This is something I wrote just before Christmas last year. I didn’t post it on this blog then but, as I have been thinking again recently about the meaning of home, I thought I would post it here now.
It is a few days before Christmas and I am travelling by train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, a journey I have done countless times before. I have just paid a fleeting visit to my parents in Glasgow and am now travelling home to Edinburgh where I will be for just a few days before returning to Glasgow, to my childhood home, for the Christmas period. I will be going home for Christmas. As the train hurtles past fields and houses, trees and lochs, I reflect on the meaning of home. I think about my two ‘homes’ – Glasgow and Edinburgh – the place where I grew up and the place I currently stay, joined together by this train line. For although I have not lived in Glasgow for several years it is still home to me, although changes in this ever-changing city and time away has meant that that sense of home has been eroded in parts. In particular the removal of old stone buildings across the city and their replacement with new houses and shops has been a real sense of sorrow for me. To me, this is the removal, not just of the buildings themselves, but of the history and the memory of place, the character and soul of parts of this city. Change of some sort is inevitable, but erasure of the past should not be. Somehow, these buildings held something of the memory and character of this city within them, now gone. Maybe with time the new buildings will gather character of their own, but for now I mourn the loss of the old and the erosion of history from parts of this home city of mine.
The train slows to a crawl. An aeroplane is visible in the distance, hanging in the sky as though frozen, unmoving. I keep watching and slowly, almost imperceptibly, I begin to see movement. It inches across the sky, passes briefly behind a cloud, and reappears before disappearing into the distance. Filled with passengers, some of them may be travelling home too. The slow movement of the train means that I have time to look at the houses and buildings beside the train track, houses with their tiled red roofs, long low 19th century cottages, new-builds shiny and identical, barns with crooked windows. I gaze at the sodden fields and the equally damp sheep, a moss covered wall, green and woolly, metal fences, raindrops glistening in the low sun, and the hills hazy in the distance, the Pentlands declaring I am nearly home. For Edinburgh is home too. But this home is different from the home of Glasgow. I cannot quite put my finger on how, but it is a home nonetheless, more than just the place that I live.
The train gathers speed again and my thoughts turn to the multiple meanings of home. For as much as home differs for individuals, it must have differed too in the past. My ‘homes’ are both cities and stone-and-mortar buildings. Both a feeling and a place. But this definition of home may have been unrecognisable to the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic period, or the first farmers, or the industrial factory workers. What is home when buildings are slight and movement a part of life? When cities are a distant dream? What is home when days are spent outdoors, and life hard graft upon the land, when ancestors are a part of life? When that life is short and hard and beautiful and challenging? When choices are narrow and distant places are unknown? As a modern city dweller, I suspect that I cannot fully grasp those lived-in-the-land meanings of home, or truly understand that millennial past life, despite a career spend studying it. However, we all must dwell somewhere, we must all have a home, however that looks, whether temporary and fleeting or life-long and unchanging. Our ancestors came from somewhere, so I suspect home was as much a part of life as it is today. I suspect too that the past was as much a part in home as it is for us today, whether or not this is something we consciously recognise, more so perhaps when life and that past connected so directly to the land.
The train slows again and my journey is almost at an end. The train passes beneath the castle rock and pulls into the train station. I smile as I think about the Medieval castle on the hill above and the train station, built in the 19th century, though which I soon will pass – Edinburgh is a city firmly rooted in the past, a fact that intrigues and draws me in. I disembark and negotiate my way out of the station, into the crowds of Christmas shoppers. I wend my way through the Edinburgh streets, making my way home.
Home is an important concept for us all, and one that is all too far away for many. Let us not forgot those who are far away from home.