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Time to rekindle a glorious past

I was right excited to read this week about a study which has been commissioned by the council with the idea to re-generate the Tollcross area of the city. And not before blimmin' time I say.

Plans laid out in the Tollcross Viability and Improvement Study which came to light this week hope to bring it back to it's former glory. Well, perhaps "glory" isn't the right word to use, but you know what I mean.

Many iconic places, of course, still remain: The Cameo, The Kings (neither without recent threats of closure), The Auld Toll and Scotmid, but many of the shops and facilities which made Tollcross the thriving part of Edinburgh it once was, have gone.

This particular part of town has been a part of my life for a number of different reasons. I first discovered buying records here, my mum bought my school shoes here, I bought my first set of drumsticks here, enjoyed my first bought burger and chips here and even my first local was located here.

I can also remember the excitement in the early 80s caused by the arrival of Space Invaders and the "Buggles" arcade in Tollcross was one of the first arcades to get it. I never got near the machines as they were always being hogged by big lads who gave you evils if you even attempted to get on.

Alas, all but one of the aforementioned premises are no longer; well the local is still a pub but more on that later. The one constant was the culinary hostelry at which I'm sure many have stopped off for a fry up and a cup of tea at some point in your Edinburgh life. If you haven't, you may well have missed out on a treat.

A couple of doors down from The Auld Toll, The Quick and Plenty café has been a part of Tollcross for as long as I can remember, and that's going back to at least the early 70s.

Long before the days of McDonalds, KFC, wraps, bagels, humus and even vegetarianism, I was taken to the Quick and Plenty by my Dad for a burger and onions and the compulsory mug of tea. It wasn't a regular thing, which is perhaps just as well, but visits were infrequent enough for it to be deemed "a treat". And, for me, it was.

It is your classic image of what a café is and was. Bacon, eggs and butties on the go all day and a couple of feisty ladies behind the counter firing them out like nobody's business, with saucy postcards behind the counter and a line of back chat that would silence Bernard Manning.

Even now as I pass it, I smile and see if it's open. Unfortunately it closes early in the day, so when I'm ready for a nosh up, it's usually shut, but I have been known to nip in early doors for bacon buttie and a large tea.

Just a couple of doors down was a shop that was very important to this particular young lad as he was growing up and learning about the world of music. Allans Record Shop was tiny by today's standards of HMV and Virgin, but I managed to spend hours of time and quite literally pounds of pocket money in there. It was wall to wall vinyl and tapes with LPs and cassette tapes using up every spare inch of available floor and wall space with 7" singles neatly stacked in order behind the counter.

I can still remember in the late 70s when things had to be moved around a bit to house the newly-introduced 12" single. It was a single but looked like an album, but wasn't an LP. Needless to say that whole concept took me a wee while to figure out.

Regarding my first drumsticks, they came from the music shop James Grant's, which was a couple of shops between where the Concorde Chip Shop is now and Bar Home. I was learning how to play the drums at school and needed a set of sticks for class. I set off with the required couple of quid in my hand and left with a beautiful set of size 5A drumsticks. No drum kit, just the sticks, but it was a start.

Long before that, when I was just staring out in school, I remember my mum taking me to Clarks on the corner of Lochrin Buildings and Home Street. Getting shoes was usually a very dull affair, but that all changed one particular visit as we discovered Clarks Commandos. My street cred in class the next day was at an all-time high.

And so to my first local. I mentioned Bar Home earlier which is the pub on the corner near The King's which isn't Bennett's.

In the 80s, this was Bentley's and became a meeting place for me and my mates as we learnt how to drink, play the bandit and fail with women. Looking back, perhaps the reason we failed with women was because we drank and played the bandit too much.

We always met downstairs and great excitement came when they got a massive TV screen installed; none of yer plasma nonsense back then. This beast of a telly sat in the corner and took up about the same amount of size of your average walk-in wardrobe. I'm sure it was primarily installed for the footie but I also remember certain unnamed blokes nipping down on Wednesday nights to watch episodes of Dallas, but I couldn't possibly divulge who.

It may never return to the days of Goldbergs, Coasters and Mr Bonis, but whatever does happen to Tollcross, one constant will remain: parking there is a complete nightmare.

Given the density of the area, a car park just isn't going to happen, so the only other option would be perhaps have slightly more sympathetic parking regulations.

Nah, I can't see that happening either.

Source: Grant Stott, Evening News, 23rd February, 2007

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