I began to dream in Scots

8th June 2001 at 01:00
EVERY year I have a literary adventure. In 2000 I took on 100 Years of Solitude and lost. I did not so much read the book as allow the words to roll past my eyes as if, placed on a gameshow conveyor belt, they were prizes I did not want to win.

This year I prepared. I decided to read But n Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt. Let me state now that the author of this science fiction novel written in Scots is a former colleague, but not one I knew well enough to gratuitously plug his work.

I limbered up with Robert McLellan's Linmill stories that I mentioned a few columns ago. Next, I tried an extract of But n Ben from a pamphlet called Sair Heid City. Finally, I was ready for the real thing. I was feart of failure. What an admission it would be if I could not handle something written in the language of my own country, albeit one that is usually highly diluted when spoken now.

After two pages, the language became part of the fun. I got great pleasure from rediscovering words I thought I'd forgotten. It was like finding a box of childhood treasures I thought I'd thrown away.

Bursting with sly humour (the hero is called Paolo Broon), staggeringly imaginative, often poignant and at times exploding with Uzi-blazing action, this book is a cracker. Some books never leave my bedside tale. I manage 10 pages a night before dropping off. Others, like But n Ben, reach the love affair stage, where moments are snatched whenever possible.

To me, the measure of the power of a book has always been the length of time it takes to re-orient when I put it down and re-enter reality.

With Matthew Fitt's book I began, tentatively, to think in Scots and sometimes to dream in Scots. You'll have gathered, then, that I liked it.

I teach physics. Sometimes a pupil will decry literature in front of me, perhaps thinking they are showing solidarity with my subject.

Depending on the pupil, I may hit them with the "big metaphor" argument. Electrons aren't really little balls whizzing around atoms, but thinking of the unseen - be it an emotion or a fundamental particle - in terms of something we do know about advances our understanding.

The more skilled we are at coping with abstraction, I tell them, the greater is our ability to cope with science at its highest level.

All of which puts me in the mood to read some Edwin Morgan. He wrote a suite of poems about elementary particles and - wait for it - heartily praised But n Ben A Go-Go on the back cover.

Gregor Steele found out that Matthew Fitt has actually been to the Skoda factory. We're not worthy!

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today