In the Scottish Review of Books, Alan Taylor writes about Hull, the UK’s 2017 city of culture, and once home to Philip Larkin.
Hull is the UK’s 2017 “City of Culture”. I have never been there but I feel I have. It was, of course, where Philip Larkin lived for much of his life. He was the librarian at its university, a post he took up in 1955 and held until his death in 1985 at the age of 63. Obviously, he was best known as a poet but Larkin was a serious librarian and well-respected in the profession. Like all librarians in higher education, one of his chief bugbears were self-aggrandising members of the academic contingent, of whom there were more than few. They were never shy in promoting their own, often unreadable and meretricious efforts and shamelessly petitioned and pressurised Larkin to acquire them for the library. Whenever he spied such individuals in his bailiwick he would hide in the stacks until they were gone.
One of best anecdotes about Larkin and Hull is to be found in Jonathan Raban’s Coasting, an often hilarious account of a journey by boat round the British Isles. Raban, who was educated at Hull’s university, berthed for a night at Humberside port. Hull, he reported, was “baleful” but “a long way from being morose”, taking the demise of the fishing industry in the same manner that it had taken the Blitz.
“If Hull was going to have to endure hard times, it was going to see them out with good graveyard jokes and a face cast in an unflinching, lopsided grin.”