Every time I come home a familiar and very welcome feeling comes over me. I often come back from a trip by air, and when the plane dips over the Firth of Forth and begins its descent my heart gives a leap. There below me in the distance is Arthur’s Seat – a crouching lion keeping watch over the city. And beyond that, touched by the morning sunlight, are the Pentland Hills. These are the hills of home and these streets, like narrow ribbons from above, are the sinews of the place where I belong. East-West, Home’s Best: the old adage, like many old sayings, seems absolutely right. Home.
Because of the nature of my work, I have to spend a lot of time travelling. My homecomings, then are frequent, and they often make me think of what it is I like about the place I live. Much of the time, I think, we take our home town, or even our home country, for granted – it’s simply the place we happen to live. Some of us live there by accident – that’s where we are born and where we have stayed – while others have made a choice. But however we have come to be where we are, it is not all that often that we sit down and think why we are glad that we live where we do.
This is a pity. I think that there is a good case for asking ourselves precisely that question. The results may surprise us – there are often many more reasons than we imagine for being glad that we live where we do. And at the end of this exercise of stock-taking, we may feel something akin to real gratitude. There is nothing wrong with feeling grateful – and for saying something about it. In fact, I think it’s rather good for us to say thank you.
I feel that way about Edinburgh and I have recently been given the chance to put that feeling into words. When I was asked to write a book around a collection of old photographs of the city*, I thought: Now’s my chance to say why I’m glad about where I live. And that’s the way it has worked out for me. Every photograph in this book says something about the character of this wonderful city and, indeed, about this wonderful country.
Many of the photographs are old ones, recording some aspect of Edinburgh life in the past. Their age, though, does not matter at all, because so many of the places and buildings they record are still there. And that is one of the reasons to be glad about living in Edinburgh or indeed in many of the other towns or cities in Scotland: history. We are very fortunate in Scotland to have a great deal of our past still with us – not tucked away in museums, but right in front of our eyes as we walk down the street. Some places have lost all that, and have entirely covered up their old buildings with new ones. We have our new buildings, but we have a great number of old ones too, and these old buildings remind us of what life was like in our parents’ and grandparents’ time. This form of history in stone and mortar links us to those who lived before us – it gives us an anchor in our lives.
These old photographs show people too – people doing all the usual things that people do in their lives: going to school, working in factories or shops, being treated in hospital. And this reminds us of the fact of how lucky we are to be members of a community – to have friends and family. In Scotland we are particularly fortunate in that respect: we are still a small enough country to feel those links in our everyday lives. We tend to know the people about us: they are not strangers.
I do not think we should be ashamed to say how glad we are to live where we do. I do not think we should hesitate to write a love letter to our town, our city, our country. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to write mine.
*The book of photographs mentioned is A Work of Beauty, published by Historic Environment Scotland.