That's the last time I'll make a rude gesture to Mr Knox
Many people stop me in the street and say: "You there, do up your flies!" Others say: "Parliament looks awfully boring. How do you manage to extract any mirth from it?"
The truth is, my little bouncing bunnies, that it is for the most part a stunningly simple matter. The MSPs, to whom I shall be ever grateful, supply the lines, I take them out of context, string them together and claim my money. It’s a heartbreaking task, but somebody’s got to do it.
Now they’re moving doon the road to a new circus tent at Holyrood. But I shall miss the old place. I shall miss the brisk march up the Mound (I use the word "brisk" in its original Etruscan sense of "tiring, knackering") and, on a fair day, stopping for a seat outside the two gothic towers to take in the wonderful view across the Firth of Forth to Fife and green distant hills.
Then, with a deep breath and a blasphemous prayer, we march through the quad, stick our tongues out at John Knox's statue, and ascend a flight of stone steps, exchanging ribaldries with the huddle of smoking MSPs outside the massive oak doors of the Kirk's Assembly Hall.
With bitter resolve, I pull the ring-handle of one of the doors and, slowly, with a sighing creak, it inches open to reveal more steps. At the top, suspicious security guards, who've only seen me 5,723 times before, come forward to check my pass and ask me to name three agricultural implements beginning with "p". Pointing behind them, I say: Look! Over there! The Queen!" They all turn round, bowing, and I run the other way, across the black-and-white corridor and up another small flight of stairs to the press gallery overlooking the chamber.
A curious droning sound, punctuated by a shout of "Rubbish!" indicates our leaders are in the midst of debate. It’s all very reassuring, as if this cabaret were neverending, and a chap or burd could wander in at any time to witness it.
The surroundings are just ornate enough to impress, but not over-grand. The galleries are of old, settled wood, with pillars harking back to trees and an era when architecture still referred to nature.
I take my usual seat, three along on the back row (right-wing hacks take the front row, hanging over the side to sneer at and intimidate the MSPs below), with a good view of both the TV screen and the modernised, scandic-style chamber. If it’s a morning debate, there’ll typically only be your hero and one chap from the Press Association present.
Later, as Hamster Wars looms at noon, the gallery fills up with correspondents, columnists and analysts. You can almost smell the self-righteous cynicism (either that or it’s my aftershave: Old Pish by Brut. Why does Auntie Beryl hate me so? She knows I have a beard).
Five minutes before the titanic oratorical struggles of First Minister’s Questions (to give Hamster Wars its constitutional name) draw to a close, I skedaddle to avoid the gathering of hacks and the occasional minister in the black-and-white corridor. It’s too distressing to hear the hacks conspiring to come up with the most dispiriting line on what has just taken place, and I find it best to avoid ministers. They’re often in a huff with me for some wry jest made at their expense, while glad-handing the very people who seriously distort what they’re doing. It’s a jailer-prisoner thing.
Back out in the fresh air, I skip unattractively down the Mound to Marks & Spencer’s, there to spend 10 on sandwiches and fresh pants. Then the real work begins. I sit on a bench in Princes Street Gardens, close my eyes tightly and concentrate hard on what I’m going to write.
Three hours later, I’m rudely awakened by a policeman who says: "Sorry to disturb you, sir. But your snoring was upsetting the pigeons." Hells’ bells! Ten minutes to deadline! Kneeing the copper in the groin, I sprint enigmatically to the Lawnmarket and, with 90 seconds to go, type out a considered column whose influence will go deep to the heart of government.
Later that evening, after my arrest, I scratch on my cell wall the words: "Rab McNeil. The Mound. 1999-2004."
SEVERAL times a day, to cheer myself up, I don my executive-style anorak (leaving off the detachable hood; I am, after all, indoors) and check the Lunna House webcam on the internut for Shetland scenes. This is not as sad as you might think. Sometimes a sheep hoves into view. Next time you look, it has gone. It reminds me of the famous poem I first ran past you a few years ago: There was a coo/on yonder hill/It’s no’ there noo/It must have shifted. And they say that Zen is a purely eastern phenomenon.