Jamie Stone MP: Getting to Know You
What is your earliest memory?
I was brought up on a wee dairy farm, and it’s of drawing pictures of tractors in my bed on a book that I didn’t read until I was much older. It was called The Twilight of Magic. It’s somewhere in the house, and there are tractors everywhere, all drawn by me with a wobbly pen. I was absolutely fascinated by machinery.
What were you like at school?
I was completely rubbish at sports. The boys in my class at Tain Academy used to get sent down to the football pitch, and the two best footballers in the class would be asked to choose their teams; I was always the last to be chosen. And it was because I was just rubbish.
I was so un-sporty that I discovered that you could learn the violin on periods that clashed with gym. So, I took up the violin – I wasn’t much good at that either. I started playing the fiddle for all of the wrong reasons.
You went into oil after university, were you into subjects like Geography at school?
No, I went to uni, and I read history and geology. But to tell you the truth, when I left uni I was broke, so I took the first job that I could get, which was as a cleaner at Loch Kishorn, where they were building a huge concrete platform. And my claim to fame is that I cleaned the toilets for Prince Charles when he came to visit the site in 1977.
And I got a letter from Grand Metropolitan, who ran the site services, thanking me for my help on the occasion of the royal visit. Of course, he didn’t see us – we were hidden from him, and to be honest, I don’t know if he used the toilet or not, but it was absolutely immaculate.
Did the oil industry ever take you to any interesting places?
No, it didn’t. But I was in Aberdeen, and the company I was working for transferred me to London just after our twins were born. So, I had to leave my wife and go and work in London, which was very different for me, coming from the Highlands. I would hardly describe it as exotic, but it was a challenging commute. I would get a standby ticket which was the cheapest at the weekends.
It was quite good in a way to have worked in London because when I became an MP at least I knew a wee bit about the geography. So luckily it wasn’t such a shock because London is a huge change, and it can be a very lonely place.
Do you ever feel lonely when you are down in London?
To tell you the truth, I did kind of have a phobia about cities. After the cleaning job, I had a spell in Sicily teaching English. I stayed in a big city called Catania, and I stayed with a Sicilian family that spoke no English, so I had to learn Italian very fast. Oddly enough that cured me of my phobia of cities.
It was one of the formative experiences of my life, and to this day speaking Italian comes in very useful. There are a lot of speakers in the House of Commons. One of the guys who oversee the tickets to enter the public gallery, I speak Italian to him, and I swear he gives me an extra ticket. So, I can get people from Scotland down to watch Prime Minister’s Questions.
What is your greatest fear?
When I was in my teens, I climbed one of the highest trees in Scotland. It was a giant redwood. I went right to the top of it and tied a flag to it. And now I am really bad with heights. I am just not happy anywhere faintly near a cliff edge.
Years later someone told me that the flag, although rotten, was still there.
What is your most treasured possession?
There is a very clear one for me. I absolutely adored my father. He died too young. He was a heavy smoker, and he got lung cancer. I had to come back from London and help with the family business, which makes cheese in Tain.
My most treasured possession is his pocket diary. It was a freebie from the Highlands and Islands Development Board. And in it, he had his engagements and telephone numbers of various relatives and friends. And it’s his handwriting – it’s very sentimental. I keep it in my bedside table, and it lives in there. Every now and then I take it out and have a look.
I absolutely adored him, and I miss him yet. He was a bit of an eccentric, one of the first hippies in many ways, but he has kind of lit the candle to which I hold up what I do.
He was the local councillor, and he once asked me while he was smoking his pipe: “What do you think you’d like to do lad?” This was when I was working at Nigg oil terminal, and I told him that I wouldn’t mind being an MP one day. He shouted with laughter, nearly choking on his pipe. I remember that laughter yet, and I think goodness me, Dad, I don’t know if you can see me or not now. That’s a really big memory.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
It was [late Lib Dem peer] Lord Maclennan, he told me if you don’t know something don’t be scared to ask people what they think. Because most people are actually slightly flattered to be asked their opinion.
Your Wikipedia page says that you are an expert in edible fungi, is that right?
When I was working on the Nigg yard there was an American / Italian engineer, and I discovered that he was going out in the Highlands picking fungi and drying them in his rented house, and of course, Italians love all of this. He told me that you don’t realise what riches you have in the Highlands, and he took me out.
He taught me the basics of what to look for, and it was a great gift. There aren’t as many fungi [as there used to be], maybe because they are over picked. You’ll see me go out with a bag and knife.
What is your favourite recipe?
My favourite is a Wood Blewit, which I fry in butter, then I would add cream, cooking it very slowly. Then a dash of white wine, salt and pepper, and just a tiny bit of parsley. That on a piece of buttered toast is really truly wonderful.
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