BACK at the turn of the century, when I had a dog and a wife, I used to do the lottery every week. Saturday mornings had a ritual to them. I would go and buy a ticket and a paper and then take Roxy, an outsized whippet who loved my wife Jean but was casually indifferent towards myself, for a walk while I worked out how I would spend my winnings.

We lived in Dennyloanhead at the time, in a rented house, the biggest I’ve ever stayed in. It even had a conservatory. From there, it was a short walk to Chacefield wood. On the walk there and back I would assign the money I was hoping to come into later that night.

I always reckoned I’d need to win £3 million at the very least to make it worthwhile. By the time you sorted out friends and family and charity and a pension (I was in my thirties so it was something I was beginning to think about), that would only leave you a million to do anything with anyway.

READ MORE: Scotland's Home of the Year - A sneak peek at the contenders

That million was the one I concentrated on most. On the walk to the woods I’d imagine setting up a record label or a publishing company with some of it. On the way back I’d fantasise with even greater intensity about the house I would build with the rest.

Grand Designs had started on the TV in 1999 and I already had a hazy idea of what I wanted, probably inspired by photographer Julius Shulman’s images of post-war modernist homes in Los Angeles designed by the likes of Richard Neutra; those transparent boxes of steel, concrete and glass that seemed to hang on the lip of the hills above the city. Something like Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House maybe, or maybe the Vandamm House; not a real place, rather the set designed by MGM set designers for Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest for the film’s villain, James Mason.

The kind of place, in short, where you might find David Hockney painting his boyfriend swimming in the pool. Not that I ever expected David to be hanging around in a small town in central Scotland.

Today I am sitting in a house a few miles from Chacefield Wood. It is not a grand design. My lottery numbers never came up.

Instead, I live in a new-build. A standard box. The main room is open plan but there are no city lights twinkling miles below. There is a park and a bowling green if you can see through the net curtains and blinds.

It is, by my counting, the 17th house I’ve lived in. The first was in Hagener Strasse in Iserlohn, Westfalia in West Germany, then an army home in England (I was an army brat for my first couple of years), a council house in Northern Ireland, student flats in Stirling, a couple of houses in the north-east of England, and then back to central Scotland again and another round of property moves.

Some of them I was too young to have any memory of. Some of them were home for mere weeks or months. Others I have lived in for years.

Like this one. I’ve been in this house in Falkirk for most of the 21st century. It is where I watched my children grow up, nursed my wife when she was sick. It is where I moved grudgingly into middle age and have now started to move beyond even that.

Jean always adored it here. This house as it is today is a mixture of her love and my laziness. I look around it at the mess and clutter – the paint patch on the divider wall that was never painted over, the clothes waiting patiently (very patiently) to be put away, the back room overflowing with books and magazines – and accept that Julius Shulman would not want to waste a roll of film on it. No, grand is not the word.

Still, this is home. Such a small word, isn’t it? And yet how much it conjures up, especially now, when most of us are spending all our lives within its four letters because of the lockdown.

READ MORE: Scotland's Home of the Year - A sneak peek at the contenders

Because for most of us, “home” doesn’t mean bricks and mortar. It’s a word that is a repository for memories.

I grew up on a council estate in Northern Ireland. Three bedrooms, a living room, sitting room, a small kitchen, one bathroom and an outhouse we called the coal bunker for the obvious reason. Cleaning the grate and making a fire was one of my childhood chores – that sense of satisfaction you would get when the paper and the wood began to catch, and you could add the coal.

In my memory, that house is built of comic books and the smell of my mum’s home cooking. It was kicking a ball against the door of the coal bunker. It was a place of safety. No small thing in Northern Ireland in the 1970s when your dad is in the security forces.

Once, though, I watched a neighbour, a boy a few years older than myself, someone I played football with from time to time, kick in every window in his house in a drunken rage while his mother looked on helplessly. The shock of that moment has stayed in my head, the first time I realised home might not feel safe for everyone.

We know, don’t we, that home can be where the hurt is. That is one of the realisations of adulthood.

I think, sometimes, of those homes built on clifftops on the east coast, in Yorkshire or Norfolk usually, where the sea, ever hungry, is constantly eating away at the land, to the point where the house begins to crack and eventually crumble into the waves. An all too obvious reminder that the very foundations of our lives are not necessarily built on solid ground.

My wife died last autumn. I have realised in the months since that now even though I still stay in the house where we lived, where our daughters grew up, the house they still share with me, that our lives here were never about the bricks and mortar. The truth is home was a 5ft2 girl from Denny who loved cats and dogs, the Bunnymen and Bowie. Jean was home to me and now I am homeless. I am still trying to find steady ground beneath my feet, ground that the waves won’t wash away.

I guess I must try to rebuild the very idea of home. That’s my next domestic project. Hard to do in these days when there is a danger that home has become a kind of prison for all of us.

And maybe the idea of home means something very different now that we are sealed in by government advice. A word that once stood for comfort and security now has fear and anxiety built in. The question is, for how long? Can we ever go back to that land of lost content that we lived in until only three months ago?

When we were younger Jean and I would talk of the kind of house we might live in one day. Maybe an apartment high above the city, the kind of place Woody Allen occupied in the films he made when he was funny and still safe to namedrop. We never got there. The lottery of life didn’t come up with those numbers.

READ MORE: Scotland's Home of the Year - A sneak peek at the contenders

Even so, even now, from time to time, I will watch Grand Designs or Scotland’s Home of the Year, visit the,, or (in the days before lockdown) pick up the odd issue of Dwell or Elle Decoration and imagine the dream home I always wanted to build, some notional vision of glass and smooth, creamy concrete. A conduit to a dream of a life lived in clean lines, without clutter and maybe without any pain. A perfect home for a perfect life.

But I know in my heart of hearts that is asking an awful lot of mere concrete and glass.

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