My heart is not in the highlands. My family comes, in fact, from the industrialised countryside of West Lothian, spread like rubble between Glasgow and Edinburgh, where there is no a-chasing the wild deer, just tracts of grey, pebbledash housing schemes, disused coal mines and factories.
When I was growing up in the area the only West Lothian question people asked was why anyone, except perhaps Tam Dalyell, would want to live there. Twenty years ago our corner was officially designated as an area of severe deprivation, or at least practising to be one. It may be different there now. There may be branches of Benetton and Next, a Waitrose or a Marks & Spencer food store in the nearest small town. But my village is still the same. Bleak.
In spite of any ambivalence, whenever I do return it is with the same aching anticipation one feels when going to meet a long lost lover. I sit at Waverley station wearing an overcoat which I hope no one notices is too thin for the climate, and gaze through the window as the train trundles through a string of unfamiliar Edinburgh suburbs.
But as the first rows of dismal council houses appear and the train shunts through West Calder, the landscape begins to look familiar. Lurching on to Addiewell, then stopping briefly at Briech-a corrugated metal bus shelter standing forlornly at the side of the railway track-by the time my destination approaches my stomach is grinding glass.
When the train shudders to a halt, I am checking my reflection in the window in readiness for the embrace of this invisible lover. I am the only person to leave the train and, as if fearing contamination, it starts to draw away from the platform before the door is properly closed.
There is a bridge straddling the two railway lines which used to be built of slippery wood. Long ago it was replaced with equally lethal steel made slimy by the rain because-of course-it is raining. The waiting room, where a roaring fire melted snow into slush throughout the winter months, is boarded up and covered in graffiti; the ticket office where Sandy would offer tea if you happened to be there when the kettle boiled, has planks nailed across the window. The train has disappeared and the platform is empty. Likewise the road-not even a stray dog or a passing…