‘THIS is going to be the most amazing ride of your life”. The wee man with the piercing blue eyes leaned towards me, with some urgency. His offer was, to be specific, the position of associate editor (culture and books) at the Sunday Herald, eight months before its launch-date on February 7, 1999.

Andrew Jaspan had already been the editor who’d turned around Scotland on Sunday’s fortunes in the 90s, and then left for stints at the Observer and the Big Issue.

His mysterious middle-distance stares, and jack-knife conversational turns, were all suggestive of great fun to come. It was the full tyro-editor routine.

I said uh-huh without much hesitation, and continued there till the end of its first year. And was it as exciting as promised? If we mean by “ride” a glorious ascension to blue-sky heights, alternating with thundering descents into dark terror, then it had its thrills and spills, yes.

The closure of the Sunday Herald on September 2 – and the creation of a seventh-day Herald and a Sunday National to replace it – has generated much musing and memorialisng from staffers, readers, fans and detractors. To have been there at its preparation and first steps is to recall a very different era, not just in newspapers but in Scotland too.

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To begin with, the full (and fully-funded) romance of newspapers was still in glorious bloom. I had been editing two avant-garde culture and ideas pages in the Saturday Herald (“more like journalism for the 31st century than the 21st”, one board member reportedly grumbled). Gus MacDonald – then still head of the Scottish Media Group – had steered me in the direction of the new paper.

Jaspan offered me a job from a grotty set of Garnethill offices – literally, a skunkworks – where the project was to be brewed up in absolute secrecy. Some of the earliest figures involved were often like gnarly characters from journalism central-casting. (This is a compliment, by the way – you don’t go into news journalism for kumbaya and hugs).

My old university colleague Rob Brown was a classic, dour, quiet-Nat-on-the-side senior editor (there was a few of those on the Sunday Herald), who would nevertheless subject his own side’s representatives to merciless scepticism. (Now? A journalism professor).

Another tough senior editor, Charlotte Ross, had roots in radical feminist publishing (she’d founded the fanzine Harpies and Quines with Lesley Riddoch: Now, she’s deputy editor of the London Evening Standard, under George Osborne).

Along with Anna Burnside (who taught me the phrase “so oochie-Gucci” as a term of approval), Pennie Smith, Jane Wright and others in the editorial, you’d have to say that the Sunday Herald was a strong-femme environment. In its way, it anticipated the feminised public sphere of our contemporary Scotland.

The National:

But there were also some newsroom classics, straight from all the (good) journalism movies you’ve ever seen. Take Trevor Royle and David Pratt on the foreign desk. The former was elegant, often blazered, and encyclopaedic in his military and geopolitical knowledge. The latter was rarely spotted in the office without the dust of the world’s troubles, literally, on his bags and clothing.

But to be in early editorial conferences with them was to receive the jolt of a newspaper that felt itself to be in the world, as much as in Scotland. Indeed, a paper that just naturally assumed its readers expected global literacy from their Sunday journal of choice.

Neil Mackay, the recently departed Sunday Herald editor, wrote last year about casually ringing-round his security service contacts, on a slow summer newsweek in 1999. One CIA contact in Islamabad spoke of a plot by al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden to bomb America. After some editorial discussion, the story made the front page. So you heard it there first.

One of its eventual star writers, Peter Ross, tweeted the other day that working on the Sunday Herald, “felt like you could just do stuff. I commissioned Donna Tartt to write about Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Byrne to paint Billy Connolly. I went to LA and New York and Warsaw on stories. [Other tweeting ex-staffers have cited Tokyo, Wyoming, San Francisco, Paris and Gdansk]. That feels so unreal now.”

I remember Jaspan telling off a newsroom conference, when the Tuesday morning leads lacked the requisite investigative or zeitgeisty sparkle. “You are not just producing a newspaper for people on a Sunday morning. You are giving them a gift – something they can unwrap, open up, get lost in, on their precious day of leisure and contemplation. So, can you raise your game please?”

No, Jaspan’s Sunday Herald (he left in 2004) was not for faint-hearts, nor for those a little angsty about their work-life balance. It was good to experience, at least one time in my life, the fourth estate at its most self-important and high-stakes. But I eventually found my limits with the full-time journalistic lifestyle.

In the dot-com spirit of the era, where the idea of a division between work and leisure was regarded as increasingly anachronistic, the presumption of a 60-hour work week was rife.

Thus it was I found myself deep into the early hours of a Saturday morning, grappling with a giant and intractable map of the “power elites of Scotland” that Jaspan had requested, our designer pointing arrows all over the place. Not the paper’s finest moment, or mine.

But I remember thinking that this precisely was not the kind of creative life I thought I’d signed up for, post pop music (which came back a few years later anyway). I left the paper a few months after that, inexplicably seized by the need to write a book called The Play Ethic, which has defined most of my productive life ever since. So for that escape and reorientation, I can genuinely thank the Sunday Herald.

I got myself to a microfiche yesterday morning, and scanned through some of the early years of the Sunday Herald. And something instantly hit me. The genius of the paper was that Jaspan had created what Brian Eno calls a “scenius” – an environment where everyone wanted to feel dramatic in a big newsroom, maintain effortless poise as the world heaved and roiled around you, and impress your impressive peers. (The best thing I feel I’ve ever written was a magazine piece about Scottish beaches, and I did it to match Charlotte Ross’s high standards. I think it worked.)

Is that still possible, in an era where attention span and consumer spend is split a million different ways? Are the resources to bring those dyspeptic sceptics together, who aim to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, becoming more difficult to amass? Well, here we are, the last hacks standing: Let’s see what we can do.

Finally, the news that Richard Walker is going to be editing the new Sunday National is like a golden thread continuing. His production and design flair in the early Sunday Herald days put the ribbon and wrapping on Jaspan’s gift-box. And Richard’s bravery in aligning the paper editorially with independence in 2014, and his entrepreneurship in starting this paper in the traumatised aftermath of the No vote, means than anyone should be glad he’s back in the editor’s saddle.

Yet when I think back to the late 90s and the early 00s, I’d have to say that the glory of the Sunday Herald – bridging grit and glamour, the local and the global, independista and Unionist – rested on the times being simpler, less polarized, and still holding a decent credit rating.

A Scottish Parliament not yet really tested; and Scotland’s existential choices – concerning country, economy or technology – not remotely as dramatic as they are now.

Let’s keep the Sunday Herald’s optimism, cosmpolitanism, creativity and sense of injustice in mind. But we are exactly where we are. And it’s tumultuous out there.

The best of luck to all new vessels on these stormy seas.