Larkin’s Wonderful Underpants


My favourite poet is Philip Larkin and when I’m out walking on the moors I listen to him reading his poems about the magical mundanity of daily life. Rather than reading his poems as black words on white pages I prefer his unhurried voice tipped down into my ears. I use the repeat facility on the mp3 player and find his soporific tones to be soothing. He’s Britain’s best-loved poet with good reason despite his lifetime’s output of just four slim volumes (and two threadbare novels.)


When a long-awaited tomb of a biography came out I bought it. Before casting an eye on the text I looked at the few glossy photos to see if there were any I hadn’t seen before. One showed a photo Philip had taken in his back garden of a hedgehog. Later he wrote a poem, The Mower, about a hedgehog he’d killed while mowing the lawn (possibly this hedgehog.) In this photo there is a pair of wonderfully huge underpants on the washing line. You could use them as a ground sheet in a family size tent. Surely anyone taking a photo would exclude such huge knickers from the shot - or take the photo from an angle that omitted the washing. Often when I’m taking photos of my paintings in progress I take them from angle so the camera doesn’t pick up my inflatable dolls One-Jug Joyce and Dry-Crevice Dora.


I thought those gigantic underpants were terrific and here’s a painting with them in mind. The white undergarment may belong to Philip as he was a big man (one letter to a friend started, “So now we face 1982: 16 stone 6, gargantuanly-paunched, tired of living, scared of dying.”) They’re not very masculine so they may have belonged to his partner Monica. Philip had two main girlfriends who knew of one another for 18 years but Monica’s mind was most aligned with Philips and she eventually moved in with this confirmed bachelor. All three were close in life and are close in death, too. Their graves form a triangle in Cottingham Municipal Cemetery and I’ve visited them. Geeks see this link…


The painting flowed easily and there were no problems to tackle. I added a bra as you don’t see enough bras in oil paintings do you?


The poem is just a few lines long…


Hedgehog stuff

Hedgehogs got their name as they spend most of their day foraging in hedges.

An average ones had 5000 quills and 350 fleas.

They make pig-like grunts and are immune to snake venom.

When exposed to pungent taste or smells the rub frothy saliva on their quills but nobody knows why.

They are solitary. A male circles and female for hours until she is ready to mate but once he has mated he disappears (a bit like many men.)

The female has 1 to 11 babies which are blind for a month. About a month after birth the young are taken out to forage for ten days and they separate from the mother.