The following excerpts are taken from the long out of print A Picture of Health by Constance Hardy (Milngavie, 1987). The author (1911-2004), a doctor herself, was married to Dr Ekke Kuenssberg. She was born and brought up in Inverleith and lived and worked in the area most of her life.

The following excerpts are taken from the long out of print A Picture of Health by Constance Hardy (Milngavie, 1987). The author (1911-2004), a doctor herself, was married to Dr Ekke Kuenssberg. She was born and brought up in Inverleith and lived and worked in the area most of her life.

‘We lived near the Botanic Garden, but at that time handbags and umbrellas had to be left at the gates in case rare horticultural specimens were smuggled out in them. For many years this ban extended to prams and go-carts, and what couldn’t one have smuggled out in a baby’s long clothes, worn for nearly six months? They were a woolly vest, a bodice, a barracoat made of flannel and decorated with feather stitching, a cotton petticoat, a dress, a jacket and an enormous shawl. No wonder these infants always appeared to grizzle: they must have lived in a permanent state of thirst and sweat rash …’

‘The house that we moved to in 1920 [19 Howard Place] stood on a street that passed a large cemetery, so that funerals were frequent. One heard the clopping of horses’ hooves, and rushed to the window. According to income or importance, either two or four magnificently plumed black horses with foam-flecked chests harnessed to splendid bowed necks by a bearing rein so that they could not rush it, drew a glass hearse, decorated with rich black carvings and two top-hatted gentlemen on a box. Inside, the flower-covered coffin lay like a jewel, sometimes covered in purple felt, sometimes made in oak with fine brass fittings. Not too rarely it was small and white, and you knew this might be Ada or Gerty, and reality drew nearer …’

‘By 1945 one lucky day in a quiet crescent, I found a house that had been used and misused as an Air Raid Warden’s Post [15 Warriston Crescent]. We were no longer threatened by bombing raids and it stood empty, the wardens now checking on blackouts from the streets alone instead of standing by for fire-fighting and emergency. We were still all feeling our way in the dark, possibly with dimmed torches, but had got quite good at it, as we passed another wraith or a solid lamp-post in the blackness.

Inside, the house was piled high with dirty plaster dust from battered walls, mixed with soot that had slithered from the fireplaces. The wardens hadn’t bothered about housekeeping. Plumbing was primaeval, and partially blocked; the lighting, worn-out gas brackets that had long ceased to function. Over the door was a notice saying ‘Headquarters Harry’, and Harry’s men had worked by torchlight behind closed and not very adequate shutters which obviously they had never opened. There was even a non-functioning telephone on a long string: they had knocked a hole between two walls so that they could pass it through in case of incapacitation.

I went up to argue about licenses, and met the usual stone wall. However, medicals held a little clout in this, and after I had pointed out to an endless series of petty and pettier officials that a doctor could not practice from an unlit home with no source of hot water and blocked lavatories, they grudgingly gave a license for £250. With help from the bank, the house was purchased as a non-functioning problem from the Civil Defence for a manageable sum. It seemed a monumental millstone at the time, but, in retrospect, was the snip of the century …’

‘History is about people, and you find yourself as a connecting thread. In one lifetime, the changes amaze!

In my childhood, as we walked the streets of the poorer quarters of Edinburgh, we saw conditions as normal that would pull up any passer-by nowadays. The old were bowed, shuffling along in splayed shoes, their smelling clothes often soaked through, their mumbling toothless jaws suddenly widening in a wild cackle. Yet they rarely lost their wit, though there was little to be witty about.

The middle-aged might show the bowed legs, the pigeon chests, the knobbed skulls of infantile rickets, the curved spines of tuberculosis, the dragging shrivelled limbs of poliomyelitis, sometimes shackled by enormous metal splints and an ugly raised boot to match one limb with another. The limbless rarely had any replacement at all, perhaps a peg leg replacing the amputation following accident or war injury, a hook replacing a hand.

The children might be pale and grizzling, wearing layers of adherent clothing, and often unshod. They had the yellow gum of eternal colds around their mouths and noses, and faced a row of ferocious infectious diseases yet to come, with their after-effects delaying their attack for later life. There were the eternal penalties of overcrowding: bugs, fleas, impetigo, scabies, erysipelas, recurrent diarrhoeas, and the inheritance of venereal disease from their progenitors. Little children might be seen on crutches, like the last boy following the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When, in the city, did we last see a Long John Silver? … ‘

‘When our youngest son was a month old, in the drenching August of 1948, the river rose and flooded us all. Neighbours had kept a tame duck and had removed a stone in their garden wall to let it out for a swim, but it had always preferred land life. Forty-eight hours of constant rain swirled the river through the hole and the gardens of many of the neighbours, including that of the duck’s owners, (who had eventually eaten it and were away on holiday), and we all had a backwash into our houses. Warned overnight by the police, we had lifted movables on to tables in the basement, and left candles to light if the electricity failed. In the morning we heard a gentle clanking and, descending the basement stairs, found an infant’s potty like a gondola gently rocking on the dark grey surge. We rescued all our candles and some cold breakfast and paddled upstairs again for a picnic. We also collected some refugees who had been washed out of the basements where they lived along the road. When we came back it was to find a candlelit floor. It happened to be my birthday, and the children had considered this a specially arranged celebration.

It all caused a lot of smelly excitement, especially when they brought home lavish accounts of the debris floating in other people’s areas. Ours still held the errant pot, which rotated slowly until one of the firemen who came to pump us out sank it with his giant boot. The house smelt dank for a long time …’