A Pat on the Back

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A fond farewell from one of your favourite columnists.

Not that I've been keeping count, but it is 16 and a half years since this column started. By my rough calculation that means that this is the 182nd column I have written. It is also the last.

All good things must come to an end, and when you've been doing a column as long as that there is always the danger of staleness, lack of new ideas, or sort of repeating successful formulas while on autopilot. I hope I have avoided that, but feel the time has come to stop, so I have decided to hang up the word processor.

It will seem strange not being chased by a frazzled editor or deputy editor every month as I once again miss the deadline. Strange to no longer have to invent columns on the spot when having assured the said frazzled ed it's half-written when it wasn't even a pinprick in my creative imagination.

When I started the column I actually worked full time on the magazine, eventually became its deputy editor and for a short time, while the editor was writing a book, took on the editorship. It is a period I look back on fondly. I later ran the printshop that printed the magazine, so it has been a huge part of my life. There is now a new editor, brimful of new ideas, and I wish him the best of success and apologise to him for jumping ship, but it just seems the time has come.

Will I miss it? You bet! It really has been a great pleasure writing my column. An amazing indulgence for an amazing length of time. With no constraints other than space, I was able to write freely and have great fun.

There was hardly a major political event that I was not able to comment on, hardly a major political figure I didn't write about (usually to have a go at). There were some recurring themes, again and again taking on the Tories during those awful years when many on the left believed that Thatcher could never be beaten and cut their cloth (and indeed their principles) accordingly. Since then the Blair regime has taken up no little column space, for many reasons but none more so than a series of military adventures, the latest of which is proving his undoing.

Northern Ireland, the issue that first led me into revolutionary politics, appeared frequently. There were also fairly regular attempts to get to grips with issues around sexuality, morality, religion, law and order, and racism.

I was also very fortunate in being allowed to dabble with fringe obsessions and prejudices. A love of football but hatred of Arsenal was allowed an airing on more than one occasion. My poor family were frequently dragged into print to emphasise points - not something my policeman dad and devout Catholic mum would necessarily have enjoyed.

Mine was also probably the only column on the revolutionary left which mentioned Bob Dylan more often than Lenin and Bruce Springsteen more often than Trotsky. I'm sort of proud of that, but can imagine some seeing it as a weakness.

It seemed to me that using the popular and the accessible to get across the Leninist or Trotskyist message was something to aim for. Therefore, rather than quoting the two great masters endlessly, I tried to find other ways to get their message across. Were I that bit younger - and he just a tad less nihilistic - I would probably have used the excellent Eminem in the same way.

Humour also seemed to me to be crucial. The way the mainstream try to dismiss the far left is to paint us as humourless automatons, splitting dialectical hairs in a world of dreary asexual solemnity. Throughout my time in revolutionary politics I have sought both as a writer and as a speaker to elucidate theory, historical fact, and even anger and rage with humour.

This column allowed me to do this frequently. Sometimes (I think and hope) the joke worked, others possibly not. Occasionally the joke went too far for the editorial team (I have a weakness for sexual innuendo that some may think crosses that delicate line into sexism, though obviously I think not) and I would be reminded that this was a family magazine.

Shucks, there are still three or four jokes I really regret never getting into print, which I thought very funny but knew in my heart of hearts would not get by the editor. Still, what can you say - three or four in 16 and a half years is not bad going, and certainly not cause for complaint!

Occasionally I misused the column to secretly share an in-joke with a friend, or girlfriend. I once even declared love to someone - no, don't try and find it, only she would have understood it. It even worked - briefly!

The column, though, was inspired by all those things that made me a socialist - a hatred of injustice, poverty, hypocrisy, war, oppression and discrimination, and above all a desire to see the world changed, and to help build an organisation to change it. Ending the column does not mean that I feel any of that less. As we charge into bloody and pointless wars the feelings only get stronger.

Finally, a thanks to all those many readers who over the years have told me how much they liked the column. It was always great to hear, and kept me going when at times writer's block threatened to force me to quit.

I have only one regret - I was tempted to hang on for longer just so I could write one final column celebrating the death of Thatcher. Perhaps if I buy the editor a pint he'll allow me to sneak back for that when it happens - I always did enjoy speaking ill of the deserving dead! In the meantime, in the words of a great man, 'Goodbye is too good a word, so I will just say fare thee well.'