Larkin about as toad hits the road

THURSDAY OCTOBER 13 2011 LARKIN TOADS BOOK'Hull author John Hakes in the back of his van with his Larkin Poem toad which he has transported all over the country to photograph with famous personalities for a new book. PICTURE: TERRY CARROTT

THURSDAY OCTOBER 13 2011 LARKIN TOADS BOOK'Hull author John Hakes in the back of his van with his Larkin Poem toad which he has transported all over the country to photograph with famous personalities for a new book. PICTURE: TERRY CARROTT

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The largest arts project ever in Hull hopped off with a range of plaudits and went down a storm with the public.

But Larkin with Toads also jump-started a budding poet’s imagination, who used it to inspire his own quirky journey.

John Hakes was working in Hull when the Larkin25 project was launched, to mark the 25th anniversary of the celebrated Hull poet Philip Larkin’s death which included 40 large glass fibre sculptures of decorated toads going up round the city each with their own theme.

The move honoured two of Larkin’s most famous poems, Toads and Toads Revisited.

Organisers hoped it would be a catalyst inspiring others on their own creative ventures and Mr Hakes has done just that.

After buying the Poem Toad sculpture “on a whim” when the works were sold off at auction for charity, Mr Hakes came up with the idea of writing a book in verse about travelling around the country, meeting sporting and business personalities and other celebrities on the way.

The result is Toads on Tour – a 133-page book written in comic verse, with proceeds going to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Mr Hakes, a former squash professional, said: “The general public were very keen on the toads – there were busloads of primary school children who were brought in to see them.

“People from out of town, tourists were saying how great it was, so there were a lot of good vibes.

“Probably the day after the auction, when I gave it a little more thought, I thought I could do something with it for charity, and maybe could take it on tour, and because they were cheery I could write a cheery comic verse.”

To carry the toad Mr Hakes bought a small Fiat Cargo van – and then started contacting people to help: “It was a bit funny,” he said.

“You have to approach people and say you’ve got an unusual request – would they mind a photo being taken with a large glass fibre toad?”

Among the celebrities ready to play ball was the psychic Uri Geller, who Mr Hakes’ son had met at a theatre several years before. Mr Hakes, Uri and the toad met up on Edgeware Road in London and Uri was happy to pose with a spoon – which he bent in front of Mr Hakes’ eyes. He said: “He’s a very nice man. Everyone I’ve met has a sense of humour – you have to be to be photographed with a huge glass fibre toad in a pub or hotel car park.”

He even took the chance to get a quick photo of the toad by the Houses of Parliament, although that had to be done quickly for fear of arrest.

“Turning up in the van and dragging out the toad right in front of the building could have been anything,” he admitted. “Nobody stopped me because I did it that quickly.”

A poem Eric Bristoad was written after meeting the “Crafty Cockney” darts champion Eric Bristow at the Rutland Arms at Woolsthorpe by Belvoir.

“He was great” said Mr Hakes. “There was nobody who said no.”

Legendary cricket umpire Dickie Bird stumped up time for pictures. Even the police agreed to pose with the Poem Toad.

The toad also visited the model village Bondville at Sewerby – inspiring a poem about him towering over the tiny houses called Toadzilla.

There was also “toadal respect” for a bald eagle called Liberty who posed with the toad at Sion Hill Hall Falconry Centre near Thirsk.

“They said make sure you turn up early. You can have a picture done with the eagle at 10am but don’t come in the afternoon or she’s likely to kill you,” he added.

Mr Hakes admitted the toad had become a friend: “What I have tried to do in this book is take a static toad, give him a personality, make him active and come alive.”

“I am taking what was a serious subject by the Larkin project people but it was fun as well and I’ve tried to carry that fun on and into a different medium. I’ve tried to give the toad a bit more of an identity.”

Emily Penn, who was the director of Larkin25, said: “We always hoped it would inspire creativity.. but we could never have hoped that such an exciting, innovative and madcap venture could have resulted.

“It is wonderful to imagine the toad going off to all those exciting places and meeting famous people and we are delighted that one of the charities who benefited from the Toads auction is getting a further boost.”

The book will be out in December and Mr Hakes is hoping for a signing at Waterstones in Hull – with Poem Toad, of course.

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