LIVING in Penpont, an area cut off from the rest of the world by both geography and inclination, I have had very little truck with prime ministers. The British state is an institution that has subsumed and belittled areas of passionate interest to me, Scottish history, languages and culture. My poetry tries in its own small way to right some wrongs.

Two Fridays ago I was tinkering with a poem about the Tudors, trying to find a rhyme for "genocidal maniacs" when an email arrived inviting me to read poems at 10 Downing Street. I assumed this to be a joke perpetrated by one, or a coalition of, my poetry enemies but it transpired to be true. I had been recommended by the Scottish Poetry Library, an organisation I have always admired and trusted, and invited to read poetry during a "Celebration of Scottish Culture" - my own work with a Burns poem thrown in.

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I am under no great illusions about the impact of poetry in influencing events but I am certain of its incremental power and the fact that it is a highly effective method of communication. I had been communicating for years to people who fundamentally agreed with me, and here was a chance for the first time to talk about some injustices to people who were responsible for them.

What I read at the ceremony

I chose a selection of poems in English and Scots including Whit if Britain wis the Richt Way Roond linking the angling of the BBC weather map to long-standing bias in the treatment of our history and Three Letters to MacMhoillean Mhor, a satirical poem about the National Trust for Scotland. That poem also has the line "we will wash our sword many times in English blood" which I fancied saying in Downing St for a laugh. The Burns poem I selected was "A Man’s a Man", a brilliant poem to declaim, especially to folk who consider themselves that wee bit more special than everyone else.

The National:

On the Wednesday I trucked up to Downing St via the Bayswater Arms and the Red Lion in Parliament Street. I have never been one of these poets who are inclined towards coffee and cake before a poetry reading. Having gone through security I wandered down a deserted Downing St and pressed the doorbell of Number 10. The door swung open and I stashed my phone on a shelf adorned by what I thought was a rug but which turned out to be the Downing St cat, a huge beast. There are obviously many rats in Downing St.

Stalls had been set up offering samples of whisky, gin, seafood and so on. I was due to read in the State Room, at the end of the corridor, a room which boasted two priceless Turners on each side of the fireplace. There was a small table outside with the times of my three readings.

At this point there was a smattering of Scottish guests who had come out of curiosity, mostly. Then there was a great rush, I presume from Westminster, mostly Scottish Tories but also, unaccountably, folk in full military uniform. I recognised a few faces in the crowd. Everyone seemed very small, perhaps because of my poor eyesight or perhaps because Tories are very small.

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Who I met 

I could see my minder trying to persuade people to leave the whisky sampling stall and come to the first poetry reading. Hers was a thankless task. I wouldn’t leave a whisky sampling stall to go to a poetry reading. Drumming up support is one of my specialisations, however, so I made my way through the heaving herd of Conservatives, cajoling, man handling and shouting. “Get your airse in here and listen to some Galloway poetry!” I cried at the Scottish Secretary. He didn’t.

We in Dumfries and Galloway are used to Alister Jack ignoring our entreaties. In fact a poet and singer called Alan McClure has recorded a song about it: “I wrote a letter to Alister Jack but Alister Jack he didn’t write back/ Oho he’s a busy man.”

In attendance however were David Mundell, Douglas Ross and some general or other, along with about a dozen others. Things went well, and they listened patiently, the military man lingering at the end to agree that the Tudors had killed half the population of lowland Scotland and that it was surprising that the flagship of the Royal Navy was named after one.

The National:

During the third poetry reading there was a great stooshie outside the door. My minder appeared. “Do the Burns, do the Burns,” she mouthed. Rishi Sunak then appeared, another particularly small person. “Where have you been?” I asked him. “You’ve missed all the anti-English bits!” I then delivered with passion Burns’ great anthem for the common man and woman. Token appearance done and photographs taken, off he went. So did I a wee while after, pocketing a free bottle of Raasay on the way out.

What I learned

I have never read in such beautiful surroundings but my abiding impression will be of how very ordinary and banal those who set themselves up over us actually are. They are folk no more talented than ourselves. I was satisfied with the trade off I had made: my being used was more than offset by my being able to read the work I wanted to people who had never heard it, and never would again. No opinions would be altered, of course, but still. And the cat was bigger than the PM.