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Jamie Stone: Realising your potential is the best gift of all


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Jamie's Journal by Jamie Stone

Jamie Stone at a previous Tain Christmas pantomime.
Jamie Stone at a previous Tain Christmas pantomime.

A long long time ago I worked as a kitchen porter (very much bottom of the heap when it comes to professional catering) on the vast building site in Shetland that was to become the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal.

When anyone ever asked me whether as a politician I had ever done any real hard work, then I could always point to that period of time. When I peeled the potatoes, cleaned the pans and did everything that the lowliest chef demanded of me, it was, how shall I put this, a formative time of my younger years and one that reminds me that some jobs can be more difficult than others. “Ere, Stone, you clean them porridge pots now!”

Midst all this, and often with the gales of the most unseasonal-seasonal-Shetland summer, I did make a number of friends. One of them was a kind chef who moved me to the night shift and taught me to bake bread. Of course the deal was linked to me coming back from the beer bar with a number of a full pint glasses which we then hid in an oven that was definitely not going to be used that night.

The other person was a cleaner called Dave Berry. Dave had clearly come up the hard way, I would say that he did not have any advantages in life, but one thing he could do was this, he could whistle.

Dave could whistle absolutely everything. From a Beatles melody, Mozart sonata via all the known works of Wagner. Quite simply his musical ability verged on genius. How one brain could hold so many melodies still amazes me all these decades on.

Dave is surely dead now, but his memory remains vivid for another reason. What if someone, a teacher, a musician, had recognized Dave’s talent at an early age? I’ll wager he could’ve been a musician of renown. And yet, coming from his background, he clearly never had the chance.

So as we enter the Christmas season, I just want to say that one of the finest gifts anyone can be given in life is the gift of having their potential realised. This is why to a very great extent I take the view of education that I do.

If things have improved since I was a boy then I hope that our schools and places of higher learning have moved closer to this concept. Also, thinking about the Christmas season, in years gone by, before I became an MP, at precisely this time of year I would be beginning to sweat over my lines.

Pantomime.

It was a new interest that came to me relatively late in life, and you know what, from about 10 years ago until four years ago when I made a surprise journey to Westminster, the annual Tain Christmas pantomime was a huge part of my life. I absolutely loved it.

But here’s the point – so did the 50 or 60 youngsters as well. I remember all too well how enthusiastic they were – and this too – like no other art form pantomime reached a bigger variety of households than I had ever imagined.

Christmas panto was truly for nearly everyone. In the Dave Berry sense, I like to think that pantomime in the north of Scotland started some youngsters on a journey that enriched them.

Then came Covid. No more pantomime.

But I so earnestly hope that next year we can see things like the Tain’s Christmas pantomime getting going again. If it does, then you read it here first. I shall be auditioning.

  • Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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