So Long, Farewell

Writer, comedian and beloved columnist Fiona Scott-Norman has left the building.

According to Guinness World Records the longest-serving newspaper columnist was one Sid Hartman, an American sports writer whose weekly column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune began on 11 September, 1945, and whose final column ran on 18 October, 2020, the day he died aged 100. That’s 75 years! Kick a rock and call me Barbara, I have so many questions, most of which are morbidly circling his final column like flies fixing to land.

Surely Sid knew his number was up. He must have. But he didn’t acknowledge it or farewell his readers, which has a poignancy all of its own. His last column was a discussion with a Minnesota Vikings “wide receiver” (your guess is as good as mine), which would have offered zero opportunities for an acknowledgement of mortality, or self-referencing sporting metaphors about “having had a good innings” or being “100 not out”. He just kept turning up to the plate until he dropped. Was he staunch, or in denial? Did he never consider, well, leaving?

To be fair, it’s a tricky thing, saying goodbye. I am constitutionally incapable of it, and am always the last to depart a soiree. My “beginning to say goodbye” process lasts several hours, as numbers thin and conversations lengthen and deepen. I’ll never be first to your party, but good luck kicking me out before a) we have Real Chats, b) the caterers are meaningfully checking their watches, and c) the overhead fluoros are switched on. Even then I’m in no hurry. One last drink? Don’t mind if I do.

I’m not great at leaving anything, tbh, unless you count “forgetting my belongings and having to go back for them”, in which case I could compete for Australia. Interestingly for someone with the attention span of a garden sprinkler, I’m more of a stayer. I’ve had colleagues who flit from gig to gig like wild birds, landing lightly, briefly and racking off in a flurry of feathers and importance. I like belonging too much to leave anywhere with ease, I hate to relinquish a swipe card, and it takes time to acquire the secrets of a place, ie where the good biscuits are hidden. Sid was in a whole other class, watching and documenting entire football generations rise and fall, like a Minnesotan sports Yoda.

Until I read about El Sid – who had a statue erected in his honour, btw, when he was 90. A statue! Imagine a living writer getting a statue in Australia! – I thought I’d been writing for The Big Issue a long time. And look, I have. I filed my first comedic column, an analysis of terrible theme parks from around the world, in 2008. That’s 16 years ago, a whole other epoch, when Kevin Rudd was prime minister (for the first time), Chris Lilley performed as Mr G at the Logies, my parents were still alive (as was Michael Jackson), and I had yet to acquire chickens. It’s been a ride.

Readers may have been misdirected by my blathering on about centenarian Sid dying in the saddle and thinking, wait, are you older than you look? And the answer is yes, thanks for asking, but I am neither approaching 100 nor, so far as I know, about to cark it from natural causes after transcribing an interview with an American footballer. However, this is my last* column for The Big Issue, and I did want to say goodbye.

I love this magazine and everything it does. I love the vendors (shout out to Stephen at North Melbourne station!). I love belonging here. I love the writing. But it’s time. So I’m on my final circuit of this party. Thanks for all the good chats, and if anyone asks, I am totally up for having a statue erected.

* Probably. You know what I’m like. One more drink?

Published in ed#711