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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Deaths of Alan Sillitoe and Peter Porter

So Alan Sillitoe and Peter Porter have left us. Their deaths have evoked memories in me.

I remember years ago going to stay in Cambridge for a few days at the invitation of a friend who was reading chemistry at Newnham College. She was there for some weeks in the summer; I think it was known as the Long Vac term. Specific memories of that time: sitting on a river bank on a warm, heavenly evening as the strains of "Dido and Aeneas" reached us from a concert performance somewhere, and discovering a copy of Sillitoe's newly published "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" in the College library and borrowing it and devouring it at speed. When the film of the book came out later it was as riveting and eye-opening as the book and I became a lifelong admirer of Albert Finney's acting.

In the 70's I went to hear Peter Porter read from his poetry and answer questions and it was great...(o: Such a friendly, enjoyable evening. Afterwards I had a long chat with him about Philip Larkin, who was my favourite poet at the time, and for whom I had coveted the Poet Laureateship. Strangely, Porter had recently spent an evening with Larkin ("last Saturday evening", was what he said, if I remember correctly). He was so easy to talk to and unhurriedly generous with his time.

In those days it was easy for me to get about, as it is for most people, and easy for me to read books and to go to lectures and the like, because those were the days before the long, cruel negligence of the National Health Service transformed my life into a dystopian microworld of exhaustion and difficulty. Largely housebound, scarcely able to hold a book because my hands are so delicate - courtesy of the 'caring' professions - and struggling to concentrate on the text, reading is now a rare and painful pleasure.