Mark Stephen - My Favourite Place
Sometimes I feel that if I were dusted down by a good forensics team they'd probably find God's fingerprints. Both in my personal life and professionally I've been incredibly lucky so if you were to ask me, "Where is my favourite place?"
Well, there's a list.
Firstly, lying with Jean, my beloved wife of 30 years, nestled like two spoons, enjoying the warmth and companionship of a rare Sunday morning long lie and listening to the rain rattling on the window outside. Long murmured conversations and longer comfortable silences. The Great Truth apparent - to be truly cosy inside it really has to be a miserable day outside.
Seeing my two lovely daughters, Rebecca and Jessica helpless with laughter at some daftness or other, in the glow and steam of our family kitchen, knowing that I love them more than I have the power to express.
Sitting alone on the sand, in the cold clear light of an Aberdeenshire spring morning, watching kittiwakes, Scotland's most delicate gulls nest up for the spring breeding season, their dark tail feathers crossed demurely like a debutantes shapely pins.
Having old friends round for dinner - fire on, curtains closed, the chatter stilled, heads bowed, old stories interrupted, knowing that the temporary silence is really a big thumbs-up for the food, a moment of grace during the meal rather than before.
Then roaring wind and engine noise, strapped into a micro-light, a sort of flying motorbike, two and half thousand feet over the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, looking down at clouds of tiny gannets, looking like the artificial snowflakes in one of those snow-domes you used to get as a kid.
10 metres down in the Moray Firth, watching a grey seal keek through a stand of kelp, eyes huge in the greenish light. Trying to sing to it through my regulator and getting a mouthful of seawater for my trouble. It ducked away as if embarrassed.
Marvelling at the colours of blue, impossible blues, found in the massive icebergs that float in stately procession round Disko bay on the West Coast of Greenland. It was a berg from here, a city block of ice, that did for the RMS Titanic and 1500 souls.
Another blue - smoke from burning incense in one of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia. The dawn outside gilding the dust thrown up by ambling herds of goats. Saintly icons of dazzling colours, stone steps worn smooth by supplicant feet, worship wonderful in the proper sense of the word, medieval in its purity.
Sitting beneath cherry blossom in the courtyard of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto, next to an old man who offers me what seems to be some sort of savoury lollipop. We talk for nearly an hour with many smiles and genuine laughter, despite the fact that neither of us understands a word of what the other is saying. He gave me a parting gift of a four-leafed clover, sellotaped to piece of card. I have it still.
Travelling round Scotland, I stop the car regularly to enjoy moments of perfect stillness, hills mirrored dark in lochs, wind-shaped arthritic trees in silhouette, the heart filling the chest with the loveliness of it all but tinged with sadness at having no-one, at that precise point in time, to share it with.
Hearing the echo of my shout from the centre of the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney. An impossible echo, the stone circle a gaping mouth of missing teeth, the hill too shallow, the loch too far below to reflect sound, there's really nothing to bounce the sound back and yet back it comes.
Springing my mother-in-law Chris from the local cottage hospital. Pushing her wheelchair round to the local pub and ordering two gin and tonics in plastic glasses "to carry out". We sat in the sun and because drinking them in the street felt vaguely illicit to her she grinned like a girl.
Looking down from the stage of our local village hall, a sea of 100 flushed happy faces, lots of tartan, good company, hamely fare, a few drams and much laughter. Our National poet Robert Burns in image behind us - very much in spirit in front of us.
Celebrating 50 years of a genuine love affair between my Mum and Dad, the whole family gathered in a local plush restaurant, a rare treat. My mum aglow at having her family all around her, knowing how bonny she looks in her smart suit, secure in being the rightful centre of attention. My Dad, Brocher and conservative to the core, thoroughly enjoying the Haddock and Chips he had specifically requested, probably the most expensive fish supper in culinary history.
Snow squeaking beneath our feet, laughing in a frozen car park, very early on a Saturday morning with an 8-fingered fellow-idiot, a funny and talented man who claims to have more degrees than a compass, both of us getting paid to celebrate a country we love.
Standing at the bottom of our drive, looking up at the miracle tree that every year grows red flowers and tiny blue cones.
Sitting in the municipal flower garden, down by the river, where our darling Bethy, eyes shut, turned her face to the sky and arms held towards heaven, twirled round and round. This beautiful, delicate child glowed white in the afternoon sunlight. I have a photograph of the moment but it pales in comparison to the memory.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I could go on and on. These have all been my favourite places at that time, in that place, and in that company. They are based on love or discovery or moments of wonder. They stay eternally bright in my mind and when age, or loss or changing circumstances dictate they will stay that way, long after the means of creating new memories is gone.
So, in answer to your original question - my life - that's my favourite place.
Where is your favourite place in Scotland? What makes it special to you?
Scottish Book Trust and BBC Radio Scotland invite you to write about your favourite place in Scotland, whether it's a remote beauty spot or an urban hideaway, a famous landmark or a favourite café. We want to get Scotland writing, inspired by our country's best-loved places.
Write a story, poem, song lyric, diary entry, letter or sketch about your favourite place,
submit it and your story could appear in a book or be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland.
Check the website for stories, poems and songs by celebrities and listen to BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme to hear more.
To find out more, read others' pieces and write your own, go to The Scottish Book Trust - My Favourite Place. For full terms and conditions visit the BBC Radio Scotland website.