Larkin's friend reveals story of lunch poetry

HE is now considered one of England's greatest poets. But to drinking chum Graham Stroud, Philip Larkin was "just another academic" whose poetry was mostly "hard work".

However, he still treasures an off-the-cuff ditty penned by Dr Larkin, whose death 25 years ago has been marked in Hull this year.

The pair were at a lunch at Hull University where they became friends and Dr Larkin worked as the librarian, Mr Stroud as departmental manager.

Before lunch all they were offered was warm sherry or orange juice, and both were thirsty for a pint.

Mr Stroud recalled: "It is said of Philip that he could not write to order, as he would have been required to do so had he accepted the post of Poet Laureate. But he could write to order in certain circumstances and I proved it on that day. Producing a pen from my pocket I proceeded to write on my place-card: 'Philip. What would you give for a pint, at this moment in time?'

"I folded the card and asked the lady in the big hat if she would mind handing it to Dr Larkin – and she obliged. We had barely got through the melon balls when the lady returned the card. I opened the fold to reveal his response: 'I would be willing to go to ten shilling.' It was the only piece of work that I ever fully appreciated and I often told him so." Following the tributes paid on his death, Mr Stroud realised he had lost not just a good friend, but the only person he had known bordering on famous.

But he also knew had he been more interested in his work "Larkin would have been suspicious of the reason I enjoyed his company and I would never have had the opportunity of making him laugh."

It was the only piece of work that I ever fully appreciated and I often told him so.