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Bogie birds an shunkie sherks

IT was with joy that I noticed a picture of a drookit draigon in a dub on the front page of my TES Scotland. The illustration is from Susan Rennie's Animal ABC, a picture book which aims to introduce young children to Scots.

Animal ABC has just won the paper's annual award for educational publishing. I'm delighted, but I cannot pretend to be impartial.

Animal ABC is published by Itchy-Coo, an outfit I have mentioned here before, detailing how their book Hoose O Haivers all but incapacitated me through laughter on the Glasgow to Carluke train. Since then I have visited the Itchy-Coo website and taken up their challenge to send in a story written in Scots. "Boaby The Vampire Slagger" now resides on the Itchy-Cool ideas page.

There followed an invitation to a book launch by the publishers at which I was asked to read a couple of poems I had submitted on spec for a forthcoming anthology.

Reading Scots poetry in public? Enough, surely, to get me thrown out of the lodge by my fellow physicists. What if my voice came out all wrong? I use a number of Scots words in everyday speech, but not as densely as in the poems. I remembered the schools radio programmes of the sixties where traditional songs were sung in plummy voices - Hoose O Nigel Havers. I didn't want to be like that.

I arrived at the venue, a function room in a small hotel, to find it packed. Itchy-Coo books are targeted at schools as well as general readers, so among the guests were several big noises from local primary schools.

Also present were the local authority languages adviser, my own headteacher and depute, my principal teacher (who was there because she is cultured), two well-known Scottish authors and someone dressed as a black and white coo.

I was wearing my Albert Einstein tie, perhaps to remind myself that failure didn't matter because I was primarily a physics teacher, not a performance poet. Some primary kids sang "The Three Craws", then I was on. I got lucky.

I played to the primary kids and they responded.

They all seemed to have the sort of sense of humour that warmed to rhymes about Bogie Birds and Shunkie Sherks. In the end I got a buzz from having had a go at something new. It was a good feeling to have during a busy week at work.

It quite lifted my spirits and for days afterwards I was more the birlin bear rather than the drookit draigon or, as I cleaned the board, the wabbit walrus washin windaes.

Gregor Steele wonders if anyone else has noticed an explosion in the use of Scots in e-mail.

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