WELL, you've got to hand it to me: I do have good taste.
Reader: "No, you don't." That's a good point, well made. Allow me, however, to disprove it.
Those of you sitting up straight will recall that I've waffled lyrically before about an autumnal walk I do every year. It's in a lovely part of Edinburgh, most of it down one street, and it commemorates my return to civilisation after a spell away in strange, barren lands.
I was newly back, that first time, when I walked from one friend's house to another, via a right posh area called The Grange. It was around 10:30pm. The quiet street was broad and on either side stood stout stone villas. Tall trees dropped fluttering leaves beneath the moonlight, and I was overcome by a feeling of magic in the air. All right, I was squiffy. But you get the picture.
Above all, delight was felt by my birling eyes, so long starved of detail, of trees, gardens and architecture, of form, shape, lines and curves. I promised that night that I'd never take such beauty for granted again, and would return to this long, straight street every autumn, when the trees swayed gently as they sloughed off their foliage.
Well, that was Dick Place, now named the most expensive street in Scotland. The average hoose here costs £1.5 million, just out of my price bracket by £1.4 million. And 38 pence.
I should have known. I knew the street wasn't run-of-the-mill, but I'd thought of it as typifying something, an ideal perhaps, but something that existed and was tangible to my stravaiging feet. Now, folk who know the price of everything are saying: "This isn't for the likes of you." Deep down, I knew this, but liked to think that, somehow, the street belonged to me too.
Damned houses: how they mock and confuse us. I think of American television shows of the Sixties and Seventies, set in properties the size of the savannah. And the main or sole earner would come home in overalls from his job as a factory hand or petrol pump attendant. They were selling us the Dream, putting the can in American. That is to say, they were lying. Their real message was: dream on.
British sitcoms were just as bad, even if the denizens tended more towards cardigans and cravats. The ghastly, tub-thumping newspapers of Englandshire are running stories about their most expensive streets too, and the houses pictured are straight out of Old Sitcomland: big, detached, Tudor-style dwellings, some with more than one cludgie.
Of course, you cannot judge a man by his cludgies. Nor can you judge a house by its size or the street's desirability. Sometimes, ambling through posh suburbs, I come across decrepit-looking domiciles where the doors and window-frames are all painted black, and you imagine some demented old dowager sitting inside, with her cupboards full of tinned soup and Spam.
Still, as long as they're happy. And, doubtless, they think of their house as a home. Where'er you range and roam, you maun come back to a home. But I'm not sure home is really in a house. In times of despair, generally between 8am and midnight, I often experience a deep desire to go "home". I even mouth the word sometimes, rather like ET, but without the halitosis.
I believe this home to be, not my own planet (destroyed shortly after I was dispatched to this dump as an infant), but a spiritual place, which will inevitably turn out to be a disappointment.
I'll die, ascend to my natural home, feeling all tingly and awed. But, just as I settle down, I'll hear loud, thumpy music from upstairs, and someone will ring the bell and ask if I'd like to buy The Watchtower. Then I'll notice on the mat a final demand to pay my celestial cooncil tax.
For four walls do not a home make, ken? The idea of home is all in the mind. Home, you may say, is where the head is. And if your head's in Dick Place, congratulations.
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