There is nothing boasty or braggy about this statement, but I love my adopted home. Edinburgh, Scotland is where I feel safe. It’s where I come home to from my travels.
My relationship with this city is strange, surreal and as soft and calming as a great big fluffy blanket. I first came here with my parents in 1981 as part of a UK-wide trip to see all the historic sights. We went to the Edinburgh Tattoo, during the festival, and stayed in our campervan at Mortonhall. I was a brattish 17-year-old at the time and was sniffing the air like a horse that wanted to bolt. I didn’t want anything to do with my parents, and I am sure they didn’t want anything to do with me. I just remember at the time thinking – ‘this city is beautiful – wow – what a place’ and the cobbles in the New Town were echoing to some cry deep within me that I would return one day.
I didn’t think much more of the city after that. I went home, did my exams, left school, went to university and forgot all about Edinburgh, until 10 years later, when I was living in Australia and had been deported from that country (my tourist visa had expired and they wanted me gone). With 28-days to leave, I threw a dart at a globe and the dart pierced a point that centred on or close to Edinburgh.
‘That’s where I will go,’ I said, and I packed up my rucksack and headed back to the UK via France, getting the bus from London to Scotland. That was in 1991. I rented a room in a flat, got a job and invited my Australian boyfriend of the time to come and live with me in this joyous city. He arrived, wasn’t as impressed as me, but he persevered. I got pregnant and had my baby boy at the Simpson Maternity Pavilion part of the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary, located on the Meadows. The Simpson Maternity Pavilion and the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary is now gone, and has been reinvented as the Quartermile Project, an elite inner-city development which houses expensive flats, restaurants, shops, bars and yoga studios.
I left Edinburgh with my baby and partner and went to live in Australia. I was devastated to leave. I vowed to return. It took me 21 years but I did it. I returned. The safe memories of Edinburgh remained and tugged me along in companionship wherever I was in the world.
Edinburgh for me is not the Edinburgh of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting – a novel that could have been written in any city of the UK. It’s not an Edinburgh novel, nor even a Scottish novel; it’s a novel of its time. Edinburgh for me is not J.K Rowling. Edinburgh for me is more Robert Louis Stevenson, more Alexander McCall Smith, more Dr Elsie Maud Inglis.
Edinburgh is proud but very, very welcoming. It’s proud of its architecture, its darkness and light, its theatricality, its history of enlightenment.
It was while living in Edinburgh the first time that I sold my first piece of writing. I remember the warm feeling of joy and excitement, sitting on the embankment near Princes Street, opening the letter from the London editor saying they were going to publish my article and that I needed to invoice them for the payment of £100. I had never sold any work before, but Edinburgh was where it happened, where I developed the courage to approach and editor and pitch for a sale.
So I have come home to my little flat in town. It’s cold and windy and dark at 4pm but I am happy.