I was born on the 29th January 1959 at home, 94 Northfield Farm Avenue, Edinburgh; in my parent’s room to be absolutely precise. I can be less precise about the time. My birth certificate says 2am but my mum is emphatic that my Grandfather, Fredrick Buglass, was visiting and had some soup that she had made just prior to giving birth to me. My dad worked at registrar house, which is a bit ironic as he was the one that gave in the details.
I guess that I entered the stage at 2pm, just in time for dinner.
These were happy times. The small semi-detached on the new housing estate overlooked a garden big enough to support two tortoises. Directly at the back of the house were prefab houses built during WWII. Keep walking up the road and you would come to the foothills of Arthur Seat; go downhill and you would reach Portobello beach. Sneak over the garden fence and in a few moments you could be hunting pheasants on the fields that led to the Figgate park. In the other direction lay the pig farm, about to become a derelict playground for local kids.
I had two older brothers; my dad was a rising civil servant who worked as musician at weekends, my mum a typist. There was a piano in the front room, a dining room with a serving hatch and a white Mini Cooper parked at the front. The Mini Cooper was one of three cars on the street. Throw in a greenhouse, a shed, a granddad who wore plus fours, played a good game of golf and another who was ex army and the scene was set for a respectable middle class upbringing.
Catastrophe struck. It was the sixties. My dad fell for the temptations that beset every musician and he buggered off with a young lady. He took with him the piano, the car and the money. He left me, my brothers and my poor mum nothing but the house.
Unfortunately, the sixties mentality was something that the rich watched on telly. Real people had no telly and no carpet and unless you died you didn’t leave your wife. My mother, despite being blameless, entered a kind of self imposed eastern seraglio world. She never mentioned my dad again, destroyed all the photos, shunned any society but a few very close friends and tried to eke out a living on the wage of a part-time typist.
I’ve always regarded this time as Orwellian poverty; that is, the poverty of those who have and then have-not .From my perspective one moment we had music, transport, money, prospects things and the next minute they were all gone. We had nothing left but pride, luck and intelligence.
In the morning the three brothers would walk to Duddingston Primary school hand in hand. My mother, who had been born in a tenement, could follow that journey from the bedroom window of her new but empty house before going to work. Doubtless she cried a lot as she stared over the bleached bones of the greenhouse and the old garden shed, those mysterious symbols of masculinity, rotting in the morning sun.
But for me, school had begun.