IT IS nine years, almost to the day, since I began writing for Scotland on Sunday - nine years of inflicting my opinions on you, dear reader. I think you have earned some respite. From today I venture into new territory, and this will be my last column for a newspaper to which it has been a pleasure and a privilege to contribute.
I FEEL the weight of two pieces of unfinished business as I sign off this column.
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WHAT an irony that in the week that Bill Gates came to Edinburgh and announced the death of text - killed off, he predicted, by the march of new technology - queues were forming at libraries across Edinburgh to snap up copies of a 19th century novel, while in Glasgow a superstore chain was marketing books written in the Scots dialect, and seeing them flying off the shelves.
SMALL massacre, not many dead.
THE time has come to take a deep breath and admit something fairly radical about the arts. Culture is big business. It brings in millions of pounds to our economy. It shapes our cities, enhances their profile, encourages investment and creates jobs.
FROM the stage of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre on Friday night, Joan Bakewell was talking about being English.
ART Buchwald, the great American humorist who died last week, was pessimistic about television. "Every time you think [it] has hit its lowest ebb," he observed, "a new programme comes along to make you wonder where the ebb was." He would have had to put another peg in the sand for Celebrity Big Brother, but being essentially an upbeat character he might have mused as he walked back up the beach: "There's always the BBC."
'BEWARE of men who cry," says a character in Nora Ephron's novel, Heartburn. "Men who cry are sensitive, but the only feelings they are in touch with are their own."
WHAT is all this talk about a glass ceiling - or even, as the new woman speaker of the US House of Representatives called it last week, a "marble ceiling?" It has been splintered so often now I am beginning to wonder whether it exists at all. Perhaps it is like the emperor's new clothes - more real in the imagination than in fact. We look around Scotland and see women running our cities, our councils, our legal profession and our education authorities; we find them on boardrooms and in banks.
THIS is to be the Year of the Highlands. From next Friday, if you find yourself anywhere between the Great Glen and the island of Unst, or the Moray coast and the Butt of Lewis, you will find yourself colliding with culture. And not just any culture. This is multi-culture, wide-ranging, unpredictable, occasionally wacky, reflecting the many faces of the Highlands as they are today, rather than the Celtic fringe as we like to remember it - gloomy, introspective, with a bit of a moan to it.
I DON'T envy Tony Blair or his family the latest of their luxury holidays.
OUR status as refugees came to an end last week, when we moved back into our Edinburgh home, and slept, for the first time in a year, in our own bed.
'MY Dear Sir, I have heard with interest from Sir C Lyell that you are inclined to publish my work on the Origin of Species; but that before deciding & offering any terms you require to see my MS - My work is divided into 12 chapters..."
HUGH Mackintosh was serving behind the counter of Birnam post office yesterday, much as he has for the last 56 years.
CONSPIRACY theories are always seductive, and they are always wrong.
THE day that the Stone of Destiny came back to Scotland, 10 years ago this week, was the oddest of occasions.
THE two leaders entered the House of Lords from opposite ends. One, perfectly coiffured and resplendent in her robes, advanced cautiously, as befits a lady of a certain age, past the twin thrones at the east end, towards her seat. A few elderly peers rose to their feet, bowing slightly, as she took her place. She gave them a gracious smile and took her place on the front bench. Baroness Thatcher had arrived.
FOR all the brave pledges made by ministers about the future of Scotland's fishing industry, one thing is certain: it will not be decided at Holyrood or at Westminster, but in Brussels. The future of North Sea cod is to be the subject of an EU fisheries summit next month, where after years of discussion the fate of Scottish fishing fleets will be determined.
LAST month the Scottish Executive published a bold report on architecture.
IN SEPTEMBER 1854, The Times of London began running a series of reports on the Crimea from its most famous war correspondent, William Howard Russell.