May 1999, An Independent Scotland
Thursday 29th April
Back home from Australia!
We walk off the runway into Edinburgh Airport, welcomed by the warm and steamy smell of cow dung. I check out our baggage, draw cash from the hole in the wall and we take a taxi home.
Home is our Edinvar Housing Association top floor tenement in the old St Leonards railway goods yard flagship scheme.19/20 Terrrars Croft, St Leonards, Edinburgh EH9. The flats were new when we moved in three years ago. We have central heating and a lift! No more chaining Jesses' buggy to the foot of the stair or having to ‘bump’ it three floors up after taking baby Jess out and carrying her up first. The stairs were safe, no death-trap stairwell at the centre of each landing. My first-class view of Arthur’s Seat was only a tad diminished when the scheme was completed. The rent was £40 a week, a leap up from my old place off Dundee Street, on the other side of the Meadows. It still seemed pretty fair and Housing Benefit paid.
But why was Edinvar’s mission statement ‘For people with few choices?’
I remember the newness of my new flat the day I collected my keys from the Housing Association offices. We moved in soon after. I remember. my first biro mark when I measured the window frames before buying good curtains from Barnados charity shop.. That accidental blemish. I remember the fun of Lola's eighth birthday party not long after.. Hardly anyone had moved in to our block of twenty flats so we did not need to worry about noise. My daughters and their friends went wild going up and down in the lifts. One child said 'I haven't had so much fun in my life!'
And now, three years on we were back after our 7 week jaunt in Oz My money had run out.My emigration dream was now over. Farewell Adelaide.
While we were away Paula downstairs took good care of Ginger.
I must phone the Council. I have missed my essential briefing for the Presiding Officers for the forthcoming General Election on May 6th.. For the first time we shall be voting for Members of Scottish Parliament for our new Scottish Assembly at the foot of Holyrood Park.
I had to come back earlier than planned but at least I could choose the date and be part of history in the making.
(I had applied for the post of Presiding Officer a Polling Station before I left Scotland. 'Plan B in the event of our family of three not staying out there and becoming Aussies)
I now need to run out and buy a mobile phone .The day before I boarded by 23 hour flight to Melbourne 7 weeks ago I cancelled our landline in order to avoid needless expense.
Taking my daughters with me, I visit the mobile phone shop down the road and buy my first mobile phone ever. I return home, fumble about with it and start to get the hang of the basics.Jet lag is settling in fast.
My first call from my new phone is to the Council's Election Section as I am aware that this is now an urgent matter.The Election is a week from now on Thursday May 6th.
I am going to be employed in the Cowgate Polling Station in the bowels of Edinburgh's Old Town!
The Council is running an additional briefing session tomorrow. Paula downstairs kindly agrees to take care of Lola and Jess.while I attend.
I am good to go.
Friday 30 April
Now where is the place that I shall be getting my briefing to be a Presiding Officer on Polling Day. I have got here nice and punctual but it’s a right carry on finding it.
I am at the Council Offices on George 1V Bridge. The place is full of male security guards and they seem very busy-making and serious. I have the right paperwork so I ask a male guard at the desk for directions I wait and start to feel impatient. If I am in the wrong place now will I get to the right place too late?
At last! A woman comes up and tells me that this is where they held the election briefings last year. Right now this place is the temporary Scottish Assembly building for the next few days. The reason for this is that the brand new Scottish Assembly building at the foot of Holyrood Park, the one which has been designed by brilliant architects and costs loads of money is still a building site. This is due to the usual sort of builders' delays.
'You could try the Old Royal High School', she says.
A lot of the official buildings in Edinburgh are clustered in and around the same patch so I run round the corner up the High Street and check this out at the City Chambers. She's right.
To be honest I don't think the New Scottish Assembly looks a very fun place to work A bit grim and uptight.
But there again it doesn't all get going till next week.
(I feel a bit of a Wally. I think it did say the right place somewhere in my paperwork. I blame the jet lag. I have only been back from Australia bout 24 hours. And, if I am brutally honest with myself I blame my limitations at reading directions.)
Anyhow it's easy to save the day. I flag down a taxi, get driven to the old Royal High School and I get in and sign my name on the list. It does not matter that I have arrived near the end of the briefing session I am now officially on the system. This building is attractive by the way. It is somewhere in Leith and the briefing room has a lecture hall feel to it.
I have a nice big bagful of briefing material to study including an optional training. DVD. That's fine as I have 6 days to study it all and it looks interesting and useful.
I get a bus back to my Housing Association flat where I think everything will be OK and that Lola and Jess will be getting looked after by Paula downstairs and playing with her son little Kris and
Oh Damn Oh Hell
Yes this had to happen. But I was hoping I would have more than 2 days back home before it did.
Laurence my ex who is Jesses' Dad, his new wife Sarah who is 25 years youger tha him and baby Tammy-Jane are in my sitting room and have made themselves at home quite the thing, sitting on my good brow velour 3 piece suite that I salvaged from the bin-shed, cigarettes out and comfy as can be,
Lola and Jess never made it down to Paula downstairs to get looked after while I was at the briefing session. Those two buzzed the buzzer, went up the lift and pushed their way straight in.
Pretty quick work finding out I was home from Oz and they fine-tuned their entrance.
Politely and firmly I get them out. 'We are still tired after our journey' I say. They go.
(Part 2 will be more of what happens before Polling Day. Mainly about the trouble brewing in my flat....)