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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 128 - I'll just switch off the light. That's it. Farewell


ONCE, in the dear, dead days almost beyond even my recall, The Scotsman printed posters of its new columnist who, the newspaper predicted, would mould the minds of the western world. It showed me with a grin meant to be authoritatively reassuring but which, one reader observed, gave me the glare of a strong-minded wolverine.

One poster, pasted prominently in Waverley Station, had a startling effect on unsuspecting travellers. Visitors may not have raced for returning trains but, station officials told me, some had expressed concern about meeting a possible candidate for a Police Gazette photograph likely to cudgel them with informed comment. The posters were soon re-moved, but came to my mind like a long-forgotten dream the other day. Great editorial heavens, was it that time already? My column, I realised, was 35 years old and it seemed only the day before yesterday when it was offered to me, as one would hand over a caber, and caused my mindís knees to buckle.

In 1970, Alastair Dunnett, the then editor, summoned me to his room where I found him at a window gazing pensively at the North Bridge; editors earn their money easily.

In portentous tones, as one announcing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse under starterís orders at the Grand National, he said: "Albert, Iím offering you a column with thirty bob (£1:50) a week expenses and all the tripe you can write." It was an offer I couldnít refuse and although my expenses increased, I have stuck rigidly to the spirit and practice of the offerís last part.

ALASTAIR indicated he wanted my then five-days-a-week column to be grave but gay (in the old sense), pungent but subtle, learned but light rather like a cross between the styles of the French essayist Montaigne and the music-hall comedian, Max Miller. Readers can judge whether I succeeded.

One columnar midnight, when Alastair saw me at the typewriter, prose-purpling on a real wham-bang mind-moulder about my toothbrushís place in Einsteinís Theory of Relativity, he said in the demotic,"Ease up laddie or yeíll bust yer biler", an adjuration I accepted gratefully.

I came to column writing because I shared with pickpockets the reputation of having "a light touch" after I had covered, as a reporter, the hilarious John oí Groats to Landís End Billy Butlin Walk, one of many sponsored treks in the early 1960s. Butlins resembled a Dark Agesí race migration with eccentric participants including chorus girls, stockbrokers in London city garb, food faddists on exotic diets laced with tonic swamp water, adherents of conflicting philosophical concepts, arguing on the march in a manner suggesting 12th-century theological squabbles and, it was rumoured, Butlins officials watching for lift-hitching walkers, disguised as trees. Unfortunately, the "light touch" appellation hung heavily on me, causing the news editor to bellow, "Morris, stand by to do a ha-ha piece on manhole covers" or, "See if you can get a laugh about white fish landings at Aberdeen".

Although I shared the tensions of columnar occupation with that suffering saint, Simeon the Stylite, who spent much of his life on top of a pillar, I rejoiced to have space in which to choose subjects that might bring even the ghost of a fleeting smile to the visage of Caledonia, stern and wild.

SINCE my first 1970 column, I have produced a trackless desert of print, touching on subjects from the expansion of the Turkish fleet (1890-1914) to my early struggles against dandruff.

Most readersí letters have been complimentary, but some indicated rage incandescence, including one from a Border minister who, because of some editorial sin of mine (omission or commission), threatened to come to Edinburgh and personally denounce me. Another reader suggested that I should be horsewhipped. Touched and gratified by such missives; I felt the column had come of age.

I have always approved of destinyís uncannily apt choice of my ultimate career. For me, writing a column has been a pleasure - I hope, for readers, at least an occasional laugh - not to say a profit and to write for a great paper like The Scotsman has been a privilege.

This is my last column, written with regret but some relief. Itís been a long sentence and I want time off for good behaviour. I thank the editor and previous ones for putting up with me for so long, the skilled sub-editors for carefully nipping, tucking and hem-stitching my mantle of greatness into shape, the office library staff for their cheerful and never-failing help and my supportive readers.

I have tidied this space for the next occupant and wish - whoever it is - good luck. I have removed some spent transitive verbs, loose litotes and heaps of bitter-sweet oxymoron. Iíll just switch off the light. Thatís it. Farewell.


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