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



Friday, 30 November 2012

'You'll Take What You Get!'

Ian Ewart (Photograph courtesy Shelley Wall)

On a blog a few days ago on Ewarts Newsagents I mentioned the sweet jars which were set up along one counter of the shop behind glass. For small children this of course was at a perfect marketing height-eye level. For many of us we were in there very regularly for our treats. 


In the mid 1960s as I got toward the age of nine or ten, if my father was working and we had been given school dinner money we sometimes just held on to the money and bought our lunches at Oxgangs Broadway. For me, lunch would consist of three Paris buns for nine old pennies with a bottle of Koolapop-a cola drink, which also cost nine pence-a grand total of one and six i.e. one shilling and six pennies. However, on returning the Koolapop bottle I would get threepence back which would go on a little mixture of sweets. 

I’d usually go for sports mixtures-little fruit gums which were very hard and which took a lot of sucking and chewing. They took the form of sports kit-little boots or racquets. Green or red were the best flavour-orange was fine, but black was unpalatable to all but a few; on placing the order I would ask the shop assistant for no black ones. Sometimes they would oblige, on other occasions they would say Ye'll take what you get son! After all they could hardly do this for all customers and be left with a jar of black sports mixtures!


Because the sweets were bought towards the end of the lunch period and also to improve the quality of the school afternoon we would run the risk of eating surreptitiously in class. This was high risk-if you were caught, which was often the case, you had to spit the offending morsel out in to a basket, but more worryingly you might have to hand over the offending sweet bag to the teacher. 


Other sweets which were popular with us all from the Ewarts sweet jars particularly for chewing in class were Fruit Salad and Blackjacks. Because lunchtimes were busy and some kids could be very slow in making up their mind and the shop assistants patience low, the lunchtime theme tune for Ewarts could have been Come on, make up your mind! I was never like that. I knew exactly what I wanted. However, there was such a bewildering range of sweets to choose from, perhaps it was understandable. In Sunday's blog in a quick Cooke's Tour I'll tackle the impossibly large topic of the bewildering range of sweets that were available.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Recent Comments

Thanks Pete great feelings come back on our birthdays,wish we could travel back for a day like Captain Kirk in Star Trek.,I remember Ali Douglas with great fondness,and to think his birthday the 30th St Andrews Day is the same as my oldest granddaughter Brooke's. Happy Birthday. on Happy Birthdays! Iain Hoffmann

Happy Birthdays!


Today, the 29th November and tomorrow, the 30th November-St Andrew's Day-Scotland's patron saint are the birthdays of two individuals who have featured regularly in The Stair-Iain Hoffmann (6/2) and Ali Douglas (8/3). Both these lads were probably the nicest boys of us all so it was rather appropriate that they were best friends for the whole of primary school.


Few of the kids in Oxgangs had large birthday parties during the 1960s-partly this was because of cost, partly because of the culture. In later decades it became a growth industry-I've lost count of the different types that my own children enjoyed from trampolines to cars to sleepovers to the cinema to the Aquadome etc. I only recall attending a single party-at Joyce Colbron's who lived at Oxgangs Farm Drive-it was a rather lovely party, beautifully organised by her mum from arriving with a small present-a box of Maltesers, followed by all the traditional games-Blind Man's Buff, Hang The Tail On The Donkey, Musical Chairs-of course I couldn't prevent my competitive side showing through in this game-all nicely rounded off with ice cream and jelly and a birthday cake.


For many years Anne Hoffmann Junior; Iain; and I were allowed to invite one friend in for each of our birthday teas-Ali Douglas appeared regularly. These were simple affairs, but never-the-less really good fun. Because we lived quite simply having a mix of egg 'n cress and ham and tomato sandwiches, followed by Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers; Jacobs Marshmallow Coconut Biscuits; Tunnocks' Chocolate Teacakes-all great luxuries-items which never featured in the household meant these occasions were all great treats. The piece de resistance however was the birthday cake-the chocolate cake so lovingly baked by our grandmother which was absolutely scrumptious-it was a recipe which had been kept in the family for generations.


If you're reading this boys, Happy Birthday to you both!


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I Love Paris In The Springtime

Out-with Ewarts the Newsagents, the most frequent shop that I visited at The Broadway was Martins the Bakers. Similar to Ewarts, it was the one other shop that opened early in the morning. There was always someone in at the butcher's shop, but I don't think it opened until a little while later.

On occasion I would go into the shop twice in a day. The shop had a distinctively different feel to it depending on whether you were in early in the morning or at lunchtime. I associate morning visits with dark autumnal or winter mornings when I was sent from the age of five or so to buy a sliced plain loaf for our breakfast. It was always a grand feeling going into the warmth of the shop when all the smells of the freshly baked bread, buns, scones and cakes were in the air. First thing in the morning, the staff reacted to you differently too-it was a more low key and gentle approach-more of a relationship than a transaction.


Lunchtime visits were when we gave school lunches a body swerve, so Martins was always our first port of call. By this stage in the day things were more frenetic and much busier with other customers in the shop. The aroma and the warmth and cosiness of the morning had evaporated. When I purchased my three Paris Buns it was a transaction as the lady behind the counter moved on swiftly to the next customer.

Martins the Bakers seemed to have such a strong foothold in Edinburgh that I wonder whatever happened to the company?  There was one at the Colinton Mains shops and on a Saturday morning I used to finish off my paper run with a visit to the Morningside Drive branch for rolls, and coconut snowball bun. There was a branch at Bruntsfield, where I purchased a couple of fresh cream chocolate cakes each school lunchtime at Boroughmuir Secondary School. Gosh, what rubbish I used to eat!

I assume Martins the Bakers shops must have been bought over like other such companies already mentioned in the blog such as the Edinburgh & Dumfriesshire Dairies.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

In Search Of Perfection


Of an evening, I would occasionally be asked to run a message for my parents and would have to go down to the shops at Colinton Mains. The distance from The Stair to this group of shops is a little bit under a quarter of a mile. I used to love to run all the way to Colinton Mains-there was something about that distance which really appealed to me. 

I couldn't run flat out, otherwise I would slow down after sixty yards or so. Instead it was a long, controlled sprint, where I had to try to distribute my effort as evenly as possible. These runs involved a constant search for perfection-sometimes I marginally over-cooked the effort early on and sometimes I arrived at Andretties or RS McColl with something left in the tank. On several occasions there was a feeling of satisfaction-I had almost judged the run to perfection, but that didn't mean perfection-instead each new run was an opportunity to strive for that elusive, perfect run. 

Although I would also run back home, it wasn't quite the same and was much more of an effort without the same sensation of power and speed, partly because it was slightly uphill and also because I hadn't completely recovered from the earlier effort.


Once I had covered the initial seventy five yards or so at around 90% effort to the junction with Oxgangs Road North, I would take a sharp right angle and fly down the gentle slope past Oxgangs Police Station on the other side of the road, sweeping past our beloved telephone box-this section allowed me to build up a lot of speed, but using very little energy- it was effortless, especially if there was a slight tailwind behind me. 

Just before The Store the road took a gentle sweep to the left-it was here that I would cross Oxgangs Road North to run the shortest distance by narrowing the angle. I also had to judge when it was safe to cross the road too-ideally the two objectives coincided-it was frustrating if that didn't happen and there was any delay. Thereafter the aim was to maintain the pace to the finish in as relaxed a manner as possible, so I floated along past the houses of Colinton Mains toward the finishing line which was always the zebra crossing with its flashing orange globes.

Running close to the boundary walls and hedges of the houses along Oxgangs Road North gave a very satisfying sensation of speed-I believe there's a psychological term for it; although this can also work the other way against the runner, if it's a fence with intermittent metal stakes giving an off-putting strobe effect.

Having undertaken the run in the four seasons of the year and at different times of the day, I had ascertained through trial and error that there was an optimum time to attempt the run of perfection. This was a late afternoon in late autumn, moving toward early evening. The clocks had changed, so it was getting dark. There would be a chill in the air, which added to the feeling of vitality and sensory sensation. It was in these moments I moved along at speed, feeling that I was only caressing the ground with the lightest of touches. I could feel the rush of cold air on my face and hair-just after four o'clock has been identified as a time of the day when your body is recognised as feeling at its best-this seemed to me too, that this was the best time of day for the run; and as I ran, it felt wonderful to be alive and young and fit and out running-it was the most magical sensation and I loved it.. I was so living in the moment-at that age I felt immortal with a wonderful sense of well-being and that I would always feel thus –young; strong; fit and healthy.

As I said I would always run home too, which was fine, but the second run was never ever the same-it was slightly uphill, usually against the wind, and there was a slight jadedness from the first effort-however, that didn't stop me giving it my best effort. I never timed myself, not that I had a stopwatch-whereas today I'm generally obsessed with the stopwatch-I couldn't possibly go out for a run, ahem, jog, without timing just how slow I am. Back then  it was all about feel, a marrying of the physical, the mental and the emotional combined with pace judgement and the chutzpah to push the limits in search of perfection and beauty.

Back then in the 1960s, the final triumph would be on arriving home. I would walk through the door of 6/2 and my mother Mrs Anne Hoffmann would say, You haven't been for the message already have you! Yes, the carrot's usually better than the stick! 

Receiving praise and astonishment from the household, that I could have gone for a message in such a short period of time was of course satisfying, but the real satisfaction, which I never mentioned to anyone, was an innate one-it was the sheer joy which I got from trying to run like the wind and the search for the perfect run-The Stair to Colinton Mains-on a dark late autumn, early winter afternoon moving toward tea-time. 

Almost half a century later I wonder if there are any kids from The Stairs out there today trying to do the same? 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Pedlars; Hawkers; and Salesmen-An Update!

BONUS MONDAY POST

'PREPARE FOR THE RETURN OF THE DOOR-TO-DOOR SALESMEN'  ran the imposing headline on page eleven of Saturday's Daily Telegraph.

For a brief moment I thought it might be return of the invaders from outer space-or aliens or even the return from the planet of the apes. But no, it was to do with one of my favourite topics from the past-our old friends, pedlars, hawkers and salesmen.

Jo Swinson from the Lib-Dems is trying to fast-track the scrapping of the outdated requirement for pedlars to abide by the 1871 Pedlars Act which she deems to be too restrictive; it requires pedlars to have a fixed address and to be of good character. Also children under the age of seventeen will be able to sell trinkets for the first time. Part of the rationale is to encourage and promote entrepreneurship in these tougher economic times.

So while for most of us we can look forward to a new influx of colourful visitations, those at Morningside are busy even now dusting down and polishing up their No Hawkers, Pedlars or Salesmen signs-sorry to disappoint you Liz, but nae such visitations for you in Melbourne-Oz is doing too well economically compared to the rest of us in the home country!

Today's Topic-The Broadway Shops-Ewarts' Newsagents

Newsagents, The Broadway-not much has changed, apart from the name. (2012)


My favourite and most visited local shop was Ewarts, the local newsagents. The Ewart family ran the shop for decades. Compared to the more risky nature of some of the other shops; it was a sure fire business with no chance of failure. 

From early in the morning until teatime, the shop was always busy. It was the shop at The Broadway which, depending upon the time of day attracted working men; housewives; teenagers; and children, both boys and girls, so it had an all-round appeal.

It had significant newspaper runs in the mornings and afternoons as well as Sunday newspaper runs too. I recall delivering Sunday newspapers for Ewarts-probably because it was my day off from Bairds Newsagents. The shop always had a different feel to it on Sundays because it was the one day of the week that Ian Ewart, (who ran the shop) took off.


Ian Ewart (Photograph courtesy Shelley Wall)

I liked Ian-he was an absolutely lovely bloke with a good heart and excellent customer care, so his absence made a noticeable difference. Other relatives came in to open the shop in the morning until it closed at Sunday lunchtime; possibly it was Ian's father. Indeed it was probably his father and mother who initially started the business in the early 1950s. 

His mother appeared at various times during the week, but not in a serving capacity. She was a serious looking, older woman, who appeared very efficient and business like. Indeed, whenever I saw her she seemed to be undertaking book-taking and other such tasks. 

Because the shop proved to be so busy and lucrative, at an early opportunity, Ewarts took on the let of the adjacent first shop on the precinct, previously run as a little wool shop by Mr McNish. It thus became a double shop unit. 

Some people may be surprised at what a good mark-up there is on newspapers. When that is multiplied by hundreds of newspapers each day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks of the year, it really adds up. It was only after reading A Season In Dornoch by Lorne Rubenstein that I became aware of this. So the Ewart family made a very good living indeed; that said Ian Ewart in particular had to work hard and long hours. 



Because Ewarts sold comics the shop was a big attraction for me. When there were free gifts in The Hornet I would set off early on a Monday morning to buy my copy. I might be up at the shop as early as seven o'clock. As I neared the shop my little heart would race as I neared the shop to find out if the comic had arrived or not. Sometimes there was a delay. As well as being very disappointing this was a great worry too, in case by the time I returned after school, all the copies of the comic had been sold out; I think Ian Ewart was probably bemused, but entertained by my angst and keen enthusiasm!.



The free gifts were a simple and clever piece of marketing by DC Thomson-usually it was a plastic wallet with some football team photographs.



The shop also sold some toys which were displayed in the window. We played a bagsy game. Like something out of Dickens, a few of us would line up along the shop window front with our little noses pressed against the glass. In turn we would bags the toy which we were going to get for our birthday or Christmas. I don’t ever recall buying a toy from Ewarts and many of the boxes remained unchanged in the shop window for years. It was an easy way of filling the large space for little work and imagination.

Whilst newspapers, magazines and comics were the main-stay of the business, tobacco and cigarettes would have come next in the pecking order. In the 1960s a significant part of the adult population smoked and this figure would have been higher in Oxgangs which was predominately working class. Players No 6; Kensitas; Embassy Regal-all the common brands, but of course no Gauloises or Disque Bleu!



Most children and some adults bought sweets regularly and the shop sold hundreds of sweets and chocolates each and every day. For the shop assistants, this was a tiresome business. Within the shop one whole side was devoted to children’s confectionery. There was a long glass counter. The whole of the front cabinet was lined with jars of penny sweets, which were what most of the children came in for. The shop assistants had to bend over and stretch forward in an awkward position. Many of the kids took an age to make up their mind to the tune of ‘Come on now!’

So far I've resisted writing about 1960s sweets and chocolates-if you'll forgive yet another pun, it's such a big topic!



Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dolloping Doubloons-It's Captain Pugwash!


Sunday teatimes in winter were spent at our grandparents house at Durham Road, Portobello. These were a mix of sweet and sour occasions. Sweet because it was very comforting sitting within the bosom of the family by a glowing coal fire, with a lovely tea on the table . But sour, because as soon as either Noggin of the Noggs or Captain Pugwash finished, we would head out into the winter night to be driven home by our grandfather to Oxgangs and The Stair. Back at 6/2 the house was cold-the fire wouldn't be put on at that time of night and we couldn't justify putting it on, so we cowered instead around the small two bar heater. At least there was a hot water bottle to look forward to, placed in one's bed.

Captain Pugwash and The Black Pig often followed the Dickens serial. Whilst it didn't have the same mystique of Noggin, it did have that something extra. It somehow married the feeling of the 17th and 18th centuries with a hint of modernity from Tom the Cabin-Boy. The programme ran until 1966 when I was ten. Similar to Noggin, I think the black and white version of the early shows works best. And like much of the best television of the time, it had an excellent theme tune called the The Trumpet Hornpipe-jaunty music-a sea shanty on the squeeze box.


Like many of us, Captain Pugwash, despite his bravado was a bit of a coward-usually it was the likeable and resourceful Tom who saved the day.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Peter, Peter Gas Meter

Peter, Peter Gas Meter runs the rhyme and nothing could be more true.

All the families in The Stair had coin operated gas meters. For the young this meant that each family had to pay for its gas by putting a shilling or a bob in to the meter. In other words, no money-no gas!

Gas was the main way of cooking for many of the families in The Stair so it was important to always have a shilling available in case it cut out. For us, it was also important for heating up water in our old gas boiler. In the summer, when the coal fire wasn't in use, then the only way to get access to hot water for a bath was to heat it up in the boiler. The boiler was quite simply a metal box that was filled up with buckets of cold water; the gas was then lit under it; and then if you'll forgive the pun  Bob's Your Uncle, an hour or so later, there was enough water for a hot bath. Looking back, it was actually quite dangerous, because the hot water then had to be transported from the kitchen through to the bathroom.

One of the few times we would see our mother Mrs Anne Hoffmann annoyed was if we'd forgotten to put the boiler on! This would normally be a Friday. Leaving for work at the Civil Service in the morning she say Don't forget to switch the boiler on at four o'clock. This was so that she could have a bath before going out on the Friday evening when she needed a quick turn around.

One of the highlights in the year for families at The Stair was when there was a knock at the door and a man with a large denoted thick book would say Gas Man and walk straight into the house, turn immediately into the kitchen and open the first cupboard door on the right. The cupboard always had a distinctive smell-a mix of gas and furniture polish because it doubled up as a storage area.

The Gas Man wasn't just there to read one's meter, but to empty the drawer that contained the shillings. The great excitement came after he had taken the reading and worked out the figure against his notebook-the gas rebate! This was important to families because in hard pressed times the money which was returned came as a real bonus.



On one occasion to the chagrin of Mrs Anne Hoffmann was the time she didn't receive a rebate, but instead had to pay the Gas Man instead. I had discovered that after the previous visit that he hadn't replaced the padlock properly so I could easily pull out the drawer and take out a shilling any time I fancied a treat from Jimmy's Green Van!

It could have been worse I suppose-I'd imagine any kind of fiddling with the gas was a criminal offence-we, or should I say, I, probably got off lightly!

ps I always liked that old joke. Two men passed each other at five thousand feet. One says to t'other Do you know anything about parachutes? T'other replies, Nah, do you know anything about gas ovens!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Scraps And The Great Divide

Over the fourteen or so years that I spent at The Stair I had a relationship at various times with all the children apart from perhaps the Duffy girls, Ann, Laura and Mary; where we would simply acknowledge one another.

I don't think I ever thought of a separation between the boys and the girls. Depending upon the season and the passing of the years things just seemed to naturally fall into place. Some activities were gender neutral whilst with others a natural separation took place.


I can recall having great fun going off on adventures to Morningside Park with Fiona Blades or to Portobello Pool with the ballet girls-Audrey Smith, the McKenna sisters and others; at other times Boo-Boo Hanlon; Iain Hoffmann; Les Ramage and I would head off to Edinburgh Castle; or I would go to church barbecues with Liz and Fiona Blades to Gullane Beach. The great chasey games that were held in the winter involved boys and girls including Carol Ramage, Jaqueline Burnett, Jonathon Taylor, Michael Hanlon and many others. In the summer time we would play British Bulldog in the front garden of 6/2 The Stair with Ruth and Alison Blades, Ali Douglas, Colin Hanlon and many others too. In the summer jumping the burn was a mixed activity, but one which mainly featured the boys, more of which in a future blog.


Where there was a great separation or divide in the 1960s was football which was dominated by the boys-it was very rare to see a girl playing, although I can recall Ruth Blades being atypically enthusiastic and indeed still have the bruises on my shins from such encounters!

On the girls' side there were two distinctive activities which come to mind that were female exclusive domains. In the summer they always had the really annoying habit of creating brilliant tents from blankets pegged up against the fence which separated the field from the washing green. The Hogg girls, Christina, Maureen and Eilleen and also all the Blades girls did this over the years.

These were girls only zones-boys were excluded. The tents always looked so cool-actually it was probably far too warm in there-and they always seemed to be getting up to interesting things inside that would irk our curiosity. Some boys were stupid enough to pull the tents down-not something I would contemplate doing having been on the losing side of several toy wrestling matches against Fiona Blades who I had total respect for-I wouldn't have wanted to get into a scrap with her!


Talking of scraps-the other activity, and one which I think mainly fell into the autumn and winter seasons of the year were scraps. Many of the girls including Eilleen Hogg and my sister Anne Hoffmann Junior collected scraps. I could never see the appeal of this hobby and I think it was boy free. Was it a gender thing or was it something that was indoctrinated into us so that we were all stereotypes?

Looking back I can see a greater rationale for the activity-it's probably similar to why many people go to the pub for a drink rather than sitting at home with one-it was a social activity-a vehicle where the girls got together in each others' homes to admire, comment and swap scraps together. The late 1960s must have marked the passing of collecting scraps as an activity for girls.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Recent Comments

Hi Peter, the only cousins were from my father's youngest brother, Alistair - David & Susan Blades. I believe David emigrated to the US but Susan is still in Edinburgh. Esther was in touch with her for a while. As for Donald, sadly no marriage, no children. In his later years he tinkered with machines, mending things. He was a decorated WW2 RAF veteran. Douglas has photos and other memorabilia  kept up with Donald until his death and was executor of his estate. Elizabeth Blades

Donald went on to repair clocks and one of his repairs was in the Mappin and Webb shop in Edinburgh for a while. I think Alistair was also an alcoholic and also ended up as a down and out in Edinburgh. It is amazing to think tat people who started with an excellent background and lots of opportunity did not make more of themselves.Ruth Blades

Recent Comments


Liz/Ruth-Absolutely fascinating about your Uncle Donald. It's quite amazing some of the stories that come through when we spark off one another! It would be interesting to see him-I'm sure copies of his work still exist. I wonder what happened to him in later years? Do you have cousins at all from that side of the family?
Thursday, November 22, 2012
 Delete Peter Hoffmann

Life And Death In Oxgangs And Dallas


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated on this day, 22 November, 1963. I was seven years old. Iain Hoffmann was coming up for his fifth birthday. Ann Hoffmann would have been two.

We heard the news while the family was waiting in our sitting room for the Number 16 bus. The television was on in the background and the story dominated the headlines. I may have been young, but I understood this was something significant. And because of the extraordinary advances in technology and communications over the century we were hearing the news live as it was happening.

Waiting For The Number 16 Bus (Peter Hoffmann, 2008)
Before the small wood was planted in the big field behind The Stair we enjoyed the relative luxury of queueing in our sitting room for the Number 16 bus and then later on the Number 5 bus. No cold, wet or draughty bus stops for us. We could see directly across the field toward the top of Oxgangs Road North. We must have had very keen eyes back then, not to mention being quick on our pins. I believe The Blades and The Hoggs also did the same-they would have needed to be even quicker to get to the bus stop in time.

Whenever a bus appeared on the horizon, there was great excitement-is it the Number 16 or is it a Number 4 or a Number 27? If it was the Number 16, then it was all hands to the pump. Right, switch the televison off-lets go! If it was the Number 4 or the Number 27-deflation, until the next Edinburgh Corporation bus appeared.

We were pushing our luck slightly because we had to leave the house and then cross the road to the bus stop which was opposite 8 Oxgangs Avenue. We depended on the bus stopping outside the dentist and doctors' surgeries. This was usually always the case because it was the busiest bus stop in Oxgangs. Our hit rate must have been 99% plus-I can only recall ever missing a bus once or twice. That must have occurred when a driver thought he was Jim Clark and there had been no one at the surgeries' bus stop. Can you picture our faces-gaily stepping out and the bus flying past!

Imagine being able to watch television whilst waiting for a bus. And more surreal still, watching and listening to the dreadful news that an American President had been assassinated and then walking across Oxgangs Avenue to get on a Number 16 bus. An extraordinary juxtaposition; one of the major moments in the 20th century-a moment in history which will never be forgotten and all the while in our small world at The Stair life carrying on as normal-or seemingly so, because each and every one of us of a certain age can recall the moment they heard the news-even someone as young as seven years of age. Life would never be quite the same again either at a universal level or at a local level. Life and Death in Oxgangs and Dallas..


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hit or a Miss?

Was it a hit or a miss?
Saturday teatimes were comfortable occasions for a good chunk of the 1960s with Juke Box Jury on BBC television. The programme was simple, yet clever in the way that it appealed to family audiences.

Because there were so many young families in the 1960s compared to later generations when many women put off having children until they were into their thirties, there was less differentiation in musical tastes. It was quite likely that mums and dads enjoyed the same music as their children. I remember Iain Hoffmann doing his Mick Jagger impersonation whenever The Rolling Stones were on, to the delight of his mother, Mrs Anne Hoffmann.


Apart from shared musical tastes, there was always the tantalising moment, if the record had been voted a miss and the hooter was sounded-much more fun than the boring ring of a bell for a hit. Each of the four guests only had a minute or so to give a quick critique of the record-not much time and many of the guests didn't mess about or come out with qualified views or vacuous comments-instead they nailed their colours to the mast. What was always a bit fun were the surprise guests-usually a group whose record was being reviewed-the camera would pan across their faces, before they emerged to meet the suitably embarrassed panel.


The great David Jacobs presented the programme. In later years I've enjoyed listening to his Sunday night late show where he has impeccable taste in music-he's still going strong a eighty six -the man's more than an institution-he's a HIT!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Recent Comments

Recent Comments Section is on the blink-until it's up and running again, these are the most recent comments. I'll continue to publish them as small blogs until as they say in the trade (!) normal service is resumed!


yes remember Miss Sulley she went to school with Dad's sister Margie so everyone time we saw her she would always ask how is your auntie, drove me mad! on School Radio Rurth Kaye (Blades)

Interesting-thanks Ruth. I intend to do blogs on some of the teachers including Miss Sulley. She died in 1999-I occasionally bumped into her in later years at book events at the likes of Waterstones. Her father was called Edmund Sulley-a rather beautiful and classy name-suggests he too was an interesting character! on School Radio Peter Hoffmann

Hello Peter I remember regularly going to warrender on a Saturday morning but you had probably already moved on to other pursuits by then. We never did get lessons but remember teaching myself with armbands. I could probably do with some technique lessons and will get around to it one of these days Ruth on Not Swimming, But Learning! Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Teaching yourself to swim-very impressive-RESPECT!Did you attend with anyone else from The Stair? on Not Swimming, But Learning! Peter Hoffmann

Think I remember going with Eileen,Alison,Gail,Colin,Alan and Esther there was usually a crowd of us like you I remember the hot chocolate and being freezing coming out with wet hair but loved it on Not Swimming, But Learning! Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Hi Peter, Ruth is correct. Miss Sulley attended St George's School with our aunt Marg see. The thing I remember most about Miss Sulley was her lipstick which was always all over the shop. What a wonderful character she was. I also regularly went to Warrender Baths on Saturday mornings. Like you I learned to swim at Bruntsfield and thank God for Miss Hume, another dedicated teacher who took us each week on the bus. on School Radio Liz Blades

Hello Peter Our uncle Donald Charles's brother was also in doctor Findlay's casebook. The story goes that he was in the verge of signing a Hollywood contract when his mother made him return to the UK for lord blades funeral but seemingly he was a talented actor. Ruth on Miss Sulley-The Crème de la Crème? Ruth Kaye (Blades)

Hi Peter, that was a lovely tribute to Elizabeth Sulley. I would say that as far as romance is concerned that she, my aunt Margee and Miss Hume all had their future plans dashed by WW2 and the dearth of men at a time when they would have otherwise been walking out with a young gentleman. Interesting about her father and Dr Finlays Casebook. As Ruth reports our uncle Donald also had small parts in that series. He was signed to the Hitchcck studio and had a bright future until his father died in 1959 when his mother demanded thathe return home to attend to matters. He was another eccentric. Maybe it was the age for them? on Miss Sulley-The Crème de la Crème? Liz Blades

Miss Sulley-The Crème de la Crème?


I'm not sure whether Miss Sulley was a good teacher or not. Perhaps I might find out by the end of this vignette.

Like all great characters, others' views will be polarised and no one ambivalent. Some people will think that Miss Sulley was wonderful and others, awful. I fell into the former camp-Miss Sulley was my favourite teacher.

She taught our class between Primary 3 and 5. Looking back therefore, it must only have been for a period of three years. Her tenure with our class would have been sandwiched between Mrs Berwick and Mr Hoddinott. At one stage, perhaps for a term or so, we had a Miss Bateman who was young, elegant and sophisticated.
Hunters Tryst Class 1961-1968 photograph circa 1965-P4
It's a shame that the class teacher, Miss Sulley doesn't appear with the class
I can recall older pupils discussing Miss Sulley. That she was considered to be eccentric, was undoubtedly the generally accepted opinion; however some pupils also said that she was the best qualified teacher in the school. Perhaps she had completed an M.A. before doing a teaching diploma, presumably at Moray House, Edinburgh. Until the past week I was unaware that she had attended St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh with the Blades' Aunt Marjorie, sister of Charles Blades.

She was quite a large lady, with an ample bosom; she was bespectacled, and had a colourful sense of dress and jewellery. Did she have a small light moustache? She wasn't stylish. If anything her dress sense may have been slightly zany, combining an interesting mix of clashing styles. Critics may have suggested she had dressed in the dark, but somehow it worked in its way and it was very much her. Also, I think, because of her background and sense of herself she was confident. She wore make up and as Liz Blades says in a comment, she remembers her lipstick being all over the place. She would have been around thirty five years old at the time-very much in her prime.

It's not enough to say she was eccentric without giving some examples. At least twice a week she would send me for messages. I would have to run from the school huts (the temporary classroom units situated at the back of the main building between the main school and Oxgangs Avenue) up the various stairs to the playgrounds and then across the Hunters Tryst School playing fields. Once I'd reached the perimeter of the school grounds I would have to climb over a high, precarious, padlocked school-gate. From there I would cross the road at Oxgangs Bank to the Broadway shops.

The most regular item which I had to buy for her were her digestive biscuits, however they had to be bought at the chemist's shop, Forgan's. They may have been a particular brand or a type which only chemists sold. Perhaps she bought them to combat indigestion and the attraction was their antacid properties; she certainly enjoyed them.





Sometimes I would also have to buy some Vick sweets for her too. They came in a dinky packet and were an interestingly, triangular shaped lozenge. They were menthol and eucalyptus and were quite pleasant. I was occasionally given a Vick sweet or digestive biscuit as a reward. Meanwhile, the class drank their one third of a bottle of free school milk through a straw while Miss Sulley enjoyed a cup of coffee and her digestive biscuits and quietly contemplated life.

She always used to time me on these sojourns-quite shrewd and insightful. She must have realised this would appeal to my competitive side and ensured I was away for the minimum amount of time. It probably gave her a good indication of when I should be back. If there was a queue in Forgan's I would be bouncing up and down anxious to get away for the downhill sprint back to the classroom.

Other teachers must have seen me from their classroom windows, but nobody ever said anything. I could have had an accident on these outings-even been knocked over by a car, but perhaps she had worked out the odds and concluded that I was reasonably streetwise. I wonder what the health and safety police would say today. However, I suspect that she really hadn’t fully thought through all the possible implications.

She sometimes used to disappear into the classroom cupboard. Goodness knows what she did in there. Sometimes she was away for some time-did she have a snack or even forty winks? Once or twice it seemed to be for a worryingly long time. On other occasions she might emerge wearing a different outfit-perhaps she was going on to a lecture, play or visitation after school.

She never had any trouble controlling the class and yet she was never threatening at all. She was an excellent performer-after all teaching is theatre with the class as an audience. I'm sure her father's background in the theatre and her time at St George's would have helped to develop this trait and nurtured her colourful persona.

Her classes were interesting, particularly history. After listening to BBC Schools Radio and the adventures of Alexander the Great we had discussions or did some project work.

The hard work was often done in the mornings and the afternoons were more relaxed. Sometimes she allowed us a little nap. They’re called power naps today, so she was clearly ahead of her time. Indeed, on some of these occasions I recall looking up at her from our resting position on our hands and forearms. I would catch her looking vacantly into space, completely oblivious to me; her spectacles would be resting on her nose, her mouth hanging wide open and her face slightly screwed up on one side. It wasn't an attractive pose, but I always found it a fascinating one. What was she thinking? Was it nothing at all or was she reflecting on the weekend just past or the weekend to come; or of romance or the lack of it? Who knows?

I would have been happy to have remained in her class for the rest of my schooldays at Hunters Tryst Primary School. So, although I was excited about going back to the main school, particularly to what was the best classroom in the school (top floor second) with a lovely outlook across the playground and sports fields toward the Pentland Hills, I was sorry to leave her class. And if I had known what was in store for me and what was to befall me in Primaries Six and Seven I would never have left her class.

Attending St George's School will mean that she came from a middle class background-certainly compared to working class Oxgangs. St George's is a long established fee paying school set in the lovely Ravelston area of Edinburgh. It has an excellent website and there is some delightful archive film, including the schoolgirls dancing outdoors and of sports days from half a century ago.

The school will have influenced her, not just because it is high performing academically, but because she would have been exposed to an excellent cultural education too. I suspect Miss Sulley’s interests were very much on the cultural side. As I said I occasionally bumped in to her in later years during the 1980s and 1990s at author events at Waterstones. I suspect that she was also interested in the theatre too and perhaps the visual arts. I came across some references to an Edmund Sulley whom I presume was her father. What a wonderful name. It's so uncommon a name I assume he was the television, film and stage actor. He performed at Edinburgh Festivals; and had small parts in Dr Finlay's Casebook. It would also seem he was the co-author of Moo-A One Act Farce published in 1936. Also, he was a member of the Antiquarian Society. They resided at Netherby Road, Trinity, a rather select part of Edinburgh.

At this time there was a clutch of talented ladies who taught at Hunters Tryst Primary School including Miss McAdie; Miss Hume; Mrs Falconer; Mrs Orr; and Mrs Berwick. I think they were and remained friends in the years afterwards, probably meeting regularly for coffee and cultural events.

In later years, whenever I spoke very briefly to Miss Sulley I never sensed warmth toward me the way I had when I was young. Perhaps that was how things were and are-both parties having moved on. I hoped we could exchange some mutual acknowledgements to each other-that I was very grateful to her and that she might say something positive in return, but no, there wasn't such a conversation. Instead, we only spoke of the author or discussed the book for a minute or two and then went our separate ways.

She never married nor had any children. I wonder if this was a great sadness to her. Perhaps not having children was not an issue when she had to spend so many hours with them throughout the day and the school-week; teaching is such a demanding profession.

Did she long for romance? Did she have a sweetheart? For the generations after the First World War, many ladies were spinsters and had to earn a living, teaching. Muriel Spark writes memorably of this in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Miss Brodie was influenced by the charismatic Miss Kay, Muriel Spark's teacher at James Gillespies School for Girls in Primary Six and Seven.

Miss Sulley of course was from a later generation, but perhaps she too fell into teaching as the natural way to earn a living, rather than it being a vocation. I don't know. All I do know is that I and many others owe a large debt of gratitude to Miss Sulley. Whenever I think of her, it is with very great affection and love.

I found an old newspaper clipping in an old diary which said: Elizabeth Margaret Sulley died on Tuesday, 8 June, 1999 at the Western General Hospital...former city teacher and a kind and loving friend to all. She will be most sadly missed.

Comment from Liz Blades: Hi Peter, that was a lovely tribute to Elizabeth Sulley. I would say that as far as romance is concerned that she, my aunt Margee and Miss Hume all had their future plans dashed by WW2 and the dearth of men at a time when they would have otherwise been walking out with a young gentleman.


Comment from Doreen Rutherford:She was a very special lady. I loved our afternoon naps when she would close the blinds and say "wheesht heads on the desks! "We all obeyed immediately without any resistance. I will always remember her with great affection, as I'm sure most of her former pupils do.


Comment from John McDonaugh: Peter what a wonderful piece on a woman who undoubtedly created and influenced so many gifted and not so gifted children. We were the lucky ones like you I thought her as the best teacher I ever had her eccentricity was what made her unique. What makes it more pleasing was without ever getting the chance to tell her she knew she had us all enthralled and glad we had her as our teacher. 


Comment from Deborah Cullen: Thoroughly enjoyed this extract on Miss Sulley Peter as I too was taught by her, mid 70's for two years. I loved her eccentric gentle ways and can completely relate to a lot of what you say. She would honk the horn of her Citroen at around 08:30 where she would arrive in the school car park desperately looking for a gal or two to assist her with the numerous shopping bags filled with God knows what and an excess of jotters she'd been marking the previous night no doubt. I was always willing to help as she would reward me with a sweetie!! In her class it was always interesting as she was indeed a fab if slightly unorthodox teacher and would sit and apply her make-up which really did look like she'd applied it in the dark and in fact I was never sure if she knew where her lips stopped and started and as you say she would pop in to the cupboard in a Mr Benn style and emerge with a different outfit!! She would often wash "daddies" smalls in the sluice room/ cupboard and hang them on a small clothes horse in there too whilst we were hard at work, or meant to be anyway lol. She was an incredibly colourful character and she stays imprinted in the hearts of many sh encountered I'm sure. I was quite tearful reading her obituary at the end of your extract. Rip Elizabeth Sulley x




Monday, 19 November 2012

No Pedlars; Hawkers; And Salesmen-An Update

I picked up a book in Stockbridge, Edinburgh at the weekend called Moving Worlds, the Personal Collections Of Twenty One Immigrants To Edinburgh. A couple of the stories give an interesting insight into the world of the Pakistani or Indian gentleman with the suitcase who used to visit The Stair. I suspect that similar to Onion Johnny that our salesman wasn't unique and instead there was a whole platoon of salesmen out there!

Lal Khatri left the Punjab in 1929 and came to Edinburgh. He was advised by a friend...If you get a pedlar's licence from the police and you buy some stuff and you sell it, then that will give you some income to live on if you are lucky. He then goes on to say...I managed to get the licence and it was very good from then onwards. Things were hard but I could always get enough money to buy bread and pay for my room and all that sort of thing. We sold all sorts-shirts, dresses and blouses. I sold what I had with me and took orders for anybody wanting anything...the prices were quite reasonable but lots of people had no money. Even one eleven-ha'penny article took two or three visits for customers to pay for. Some people banged the door in front of you...others would open it...Oh, some of those people became friends through that, and others, of course, had no time for you at all.


Baldev Singh with Pappinder in 1969

Baldev Singh came to Edinburgh in 1958. He was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1947. He is a Sikh. He says...my grandfather came to Edinburgh as a door to door salesman...He used to sell shirts, ties, hankies, blouses, things like that. They all did that when they first came here...But 90% o' Sikhs went roond the doors sellin' with a suitcase, took orders and delivered the stuff. It's freedom to them, you see. Naebody but themselves, naebody tellin' them what to do. They used to go whenever they felt like it...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Not Swimming, But Learning!

One possible divide in The Stair was the children who regularly went to Warrender Swimming Baths and those who didn't. There may have been a cost dimension for some of the children, but generally many of the children managed to get the bus fares and entrance money, if not money for secondary spend.

I cannot ever recall seeing Heather or Gavin Swanson ever going to the baths. Even if they had the inclination to go they never seemed to have the freedom that all the other children enjoyed once they got to a certain age-the interesting dynamic of control was clearly a factor there which as a parent I can now understand.Looking back, for many of us, being able to go swimming without parental supervision was a right of passage. It was another example of the inordinate freedom to roam, that certainly The Hoffmanns were able to enjoy. Because our father would have done the same at the Glenogle Baths at Stockbridge as a boy in the late 1920s/early 1930s, it probably wasn't considered a health & safety issue in our house.

I don't remember seeing The Hogg girls Christina, Maureen or Eileen going along; similarly The Blades and The Duffys. Generally speaking there seemed to be a gender split, because the children who attended regularly were boys-The Hanlons-Michael; Boo-Boo; Colin; and Alan; and Iain and Peter Hoffmann, as well as Ali Douglas (8/3); Les and Derek Ramage (4/3) and many others.




Iain and Boo-Boo were great pals and for several years they used to go along together weekly It was the one activity that Ken Hoffmann used to very occasionally come along with us. He was an excellent swimmer, with an effortless, smooth and powerful front crawl; but it was his diving which attracted great attention. Because the deep end was only six feet deep, unfortunately, all that Warrender Baths had back in the 1960s was a small spring-board-but even from this he performed lovely swallow dives. I enjoyed watching him perform these. What I didn't enjoy was when he might swim under water and suddenly take my legs from me and pull me under the water. I couldn't swim at that stage so it was always a scary experience.

One distinctive memory for me about how life might have been, was when he had the loan of a black Riley car. It must have been during the autumn school holidays-the tattie holidays. It was a wet, overcast Friday. Over lunch he announced that the three of us-Anne, Iain and I would go swimming at Warrender Baths. It was a great feeling to be driven in luxury, rather than queueing for buses and then walking to and from Bruntsfield Place to Thirlestane Road in the rain. We were driven straight to the door! Even the route he took seemed to be magical-through the Braids, Cluny, Blackford and then Marchmont. And the luxury of a chilly bite and then chauffeur driven home!

We usually always treated ourselves to a chilly bite after our swim-it was a hot chocolate drink from a machine which cost sixpence. We really did shiver after our swims so it was welcoming initially, but I usually found it a bit sickly toward the bottom of the plastic carton. There was a rather classy shop with a a lime green painted façade (probably Farrow and Ball paint!) called Elizabeth's at the top of Thirlestane Road from which I'm ashamed to say we used to nick sweets from-perhaps because she was used to a better class of clientèle it was as easy as stealing sweets from a baby.

Edinburgh Corporation were very go ahead with their swim lessons programme which were usually held during the school holidays. For this one would usually be issued with a swim pass on the last day of term dated for say the two weeks of the Easter Holidays which gave one free access to the baths. It was on one of these occasions at Bruntsfield Primary School (Sean Connery's old school) where they had a pool in the basement, that I first learned to swim-what a feeling! The instructor obviously realised I'd mastered the stroke, but didn't have the confidence. He gave me water wings to put on for confidence-what I hadn't realised was there was no air in the wings-bright or what?



After that one was able to make progress through their swim development programme-a lovely certificate for swimming a length-thereafter it got progressively more difficult, but because the certificates were so classy, one wanted to get better to obtain them-back to my collector tendencies! Anyway, I managed to get certificates 1, 2 and 3, but never sat no 4 which included life-saving at a higher standard than level 3. Part of some of the tests included diving for the heavy rubber brick.


Aye, if we weren't swimming we were learning and if we weren't learning we were swimming!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Running Away To Join The Circus!

In our class at Hunters Tryst Primary School there was a girl called Audrey Milne. She came from a good and well meaning family who stayed at Oxgangs Farm Loan. Audrey had several older brothers and a younger brother. I think they may have had their ups and downs as a family-their father possibly died when Audrey was quite young, although I may be wrong on this.

What was impressive was the way the family made a community contribution. Audrey's mother, Mrs Milne, was the Akela of the local Cub Pack which I attended each week-was it the Edinburgh & Craiglockhart 113th-but no, I've just been told (21st November, 2016) by John McDonaugh that it was the 105th and even better John's discovered from the mists of time an absolute treasure of a serendipitous find, a photograph of our cub scout pack from March 1966.

Back Row: Extreme Left 'Akela' Mrs Milne; ?; Norman Stewart; Harry Rookyard; Graham Robb; John McDonaugh; ?; Terry Workman; Mrs Milne's son
Middle Row: Michael Hanlon; ?; Peter Hoffmann; Stephen Drysdale; ?; Stewart Martin; Geoff Hunter; ?
Front Row: ?; ?; John Ritchie; John Kay; John Pantling; ?; Alan Gray


I only ever made the heady height of Seconder of a pack-Norman Stewart however was a Sixer, which meant he headed up a small group of six boys; I was therefore only the assistant to the Sixer. Clearly he had leadership skills I could only dream of-or perhaps he just behaved a lot better than me.

The Cubs were great fun and a few of us from The Stair attended for several years including Michael Hanlon and Iain Hoffmann.

Like most children and young people who attend youth clubs, sports clubs etc you never really give any thought, consideration or appreciation that Mrs Milne was giving up a significant chunk of her valuable time, not just to run the Cubs, but also the training and planning and organisation required too-it's perhaps a bit late in the day to thank her.


Some of the Cubs had an armful of badges-I'm afraid the only one I ever achieved was the Collectors' Badge. Collecting stamps did it for me. Earning the badge was quite rigorous-I had to travel down to a lady's house at Craighlockhart to be interviewed and asked some tough, probing questions.

Whilst I never got above assistant manager level at the Cubs or did well with the badges, I fared a lot more successfully at Bob-A-Job week-ironically the Cub and Scout movement fared less well! There was a prize for the Cub who collected the most money-one lad was absolutely amazing-completely out in front of the rest of us. I can't recall how many names and jobs that each card held recording jobs done, contributions made and signatures, but it was more than twenty-therefore at least a pound should be raised.


Greenbank was always a fertile ground for me-I had reasoned that few of the Hunters Tryst Cub Pack would venture that far and the residents were quite well off. What I hadn't considered was that I had probably strayed into the territory of a Greenbank/Morningside Club and Scout troop.


Once a job had been completed we issued a sticker to the household who would thereafter place it in their window-we weren't supposed to call at a house which had received a previous visit by a Cub, however I tended to feign ignorance.


Anyway, covering Greenbank, I soon managed to complete a card. I proudly visited Mrs Milne to get a second card and enjoyed the praise which I received from her. I was doing well with the second card when the attraction of all those bobs grew too much for me-my blood sugars must have been too low, well that's my excuse! Anyway, I'm ashamed to say I spent a few bob and came up with a cock and bull story about losing the second card.

I had an opportunity to make amends, but I'm afraid Billy Smart got in the way. I had managed to win the Edinburgh Cubs 100 yards Championships for our troop-the event was held at Campbell Park, Colinton. I was thereafter selected to represent the Edinburgh team in the Scottish Cub Championships. However, my grandfather had received free tickets to see Billy Smart's Circus held at Murrayfield-it clashed with the other event. I let Mrs Milne down again and preferred to go the circus instead!


Friday, 16 November 2012

No Copper, No Telephone

I was going to begin this blog by saying that throughout the 1960s no family at The Stair had a telephone, but then I've suddenly recalled there was a single family-The Stewarts.

Today, there can hardly be a household in Oxgangs which doesn't have a land-line or a mobile phone. However, in the 1960s, phones were almost as scarce as hens' teeth. For telephone calls like the other families in The Stair we were dependent on using the phone box at Oxgangs Road North sited between the pensioners' flats and Oxgangs Police Station.


The phone operated the old A and B system. One inserted four coppers-4d-approximately 2p in 'new money'. The number was dialled. One literally dialled the number which was cumbersome, but oddly satisfying. There was a ten hole dial and to connect to a number within Edinburgh one would dial seven times by inserting one's index finger into the appropriate ring.

Our most regular call was to my grandparents' house, who had a telephone. Initially, the first three letters of the recipient's location was called. Because they stayed in Portobello, one dialled POR followed by their number, 4260. In later years it changed to just numbers, so each area of Edinburgh had a three number code; so my grandparents' number became 669-4260.


As each letter or number was dialled the mechanism made a satisfying slow, clicking sound. Once the last number was dialled, one waited to see if the phone was answered-if it was one had to depress the heavily sprung A button and one was connected. If the number called wasn't answered at the other end, one depressed the B button and the 4d was returned. As children we never passed the phone box without nipping in to depress the B button in case someone had forgotten to do so. Once in a blue moon, we were lucky-literally and metaphorically, a sweet moment!

If phone boxes could speak the Oxgangs Road North box could have told a thousand and one tales. And because phone calls at that time were rarely mundane the calls were happy or sad; joyful or tragic; optimistic or depressing; hard or easy; cruel or kind; heavy or light; long or short; clever or stupid;  despairing or hopeful-they witnessed the human condition. And whilst the dialling system was satisfying that was only if you weren't in a rush-it was infuriatingly slow if you were in a hurry.

Phone calls to my grandparents might have been as simple as making travel or visitation arrangements, but sometimes could be if things weren't right at home-on more than one occasion I was sent by my mother Mrs Anne Hoffmann because my father's behaviour was causing concern and we needed some support.

The main reason for not having a telephone for the families at The Stair was cost. Looking back, it was a distinctive way at the time of delineating social class-those from the middle class and upper middle class will have had telephones in their homes whilst those from the working class didn't. The exception was The Stewarts and I suspect this must have been because Mr Stewart was a copper. The police must have paid for a phone to be installed in case Mr Stewart ever needed to be called out urgently.

There was no telephone at 6/2 until the 1980s. The worst incident of not having access to a telephone was on New Year's Day, 1979. Whilst Christmas Day was always celebrated at my grandparents' house, New Year's Day was held at 6/2. My grandfather had died in the early hours of that New Year's morning. I arrived at the front door with my grandmother and Aunt Heather. We would normally have been welcomed by my mother and her husband John Duncan. Instead I had to break the terrible news to my mother that her father had died. There had been no telephone to communicate the bad news earlier. And, there are really no words to describe that moment when we arrived at 6/2.