I CAN'T imagine a world without parks. Imagine everything were just forest, as in the distant past, or concrete, as in a dystopian future. We need these oases that we might breathe and see nature tamed instead of running wild like a verdant hooligan.
Recently, I rediscovered Braidburn Valley Park, between the Morningside and Oxgangs areas of Edina Toon, and felt memory tug my heart and ruffle my brain. I've lived in both areas, and often used the park to get from A to B, if I might call them that, or just to chill out, as we say nowadays, even when we already feel cold.
Here, in this park, I'd the surreal experience of stumbling upon characters in Arthurian dress. They were performing a play in the outdoor amphitheatre, to a passing audience of one.
It was here too that, from the top deck of a bus, Mother saw me asleep on the grass when I should have been at work. All the resources of my imagination couldn't conjure a valid excuse and, once more, I'd to leave home with my possessions tied to a stick.
You enter the park through iron gates flanked by stout stone pillars topped with rock-solid urns. There's a noticeboard now, which is always a good sign. It implies management, not in the David Brent sense, but of stewardship, the fact that citizens with a civic bent are quietly working in the background.
I see there's a Friends of Braidburn Valley Park organisation, which is enormously encouraging, though of course I won't be joining it. It would only end in schism, personality clashes and coups d'tat. Before long, it would be on the television news, and the police would be involved. But I wish them the best of luck – which, without me, they might very well continue to have.
For those of you furth of Edina, the organisation has a lovely website with photies of the park. It won a Green Flag for community involvement but, needless to say, this got nicked when the Friends tried to fly it. They've now won a second and are looking at ways of making it vandal-proof. Short of barbed wire and a permanently manned sentry post, I can't see how they're going to do it.
Now, if I appear knowledgeable about geography and botany in anything that follows, it's because I've nicked stuff from the website. As you would expect, the park was formed by glacial and fluvial activity. Here, a heron, bats, foxes and a very occasional otter like to chill, while the lesser spotted Robert Louis Stevenson used to take a path through what was then farmland to Swanston.
The first thing that happens to the eyelobe on entering the park from the Morningside direction is that it's drawn to a majestic view of the Pentland Hills beyond. Nearer to hand, the Braid Burn, which runs all the way to the Firth of Forth, splits the grassy valley's two steep sides. The top of the rightward slope is fringed by the classic suburban bungalows of Greenbank. To the left, beyond the elms and limes, the Braid Hills Hotel overlooks the park. Here, Miss Jean Brodie "sat shrivelled and betrayed in her long-preserved dark musquash coat", eating sandwiches with former pupil Sandy Stranger and recalling her prime.
At least she got sandwiches. I stayed there one Christmas a few years ago and am still waiting for my breakfast. The Polish waitresses seemed not to notice me, and I left hungry, confirmed in the view that it was going to be a rotten Christmas.
Up by the cherry trees, I got a little teary. Five thousand Girl Guides planted the trees in a trefoil pattern in 1935, though that's not the reason for blubbing. From memory of previous springs, I see the trees in flower, and compute that I'd been coming here, on and off obviously, for 37 years. I remembered my youthful idealism, the belief that I'd be a great writer (shurrup!), my long hair, skinniness and innocence, all gone.
I'm at that age where you realise you've achieved eff all. But, still, I'm not sure achieving anything is a good idea. It just attracts envy, flak and hassle. Or is that the name of a firm of solicitors?
Leaving the park, I tootle round the pleasant suburb of Comiston Springs. I do not wish to alarm anyone reading this who might live there, but I used to walk these streets so often that I remain familiar with homely details such as gates, paths and various trees. Sometimes, I feel like a ghost haunting such locales, always the outsider looking in.
But back in Braidburn Valley Park, I feel at home. Some of my soul is here. I left it by the cherry trees.
• Read Robert McNeil every Tuesday and Friday in The Scotsman.