Thursday, 9 August 2012


Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin was born 90 years ago today, 9 August.  In 2008, The Times identified him as Britain’s greatest post war writer.  (Fantasy Bob’s career was still dormant at that time which gave them a restricted choice of nomination).  He died in 1985.

Larkin’s most celebrated works are 2 collections of poems, The Whitsun Wedding and High Windows which speak with a distinct voice of nostalgia and disappointment, identifying the everyday through a distinct gaze of pessimism.  His most famous verse is found in a poem called Annus Mirabilis published in 1967

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Given his poetic voice it is a surprise that cricket, redolent as it is with nostalgia and disappointment, did not feature as a subject in his poetry.  Fantasy Bob is aware of only two cricketing references in his work. The first comes in To the Sea, a poem in the High Windows collection.  In this poem he describes his idealised memories of being on the beach as a child and comparing them with the less idealised beach he encounters now. Among the childhood memories he records ‘As when, happy at being on my own,/I searched the sand for Famous Cricketers,’ a reference to finding cigarette cards discarded on the beach by careless adults. (Litter was an issue even as he recalls it. ) Famous Cricketers cards originated in the late 1890s and different series ran up until the Second World War when they were discontinued to save paper and were never reintroduced.  Valued then, they are highly collectable items now but for Larkin a symbol of a past disappeared.

The other cricketing reference in Larkin’s work that FB is aware of is in his poem MCMXIV which describes a photograph of a scene on the outbreak of the First World War with the men waiting to sign up for the Forces ‘Standing as patiently/As if they were stretched outside/The Oval or Villa Park’ What they were about to encounter was no sporting activity, they were embarking on.  As the poem’s devastating last line says ‘Never such innocence again.’

Larkin’s reputation remains a subject of disagreement. Some find his poems too downbeat and too conventional in form. Others objected to the racism seen in the post-mortem publication of his letters (though not evident in his poems). More information about his serial womanising also came to light and put the lie to the claim in his most famous lines quoted above that ‘it was too late for me’, for he had been at it since well before 1963 in a manner that would have left him little time for net practice. But he remains a great writer – even though having little to interest cricketers.

Wayne Larkins meanwhile is not a poet of any merit, but a fine cricketer. The former Northants opening batsman is another player of the 1980-90s who might have achieved more than he did.  His Test call ups came at the wrong time.  In all he had 13 Test matches scoring a modest 493 runs at 20.54, and 25 ODIs. In his First Class career he scored 27,142 runs in 482 matches, with 59 centuries and a highest score of 252. His first spell in the Test side ended when he ill advisedly went on a rebel tour to South Africa. He was brought back in 1990-91 to partner Graham Gooch in the West Indies and Australia but with limited success. But Larkins could demolish any attack - he was Sehwag before Sehwag had been invented. His nick name was Ned and county bowlers of the period referred to being Nedded when he took them apart - as he frequently did.

Always a bit of a lad, a smoker and bar room stalwart throughout his career, Larkins' post cricket life is not particularly edifying as he was convicted of illegally gaining a mortgage for which he received a suspended sentence.

Larkin and Larkins – in many ways a couple of Larrikins.

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