seven days, they led separate lives to most of us in The Stair. 




St Mark's Church, Oxgangs, Edinburgh
Because they took up residence in The Stair later than the rest of us, the older Duffy children, had already formed friendships elsewhere. I guess it was a similar situation to what I alluded to in the earlier blog on Norman Stewart-that when he and I began to attend different secondary schools-The Royal High School and Boroughmuir Senior Secondary School, the ties with our peers who attended Firrhill Seconday School loosened.

Mrs Annie Duffy was the head of the household-like Laura she had red hair. She seemed to be the dominant figure in the household, with Mr Duffy being relatively quiet. I liked Mrs Duffy. After I had moved away I occasionally used to bump into her in later years during the seventies when I was visiting Mrs Anne Hoffmann (Duncan). I enjoyed having a wee blether with her. I think she took a small interest in my athletics, which I was pursuing at that time.

I don't really have many memories of two of the daughters, Ann and Mary. However, I have more substantial memories of Laura and John, who was the youngest. 

Laura was a very attractive red head. Each week-day morning we used to queue at the same bus stop-the one outside the doctor and dentist surgeries. It was a very busy bus stop-it was the last stop at which one could get on the number 5, 16, 4 and 27 buses.

I used to go across to the bus stop each morning at around eight o'clock. It was busy with women and men going off to work as well as children going away to schools in the city. Laura was always there in the queue, just in front of me. I always rather fancied her, but she always remained supremely aloof from me, studiously avoiding any eye contact whatsoever. I was the opposite feasting my eyes on her great beauty.

I always felt she looked down on me rather disdainfully-well who could blame her! She was out of my class. On one occasion I actually plucked up the courage to ask her out, but fainted before she replied-only joking(!)-she of course turned me down, but it at least forced her to speak to me!

And there was me trying to look my very best each morning after battling with my unruly, curly hair having plastered it down earlier with liberal splashings of water combined with the wonderful flattening qualities of the hood of an old anorak  Oh, if Laura only knew of the great lengths I had gone too on her behalf, perhaps she might have considered my request more favourably. I think not. Unfair as it may be to say, whilst I thought her lovely, I also considered her snooty!


No Laura, but there were other small compensations!
(Boroughmuir School Dance David Lines; Rhona Clelland; Marion Scott; Peter Hoffmann)

The Hanlons lived opposite the Duffys and were the family in The Stair closest to them-particularly the parents who socialised with each other in later years. I think both Colin and Boo-Boo were quite good pals with John, because of their common interest in football and Boo-Boo also supported Celtic. I think the Blades were  friendly with the Duffys too.


Boo-Boo Hanlon modelling his new Celtic strip
(Photograph, Peter Hoffmann, 1971)




John Duffy, Colinton  Park, 1971 (Photograph, Peter Hoffmann)

The member of the family who I knew best was John, because of a shared interest in football. He was an enthusiast and a nice little player. He was a pleasant lad-modest, gentle and unassuming. He played football competitively, including for his school. On a few occasions we held large two a side football competitions in Oxgangs, with teams drawn out of a hat. We used to play for  a Subuteo Cup! On one occasion I won the 'World Two a Side Competition' with John.


Was it rain or was it sweat?-Probably it was both as there was very heavy rain that week.
John Duffy and Peter Hoffmann with the Subuteo Cup at dusk after a long and tough two a side tournament
 (Monday, 2 August, 1971)



Looking back, it's illuminating that my relationship with John was at its strongest during the school holidays, when there were more opportunities to spend time together.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Moon River

I was sorry to hear of the death of Andy Williams yesterday.

The Andy Williams Show was an integral part of our weekly viewing from the late 1960s into 1971. Every Thursday evening we used to watch the programme as a family. It was where we all first saw The Osmonds who appeared weekly almost as a house-band-it was where they got their first break. It was a classy show-I've noted the show in my Letts' School Diary in January, February and March, 1971 reviewing it regularly as good and once, as fabulous!



It was a variety show with an amazing range of guests, particularly singers and some zany humour-anyone remember the Cookie Bear




We saw Ray Stevens sing Bridget the Midget and went out and bought the single.  



Andy Williams always opened the show with Moon River; I also liked the way he finished the show too each week-he would walk between two sections of staging which opened and fanned out singing 'May Each Day Of The Week', stopping once or twice on the way to the stage to dance a small waltz with women in the audience.

May each day in the week be a good day
May the Lord always watch over you
And may all of your hopes turn to wishes
And may all of your wishes come true

May each day in the month be a good day
May you make friends with each one you meet
And may all of your daydreams be mem'ries
And may all of your mem'ries be sweet

The weeks turn to months and the months into years
There'll be sadness and joy, there'll be laughter and tears
But one thing I pray to heaven above
May each of your days be a day full of love

May each day in the year be a good day
May each dawn find you happy and gay
And may all of your days be as lovely
As the one you shared with me today

May each day of your life be a good day, 
And good night.

(Green/Wyle)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Harvest Festival

Was it the poorest giving to the poor?

'The Harvest Moon', Peter Hoffmann, 2008

At this time of the seasonal year in the 1960s, often tying in with the Harvest Moon, the annual Harvest Festival was held at Hunters Tryst School. Local schoolchildren were expected to bring in small items of food-some fruit, vegetables or a tin. The contributions were then laid out artistically on tables in the school hall and made for a wonderfully colourful display. There would be a special Harvest Service held in the school-hall conducted by the Reverend Jack Orr from the local parish church.



St John's Church of Scotland, Oxgangs
Because of its religious connotation, I don't suppose these Harvest Festivals are still held in many schools, but I suspect they're actually more grounded in pagan tradition. Certainly the word haerfest is the old English word for autumn. I enjoyed the occasion-they always had a particularly happy, optimistic feel to them reflecting the celebration of autumn and the bringing in of a good harvest; it was an interlude before winter set in and it was another of the rather comforting milestones in the calendar year, which are important to children.

The food was thereafter distributed to local pensioners, but I wonder if they were not less in need of the largesse than many local young families in Oxgangs?






Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Q-Bikes, Don Quixotes, all!

Any followers of the blog remember the Q Bikes?


If you do, you'll recall the strip with fondness-if you never came across it, you missed a great series. The Q Bikes first appeared in the Beano in 1963 and further series followed until the sixth and last one in 1971. Apart from The Iron Fish and Red Rory of the Eagles they were probably the best thing about the Beano.


If you have a question about the Q Bikes I'll pick up my quill and try to give the quintessence or the essential quality of the team, but you will need to join the queue before I can quell or indeed quench your query, but please don't quibble, because I'll be as quick as I can to prevent you from quizzing me further about their adventures or quest to fight crime by pursuing their quarry, on high quality bikes, not through quantity as there were only six of them, Q1 Jonny Masters; Q2 Billy Brown; Q3 Alfie Thomson; Q4 Tom Steptoe; Q5 Judy Best, I suppose the queen amongst them; and Q6 Buzz Taylor, they had radio headsets and were armed with high powered water rifles which could quelch criminals with a quart of water, and although not qualified, yet without a quaver and no questions asked, they picked a quarrel with some queer individuals in the quaint county lanes of Wrexton, Cornwall, and would not quit until they'd reached their quota for the day and on that note I'd better go quietly, having given you a flavour of their quixotic (good one to finish on!) adventures!



Interesting, post-Olympics and regular news features about encouraging children to take more exercise, how powerful an influence characters such as the Q-Bikes were in encouraging kids to cycle. At Oxgangs we had our own team on Raleigh Choppers: RC1 Les Ramage; RC2 Derek Ramage; RC3 Ali Douglas; and RC4 Iain Hoffmann, but that's your quota I'm afraid, you'll need to wait for more in a future episode.

'Purr-fect' Iain Hoffmann and his Chopper and Simon the Cat
(Photograph, Peter Hoffmann circa 1971)

Les Ramage revving up his Chopper;
 Mark Robertson 4/2 and John Duffy 6/8 The Stair look on approvingly
(Photograph, Peter Hoffmann circa 1971)

'The Headless Rider' performing a wheelie on Iain Hoffmann's Chopper
(Photograph, Iain Hoffmann circa 1971)


Monday, 24 September 2012

Invasion Of the Creatures From Outer Space

Some neighbours thought that perhaps Dr Who wasn't fictional drama after all.

These neighbours who I speak of were accustomed to seeing people from Planet Earth riding horses as they had done for centuries. However, in the year of Our Lord, 1969, The Stair came under attack from very strange creatures from Outer-Space. Young girls resembling Eilleen Hogg, Anne Hoffmann and others were seen riding fat, distended, ghastly orange creatures. A further oddity was this was done bare-back, with the riders holding on to the creatures' horned ears. Fortunately these creatures did not adapt too well to Earth-at Oxgangs this proved to be a very inefficient form of transport-after several bounces the invaders seemed to run out of steam and needed to take breathers. These creatures went under the name of Space-Hoppers.



Eilleen Hogg circa 1969/1970 (Photograph , Peter Hoffmann)

A happy Anne Hoffmann just after dismounting from a Space-Hopper! circa 1969/1970 (Photograph, Peter Hoffmann)

After a while the creatures just seemed to fade away-to run out of gas, so to speak. No one knows what happened to them; and what about the Space-Hoppers?-before you breathe a sigh of relief, beware Earthlings and other followers of The Stair-the Space-Hoppers may not all be extinct-indeed, it is rumoured many still exist and are hiding away in peoples' attics or sheds.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Pavlov's Bells

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

Photograph by Daniel Jackson

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

The favourite ice cream van was probably Tony's who ran his business from a big blue van. Tony wasn't his real name, which I think was actually Mario. I assume it was his business? He scored a ten with 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 when he emerged from the van, because I believe he wasn't very tall. I only ever saw him inside the van from which he looked down on us below, so I was never aware of his height until years afterwards. I think it was Les Ramage who told me this.

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, but 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 on the other side of the road-nicely timed for just after school and then in the evening around seven o'clock, but now on The Stair's side where he parked outside 4 Oxgangs Avenue.

The other regular ice cream van was Jola's-an 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. On one occasion I thought I was seeing double at Morningside Road-two stationary Jola's vans parked together-I guess they were taking on stock; 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, which I couldn't repeat in public!


The other more interesting van was Mr Whippy who was only ever there in the summer months. I distinctly recall the way he kept his van engine running and the smell of diesel mixed in with the smell of ice cream and the summer heat-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 it around the ice cream cone.

Tara Cottage Garden, Jamestown, with ruined Free Church in background; early evening, Saturday, 22 September, 2012 (Peter Hoffmann)
Today ice cream vans are a rarity-occasionally on a summer's evening we hear the musical chimes drifting across to Jamestown from Strathpeffer carried on a zephyr breeze. About six years ago when visiting Mrs Anne Hoffmann (Duncan) at Stenhouse I got a lovely surprise to see Mario driving along in a van-this time with 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 on Pentland Hills-next stop Lucas!, circa 2005)

(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 we not consume such goods quite as often? Perhaps, it's because we no longer hear the sound of musical chimes first to draw us in!

Ding, ding! Anyone away now for an ice cream or a sweet?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Exoticism in Oxgangs ?


Did Oxgangs do exoticism in the 1960s?

During the school summer holidays when we were quite young, a nice outing was to the lovely Braid-Burn Valley for a small picnic. These family outings would only include mums and children as the dads would be out at work.

We would set off eagerly, fresh as daisies and keen as mustard. My sister, Anne, would be in a push-chair-very handy for transporting a blanket and picnic. For those families who lived at the four Stairs it was a long walk, because we were going from one end of Oxgangs Avenue to the other, and from there onwards through Braid-Burn Valley, to the far end-a fair old distance. However, it was slightly downhill and as the Gaelic saying goes, We had the sun on our face and the wind (just a zephyr) at our back.

When we turned into Braid-Burn Valley, the first house on the left had a large back garden that ran adjacent to the cinder path into the valley.




Back Garden of First House Greenbank (Peter Hoffmann)


A great highlight for all the children was the doo'cot in the back garden. If we were lucky we might see the exotic, white doves. For young children it was quite magical to see the birds.


(Photograph by Rustythespian)








Outdoor Theatre Performance at Braid Burn Valley (Photograph by Mr W. R. Smith)

We always took our picnic deep into the valley toward the far end, at the open air theatre which had been created just after the Second World War for outdoor performances at early Edinburgh Festivals. This was a sylvan little spot.The water in the burn was shallow, still and clear. We would go barefoot in the burn and with our little nets fish for minnows and sticklebacks. The nets had been bought at the start of the school summer holidays, from the dry-salters shop at Oxgangs Crescent shopping precinct.


(Outdoor Theatre Braid Burn Valley, Peter Hoffmann)


(1960s Summer Days At Braid Burn Valley, Peter Hoffmann)
We would always climb to the top of the steep slope and roll down the grass steps (outdoor seating for the theatre). This was always great fun. All the while, mums would chat contentedly with other mothers or read the Woman's Own or a novel, all the while knowing the children were safe and happy.






These picnics were simple little affairs. And then before we knew it, it would be time to head back home to The Stair. This was the hard part; not just because it signalled the end of the picnic and the afternoon, but because with our little legs, it was a very long walk home. We were at the far end of the valley; the cinder path was long and wynding and before we left the park we had to negotiate a slight uphill incline out of Braid-Burn Valley. However, at least there was the doo'cot to look at. And then there was the challenge of walking all the way along Oxgangs Avenue-a long weary walk in to the west. The sun was in our faces making us too hot and the breeze was against us. We were all a little weary from being on the go all afternoon and were all looking forward to tea.

(Braid Burn Valley-The Long Walk Home to The Stair, Peter Hoffmann)
The smaller children might be lucky to get a collie-back ride or to find a spot on the push-chair. It was tough on the mums; being the eldest I never got a ride back to The Stair. There would be regular moans from some of the kids, I'm tired Mum. And then it would be over. Home was in sight. It was grand to get home and back to The Stair, pooped, but content; tired, but happy.

(Approaching the border line where two communities, Greenbank and Oxgangs (almost) meet, Peter Hoffmann)
And the answer to the question is that no, there wasn't exoticism in Oxgangs. Instead it was to be found at Greenbank. It was where two worlds met. The doo'cot served as a metaphor and perhaps summed up the difference between two communities at the border-line; the gap between the working class, council owned, grey housing schemes of Oxgangs and the middle class, privately owned bungalows and villas of the leafy suburbs of Greenbank. Even the two names seem to jar against one another-the tougher sounding Oxgangs against the soothing image of Greenbank

Friday, 21 September 2012

Jimmy's Green Van

Was it a transaction or was it a relationship?

Jimmy's Green Van from 'An Act of Kindness' (Peter Hoffmann)

Another of the great characters who visited and sold their wares at The Stair was Jimmy's Green Van. It was a mobile grocery van which had been converted from an old single decker bus, with its side windows done away with, replaced with panels and painted green. It visited Oxgangs at least twice a week. Jimmy's Green Van was an institution.

According to local gossip it was alleged that Jimmy would visit one of the mothers at 4 Oxgangs Avenue, who shall remain nameless, for 'a cup of tea...!'. When I was a very wee boy I must have been aware that Jimmy's Green Van had been left temporarily vacated.

Inside, the van was a colourful Aladdin's Cave-a positive cornucopia of delight, particularly the confectionery section.


Photograph by George Field.

Anyway, whilst Jimmy was away servicing one of his customer's, on one occasion, I nipped over the counter at the back of the old van and helped myself to a box of Cadbury's chocolate bars which I thereafter distributed to all the kids in The Stair. Neither the kids nor Jimmy were accustomed to such largesse.



Well, poor Jimmy didn't know whether he was coming or going. Wringing his hands he informed my mother, but instead of getting some expected sympathy, I believe he instead got very short shrift, along the lines of, 'well what do you expect, leaving your van open and all these chocolate bars on display tempting a wee lad'.

And the answer to the question? Well, I guess you could say it was both a relationship and a transaction!

Look out for Jimmy's Revenge! in a future episode.