Jennifer has gathering in her blood
Jennifer Stewart juggles her role as personal assistant to the directors of Aberdeen-based brownfield engineering specialists PD&MS Group with running the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, which organises the annual Lonach Gathering – this year on Saturday, August 22.
In the week leading up to the event she puts on her PD&MS out of office and devotes the week to finalising plans for the gathering, supported by a team of local volunteers.
I’m up at 5.30am to walk my two dogs every morning, so I keep to this routine. The first Lonach task each morning is to check my e-mails and answer any queries that have come in overnight. These can be from international visitors, trade stand exhibitors or the mums of highland dancers asking for dancing steps.
I also try to put something on our Facebook page. The phone starts to ring constantly from about 9am until 10pm with inquiries about seat tickets, competition timings or sometimes people asking what the weather
will be like.
Being psychic falls under any other duties in the job description. I head over to the games field in Bellabeg mid-morning to see how the build-up is progressing and iron out any issues with the field convenors, Ian and Peter Stuart.
There’s a brilliant team of local Lonach men who start setting up the field two weeks before the games – it is rolled regularly from early May. Watching everything come together always excites.
Lunchtime merges into the rest of the day in the week before the gathering, so it is eaten on the hoof.
Often it’s a sandwich from the Bellabeg Shop and a coffee to keep me going. The owners sell the dance tickets for me and are generally a drop off point for payments for seat tickets for the gathering.
The shop is at the heart of the Strathdon community, so when I’m in I’ll often deal with queries from visitors and locals who happen to be doing their shopping.
The afternoon involves more phone calls and e-mails, sending out last minute tickets and attending meetings.
I have pre-Lonach briefings with Police Scotland and Grampian Security to ensure the roads and car parks are cleared and correctly sign-posted for the March of the Lonach Highlanders on the morning of the games.
I’ll also meet with sponsors who may be taking clients to the games to run through their requirements, such as a pipe band to play outside their marquee or a few highlanders to drop in and see them during the afternoon.
Our patron, Sir James Forbes, and his wife, Lady Kerry, fly in from California and I always meet them during the week so that I know of all their guests and needs.
We also compare speeches for the Lonach Highland Ball which I host on the Friday after Lonach.
I grab a bite of dinner early evening and am often back at the field to answer queries on deliveries – anything from toilets to rubbish skips.
I check that all the trophies are polished and boxed up ready to go to the field along with all the other paperwork we need to have onsite in the secretary’s office.
This includes health and safety, and emergency response plans, running orders and competitor details.
Evenings are when I’ll get calls from Lonach Highlanders who have discovered they’ve lost a bit of their kit and ask if I have any spare bonnets or belts.
I also sit on the general council of the Scottish Highland Games Association.
So I’ll make sure no issues have cropped up at other games in the week that may affect Lonach. Bedtime is usually never before midnight the week before the games.
Friday night is my favourite night. My final task is to set out all the beers and the top table names in the Lonach Hall for the Lonach Highlanders’ lunch on games day.
It’s usually midnight and completely quiet. I know when I’ve done this there is nothing more to do – just a ritual I’ve created for myself. Then I can have a wee dram.
There is a great team of girls who work for me in the secretary’s office on the Saturday, allowing me to meet and greet invited guests, VIPs, media and sponsors.
It’s an emotional day. I’ve not missed a Lonach in my life. I grew up as the daughter of a Lonach Highlander and my son Darren is also a highlander, so it’s in the blood.
It’s stressful and very busy, but great fun. I meet all sorts of people from all over the globe and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A holiday in September may be required, though.