EVERYTHING comes to an end (except, as someone once said grimly, a Barry Manilow concert), and this column is no exception.
So this week, after a goodly innings of five years, Mortimer at Large drops for the last time onto your welcome mat – or given the current inhospitable state of the country, your mat bearing the words B****R OFF!
Even as I write this, my fantasies conjure people rushing to throw themselves from tall buildings (curses! hardly any to be found at the coast), slitting their wrists, or downing a large bottle of paracetamol before uttering the words, "how can I live without that column?"
I entertain for barely a second the cold truth that the decision will leave most people's lives totally unaffected. For how could a writer continue while courting such reality? Has the column achieved anything? Probably not. What do writers, or painters, or musicians, or sculptors 'achieve'?
In a small way, it supported Linskill Community Centre, and helped save it from demolition, also supported the successful resistance to the Cullercoats five mile high 'phone mast, and (hold your breath here) single-handedly stopped females being labelled second-class citizens at the Briar Dene weekly quiz.
The column failed in its dream to get a new mile-long hi-tech Whitley Bay pier built, failed to save the Bay Hotel, Cullercoats, and despite various satirical attempts failed to have much effect on the sorry and seemingly endless saga of Whitley bay seafront whose development even last week seemed to stall once more.
That this part of our wondrous borough, despite all the fine words, in June 2008 is still a rotting and boarded up hulk, is a tragedy, a farrago, a disgrace, a scandal, a humiliation, and an outrage, but none of the powers-that-be can ever quite admit to being ashamed.
The column has been great fun, and led me into some strange territories. I've enjoyed the response of readers, both in letter form, and from the many people who have stopped to chat in the street (only a small percentage of them abusive). I enjoyed the two experiments of throwing the column open to other writers, which allowed firstly David
Gibson and then Richard Rippon to wield their colourful pens.
So why stop, I almost hear someone ask? A career move? Not at my age, and as Prof Quatermass put it in Quatermass and the Pit, "I don't have a career – just work." Like most of the decisions in my life, it's instinctive. Suddenly a small voice whispers in my ear and won't go away. With that voice and its insistence there's also a great sadness at the realisation that the column has run its course.
For me, it has been a wonderful creative indulgence, top of the page spread every week. I've been allowed to write my own headline (rare in journalism), and hardly a word of what I've written has been altered (again quite rare).
The column's been absent for only a couple of weeks in five years, sometimes winged in from remote regions of the world and despite the inevitable occasional run-in between editor Ross Weeks and I, overall the working relationship has been fruitful and benevolent.
I've tried to avoid blowing my own trumpet, but this being the final column, to hell with it. Go to the Customs House, South Shields this week and see Mortimer's play RIOT which is absolutely terrific, and no bones about it. And if you haven't yet bought your copy of Mortimer at Large – Selected Columns, why not? It's a small, permanent testament to the transience of a weekly column.
The swansong to the column is on Saturday week (June 21, the Summer solstice), at Porters Restaurant, at Tynemouth Station when in an evening of words and music I'll be reading from the book, and songs will come from my son Dylan and his equally musically-talented mate Ryan Siddall.
The telephone's 2586100, so do come and pack it out and say goodbye to Mortimer at Large. Not goodbye to me personally of course. I'm still around.
Meantime, can I say to thank you to everyone who's been involved one way or another? It's been a hoot, and not easy to say tara.