It was the height of Thatcherism and the greed is good culture, but there wasn’t much in the way of conspicuous wealth in the Hailes. Indeed, at the time the sprawling estate was renowned as the most troubled in Edinburgh and more closely associated with the city’s AIDS and heroin problems.
What I remember is the sheer size of the place – with the high rise buildings punctuated by street-after-street of low rise blocks. That was a lot of houses which meant there were around 17,000 people in Wester Hailes at the time.
The planning gurus who’d created the scheme had envisaged it as a kind of genteel commuter suburb for a generation who’d all have cars and use them to travel to and from work, before returning to relax in front of the TV with their families (there wasn’t anything else for recreation: despite have a population equivalent to that of Musselburgh, Wester Hailes had just one pub – and that was a no-go zone).
Bizarrely this meant the entire scheme was designed without pavements along any of its main roads (who was going to walk in the car-led utopia the social planners had dreamt up?), while every single flat was provided with at least one car parking space.
The reality was that hardly anybody actually owned a car, so the sizable parking areas were empty and virtually traffic free. In other words, ideal spaces were kids could play everything from tennis and rounders to football, skateboarding and the odd game of British Bulldog. Or anything else the pre-video game generation could dream up to fill their days and nights.
One of the neighbourhood kids who stuck most firmly in my memory was a skinny boy with a shock of jet black hair and huge, solemn dark eyes who moved into the scheme after a stint living abroad in Abu Dhabi. As if that didn’t make him memorable enough he also revelled in the inexplicable nickname of Basher.
No-one knew why. The kid wasn’t a fighter or troublemaker in any way, shape or form. He wasn’t a bully or threatening in presence or manner. And he didn’t bear a resemblance to any of the characters from the Bash Street Kids. Looking back now I can only guess that maybe it was a bastardisation of arabic name, Bashir, which maybe came back with him from the Middle East.
Whatever. The point about Basher was that he was a skinny wee skelf of a kid – but he was football daft and despite being slight was good enough to be one of the early picks when teams were being assembled. Even on the occasions when he was playing in welly boots aginst kids in trainers.
At some point in the mid 80s Basher and his family moved away from their flat in the stair next to mine and I have not a clue what became of them. I grew up and moved on myself and over the intervening years Wester Hailes has been transformed beyond recognition. The high rises and the huge empty car parks are gone, replaced with more desirable and socially acceptable housing. And a canal.
But a couple of years ago my sister asked me if I ever listened to the Real Radio football phone in – with Alan Rough and Ewen Cameron. The reason? It turns out that Ewen Cameron is none other than the big-eyed, football-daft Basher, now all grown up.
I don’t know much about how Basher – or Ewen as I should now refer to him – carved himself a media career, but he is doing well and he and Roughie are a popular sporting fixture. I’m not surprised he’s enjoying success because he always had quiet grit.
This week that 25 year old connection came full circle. My sister’s middle kid, Harris Dracup, is pushing seven and football daft. As a treat, a family friend arranged to take him along with his own son to visit the Real Radio studios to see the phone-in programme in full flow actually being made.
Refusing to be phased by his moment in the spotlight young Harris dug deep and came up with a tuneful wee radio-friendly snippet and burst into song … unfortunately with with the catchy jingle for BBC Radio Two!
Apparently this impromptu ad for the opposotion went down a storm with Roughie and Ewan, who were in stitches and more than saw the funny side.
From the mouths of babes, eh?