Living memories from Thorntree Street

Age Scotland ran a taster session with Thorntree Street residents recently, encouraging them to explore their memories of life. Hopefully a longer term project will be partly funded by Age Scotland.

Here’s what the guys had to say…

David Gibson Lyons: I learned Spanish at school. Mr Gwynne was my house master at Holyrood High School. I speak French too. I skipped school all the time. I went to Niddrie Mains Adventure Playground – NAP, we called it and ‘The Venchie’. We went right next to the railway.  The trains went to Aberdeen and England. A man on the stair taught me sign language before I started school. I could talk with my hands to the other bairns. Old Mrs O’Meara was my teacher. I hated it when the kids were cheeky to her.  I hit them! My mother worked at the Central Pay Section at the Government Buildings at Broomhouse Avenue in Corstorphine.

I was in the Merchant Navy for nine and a half years from 1978. I studied catering at a college at Gravesend, London, six miles away from Kent. I’ve been cooking all my life. I also worked as a taxi driver, for Teague.  The office was in Great Junction Street, Leith, next to the bingo hall. Ma went to play bingo there all her life. My faither died when he was 75 years.  He done 27 and a half years delivering coal. He kent Edinburgh like the back of his hand. I worked with him. In 1986 I worked for NCB in Newcraighall Road.  I helped him home if he’d taken a drink. I also worked in a lot of pubs – the Marshall Arms across the road from our house. There’s a big bowling alley there.  And I was a painter and decorator to trade.

David Martin: My mum was a junkie, she died giving birth to me. I was adopted from Leith. My adopted mum died on my fortieth birthday – some birthday. I left Harthill, just left my two budgies and all my furniture and walked to Edinburgh. It took two days. I was on the streets. They found me in a gutter, took me to the police. My family was asking where is he, is he all right? I never went back. Never wanted to. Nothing for me.  It was too vicious in Harthill. I left – it was too much. I’ve been in all the YMCAs.

So I was in these places, sleep all day and walk about at night – too dangerous to sleep – all the junkies, you know (makes an injection gesture), get away from fights, banging, drug abuse. One place I was in was broken into 7 times. Folk passing by gave me money. I’d buy alcohol. I was a regular alcoholic, registered at 13 – I’m now 54. Told me I’d be dead at 35. Here I am. Sometimes I pray to God when I go to sleep I may never wake. But I’m still here.

One time this woman bought me a cup of tea. I’ll never forget her. Never.

As a kid I had nothing. We were in Harthill Pentecostal Church. Pentecostalists. I was a Sunday School teacher there. Aye, me! I was a cashier in the motorway stop for a while. Also worked in the slaughterhouse in Bathgate, all the bones, I picked them out, little bones, ugh! Did wheelie bins too. Lots of jobs I had.

I was sitting in my hoose in Eastfield one day, I see my cigarette papers walking past. A line of ‘em on the floor. What? I thought I was hallucinating! No – MICE. Carrying the papers away for nests! School next door was knocked doon and here they all come to me. Took my jumper, too, unravelled it till nothing’s left but string. One morning I put my foot in my slipper – baby mice in there. How does it happen? Eh? Nothing but up from here.

Another time I’m in the Pentecostal Church. Duncan Donaldson was deacon. He come out, raises his hands up, says, ‘Praise God for bounty received!’ and the ceiling falls in. I’m soaked. Pipe burst. Praise God, eh?

There was my dad, he liked a drink. Whisky. We went for a fish at Helensdale, took a can of worms. Caught a nice trout, walked to the hotel and got it cooked. Lovely! Dad was on the whisky, I’m on the Tennents, we think wouldn’t it be nice to get another bit of fish. We go back to the burn, a lorry’s run over the worms. Nothing left. So my dad’s in the car, hits a rock, state he was in, the exhaust falls off. Bang. Under the car. Then next thing it’s rolling. I pulled him out the driver’s side, car went into the burn head first and stayed there. We’d to get a taxi home. A long way!

I was at Springwell before I come here. I left there because they thought I’d challenged a boy. Came here and I love my home. But tell you, I can’t sleep – it still plays in your head.  I’m going to give all my soft toys to Salvation Army at Christmas. For children. Start again. I’m a buy-aholic! But I can do it. So I’ll give them all away.

John Bell:  I come from the West Highlands.  I was named after my uncle John. I was a catering officer in the Merchant Navy.  I went to Singapore and missed the launch coming back.  I had to get a lift from an Irish vessel trading with Red China. I got on a Chinese junk and eventually found my own ship. The Captain came alongside and saw the junk passing.  He didn’t recognise me at first.  ‘Where the hell have you been?’ I said, ‘I missed the launch.’ The Irish vessel waved down the junk and I got back on the ‘British Victory’. It was one of those things!

Jamie: My mum loved the name. My mum chose my name because it was an unusual name. It was never James. I was always Jamie. I grew up in Craigentinny, near Portobello, but I’m a Hibs fan so I’m Leith!

I went to Craigentinny School and Leith Academy. At school I always liked arithmetic and maths. I hated history – but now I love it.  Poor Miss Cromarty, our registration teacher, the kids picked on her and I felt for her. I never skived. I love learning. I went on to Stevenson College.   I’m always reading – mostly lives of pop groups. Your wedding day is supposed to be the best day in your life but no – it was the Live Aid Concert!   I’m a Queen fanatic, Freddie Mercury.  And no actor can beat Robert de Niro.

From 1991 I worked for the Department of Transport in Edinburgh, did MOTs for the Eastern Scottish busses, as they were at the time. They’re now First Bus. There were 3 depots, one at Longstone, one at Shrubhill, and another one. That’s how I got onto the drink. Drink’s a demon – and drinkers are liars. ‘No, I’ve hardly had a drink at all.’ Hah! Well, the buses were in pristine condition, never anything to do to them. You’d take a look round and give them a shine and then … we all spent time in the pub. We’d spend five days a week there. I was taking a drink before, but now I was taking a lot of drink, every day. My body shut down –  not my liver – my blood. I was on 8 bottles a day. I collapsed, off to the hospital. They said if I’d come 24 hours later I’d have been dead. Realised I had to get control, I was at Jericho House before I came here. Now from eight bottles I’m down to two a day. I look at the bottles and I think  ‘I cannae be bothered.’ That’s the key. You have it there, so you don’t think about it. You don’t take it. I still have pins and needles in my feet, but the staff are getting me out walking. It’s getting better.

My daughter’s a social worker. My wife and I travelled to the States, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago. Saw the Twin Towers. Ground Zero. Really something, can you imagine?

I think Edinburgh’s the most beautiful city in the world. A castle, museums, art galleries, everything. I’m lucky.