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Visa receipt nearly gave me heart failure


By SPP Reporter

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Bramble Leaf Woodcock by Tain artist Ingebjorg Smith.
Bramble Leaf Woodcock by Tain artist Ingebjorg Smith.

I smiled at Inge’s mother as she handed me my receipt.

“Mange tak” (the Danish for “thank you very much” – show off that I am).

“Actually, Jamie, you are forgetting that I am Norwegian…”

Oh. I glanced at the receipt before I put it in my wallet. ARGHH!

“**VISA DEBIT SALE - £34,200.43**” – horrified, I showed it to Suzy behind me in the queue.

“You would have thought that Inge would have let you off the 43p…” was the witty response.

A bag of bits and bobs at Tain artist Ingebjorg Smith’s Christmas Fare had turned into heart failure time – because it was my fault and I had entered my PIN too soon.

Thankfully Inge’s mum soon put it right. Whew. The Bank of Scotland wouldn’t have liked that one coming down the wire.

“A pity really, because I could have given up painting for year or two,” was the artist’s final thought as I headed towards the car.

There can be no doubt about it, we are incredibly lucky to have the quality of artists that we do in the Far North.

People like Inge Smith and Marion Notman in Tain, Christine O’Keeffe in Edderton, Golspie’s Jennifer Mackenzie and Brora’s Wendy Sutherland, to name but five, are artists producing work that is admired and collected all over the UK.

People write about the quantity and quality of art being produced by the Kirkcudbright School of Artists at the other end of Scotland, but up here where the winter days are shorter still, we have every reason to hold our heads high.

When you include the output of North Lands Creative Glass in Lybster, or Anta’s fabulous fabrics and china in Fearn, or the traditional Scottish music renaissance that is here in our very midst, then it is worth remembering how blessed we are. We live in anything other than a cultural desert.

“Now look here, I have been through near as much sheer hell, getting this Parliament built, and I insist on it.”

This was me nine years ago arguing my corner with David Steel and George Reid, the first two of the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officers (speakers).

I was absolutely going to extract my price for all the flak I had taken. Gizzen Briggs, Tain Royal Academy’s traditional music group, would play for the Queen when she came to open the new building.

“The events to accompany the formal opening by Her Majesty are the subject of expert advice being collated by a small advisory group appointed by the Clerk to the Parliament…”

“No, no, no” I was going to have my way and my emails cracked into the ether like whips “I am telling you, I will not be blocked by anyone!”

And you know, in the end I got it.

The great day came – and the throng in Holyrood was just enormous; you could hardly move from one place to the next.

“Oh, there’s Sean Connery!” and my official guest for the day, Bonar Bridge’s Alice Grant, took a quick snap with her disposable.

But what was this? Midst the hubbub I could just make out music. It was coming from the public foyer, beyond the mighty pillars that heralded the entrances to the ground floor committee rooms. Bidding Alice to wait where she was (lost in adulation of the film star before her), I followed the trail of quavers and cadences.

Good Lord, there they were! And who was standing listening to my old school’s musicians – the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh! Then they stopped playing, and I could see the Queen was speaking to them. This was so exciting – I lunged forward.

“Not so fast, sir..” Suddenly I was pinioned on both sides by plain clothed Royal security.

“But I am an MSP – and I represent those youngsters who are speaking with the Queen…”

“Indeed, sir – and may we see your ID?”

By the time I got to the Gizzen Briggs, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had moved on. Still – in the end they did play for the Queen: and it is one of the things that I remain most proud about.

Next week I’ll tell you about something else that the Queen walked past that happy morning.

Strangely enough, even today, it is still known to all in Holyrood as “Jamie’s Desk”.


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