HAVE you ever visited the Louvre, back when Anglo-French relations allowed such things, and found yourself in the gallery where the Old Masters are displayed?

There you will discover a particularly well executed sketch by da Vinci, which goes by the name of the Mona Lisa. As this is a rather famous little etching, we may as well dispense with formalities and call her Mona. What art lovers usually do when visiting the Louvre is check out Mona’s enigmatic smile for a couple of minutes, then move on to glance at other paintings. (It’s the Louvre. They’ve got one or two.)

But what the Herald Diary likes to do on such occasions is to stick around, closely examining da Vinci’s masterpiece and wondering what might be going on to the left of Mona’s earlobe, just outside the margin of the canvas.

In other words, we’re curious about the bits and bobs Leonardo couldn’t be bothered to paint.

Possibly there was a grumpy child just beyond the artist’s view… Mona’s daughter. And perhaps this youngster was complaining to mummy, who desperately tried to ignore the little scamp while being immortalised in oils. “Oi, maw!” Mini Mona maybe moaned. “Wits wi’ that enigmatic smile on yer gub? An when ye gonnie make us some scran? Am pure starvin’, so am ur.”

(We’ve translated the original Italian into the more refined Scots language, you may have noticed, in order to give our sophisticated readership the opportunity to immerse itself in the immortal scene just described.) The Herald Diary has always been most interested in the edge of things. Life’s marginalia and missed out bits. While the rest of the media spent the last twelve months hyperventilating over Brexit - again - or trying to grope with the serious health concerns facing our nation, the Diary dodged the nitty and the gritty and instead delighted in the nutty and the… erm… grutty?

The following stories are some of our favourites from the year now rapidly passing into memory, when we continued to consider it our mission to revel in the minutia and the madcap. So, welcome to our world. And remember, you’ll always be able to find us right here, in our cosy nook of The Herald newspaper, somewhere to the left of Mona’s earlobe…

Gaggle of goths

At the beginning of the year we discovered that in Stirling a gang of teenage Goths adopted as their hangout a patch next to the local Argos. “They’re known collectively as the Argoths,” a local informed us.

Artful address

Ross Sayers is a Scottish writer of novels for young adults. Being an esteemed member of the literati, he also takes a keen interest in the works of his fellow scribes. We recall the time he focused his intellectual energies on Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author of The Handmaid’s Tale.

In one of his more profound and illuminating moments Ross said: “If Margaret Atwood got a job for a website called Wood, her email address would be margaret@wood. And I think that's just beautiful.”

Step too far

Factory foremen are often tough but fair. Sometimes they’re just tough. One of our readers once turned up two hours late for work and explained to his boss that he fell down the stairs at home.

“That doesn’t take two hours,” snapped his boss.

Fan fiction

Sports fans were intrigued this year when imitation crowd noises started being broadcast during footy matches to hide the rather obvious fact that no supporters were allowed in stadiums. In reality, most games were being viewed live by a couple of security guards and a stray cat. (Which was uncharted waters for the English Premiership, though business as usual in Scotland.)

One of our readers admitted wanting to incorporate the counterfeit commotion into his own life.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if I could boil the kettle in the morning to the roar of an imaginary crowd,” he said. “Later on, I’d be loafing on the sofa, staring vacantly into the middle-distance and picking lint from my bellybutton, while the supporters went wild. Fake feisty fans. The perfect addition to a life devoid of drama.”

Jack the gym

Our readers aren’t always the most dynamic bunch, it has to be admitted. So we weren’t entirely surprised when William Hough got in touch to tell us he had quit working as a personal trainer. “I handed in my too weak notice,” he revealed.

Dame days done

Sadly Scottish comedy great Johnny Beattie died this year. Fellow performer and friend Iain Robertson last saw Johnny at the King’s Panto of the previous season, when both men were in the audience. Said Iain to Johnny: “Ye no wish ye were up there, Johnny?” Johnny replied: “Och naw son. Av hung up ma bra.”

Food for thought

When Amy Kinnaird from Ochiltree was a primary school teacher a girl called Henrietta once raced into class after break. The little lass was eager to clipe on an unfortunate fellow pupil.

“John picked up a sweetie in the playground and ate it,” announced the eager informant. “I told him not to do that. Maybe a dug's peed on it.”

The Diary sadly concluded that Henrietta was no playground gourmet. If she had been, she would have realised that a dash of tangy sauce only adds depth and richness to the flavour of a tasty morsal discovered on the tarmac.

Freudian footy

Richard Foster, who signed for Partick Thistle this year, is a special kind of footballer. Not only is he married to rocker Amy Macdonald, but the burly defender also managed to complete a psychology degree in his spare time.

The Diary advised Richard to make good use of his qualification whilst playing for the Jags. Instead of putting in hard tackles, we felt he should be felling his opponents with hard questions: “So why do you feel the need to kick a ball so aggressively? What exactly are you repressing? Were you kicked as a small boy?”

Biting remark

A Catchcart reader once spotted the late, great comedian Charlie Sim from the One O’Clock Gang in a Dunoon café. Suddenly a female customer rushed over to his table with a huge grin on her face and said: "Aw Charlie, yer teeth are luvly. Ur they yer ain?"

Close shave

Glancing over at his 14-year-old son, Harvey Priestley noticed the young fellow was looking rather fuzzy about the face. He was clearly in need of his first shave. So our reader proceeded to teach him the basics. Soap. Water. Razor. The young man found the entire experience rather frustrating. “So do I have to do that EVERY year if I want to avoid a beard?” he grumbled.

Flight of fancy

Musing about the inexplicableness of the natural world, Coatbridge comedian Sam Tennent said: “Do you think whoever named the fly was gutted when he found out about birds?”

Crunch time

Boris Johnson has had a bumpy year, which might explain the state of his hair. At one point he revealed that he intended to tackle the country’s obesity crises. One of our readers decided the nation’s obsession with pizza was to blame. “The country’s in the middle of a deep-pan demic,” he announced.

Driven to distraction

One reader, Sue Black, recalled a terrible first date when she was in her twenties. The bloke who arranged to pick her up duly arrived… in a car driven by his father. It transpired that Sue’s suitor didn’t have a driver’s licence, so pops had to ferry him around.

While dining in a restaurant, Sue watched dad through the window eating a Chinese carryout in his car while waiting to drive the youngsters home. “I feel terrible for him,” our reader said to her beau. “I know what you mean,” said the beau. “He doesn’t like Chinese food. He was hoping there’d be a chippy round here.”

Wakey shakey

As was noted in a previous tale, the Diary is always impressed by the linguistic prowess of authors. So we were delighted when Kilmarnock novelist David F. Ross described the joy he feels upon waking each day: “Up. Face like a pair of melted snakeskin boots. Hair like the weekly contents of a Dyson. Voice like a hot air balloon exploding. Morning.”

Lone-wolf cat

The Diary’s radical readers continued to find fault with the ways of the world. Sandy Tuckerman was curious to know where the word copycat came from. “Our feline friends are the most independently minded animals on the planet,” he pointed out.

Boxing clever

One of our readers, who is an avid follower of the Royal Family, noted that when the Queen knights someone she uses a sword, because a keen blade symbolised might and wealth in Medieval society. “We’ve moved on since the days of pointy weapons,” our reader pointed out. “Nowadays the sign that someone is rich and powerful is they appear on their own reality show. So the Queen should tap people on the shoulder with a box-set of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Basket cases

On the whole we’ve tried not to focus on the more depressing aspects of 2020, though reader Ian Chilton did note the difference between the world that existed before lockdown with what came after… THEN: Crazy thrill-seekers parachute from planes. NOW: Crazy thrill-seekers grab a shopping basket without knowing if it’s been wiped down with detergent.

Savage solar system

The son of reader Dan Charlton is interested in astronomy and asked dad how stars die. “Usually from an overdose,” explained a cynical dad.