APART from resuming nuclear
testing, there was only one thing to do - and I did it; I consulted my
ego. I had read a press report that increasing numbers of people,
believing they had no redeeming features or seeking to repair the ravages
of ageing, were undergoing plastic surgery and I wanted to see if my ego,
because of a reader’s malevolent missive, was showing signs of incipient
confidence loss and lowering of opinionative impact and needed
fast-tracked, morale enlargement.
My ego, readers should know,
is a refined and delicate emanation that goes with me as Marks goes with
Spencer, Dracula with Frankenstein and Jekyll with Hyde. Elegant but
tough, it seems to hover above my head, attached by a kind of umbilical
chord. Sometimes, it resembles a toy balloon, occasionally, it is shaped
like a Brothers Montgolfier hot air one, anon, it looks provocatively
footballish and now it has the form of a punch-bag that has taken a low
blow but has, I rejoice to reveal, no trace of any stuffing knocked out of
It has a deep respect for me - no hollow bonhomie
of first- name calling, but always the formal "Mr Morris". Nevertheless,
we are old pals, so I asked for its reaction to the letter from one John
Thorpe of New Luce, Wigtonshire, that, in criticising me and my last
Saturday column, said that "the poor old fellow" should be put "out to
grass before he does us all another mischief". He also described the
column as "a rant" and claimed, risibly, that I lusted after a Michael
My ego was right on the ball. "Can I call him an
insult-slinging rapscallion?" it asked. "You cannot," I said firmly. "He
is a reader of this paper and must be assumed to be mature, tolerant, even
humorously indulgent, and beyond all forms of below-the-belt behaviour."
SURELY, I can call his letter ‘gaseous guff’, my ego pleaded. "On no
account," I retorted. "This is a respectable, family column, spotless in
thought, word and deed and not in the business of base retaliation, even
when richly deserved."
"Then I can only suggest," it said, "that the
intellectual strength of your column temporarily warped the mind of Thorpe
and, in making the ‘grass’ reference, it lost the plot entirely." Well, my
ego can think that and it is not fitting for me to comment on any possible
mental lapses, however temporary, but I had to point out that I had
already suffered because of the column. My Tory friends are tut-tutting,
my left-wing chums are flapping, some Liberal Democrat ladies looked at me
the other day as if I were an unwelcome garden offering the cat had
brought in, and a couple of SNP pals, that I saw in a bar, looked as if
they had drained the bitter cup.
I told my ego: "I can take all
that and more in the interests of frank and fearless journalism - my
column was only three weeks old when I was threatened with horsewhipping.
I have been called an ‘elderly amnesiac’ - that was 20 years ago - and
even described bitingly as a ‘literary louse’ a ‘columnar creep’ and ‘a
Rorschach blot on the paginal landscape’, but I will not stand idly by
when a crude and mocking reference to my age is made."
bounced in with the shrewd comment: "I consider that this Luce popgun’s
curmudgeonly ageism itself suggests the arid croakings of a peevish
pensioner with no respect for his elders."
MR THORPE’S use of "rant" also
rankled. "That column," I explained patiently, "was a well-balanced,
plague-on-all-political-houses polemic, linked to problems of
sleeplessness but with references to the Tories’ pie-in-the-sky dreams. It
was marinated in maturity, steeped in wisdom, weighed by me and not found
wanting and ..." Here, my ego chipped in, "produced in Gibbonesque
sentences from a Miltonic mind". Truly; my old pal is never at a loss for
a healing phrase to soothe the savaged breast.
do not wish," I continued, "to be unkind to a man who seeks to flatter me
by implying that I have a national, possibly global, destructive potential
that I never knew I possessed, I must emphasise that if I hear of him
reading this column, under any pretext whatsoever, I shall be seriously
displeased. Abstaining from my space, he will miss forthcoming pieces on
Das Kapital as a musical, the place of my toothbrush in an expanding
universe and a host of other good things."
As I ended the conversation,
my ego said: "Mr Morris, I consider you are a punch-packing paragraph
producer without peer in the known universe."
Suddenly, I had the facelift
of a smile. My idea of a bucket of laughs may be beyond the Thorpe pale,
but a man who is admired by his ego can’t be all bad.