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Saturday 31 July 2021

phoebe's wee blog

miaow everyone,

i'm phoebe. if other cats such as tigger can have their own entire blogs then at least i should be able to have one blog post. even takser wrote a post about some cat called sooty.

i've got chance while takser has gone to the shop and left his computer thing on the table. i don't know why he has a cat's name and i've got a people's name but i'd like to see more about cats and less about nasty dogs.

i'd better get back to work in the garden now before takser comes back. my job is to keep blackbirds off berries and pigeons off peas but takser won't miss one or two. 

i can't work out how to do big letters but i am an expert at playing with mice. i like my picture. it shows my stripey head. sorry if this post is boring. if anyone wants to comment i'll answer if i can.

miaow for now,

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Rags and Bones

I heard shouting in the next street, the same few words repeated about once a minute. I couldn’t make out what they were. 

It reminded me of when I was little, when the rag and bone man came round with his horse and cart. I could never make out what his sing-song voice was shouting, either. It sounded like “You owe me half a crown” but it was probably more like “Have you any rags and bones?” His fierce, rough look terrified me. I would hide until he had gone.

You could hear him going up and down the back lanes (or ‘ten-foots’) between the rows of terraced houses where we lived. Eventually he would come along ours where I played. Housewives went to their back gates to give him old pots and pans, buckets with holes in, pram wheels with broken spokes, threadbare kitchen curtains, and, yes, he really did collect bones. Once, his horse deposited a stinking pile of manure just outside our gate. It kept me in for weeks until it bleached pale, crumbled, and was gradually washed away by the rain.

Steptoe and Son

The life of Rag and Bone men was portrayed pretty well in the very popular B.B.C. comedy Steptoe and Son, in which the son’s, Harold’s, pretentious attempts to better himself are constantly thwarted by Albert, his wily father. 

As with all successful comedy series, it quickly moved on from stories based on the situation to stories around the relationships between the characters. I particularly remember one 1972 episode, Men of Letters. It opens with them playing Scrabble. Harold wants it to be “… an erudite game calculated to increase one’s word power” but Albert is well in the lead with words like “pox”, “cock” and “bum”. Harold complains they are nothing but filth. “Yes, but they still count, don’t they,” Albert responds.

The shouting from the next street continued into ours. It was indeed some rag and bone men. I haven’t seen any for years. I don’t suppose they collect either rags or bones any more. Good job I hadn’t left my bike out. They drove slowly past in a small truck. No horse! Although, shouting like that all day must make them a little hoarse.

Friday 23 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 3: to Sveinstindur

links to: introduction and index - previous day - next day

Another extract from the notebook. Neville and I are on a guided walking tour in the south of Iceland with ten others. After two nights in the youth hostel at Reykjavik, today is the first day of the tour proper.

South West Iceland, Dick Phillips tour, 1977
South-West Iceland showing yesterday’s drive to Thingvellir, Geysir
and Gullfoss, and the walking route (east to west) in blue

Friday 26th August 1977

The route consists of ten days walking from mountain hut to mountain hut across an isolated and uninhabited part of southern Iceland, a total distance of about 70 miles (112 km). Huts are roughly 12 miles (20 km) apart, although sometimes we stay at the same hut two nights running. We carry our own clothes and sleeping bags, and a share of the equipment and provisions. We are warned we might have to carry loads of up to 44 lbs (20 kg) although it is normally much less. It would be more but for the advance food depots left along the route by the tour organiser. Even so, the food is mainly dehydrated carbohydrate such as porridge and pasta, plus tinned meat, bread until it runs out, then crackers and biscuits. We are also warned we should be able to walk double the distance in case of difficulties with routes or huts. These problems are only likely to arise earlier in the year, before mid-June, when there is more snow on the ground and the rivers are higher. Our walk, in August, is a soft option.

Dick Phillips in Iceland

The tour is organised by Dick Phillips’ specialist Icelandic travel service which has been operating since 1960.

Dick Phillips is something of a legend and sounds a bit scary. He possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of Icelandic landscape, culture and folklore. 

He first visited the country several times in the nineteen-fifties, initially on a month-long cycling tour, and then on expeditions to the interior, including the first unassisted coast-to-coast crossing of Iceland by bicycle. He worked on a farm and lived in an upland community before converting an old farm house into a hostel. 

The tour brochure shows him with a fearsome beard, wearing one of his distinctive Icelandic jumpers, checking out a glacial river crossing. He looks formidable, not to be messed with. He is also very smart. He appears to have sent the photographer across first.

Icelandic Mountain Bus, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977

Despite being a walking tour, this first day does not involve much walking. It begins with a long cross-country ride of around 150 miles (240km) in a chunky, radio-equipped, four-wheel drive, low gear-ratio, Icelandic mountain bus. It needs all this kit. Soon after Selfoss, the bus turns left off the deteriorating road on to cindery, bull-dozed tracks, and then winds off-road across open country. It picks its way through volcanic wastes, swerving to avoid boulders, rising and falling to cross undulations and splashing through rivers. At one point it crawls diagonally down a steep, unstable hillside, hoping not to start a landslide. Few other vehicles would have been able to pass this point.

Hekla from Icelandic Mountain Bus, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977
The view inside the bus, and out towards the Hekla volcano

We stop to pick up Paul, our tour leader, who is waiting in a Land Rover. We are a little wary, unsure what to expect. Is he going to be another tough mountain guy like Dick Phillips, a commando boot camp bully or a snarling Eiger Sanction assassin? Surprisingly he is a pleasant, young, bespectacled, quietly spoken human being with shorts and suntanned legs.

He asks for help to unload provisions from the Land Rover, and Neville, ever the volunteer, rushes forwards. It doesn’t need all of us, only two or three. Neville returns arms filled with loaves of bread, highly appropriate for someone who works for a Hull bread manufacturer. The provisions are piled on to the overhead racks and vacant seats so as not to be squashed by the rucksacks in the luggage compartment. As the bus bounces over the rough terrain, my views to the south of the dormant Hekla volcano [it would next erupt in 1980], snow-capped and shining in the sunlight, are frequently disturbed by loaves of bread raining down on me.

At the front people are asking Paul about the tour, other tours, the elusive Dick Phillips and “what happens if …?” sort of things. Paul speaks slowly, emphasising each word as if painstakingly chosen, with long pauses at full stops and commas. He has a nice line in irony and understatement. He would like to be able to promise us a fortnight’s weather like today but he can’t of course. “Has it ever rained for two whole weeks?” “Yes,” replies Paul, “but I can’t guarantee it.” Someone else asks about crossing glacial rivers. “Sometimes, you can even get the bottom of your shorts wet,” says Paul, as if it is a pleasure. 

Dick Phillips Walking Tour in Iceland 1977

Eventually the bus drops us in the middle of nowhere, at the side of a small lake in a cindery, rock-strewn desert. We could be up a Knottingley slag heap: the Black Hills of West Yorkshire. Despite the evening sun, it is surprising how cold it is. There is a bitter wind. The provisions are divided up for us to carry, although Paul took the most. After about an hour’s walk across a stream (wet foot but not wet shorts) and a gap between gravel hills, we arrive at the Sveinstindur hut where we are to stay for two nights.

I can now put names to half the faces, but conversation remains guarded, formal and polite. It won’t last. We are about to be holed up together for a week and a half like Icelandic sheep herders. 

Sveinstindur, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland 1977
Arriving at the Sveinstindur hut. Paul the leader, with his massive carrying frame, is on the left.

(next part)
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

Thursday 15 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 2: Road Trip

back to: introduction and index - previous day - next day 

Thursday 25th August 1977

Neville and I arrived in Iceland yesterday for a walking tour which does not begin properly until tomorrow. We have therefore hired a car for a trip to Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

Two others from the party have joined us: Gavin from Aberdeen who is a factory inspector, and Steve, a nuclear chemist from London. Steve is the one we spotted with his rucksack at the airport, who looks remarkably like our friend Gavin. But this other chap is also called Gavin. This is very confusing. I keep calling Steve, Gavin, and Gavin, Steve.

Thingvellir 1977

At Thingvellir, you see a cliff face. As you begin to ascend you suddenly come to a gorge running parallel with the face. A river runs along the bottom of the gorge from a waterfall on the upper cliff. It runs for some way before breaking through the lower cliff into the lowland. The strange topography marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates. It was also the site of the Althing, the ancient Icelandic parliament, which met there for nearly nine hundred years until 1798.

Even in the sun it is cold, and there are intermittent showers.

Geysir, Iceland 1977 Geysir, Iceland 1977

Geysir, of course, has the geothermal hot water geysers. Out of holes in the ground that resemble the craquelure an avant-garde oil painting, they eject pillars of hot water and steam high into the air with a terrifying roar, subsiding into witches’ cauldrons of angry boiling water which gurgle ominously. It demands nerves of steel to stand close as they threaten to erupt and dissolve you.

Geysir, Iceland 1977

Photographing them requires split-second reflexes which Steve, apparently, does not have. He uses half a film and still misses it. If the famous but almost inactive, eighty-foot Great Geysir erupted, he would probably click the shutter just too late have to wait with his camera for the next thirty-five years until it went off again. He would then, almost certainly, still miss it.  

The sulphurous fumes, the noise, the hell on earth – I decided there and then it was best to be good and go to heaven. Film does not really do it justice. 

The same is true of Gullfoss. All that rushing water takes me back to the canning factory where I have been working, cleaning the machinery with a hose pipe. Channel that lot through and it would be spotlessly clean in an instant, assuming there was any machinery left, or indeed any building. I wonder what it would be like to jump in.

Gullfoss, Iceland 1977
Gullfoss, Iceland 1977

We end the trip with a short ride north towards the Langjökull ice cap, the second largest in Iceland and source of the Gullfoss waters, but we turn back at the first river crossing. We are in a Volkswagen, not a Land Rover.

Formal, polite conversation most of the day. It will be more spontaneous when everyone gets to know each other. Tomorrow is the first day of the walking tour, proper. 


(next part)
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

Sunday 11 July 2021

Pounds, Shillings and Pence

The new ‘Turing’ £50 note brings yet another change to our U.K. currency. There seem to have been so many in recent years.

They used to be rare. When my grandpa gave me this set of Queen Elizabeth II coins in 1953, their denominations and basic appearance had remained more or less unchanged for decades. In theory, some coins in circulation were over two-hundred years old. Their nicknames – tanner, bob, florin – were part of popular culture.

My dad put the Queen Elizabeth coins safe in his black metal box and took them out now and again to let me look. I liked the lady in armour with her fork and shield (“Britannia,” he told me), the elaborate sailing ship (“The Golden Hind”), the different lions of the English and Scottish shillings, and the young Queen on the ‘heads’ sides. The penny and half-crown were biggest, but my favourite was one of the smallest, the tiny farthing with a “robin” on the back [as pointed out in the comments, it is a wren, and a sixty-eight year old misconception].

They were shiny bronze and silver then, but, like me, they have tarnished. Those whose packaging has also failed to preserve them will tell you there were twelve pennies to the shilling and twenty shillings, 240 pennies, to the pound. We can still, in our heads (Weaver?), do things like add 14s 10d to 11s 8d to get £1  6s 6d (i.e. fourteen shillings and ten pence to eleven shillings and eight pence, often written 14/10 and 11/8). It was a great way to bamboozle foreigners.

The only recent change to the coinage had been the introduction of the twelve-sided yellow threepenny bit in 1937 in place of a smaller, round, silver coin that was discontinued in 1945. The last significant change before that had been almost a century earlier with the introduction of the two-shilling piece in 1849. As one-tenth of a pound, it had been created with decimalisation in mind – a rare example of a government planning well ahead.

Since 1953, the only thing not to have changed is the Queen. Changes were slow at first but since then most coins have changed twice. First to go was the farthing which became so insignificant that none were minted after 1956. They were removed from circulation in 1961. The halfpenny (‘aipny as we called it) followed in 1969, and the half-crown in 1970, although that was to prepare for decimalisation in 1971, fifty years ago.

Decimalisation put paid to most of the rest. Pennies (‘d’) were superseded by New Pence (‘p’). One New Pence was worth roughly two and a half old pennies. Five new coins came in (½p, 1p, 5p, 10p and 50p) and the old ones were gradually withdrawn.  For six and a half months we used the old and the new side-by-side and became adept at switching between. That’s why we’re mentally nimble. One pound six shillings and sixpence? Easy! £1.32½. Some of the old coins had exact decimal equivalents, the lowest common factor being 6d which was worth 2½p, so provided you used the old coins in sixpenny clusters you were fine.

What came next? It’s nigh impossible to remember but I’m one of those sad people who look things up and make lists. 

  • The old sixpence, shilling and two shilling coins remained in use after decimalisation as 2½p, 5p and 10p coins. In fact, the new 5p and 10p coins were identical in size and weight to their older counterparts and had been introduced in 1968 to get us used to the idea. The sixpence lasted until 1980, and the shilling and two shillings until the early 1990s.
  • Also in 1968, a seven-sided 50p coin had replaced the paper ‘ten-bob note’.
  • In 1982, the inscription ‘NEW PENCE’ was changed on all coins to show the denomination, e.g. ‘TEN PENCE’. 
  • A seven-sided 20p coin was introduced 1982 and a round £1 coin in 1983.  
  • The ½p coin was withdrawn in 1984 and the paper £1 note in 1988. 
  • Three of the original decimal coins were replaced by smaller versions: the 5p in 1990, the 10p in 1992, and the 50p in 1997. 
  • A £2 coin was introduced in 1998, the first bi-metallic coin in Britain since the 1692 tin farthing. 
  • The original round £1 coin was replaced by a twelve-sided bi-metallic coin in 2017. It looks like the old threepenny bit and doesn’t seem to buy very much more.
  • There have also been several changes in the physical size and design of banknotes over these years, most recently between 2016 and 2021 when paper banknotes were replaced by polymer ones which slither and slide restlessly in your pocket and refuse to stay folded.

My grandfather probably thought the 1953 set of Elizabeth II coins would be a good investment. Not so. Even if the packaging had preserved them in mint uncirculated condition, which it hasn’t, despite not being opened in sixty-eight years, you would do well to get back the inflation adjusted equivalent of their face value: £9.50 for 7s 4¾d (seven shillings, four and three farthings).

Anyone would think it just a cynical ploy by the Royal Mint to make money from making money. I hang on to them only because they are things of beauty. They still live in my dad’s black metal box. These too:

1965 set issued on the death of Sir Winston Churchill, including a rarely-used five-shilling coin, the ‘Churchill Crown’. This was the first time an image of anyone other than a monarch had appeared on a British coin, showing the extreme high regard in which Churchill was held.

Another pre-decimalisation Queen Elizabeth II set dated 1966.

Crowns (five-shilling coins) commemorating the 1951 Festival of Britain, the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and the 1981 Royal Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.
(Obverse ‘heads’ sides above, reverse ‘tails’ sides below). 

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 1: to Reykjavik

links to: introduction and index - next day

Dick Phillips Walking Tour, Iceland 1977

I have a lot of pictures like this, of people carrying rucksacks, although mostly in more spectacular surroundings. Actually, this is not as unspectacular as it first seems. The distinctive spire of Hallgrímskirkja, built in the image of the rocks, mountains and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape, reveals it to be Reykjavik. We are trudging from the airport bus to the youth hostel. Neville and I do not know the others yet.  

1977 Iceland notebook

Wednesday 24th August 1977

We underestimate the driving time to Glasgow. It leaves little time to spy on other rucksack wearers in the airport building. There are hardly any to be seen. Like us, they are probably creeping around in plain clothes trying to spot the others and weigh them up. The only one we see bears an uncanny resemblance to one of our friends, Gavin. It could be confusing if he is going on the trip.

As we assemble at the Air Iceland desk, a trekking company rep. arrives with a letter to Neville giving him responsibility for organising the rendezvous. They choose him because he has been to Iceland before. Good choice. He likes organising things and is good at it. All he has to do is make sure we all get on the plane and don’t get lost when we get off.

Our party is twelve. From the rendezvous responsibility list I see that six are on their own. There is just one girl. I am keeping quiet about the list. It is addressed to me as well.  

As we wait at the departure gate, a choir of American teenagers begins to sing. Their harmonies ring around the large acoustic space, a magnificent sound, but thank goodness they’re not going on the walking tour too.

My first ever air flight. I can’t see out because I am in a gangway seat. Be careful not to let on it is the first time you have been in an aeroplane. Avoid displays of excitement. Do not lean across to take hundred of photographs. Do not gasp as the acceleration thrusts you back into your seat. Seasoned air travellers assume an air of detachment even when the ground appears over their shoulders at an alarming angle. Seasoned air travellers show no fear even when the plane is landing. So why do those American choir kids sound so scared?

Stamped Youth Hostel card, Iceland, 1977
We have to spend two nights in the school annex of the Reykjavik youth hostel before the walk proper begins. We had to join the YHA in preparation.

After an evening wandering around Reykjavik, I can see why Neville has no intention of spending all day tomorrow here as well. You can’t even get a decent beer because of prohibition. He has therefore hired a car for a trip into the interior. It sounds preferable to visiting Hallgrímskirkja. 

Nowadays you might also seek out elves, walk to the stainless steel sculpture of a Viking long boat, and visit the penis museum. No, you wouldn’t. You would still hire a car for a trip to the interior. Tomorrow: Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

(next part)

Monday 5 July 2021

Walking In Iceland

A series of 15 linked posts with photographs (index below).

Map of Iceland

It is 1977. We are strong, fit, active and in our twenties. We are about to go walking in the land of ice and fire. We will be flying to Keflavik (near Reykjavik) on Wednesday. 

Iceland Notebook 1977

There follows a fourteen-part saga based on this notebook. It was an organised group walk, backpacking through a wild and uninhabited part of Iceland. I will post at intervals over the next few months to allow time to transcribe and edit, and select photographs.

I nearly didn’t go. When Neville and another friend first booked, I thought I couldn’t afford it. I was about to start university as a mature student and been told I would have to self-fund the first term because of a previous term on a course abandoned a few years earlier. I worked twelve-hour nights in a canning factory to save up. The local authority then told me I had been awarded a full grant, which in those days was far more generous than student finance now. So when the other friend had to drop out at the last minute because of work problems, I was in as his substitute. The canning factory money went on the Iceland trip and a high spec. stereo.

(forward link to first part)

 1. to Reykjavik - we arrive in Iceland
 2. Road Trip - a drive to Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.
 3. to Sveinstindur - we meet Paul, the walk leader, and arrive at the first hut.
 4. Stormy Weather - forced to shelter in the hut all day.
 5. to Skaelingar - we walk to the rock pillars of Skaelingar.
 6. Eldgja and Alftavatn - the extraordinary ‘fire canyon’.
 7. to Strutslaug - the geothermal pool.
 8. Still at Strutslaug - obsidian and a walk in the high rhyolite, or not.
 9. to Hvanngil - up a frozen river in a snowstorm.
10. to Krokur - the Northern Lights.
11. to Einhrningur - the unicorn.
12. to Fljotsdalur - Eyjafjallajokull, the Markarfljot plain and civilisation.
13. A Last Walk - views along the Markarfljot plain to the Westman Islands.
14. Reykjavik and Home.
Locations (from part 3)

Thursday 1 July 2021

New Month Old Post: Philip Larkin’s Foot

 (First posted 2nd June 2015. Contains strong language.) 

“There I was driving through Holmfirth,” someone said, “and who did I see but Dora Bryan getting out of her car! She must have been filming Last of the Summer Wine. She’s ever so agile for eighty. It must be the dance training.”

“That’s nothing,” someone else said. “I queued next to John Simpson in Lakeland Plastics in York. He was on crutches through being injured in Bosnia.”

“Well, we spotted Ed Miliband in the buffet at Sheffield station,” said a third, “and then Nick Clegg came in. They were taking the piss out each other.”

Why do we have such a need to tell everyone about our encounters with fame? We all do it. The warm glow of vicarious celebrity?

I can’t even resist talking about others who come across someone famous, such as the bloke at work whose cousin was actor Bernard Hepton, or my landlady who lived in the next street to Diana Rigg’s parents. You could write a computer program to generate it: someone you know sees someone you’ve vaguely heard of in some situation at a particular location.

Another landlord told me how, when he worked nights in the ticket office at Leeds Central Station, “that great pansy” Jimmy Savile would turn up after the dance halls had closed, and walk noisily through the station concourse in his long bleached hair and flamboyant clothes drawing attention to himself. “Here he is again,” they used to say, “that big puff, looking for somebody to talk to and hoping to cadge a cup of tea.” We now know he was looking for something else too, but at the time my landlord’s views seemed a little outdated.

The Savile story was always followed by another about his daughter having been at school with Philip Stone, an actor with a head like a light bulb who was in every other television drama you saw.  

They gossip just as much in the fame business itself. In my first job we audited a studio where they made television adverts, where they thought it important to let you know that B.B.C. Look North presenters came in to record voiceovers, and that they once filmed with Benny Hill. “He went off on his own. No one knew where he’d gone. We thought we’d lost him. Turned out he’d gone to the pictures.”

My uncle was one of the few unaffected, despite meeting hundreds of politicians and celebrities through his work in Health and Safety in London. He was there when lasers were beginning to be used in visual effects at concerts, and was annoyed about having to work late one evening to evaluate the risks. “What an awful week,” he complained to his trendy secretary, “just about everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. On top of that I’ve got to attend some awful pop concert tonight  ... Tom Bowie? ... John Bowie? ... something like that.” His secretary was not very sympathetic. My uncle was subsequently quoted in the press as saying that some young girl will have her eye burned out before people realise how dangerous lasers are.

Well, let me tell you, I’ve had my own encounters too. There was the time with my mum on the promenade at Great Yarmouth when she suddenly said “That was Des O’Connor”, referring to a slim young man in sunglasses carrying a light jacket over his shoulder, who had just sauntered past in the opposite direction. “Who?” I asked, and remained little the wiser because his show was the one we didn’t bother to see. And I once saw Jack Charlton in his Range Rover in the Yorkshire Dales.

But my greatest claim to fame is that I stood on Philip Larkin’s foot. I was killing time in the university library so as not to have to bike home without a coat in the rain, when I came across an exhibition of original poetry manuscripts. There were some by Stevie Smith, and one in Andrew Motion’s tiny hand about an aeroplane appearing over the brow of a hill. No one had heard of Andrew Motion then. I knew him through being in one of his tutorial groups.

Other manuscripts were by the great man Philip Larkin himself, the Hull University librarian. That’s what I’d been peering at when, in the limbo-esque silence, I stepped back to move from one display case to the next and trod heavily on something lumpy, which turned out to be Philip Larkin’s foot. His gloomy, bespectacled hulk had been attempting to creep past unheard. I got the full-on, forehead-focused, withering laser-glare, directed through industrial strength frames and lenses. Bits of my brain were crisped and frizzled.  Any hopes I had of becoming a proper writer were clinically extirpated. Lucky I didn’t get my eyes burned out. He skulked off without a word.

Even this story is pretty feeble. The poet Roger McGough tells a much better one about his friend Neville waiting for a bus in the soaking rain when up looms Larkin protected by “the black dome of a capacious umbrella”. Neville eventually plucks up the courage to speak, “I did enjoy The North Ship [a collection of Larkin’s early poems],” at which Larkin glares back and says, “If you think you can begin a conversation with me in order to share my umbrella you’ve got another think coming.”

My day will come! Imagine them all together, burning in some blazing afterlife inferno, condemned to eternal damnation for their vanity:

O’Connor: Tasker Dunham? I remember him. His mother smiled at me at Great Yarmouth. Wonderful people! They loved my show there.
Rigg: I adored him. I knew him so well. He lodged near my parents.
Stone: How coincidental! He lodged with one of my schoolfriend’s parents too. Marvellous sense of humour.
Savile: Now then now then! That was my great friend, Mr. Night Time Ticket Office Man. How’s about that then?
Hepton: Wasn’t he the clever chap who worked with my cousin?
Hill: Yes, of course, where I filmed an ad. I wanted him to write a script for me.
Motion: Well I had the deep privilege of actually teaching him. Very bright. Profound postmodern-romantic sensibility.
Charlton: Handy with his feet too. Could’ve used him at Boro.
Larkin: Handy with his feet? That bastard Dunham! There he was, hatless in his cycle clips, perusing my verse in awkward reverence, when he stamped on my foot. Deliberate! Said he did not mean to but he did. As if he’d leapt off a coastal shelf. They fucked him up his mum and dad. Filled him with all the faults they had. And some extra. Glad I had no kids myself. I was only going to suggest he write one of those blog things to develop his style.


Philip Larkin’s image is from the cover of his book ‘All What Jazz’. 

Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was a leading English poet, novelist and jazz critic, who from 1955 was also the University Librarian at Hull. He was a tall, large, heavily bespectacled man who carried a perpetual air of gloomy misanthropy about him. He could also be hilariously funny. The last paragraph plagiarises two of his best known poems, ‘This Be The Verse’ and ‘Church Going’. 

Dora Bryan (1923-2014) was an English actress and comedienne. One of her last television roles was in the comedy series ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ filmed in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. 

John Simpson (born 1944) is a veteran B.B.C. foreign correspondent. 

Ed Miliband (born 1969) and Nick Clegg (born 1967) were prominent British politicians who led the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. Both resigned their leaderships immediately after the 2015 General Election. Nick Clegg then left politics and is now a Vice-President at Facebook. 

Bernard Hepton (1925-2018) and Philip Stone (1924-2003) were actors from Bradford and Leeds who appeared in numerous British films and television productions during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. 

Diana Rigg (1938-2020) was an acclaimed English actress known for her major television, film and theatre roles, but perhaps most famous for her roles in the television series ‘The Avengers’ (1965-68) and more recently ‘Game of Thrones’ (2013-). 

Jimmy Savile (1926-2011) was a well known television personality and charity fundraiser who originated from Leeds. After his death it emerged he had been a highly prolific predatory paedophile and sex offender of gargantuan proportions. 

Benny Hill (1924-1992) was an English comedian and actor. He was widely popular in his day but subsequently fell out of favour because many considered his humour to be sexist. 

David Bowie (1947-2016) was an English singer and songwriter who many considered innovative. 

Des O’Connor (1932-2020) was a popular English comedian, singer and television presenter. 

Jack Charlton (1935-2020) was a Leeds United footballer and member of the England 1966 World Cup winning team. He later managed Ireland. When I saw him he was manager of Middlesbrough (“Boro”).

Andrew Motion (born 1952) is an English poet, novelist and biographer who lectured at Hull University from 1976 to 1980 and served the country as Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009. 

Roger McGough (born 1937) is an English poet and author who was a student at Hull University from 1955, arriving there the same year as Philip Larkin.