I had the pleasure of chairing Iain Banks a number of times at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Once, by simple mistake, I ended up chairing Iain M. Banks, his sci-fi alter ego.
He engaged amicably and enthusiastically with his notably devoted followers, discussing the Culture which was at the core of his science fiction work. Iain was in his (scientific) element. I was lost in space.
Perhaps it was the electoral cycle (that Aberdeen by-election), perhaps it was the merciless sun, more Sahara than Saughton. But there was a distinct sense of the surreal during questions to the First Minister today.
Not throughout, you understand. The surreal atmosphere was decidedly dispelled when the Tory leader Ruth Davidson rose to challenge the First Minister, once again, to call for a public inquiry into the tragic issue of the disposal of babies' ashes.
Been spending a bit of time as a boulevardier, ambling along the sun-kissed streets of Aberdeen. Yes, you read that aright. Authentic, warming, durable sun.
Last night, I briefly checked, as I always do, on my first married home - a little flat in the centre of Aberdeen, overlooking the harbour. In the evening sunlight, the silver granite glistened a long-remembered welcome.
In the face of grievous horror, normality. In the shadow of wilful brutality, seeming calm. Public and political life can sometimes appear ephemeral but, when confronted with the raw edges of existence, its very persistence can be soothing.
As is right, as is proper, political leaders at Holyrood opened today with words of sadness and sympathy in the light of the shocking events in Woolwich.
It opens a little like a tea towel. You know, the one that lists all those many inventions by Scots - from television to penicillin and points in between.
While it is always encouraging, indeed joyous, to hear again the many achievements of those north of the Tweed and Solway, there is of course a practical, political purpose to today's litany, included as it is within the document setting out an economic case for independence.
On a ward round, doctors may find themselves discussing a patient's condition - even in very general terms - while the individual concerned listens intently. Or they may step aside for a quiet chat, despite the risk that this discreet manoeuvre may alarm the patient. Or they may simply assess the case later, in private.
Such a quandary seldom confronts politicians. Today was an exception as the First Minister faced an ambush from his Labour opponent. A very effective ambush.
In the long Scottish winter, which faltered briefly on Tuesday this week, there is a constant search for innocent merriment, for ways to pass the time and entertain the offspring. Cards? Conkers? Karaoke?
Today, at Holyrood, a new suggestion emerged. A perfectly simple game, one you can all play at home. You simply name an MSP - anyone, doesn't matter - and decide which character from "The Simpsons" they resemble.
Quoth Her Majesty from the throne: "My government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom."
Was this the Sovereign entering into the debate about Scottish independence? Older heads cast an eye back to a speech by the Queen in 1977 in which she appeared to question the plans, then extant, for devolved self-government.
In decrying a political rival, one can try a range of tactics. Perhaps it will be best to strike directly, to target a particular policy. Or perhaps one might try subtlety, satire, drollery. Then again there is the strategy of guilt by association.
Examples of that latter tactic were on display at Holyrood today. In pursuing the issue of the currency today, Labour's Johann Lamont noted in passing that her rival, Alex Salmond, used to work for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.