Way back, when my interest in Scotland was still but nascent, my sources of information about it were few and thin. My high school English textbooks were understandably mostly concerned with England and (to a lesser extent) the USA. Encyclopedias let you know that, say, Alexander Fleming or David Hume were Scots, but you had to look them up for some other reason first. (Moreover, you were as likely to find out they were English.) Friendship/L’amitié, a Slovak monthly magazine for high school students of English and French, was somewhat better than the textbooks; still, the centre spread article all about Scotland in one of its issues told me probably more than there usually was within a whole year’s scope. There were BBC World Service radio broadcasts, but, of course, there were jammers too.
Things only changed after the fall of the Idiot Curtain. Media found out “English” and “British” weren’t exactly synonyms, though they’d sooner write about another alleged Loch Ness monster sighting than about the ’97 referendum. BBC World Service was no longer jammed, never mind they talked about Asia or Africa more than about Britain, let alone Scotland in particular. Now and than I even came by some miracle into the possession of a history book like Ronald McNair Scott’s Robert the Bruce or Tom Steel’s Scotland’s Story. And twice in the 90s I visited Scotland myself.
One of the best sources before I achieved access to the Web was my sister. She studied English at a university and one of her teachers not only was Scottish (if I remember correctly a Donald McLean) but also in the habit of sometimes photocopying a few pages from some Scottish books for his students to use as prompts for conversation. (Or so I gathered.) Naturally, my sister was then sending them to me.
For me they were invaluable as almost the only texts I could get hold of which were written both by Scots and about them – and often focused on today’s, rather than historical Scotland. Yet necessarily they were pretty random with regard to topics (I had a few about the Reformation or the HIDB but none about James IV’s reign or Gaelic), and I had no way of assessing their importance. Thus for years I thought that Knoxplex (ay, finally got there) was a concept as well-known as Caledonian Antisyzygy. No way. In fact, try Googling it and you’ll probably get back here. Go figure.
Apparently this term, coined by Dr Anne Smith in The Scotsman, didn’t catch on. Yet it’s as close to my heart as the Caledonian Antisyzygy. Because reading about either for the first time I experienced the joy of finding something reasonably precisely describing some trait of my own mentality called typically Scottish.
And GoogleBooks know the 1987 book The Scots: a portrait of the Scottish soul at home and abroad by Iain Finlayson from which my sister’s photocopy was made. I managed to reconstruct the whole passage (don’t know what else was in the original article though):
Briefly, if we are enjoying ourselves and haven’t recently suffered, we tend to look nervously over our shoulders, fearing the Hound of Heaven as Sir Henry did the ditto of the Baskervilles. For we know surely that if we haven’t suffered before pleasure, we shall inevitably suffer immediately after it. The victim of Knoxplex is convinced that he is only truly alive when he is suffering, or working (one and the same thing, usually). He has invented his own means of coping with this, though.
We cope with Knoxplex in four ways. Some hope to cheat the Hound by pretending that their pleasures are in themselves painful duties. This manifestation of the disease was first noted by the poet Burns in the eighteenth century and succinctly defined by him as ‘unco guidnes’. Some convert their pleasure into pain. Again this was noted by the Bard –
‘See Social-life and Glee sit down
All joyous and unthinking.
Till, quite transmogrify’d, they’re grown
Debauchery and Drinking.’
– leading to overweight, heart-disease, cirrhosis of the liver, bronchitis . . .
The third group are simpler in their approach. Immediately after experiencing pleasure they spare the Lord effort by punishing themselves. It is a peculiarly Protestant response to procure absolution without confession. Football hooligans provide a clear-cut example. Before and immediately after leaving the stands they ensure that they receive a punitive wound, bruise or at the very least, pneumonia. The fourth group offer the most serious symptoms, however. They simply eschew pleasure of any kind altogether, accepting that it is by definition sinful. They work all the time.
Personally, I was always inclined to treat Knoxplex in the first two ways described, although at various times of my life I tried, in one form or another, all four. But the basic aspect could be reworded like this: “The longer our pleasure lasts or the greater it is, the more anxious we get about the inevitably approaching suffering, because the longer or the greater that will be”.
This also applies to luck. The longer I’m lucky, the more I’m afraid of what misfortune I’m in for. On the other hand, this has some advantages. When a misfortune eventually does come, it doesn’t break you down. You simply say, “Oh yeah, just what you’d expect”, and carry on. Likewise, when good luck comes after a significant period of bad luck, you rest assured that in all probability you have already paid for it.
So I’m not overly afraid my Scotland trip (less than four days to set off!) will be a disappointment. So far, this year has been much more trying than the previous two. Being a Knoxplexian I see that as a good sign.