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Getting to Know You: Emma Roddick

Getting to Know You: Emma Roddick

The SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands talks to Margaret Taylor about finding value in small things, the importance of taking time to reflect and why moths scare the life out of her

What is your earliest memory?

I have quite a few. My sister doesn’t believe me and thinks I’m making it up, but I have specific memories from when I was two. A lot of them are of going fishing with my dad and our dog, Pax. I remember my sister trying to ride the dog when she was a toddler and there’s a walk down to the river – I remember going out walking with Pax and my family. I also remember my mum going to work one day and it felt like the worst thing in the world that she was leaving – I was screaming. She was a social worker – she left anyway.

What were you like at school?

I was a nerd. I was not popular with other kids, but I was popular with the teachers. I loved school. My sister hated it, but part of that was not wanting to be at all like me. I was always into reading, and I loved learning – all subjects. 

What’s your greatest fear?

Moths. I can’t stand them. I’m good with most insects – I had stick insects when I was growing up – but there’s something about moths. I don’t know if it’s because they’re hairy and can fly or if it’s because when they are hit they turn to dust, but they really freak me out. I run away from them. I tend not to bother folk in hotels, but the times I have it’s been to say “this is weird, but there’s a moth in my room….”. I’ve had to get friends round to my flat to destroy them.

What’s your most treasured possession?

The one thing that comes to mind, and it’s weird because it’s not of monetary value, is one of those daft motivational quotes. My dad had it. It’s a card with a bear on it and it says ‘don’t give up’. One of the things I remember him saying to me when I was wee was to not give up. He had it and when he died my mum said do you want it and I said yes because it felt like him talking to me. I was four when he died. I remember what he looked like, how tall he was – I would sit on his shoulders and touch the top of the sliding doors at the supermarket. I keep it in my jewellery box as if it’s worth a lot of money and must be protected.

A young Emma with her mum and sister Sophie

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?

It’s hard to choose. I have chronic pain and ligament pain is the worst because of how limiting it is. I’ve had gall stones and that was horrific acute pain. I also have endometriosis that isn’t officially diagnosed – my GP said “I’ll tell you about it and you can look it up” – and because of that my periods are like being shot. I remember being carted into hospital to be put on morphine when I was on my period. It used to happen every other month and I’d never know if it would be the next one or the one after. I haven’t had a period for two and a half years because I now get injections of hormones. Acute pain versus chronic, I can’t pick which is worse.

What do you dislike about your appearance?

All of it. Since I got elected I’ve really struggled to fit in exercise because the fatigue of travelling means I’m in pain most of the time and I can’t go to the gym or go for a walk or do weights. I’ve never been this heavy. I’ve always had problems with my appearance, I’ve never been comfortable with it. Being bullied really stuck with me. 

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

It’s definitely eating. I love eating – I wish I didn’t love it so much. If I’ve had a particularly long day, when I get the train home I’ll get pastries from Markies and a big bottle of juice. Sometimes you need something like that to give you the energy to get on the train.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

The nineties. I’d really love to meet my parents when they were together and just chat to them. I’d not tell them who I am but I’d find out what their relationship is like and what they wanted their future to look like. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

I thought it was really weird at the time but last year, just after the election, Ian Blackford phoned me and said build in time to think. He said it sounds daft but make sure you have allocated time in your calendar to sit and think. It’s really good advice. If I take half an hour I email myself to follow up on things. If you’re block booked you forget.

What skill should every person have?

I was really surprised to learn in the last couple of years how few folk know how to play an instrument. I play violin, piano, guitar and flute and I thought everyone had a chance to learn something. I did violin at school and the others are self-taught. For me, it’s so joyful. I can sit and imagine I’m playing when I’m not and enjoy the music. If I’m having a really hard time I’ll take the time to sit and write a piece. It’s such a lovely thing to be able to fall back on. It’s a great tool for creativity, leisure time, socially. Everyone should be able to play something.

What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?

Film is The Lion King. When my dad died, I understood what had happened because of The Lion King. It was my favourite film anyway, but now I have that special connection with it. I saw the stage show a couple of years ago and it was incredible. TV is definitely Doctor Who. I just love it. Jon Pertwee was the first I saw – just one episode then I watched what was on at the time, which was David Tennant. Since then I’ve seen almost all of it. I had an awesome teacher at high school who had the full collection and she did a Doctor Who club at lunchtime. It was a refuge for people like me who probably wouldn’t have got a good seat in the canteen. I’m still in touch with some of those people.

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