Philip Larkin’s father – shortish, with greyish-white whiskers – was having a go at some army official or politician. “You know they barbequed my son,” he was saying, and he meant it quite literally. During the war, he accused, the troops didn’t have enough resources, they didn’t have enough food. Some platoons turned to cannibalism and Larkin was roasted and eaten by his colleagues.
As I was waking from this dream, semi-conscious, I thought, “is that really how Larkin died? I’m not sure that’s right…” My thoughts also turned to Angela’s Ashes, which I’d been reading before bed. Although no cannibalism as far as I’ve read, it does describe abject poverty and desperation.
While Larkin wrote “they fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / and add some extra, just for you,” Frank McCourt claims to have an infallible rejoinder: “People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version.” At least both authors were of like mind with regards to a happy childood not being “worth your while.”
Once I was fully awake and making breakfast, I remembered the words, “they barbequed him.” Of course! Today I was going to a barbeque for postgraduate students in Coventry, which happens to be where Larkin was born. There’s a pub named after him there.
Coventry, as we know, took quite a roasting itself during the second world war. And in the bit of Angela’s Ashes that I’m reading now, the protagonists’ father is working on a defence plant there. (Larkin had nothing to do with the war, by the way – his bad eyesight saved him the inconvenience of having to fight, so he swanned around at university instead.)
And so my subconscious mashes together literary and historical references. I wonder if, gruesomely, I’d also come up with a link between a person’s ashes and a person being barbequed.
More personally, the dream reflected some of my anxieties about going back to university – am I going to get burned? My flesh torn from my frame like that of a spit-roasted pig?
Well, it turns out the student-barbeque was quite benign. I haven’t met anyone else from my course yet, despite there possibly being eighty of us, but I had some nice chats with a few of the staff, and students from other courses. I’ve enrolled online, and given them my bank details…shit got real.
Lectures start in four weeks time, so to quote Phil: “kick up the fire, and let the flames break loose.”