On 23rd May this year, the UK went to the polls to elect representatives to the European Parliament. To say the election was controversial is putting it mildly. As probably even folk on Alpha Centauri know and are fed up hearing about, the UK, taken as a whole, voted to leave the European Union two years ago.
You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to add anything more about the whys and wherefores of the politics involved. Nor, dear reader, is this going to be a warts-and-all exposé of my work on that day as a polling inspector, as part of the team that administer the election. No, It Shouldn’t Happen To A Polling Inspector will have to wait until I retire.
So, for the avoidance of doubt, all of the staff in the polling stations performed their duties perfectly, and none of the electorate did anything spectacularly dumb with their ballot papers. No sirree bob. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the scenery involved: getting up at 5 a.m., I was pleased to see the day had already dawned bright and clear, because my job for the day involved inspecting polling stations scattered around the east of Fife, to ensure things were running smoothly. My first run started with me pitching up at Boarhills, a tiny village just south of St Andrews, just before 7, then working my way down and round the East Neuk of Fife.
I’m not going to say much more about my day, because the pictures kind of speak for themselves. Although I didn’t have a lot of time to admire the scenery – by the time I’d done the rounds of three different sets of polling stations and driven home, I’d covered 330 miles – it’s always a pleasure and a privilege to spend time in this area. The main attraction, of course, is the fishing villages, especially (working from east to west) Crail, Anstruther/Cellardyke, Pittenweem and St Monans. Heavily influenced by the Flemish architecture of their trading partners (and cousins – there’s evidence David I deliberately encouraged settlement of the area by traders from modern-day Belgium) the villages are particularly attractive. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve taken a variant of that lobster creels + East Neuk village shot.
The other thing I realised as I traversed the countryside, though, was that it’s not all about the coast: the East Neuk (for neuk read nook, or corner, in this case of Fife) is also about the countryside. This year’s wet Spring has made the whole area a particularly vivid shade of green: I was moved to stop the car and take a picture as I headed back towards the coast in the afternoon.
The pic’s not great quality – to be fair, a wind had got up and I was being buffeted about as I took it – but it gives a flavour of just how beautiful the area looked through that long sunlit day.
One of the advantages of the European Election is that the count doesn’t take place on the same night: so, arriving back just after 10 o’clock as the sun set beyond the trees that border our housing estate, I had the comfort of knowing that I could go to my bed and catch up on some sleep, rather than working on into the night until the result could be announced (the record so far is 6.30 a.m. the next day for the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, a 24 and a half hour shift, although the last General Election ran it close).
As it happened, I’ve had the pleasure of the East Neuk twice since then. The first time was with my fellow blogger Neil Scheinin and his wife Sandy, when he was visiting Edinburgh and we met up. You can read a lot more about Neil and Sandy’s adventures in Scotland here and here, but I’d just want to echo Neil’s views that, after getting to know each other through what we’ve posted on our respective pages for a couple of years now, it was a real buzz to meet up in person and spend some time together.
We took them to Anstruther and St Monans, stopping first for lunch at the excellent St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company, which is actually closer to Pittenweem. It was a great day, even though the weather by then had turned against us!
Then, this weekend, another special moment along the coast. After I left for University in 1980 and my Dad retired, my parents moved for a while to Lundin Links, a village just at the start of the East Neuk, and I lived there myself for a bit before getting married. They stayed in a then new-build just beside the ladies’ golf course, and part of my sister and my way of remembering them now they’ve both gone is to play a round of golf on the Ladies’.
This year, unfortunately, neither of my nephews could make it, but Carole and I gamely hacked our way round the course, posing at the fourth tee for a windswept photo. Miraculously, the rain stayed off until the very end, and we chuckled our way round, remembering Dad’s pieces of advice in our ear on our backswing, keeping our head over the ball, and so on.
I don’t know what I believe any more about the spirit world, but if he wasn’t actually there, shaking his head kindly at our golfing ineptitudes, it sure as hell felt like he was. The only thing missing was Mum standing at the front door of their old house, mug of tea at the ready for us coming off the 9th.
So, thank you, East Neuk, for being so beautiful. And for the memories.