In almost three years since our family’s move from the south of England to St Andrews, there’s one question I am asked more than any other, and it’s this:
‘How do you cope, living in the auld grey toon of St Andrews?’
My response? Bemusement.
Yes, I was a BBC News Correspondent – based in Germany during the revolutions in Eastern Europe when the Berlin Wall came down; I was posted to New York during Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign; I was a Newsnight reporter in London and then the BBC’s consumer affairs correspondent.
And yes, at times it was glam: an interview with Nelson Mandela here and Vaclav Havel there; palaces and embassies; glitzy awards dos at swanky hotels…
…But, what about all those pieces to camera in the Co-op and Asda? And waiting in the rain outside magistrates courts: was that glamorous? Or being told, ”No Comment,” and having a door slammed in your face?
In St Andrews I meet pianists, professors and polymaths – or people with no distinguishing features – while walking the dog on the East Sands.
I sometimes ask people: Is it normal to bump into a world-class golfer, a globally admired cellist and a renowned kidney specialist in one walk on one beach in one town on one day?
Normal in St Andrews, they say. It’s a golfing and academic hub.
But the cult of celebrity seems to have passed people by here. Perhaps that’s why Prince William slotted into St Andrews so well. Status means nothing when you are reduced to wearing ten layers of fleece on a windswept beach in February.
There may not be hierarchy, but there is heritage. It may be a small town, but it has a huge history. Here there’s courtesy, character and conversation. There’s nothing fake here, either. When people say: “Let’s meet for lunch,” they mean it.
I get the Leuchars train or the Dundee or Edinburgh plane to London and the world when I need to be away for work. To “civilisation,” perhaps?”
Possibly – but give me St Andrews any day.
When I first moved here, my sophisticated (!) friends and colleagues in London looked as though they pitied me. How would I cope, living in a remote, cold climate?
But when it’s been dreary and raining in the south, I have been able to boast about blue skies and crisp winter sunshine. Yes, that wind can be biting, but St Andrews’ shops actually sell hats, gloves and scarves fit for purpose…
What’s more, in the wet southern summer, we had dry days and warmth in St Andrews. As for being remote – it can take the same amount of time for me to reach central London from St Andrews as it did when I was driving to work on the A3 and M25.
I have made friends from about as cosmopolitan a range of backgrounds as you could imagine. St Andrews University brings with it thousands of students and their teachers from across the globe; my children are at a school where they study the International Baccalaureate – an alternative to A levels that attracts an interesting and diverse cohort of kids; my conversations with fellow dog-walkers – or wellied shriekers, as they call themselves – can span anything from politics and current affairs to cooking, Christianity and Colin Firth
It took a while to acclimatise to Fife after Sussex. But St Andrews is as welcoming a place as I could wish for.
If you move to St Andrews there’s only one warning I’d give: make sure you have a spare bedroom at the ready. Or at least find out about the best local B&Bs. That generous, untargeted invitation you gave to everyone before you left will be accepted. Your friends from the south – indeed from across the world – will be coming to stay in higher numbers than you ever expected. And they’ll keep returning.