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Getting to know you: Tom Mason

Tom Mason - Image credit: Holyrood

Getting to know you: Tom Mason

What’s your earliest memory?

Probably playing around when I was young in my garden and across the fields opposite my house with my gang of friends. We had a very small house on the outskirts of Bishop’s Stortford that overlooked a tennis club and then a cricket field and then woods beyond that up to a big house. The woods were just a spinney, but we lost ourselves in rhododendron bushes and trees and holly bushes and had built camps, just misbehaved as we could. On reflection, it was pretty idyllic actually.

What about school, what were you like?

Well, I’m partially dyslexic and I couldn’t read until I was 10. In classes I was just listening to everyone else reading and I was doing it by memory. They only discovered that quite late on and took me out of state schools and put me into a private school. My father died when I was eight and they managed to get me scholarships to prep school near Ipswich. So, my next memory is my prep school, which was also in country grounds, where we misbehaved terribly.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

I think a person I would like to meet and sit down with is Mark Tully of Something Understood fame. He has a beautiful soothing voice. And he seems such a nice man and kind man and very thoughtful. I think I wouldn’t mind sitting down with him at some point. And the other guy who I think I would like to spend time with is Neil MacGregor, who used to be head of the British Museum. Oh, and Susan Hampshire, because she’s dyslexic as well. I’ve never met her, but it just strikes me that she’s nice.

What’s your greatest fear?

To be isolated in a garret. In my construction days I had to stay in various bed and breakfast places and some of them were pretty terrible. And I always remember being in some sort of boarding house place with lots of single men all wearing vests and sharing bathrooms. To end up in that situation. I suppose the idea of absolute poverty rather frightens me. When you’re having to survive and you’ve got no resources. As a Tory, I’m very much a one-nation Tory. I don’t like that we have sections of the population who are struggling.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I have some very old slide rules. I say very old, but they’re old because they’re out of date now. I have about two or three of them which I used at university and I still hold onto them and look at them occasionally. They’re nice bits of machinery, they’re nice to handle. I also have some old line-drawing rollers. My grandfather was a social welfare officer and he had lots of very ancient clerical stuff and one of them was these rollers which you rolled out and drew straight lines. And he also had a machine that does perforations, so you can create your own tear-off strips. They’re old Victorian with ebony handles. They’re beautiful to handle and to look at and they’re actually quite useful.

What do you dislike about your appearance?

I don’t like to be too casual, although I can be very scruffy. I’m either actually covered in mud or paint or whatever and it doesn’t matter or I like to appear fairly well turned out. I am actually conscious of my left hand, my artificial hand, and it sort of gets in the way occasionally. You can’t put it in your pocket in quite the same way as other people. And I’m very conscious I’m all lopsided as well, because one side is much more developed than the other, so suits don’t fit properly. One time when I had some money I had a suit tailor made for me and that was gorgeous because it actually fitted properly – otherwise it just hangs.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Being by myself. I like me-time.

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

Nothing happens unless you make it happen, which came from my very first engineering boss.

What skill should every person have?

Politeness and general respect for everybody. It shouldn’t be something we need rules to follow, a code of conduct we have, to me that’s how everyone should behave.

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

I think latterly it’s working up to when I had my hip done. When your hip goes it is excruciatingly painful and that’s why I get so exercised about waiting times, because the pain is what I call greying, you know, you just get worn out by it and there’s no end to it, it just goes on and on and it stops you doing anything, you’re irritable and you can’t sleep and it’s debilitating, to say the least. Once you have your hip done, it’s very painful, but it’s totally different type of pain. It is pain you can overcome.

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

I think the film that I still enjoy a lot every time it’s on is the original Thomas Crown Affair – Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway – which is so sensual it’s not real. It’s unbelievable. And it’s fun. Obviously totally impossible and whatever, but very stylish activities in it and it’s well filmed and Steve McQueen’s fantastic, Faye Dunaway’s terrific.

What was your best holiday ever?

I think as a family it was going to Greece on a sailing holiday and the kids all did their sailing qualifications, which was good. We’ve had a cottage up near Inverness for a very long time now, so we’ve always gone up there as a family and we’ve never been anywhere else very much as a family.

But as an individual, latterly I took up scuba diving and I did a dive two or three weeks in Thailand, live on board, diving, and some of the diving I did then was awesome. And I was doing something which was difficult for me, being one-handed, and I was actually recovering from quite bad depression, because I’d had prostate cancer and the treatment for that, what they didn’t tell you is that 70 per cent of patients get depression afterwards. I was in a dark place then, a really dark place. So I went out the Philippines and had diving instruction and then starting doing it myself and went round the world in various places diving.

And did that work?

It did. Because for me it was very difficult so I really had to concentrate on it. And if your own survival depends on you doing it right, it does concentrate the mind on something much more positive than hanging yourself. I was actually near to that.

What was the last book you read?

Well, the last complete book was The Chinese by Jasper Becker. I am very great person for starting books and never finishing them. I’m halfway through a book on prosperity without growth by Tim Jackson. My problem is I can’t concentrate. I do things for a short space of time and then I get bored.

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