On a cobblestone road in the heart of the city, a street surreptitiously overlooks a palace and an extinct volcano that we call Arthur’s Seat. It’s the kind of sight that makes your heart skip a beat, regardless of how frequently you’ve basked in its beauty.
When I first found myself surrounded by the triple bay windows of this gorgeous Georgian townhouse, my heart was aflutter for two conflating reasons.
Firstly, I was falling head-over-heels for the man who would become my husband. As he stood behind me, sweeping the hair off my neck to plant those early-days kisses, my future flashed before me, envisioning the children we’d fill this house with. Pretty full-on, considering it was our third date…
The second reason was a little more sinister, the flutter fuelled by nerves as I realised I’d never really been comfortable with the concept of home.
The way I grew up was unconventional – a fact I discovered to my detriment much too late, via the cataclysmic collapse of a first marriage that book-ended my twenties.
An insecure childhood
As a kid, novels like Matilda and movies like Annie resonated for reasons I couldn’t quite put my tiny finger on.
My father drank daily to drown out reality and my mother radiated a synthetic warmth that seemed to fuel conflict more than comfort. When I was six, we left our airy two-bed Victorian corner flat in the south side of Glasgow in order to buy an ex-council house in a town a few miles outside the city.
The moving process felt rushed. As my father clashed with a gang who were using the park outside our new home for prostitution, we crash-landed into the harsh surroundings of early ‘90’s Auchenback, my juvenile mind overtaken with the sensation we were moving from the frying pan into the fire.
Shortly after we settled in, I watched the drug dealer who lived across the road being chased by rival henchman. Thinking our house would be a safe haven, he battered down the front door shouting for my dad to aid him. Dad was, of course, in the pub, leaving my church-going-mother operatically shrieking at him to shoo or she’d call the police. This kind of activity in our ‘hood would become commonplace, alongside arson, vandalism and violent brawls.
The descent of Dad
From here, my father fell further into the bottle. Unemployed and unengaged, his unhappiness was palpable. Nonetheless, I felt a homely comfort coorie’ing into this drunken beached-whale of a man, most often to be found sleeping off the Guinness while burning his backside on the two-bar electric fire my mother hated heating the house with due to its cost.
A former merchant seaman, he remained marooned here until his death eight years later, succumbing to the social trappings of Scottish mortality rates following to a lifetime abusing alcohol and nicotine. He was 52.
While he sank, my mother held down a job at a bank providing the roof over our heads and the food in our bellies. Emotionally though, we were malnourished.
The situation left a lot of alone time for my sister and I. She was six years my senior, and the emotional scar tissue created by the shrapnel of our family’s dysfunction would cast a long shadow over her tragically short life, repeating behavioural patterns she learned in childhood.
She died of a heroin overdose under suspicious circumstances at the age of 36. In one of life’s surrealist moments, I was informed of her passing via a FaceTime call from my estranged husband, the same night I lost the gong for communicator of the year at the Scottish Fashion Awards in London.
In reality I’d lost her fifteen years prior to that moreish golden brown.
Taking a different path
As my sibling turned to smack, I took a different slip road. Any spare time I had was spent squatting at friends. Going out was always preferable to staying in. Socialising became my shield, and sleepovers in a succession of besties’ bedrooms were scheduled like a monthly rota in home avoidance.
There were two states, solitude or socialising, and anything in the middle made me uncomfortable. I became the Mo Farah of emotion, perfecting the art of running away like a long distance athlete. It was a party trick I would later learn to unpick in a bid to become happier.
My own exit strategy was clear – buckle down and secure a university place. And so, I studied.
I studied so hard, in fact, that when the police turned up one afternoon looking for witnesses to a petrol bomb attack that killed my neighbour’s dog and burned their house down, I had to regretfully inform them that if I stopped every time a bang or commotion occurred outside, I’d never get any work done. That was, thankfully, my last summer in that situation.
As a plucky, pain-in-the-arse of a 17-year-old, I moved cities, trading west for east. But it wasn’t long before my own teenage rebellion caught up with me, and I did the most controversial thing I could think of by settling down and building a home in the twilight of my teens. It would take another decade of personal disasters, mixed with exceptional high points including the birth of my firstborn and having my first book published, before I would finally get to that elusive place I longed for.
Time to nest
On the day I packed my toddler and ten years of life up to move from our one-bedroom flat to the home of my now-husband, I finally felt free. We arrived at our illustrious new address totally unaware that 200 years before, Marie Antoinette’s daughter had done the same flit, fleeing the revolution to set up home six doors down from our new pad.
I think about her now, walking the street, enjoying the gardens and taking in the same view I do, while she too healed from her own personal trauma. I fantasise about fictitious cuppas, trading war stories about our upbringings. ‘Oh, your father died due to his set of social circumstances? Mine too! Your mother rubbed people up the wrong way? Snap! Your sibling perished at the hands of an oppressor? Same here!’
Once we’d brushed off our biscuit crumbs, drained our tea and said ‘ta-ta’, we’d return to our respective sanctuaries, both safe in the knowledge that we had finally found home.