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Monday 28 January 2019


I have just returned from one of the best weeks I have spent as a professional poet. In association with Scottish Friendly and the Scottish Book Trust, I spent a week visiting TEN different schools across North and South Lanarkshire. I was ferried from school to school, and from hotel to hotel, by the wonderful Tom and Holly from the Scottish Book Trust, and over the course of the week I managed to perform for over 1,500 children. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten things from the trip:


Having collected me from the airport on Sunday, Tom taught me the very simple game of 'Horse' whilst passing through the picturesque Scottish countryside. The rules are these: if you see a horse, you have to say 'horse', and you get one point. If you see, say, three horses, you have to say 'horse horse horse', and you get three points. If you say 'horse' when there is no horse present, you lose a point. Once someone has seen a horse and said 'horse', no other participant may say 'horse' with respect to the same horse. If you see what I mean. The winner is the person with the most points within a specified allotment of time. The game is fun because horses were frequent enough to score a few points a day, but infrequent enough to remain something of a novelty (as opposed to sheep, which were bloody everywhere). Next time you are out in the countryside, I recommend a nice game of 'Horse'.


One of my books is called Little Lemur Laughing, and I carry with me a lemur plushy when I do performance. Normally the lemur just kind of sits there on stage, not doing very much. However, at one of the schools I visited I decided the throw the lemur across the stage, to see if I could get it in the basketball hoop (we were in a school gym). To the delighted squeals of the children I managed to lob the lemur into the hoop, where it proceeded to get stuck. I then spent a minute or so chucking balls at it, in the hope of getting it down, which I did eventually. One of my favourite parts of performing is being spontaneous and weird, which is not really socially acceptable offstage. This is a perfect example of the quirkiness I try to inject into every performance I give.

Lhasa Apso

My parents' dog Winston (or Wini-Wooshus-Magooshus for short) features in every show I do. I show the audience a picture of him, and explain that he is a Lhasa Apso, which is Tibetan for 'hairy Tibetan Barking Dog' (absolutely true). I always ask the audience to guess his breed, and very rarely has anyone even heard of a Lhasa Apso. However, in Scotland I met several Lhasa owners, including one girl who came up to me after a show and angrily told me that her family had a dog and it was in fact a 'Lhapso Apso'. I told her she was wrong in her pronunciation, and we proceeded to have a semi-serious argument about it until she was whisked away by her teacher. If the girl is reading this: I am right and you are wrong. Ner ner ner ner ner.

The Van

Prior to the trip Holly informed me that I would be collected from the airport in a specially painted van. I assumed this was a joke until I was duly collected from Glasgow airport in a vehicle adorned with animal pictures, drawn by the super talented Sarah McIntyre. I spent the whole week being transported from place to place in what was effectively a work of art on wheels. I smile when I think of what other road users made of a van with a picture of a cartoon badger, sheep and ox on the side of it.

The Hotels

From Sunday to Friday, we stayed in a different hotel every night. The downside of this was not really being able to unpack, and living out of a suitcase; the upside of it was, well, staying in a different hotel every night. Some of the hotels were better than others, but all were completely adequate, with one or two a great deal more than so. When one opens up the door to a hotel room for the first time, there is a palpable frisson of excitement. This pang of anticipation was replicated five times during the course of the tour, for which I am grateful. Hell, one of the hotels even had one of them big circular baths.


Scots are not known for their healthy food. On the second day of the trip I happened upon something I hadn't heard of before, called an 'Empire Biscuit'. For those poor, benighted creatures amongst you who do not know what these are, allow me to elucidate. Start by procuring a slab of shortbread. Spread a thick layer of jam on top, then apply another slab of shortbread. On top of the tower, add a massively thick layer of icing, and a tokenistic cherry. Reader: I bought and ate that biscuit. And it took so much out of me, physically, mentally and spiritually, that I had to have a nap afterwards. It was worth it though.

Top Tips

Every day, I was whisked to a special location to shoot a series of 'top poetry tips'. I got to go to some awe-inspiring places, such as Cumbernauld City Centre, which won a Carbuncle Cup award in 2001 and 2005 for its stupendously crap architecture. I did actually think twice before mentioning this in my video, but I was reliably informed that Cumbernauldians are in fact quite proud of their hometown's notoriety. Here, then, are the little videos I shot during the tour:

Day 1: Whitelee Windfarm (UK's biggest onshore windfarm. Whoop whoop!)

Day 2: Bothwell Castle (a big ole pile of ruins)

Day 3: Some kind of Museum

Day 4: Cumbernauld City Centre!

Meeting New People

The life of an itinerant poet can get quite lonely. I was very lucky, therefore, to be accompanied by the aforementioned Tom and Holly for the duration of the trip. As something of an introvert (when I am not performing!) I was slightly anxious at the prospect of being with two other people almost the whole of the time, but I needn't have worried: Tom and Holly were excellent company, and I am really grateful to them for facilitating such a wonderful trip!

Renewed Appreciation for Job

I am extremely lucky to be able to do what I do for a living, and the tour helped reinforce quite what a weird, wonderful job I have, which leads me onto:

Fantastic Schools

The best thing about the trip was undoubtedly visiting the schools. Along the way I encountered extremely enthusiastic teachers and children. The schools I visited were as follows:

- Libberton Primary School
- Underbank Primary School
- Udston Primary School
- Mount Cameron Primary School
- St Charles Primary School
- John Paul II Primary School
- St Patricks Primary School
- Plains PS and St David's RC School
- Ravenswood Primary School
- Ballmalloch Primary School

Especially gratifying was the effort taken by many schools to research me and my poetry prior to the visits. This helped build up a great sense of enthusiasm and anticipation. Special mention goes to the pupils at Ravenswood school, several of whom learnt and recited poems by me! Here is one of their fantastic videos: