A SENSE of place is difficult to define. Happiness likewise. Another one of those surveys is out, this one by Rightmove, purporting to show the happiest places in the whole kingdom of Britonia. It’s a bit odd. In Scotland, no island or island town figures. Stately Edinburgh and vibrant Glasgow score fairly low.

These places usually come top here though, even then, you must take that with a pinch of salt. On islands, every resident is a PR officer. And, while city-dwellers can be happily cynical about their place, the facilities, attractions and so forth give them a boost.

But, still, no smoke without fire, and most Scottish islands and many of our towns are fab. In this “Happy At Home Index”, featuring 218 places from a poll of 26,000 folk, Richmond-upon-Thames (average house price £1 million), came top while Hillingdon, just 10 miles away in west London, came bottom.

Winchester, Monmouth, Wokingham and Cirencester made up the top five, with Skipton, Hemel Hempstead and St Ives also showing strongly. Hemel Hempstead? Friends of mine – one English, one Scottish – moved there, and said it was the unfriendliest place on Earth. Hightailed it back north. But there’s north and north. For my money, Lancashire in England – south of here – is the friendliest place on the planet.

Galashiels was the happiest place in Scotland for the second year running, coming in 15th UK-wide. I get this, having enjoyed pleasant visits there, apart from the time my card was declined in a restaurant. “I’m not poor,” I remonstrated. “Just in between fortunes.”

Small towns have lots going for them compared to cities and villages. A particularly happy period of my life was spent in one: lots of friends and just the right degree of anonymity. Given that about small towns, and Galashiels’ rightly exalted place, you’d have to ask why lovely little Kelso isn’t in there too.

The Herald: Whitehaugh Farm from Gypsy Glen, GalashielsWhitehaugh Farm from Gypsy Glen, Galashiels (Image: free)

So, what criteria counted? In some sort of order: pride of place, sense of belonging, community spirit, friendly and polite folk, personal freedom, nature and green spaces, comfortable earnings, cultural scene, job opportunities, recreational activities, services, amenities (including restaurants, shops), and public transport. The subjective and nebulous score higher than the factual. Rightly so. No point getting on a bus if nobody likes you.

After Galashiels, Inverness came second among Scottish places (53rd in UK), then Dumfries (55th), Dundee (58th), Perth (78th), Falkirk (80th), Ayr (83rd), Stirling (85th), Edinburgh (90th), Kilmarnock (97th), Glasgow (116th), Aberdeen (121st), Kirkcaldy (135th), Paisley (147th), and Motherwell (192nd).

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Plenty of places missing. I’m happy to report, though, that Scotland didn’t figure in the 20 saddest places (Slough etc).

Rural residents were happier than city folk, especially those living near woodland, mountains, the coast or a river. Hey, I tick three of these boxes. And look at the state of me. But recently, in the forest, I told myself that, however rotten life gets, I’ve always got this. Same looking at the stars at night.

My strongest sense of place is in my garden, partly I think because I’ve made it my own, creating hedges, paths, a flower bed and veg patches. It’s my place.

But a garden can’t be just anywhere. Once, I told a friend I’d been considering a house with a big garden in an unprepossessing place. She, who’d grown up there, said no way and took me in the car to prove it. Place was all bakeries, bookies and sectarian graffiti. Brrr! Mind you, I love bakeries. They should be among the criteria for a happy place.

Much to-do about a do

JUST say naw. There has been much wailing of teeth about the onset of the festive party season, with the new inclination being to avoid rather than attend them.

Learned articles suggest excuses, and peeps are popping up in public to declare their dislike of the controversial events. Good lord, how did I get ahead of the curve? Usually, I’m miles behind it.

This makes me uncomfortable, and my instinct to rebel against the prevailing norm now finds itself confused. But the fact is I get nervous and uncomfortable at any kind of house-party. The last one I attended was 20 years ago, and I climbed out a bathroom window to escape. I’ll never forget the feeling of freedom on walking freely down the street in the cool night air.

But nervousness and discomfort are weaknesses. They’re not examples to follow. Still, they is what they is, and the new, welcome orthodoxy is that one needn’t feel bad about it. This is me, warts and all. Or all warts.

Neither am I calling out party animals. In some ways they’re admirable: sociable, friendly, and mindful of obligations. I’d consider myself all these things ordinarily. But the crowded, confined space of a house-party doesn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was better when everyone stood. Then you could mingle. Nowadays, everyone sits, splitting into groups which stay together the entire evening.

Elsewhere, in the free world, we’re all atomised individuals now. Society has largely broken down and “Do what thou wilt” is the modern watchword. Bit dodgy. Bit teenage. “Don’t do what thou won’t” is little better. But it’ll have to do.