1 August 2010

Larkin with Toads in Kingston upon Hull: The City Remembers Its Famous Resident 25 Years after His Death

The poet Philip Larkin is being remembered 25 years after his death, in 1985, in Hull - where he spent many years as a librarian at the university - by the introduction of 40 fibreglass models of much larger-than-life toads in and around the city. Each toad is about a metre tall, comes from an original model by Chris Wilkinson, and has been decorated by artists and community groups. Various businesses and members of the public have sponsored the works, and practical support had been given by Artlink. The original intention was to leave the toads there for only ten weeks, although such has been the enthusiastic response to them that they may stay longer.

The toads remind us of Larkin's metaphor for work in his well known poems 'Toads' and 'Toads Revisited', and were initially greeted with scorn by some local residents. I was first acquainted with the toads in this week's TLS, which mentions the problems with Punkphibian, which was scalped twice in two days. Below, I list, with photos, the 40 toad sites I visited this weekend, although I only actually - for reasons mentioned - saw 37 of the toads.

The leaflet 'Larkin with Toads' lists the toads in a rather vague numerical order, beginning with the 27 (or 26) toads in the city center, and continuing with the further flung 13 (or 14) 'Citywide Toads' that stretch as far as Melton Business Park and Beverley. I retain the original numbers.

1. Maritime Toad was originally situated on the third floor of The Deep, Hull's impressive aquarium, although it is now on the ground floor by the admissions desk, presumably as a result of its overwhelming popularity.

2. Typographical Toad is diagonally opposite The Deep at the end of the footbridge across the River Hull.

3. Squatwit (presumably named after Larkin's ambivalent toad squatting on his life) is nearby on Nelson Street.

4. Fish & Chips Toad is at the junction of Humber Docks Street with Wellington Street West.

5. Archi-toad is by Hull Marina over a footbridge slightly to the south of the Holiday Inn.

6. Not to be confused with Tiger Toad, Tigger the Toad is on prominent view on the A63 (Castle Street) by Humber Dock Street.

7. Sponsored by ARC, Hull's regional architectural centre, the impressive Reflective Colours toad stands by the entrance to ARC on the corner of Queen Street and Castle Street.

8. Neat Toad is in Trinity Square in front of the old grammar school the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell attended, which is now a museum.

9. Hull Fair Toad sits in front of Princes Quay Shopping Centre on Princes Dock Side.

10. The Larkin Toad is one of the three toads inside shopping centers, this one being in Princes Quay at the foot of the stairs. I preferred the full frontal view for the expression on this representaton of the poet.

Stop press: for an update on Larkin Toad's whereabouts now, see this.

11. Kasey Toad is an obvious victim of bullying, and it is sad that all we could see was the base where he had been while he's being mended.

12. I also liked the aggressive, and slightly comical, full frontal of Tiger Toad in Queen Victoria Square in front of the Maritime Museum.

13. The Hidden Toad is not hidden at all, but in Victoria Square near the Paragon Street information center.

14. The Chiltern Toad is on Jameson Street, and named after the primary school responsible for the artwork.

15. Teletoad in Paragon Square.

16. Another street casualty, and another Paragon Square toad, and the younger public are led to believe Space hopper is out exploring in space.

17. St Stevens Shopping Centre is taking no chances with this toad, Eastwest, and puts protective ropes around it.

18. In Theatre Square, Ferensway, the much-abused Punkphibian is an obvious crowd-puller, and designer Liz Dees believes the strong new hairdo makes him far more difficult to be sabotaged.

I don't like the grammer.

19. Tequila Toad on Ferensway by Springbank.

20. Heat Toad is in Hull Central Library, but the staff, unlike the inconsiderate Hull Citycare people, (see below), at least leave their toad for the general public to see at times of closure.

21. Kiss Me Quick has also received the vandal deterrent of ropes, this time in the Prospect Shopping Centre.

22. Three Quarters Sky is a Touring Toad, and for a month it's presently housed in The Calvert Centre, which is a fair distance from the city center. So this Saturday, I drove there to find its gates firmly locked and not a toad in sight. Obviously, The Calvert Centre imprisons its toad so no one can see it outside office hours. Another couple drove up behind us in a second vain attempt to find the toad, but of course again had to leave disappointed. They weren't too happy with The Calvert Centre, and nor are we, as this goes against the grain of the 'Larkin with Toads' stated intention to make this a 'mass participation art event'. Ha, but The Calvert Centre wouldn't let us participate!

23. Hull Folk in Kingston Square in front of the Hull New Theatre.

24. Toad in the Hull is a rather lame pun perhaps, but a nevertheless impressive work in front of the Hull History Centre on Worship Street.

25. A delightful Lobelia Toad on the east side of Queen's Gardens.

26. And at the west side of the gardens, the Weather Rain or Shine.

27. Just a few feet from Weather Rain or Shine, one of my favorite toads: Harlequin, Mischievous Man of Mystery.

And after Harlequin, the other toads now leave the center and take up various positions around the city.

28. 10-5 Toad is just outside the entrance to Morrisons on Holderness Road, and quite an attraction with the local teenagers climbing all over it.

29. Not far from 10-5 Toad, in East Park Animal Education Centre, squats Cityscape. The education centre wasn't open at the time of my visit, but - unlike at The Calvert Centre - it was perfectly possible for me to see the toad and take a photo of it through the fence. No arguments here.

30. Also in east Hull, at the entrance to St Ambrose Court on the Bransholme estate, is the delightfully named Labyrinth on My Back.

31. Four toads are in close proximity to each other around the Anlaby Road area, this Topographical Toad being on Woodcock Street.

32. A few hundred yards away, on Hawthorne Avenue, is The Newington Toad, named after its creators from Newington Primary School.

33. The St George's Toad on St George's Road.

34. The Carnegie Toad faces the Carnegie Heritage Centre in West Park. I rather like the 'Read it Read it' pun on the sound toads make.

35. Hull Toad Poem on Princes Avenue.

36. My favorite of them all, Twinkle Toad on the Artlink Balcony on Princes Avenue. Artlink cheerfully lets the public enter to photograph the toad, which actually does sparkle electrically. Here again, Hull Citycare take note, it doesn't matter too much if the place is open or not, as the toad is clearly visible from the road.

37. Floral is in a lovely setting in Pearson Park, just a very short distance from where Larkin used to live on the road of the same name - Pearson Park.

38. Global Pop Toad is multicolored, and the toad that 'Larkin with Toads' features on its cover. It is in Cottingham Road, just inside the grounds of the University of Hull.

39. Magenta Toad is on Gibson Lane, Melton Business Park, as opposed to Melton village, from which we were re-directed by a lovely woman walking a dog. This is the most distant toad from the center of Hull, but surely one of the most arresting?

40. In the town of Beverley about seven miles from Hull is the final monster - Tannery Toad.

Really, though, instead of toadspotting, wouldn't I be better employed reading Larkin's books? No, of course not: Larkin said '[b]ooks are a load of crap.' As Larkin wasn't, er, averse to the French language, did he think that writers are just a load of crapauds?
How do the United States compare? Try Cherokee, North Carolina, and Aiken, South Carolina.

ADDENDUM: Below is a link to a 16-minute professional video clip about the Larkin toads project, plus my other links to Larkin.
Larkin with Toads

Philip Larkin and Coventry, Warwickshire
Philip Larkin in Newland Park, Hull
Philip Larkin in Cottingham Cemetery


Anonymous said...

My children love these toads and we were lucky that all the 1s weve been to so far was all there and with minimul vandalism except for a giant penus drawn on the 1 down woodcock street we have 6 more 2 see and now the touring toad is at bilton grange i hope we dont have the problem you did at calvert lane.... Mr m todd east hull ps i have attached a link to our toad hunting http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/album.php?aid=221548&id=1107084097&ref=mf mr m todd east hull

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I've only just seen this - for some reason, Google won't send any notifiucation of posts, although I've ticked for it!

Thanks for the post!

Dr Tony Shaw said...

And the link won't work!

pja said...

Loooove the toads. Pity about not being able to see the one at the Calvert Centre

Anonymous said...

Sunday 15th August
Seen and photographed my children with 38 of the toads so far. Just the Beverley toad and the touring toad to go - lets hope that Bilton Grange medical centre have it on view when they're closed or we will have a very disappointed 5 and 8 year old boy and girl. We saw the Megenta toad last thing yesterday at Melton, but all agreed that it seems like a very lonely place for a toad and think that it should be either relocated or given a friend. The kids were so upset that it was out there in the middle of nowhere all alone that they didn't want to leave. Overall we love the toads and think that its a fantastic idea - and as a 34 year old from Hull got a chance to visit places that I hadn't been to since I was a child. By the way, just an idea - maybe a personalised certificate that can be downloaded from the internet if a child completes the trail??? 10/10!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know that if you wish to see the touring toad at bilton grange medical centre then you will need to go when the doors are open as its inside in the lobby. Luckily when i took the kids today (sunday) we were able to go in. We have now photographed all 40 and are putting an album together for each of the kids!!! We have all discovered a new love of toads.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

The certificate's a good idea, but I fear it's a bit too late in the day, as the toads are only scheduled for a 10-week appearance.

And as I'm off to the States for three weeks next week and busy preparing now, it seems I'll have to give the touring toad a miss.

Never mind - I look forward to seeing the Larkin statue at Paragon Station this November!

Anonymous said...

being a childminder this seemed an ideal activity to do with the children, we have done and photographed 34 of the toads so far, mission for today are the west hull 4, as someone who doesnt drive we have found this fun to do with the children but have found it hard to accomplish without a car, luckily grandad came to the rescue so we could visit the melton toad, if something like this is planned for the future maybe the organisers should consider the none car drivers of the world, other then that it has been a really enjoyable task

Anonymous said...

We have now seen all 40 the children loved every min of looking for them and are nagging to go and see them everytime were in town sorry the link didnt work but if you add me as a friend on facebook i have the album of my children with all 40 toads ..........m todd east hull

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thanks, m, but I still can't find you on facebook! It's probably just me, and I'll have a closer look when we return from holiday. Meanwhile, have you seen the Cherokee bears I've posted? The coincidence seems startling to me: could this be where the idea came from? For anyone unsure of how to find them on this blog, just include the search term 'cherokee bears' (without the inverted commas) into the blogger symbol top left of the blog.

Anonymous said...

Lovely idea. Here in Switzerland, where this exiled North Lincolnshirian, ex-Humbersidian lives they go in for brightly-painted fibreglass cows. However, is Toad number 2 really by the footbridge across the River Humber. When was this marvel built? Isn't it rather across Humber Street?

Dr Tony Shaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr Tony Shaw said...

Ah, thanks for pointing this out, although according to Google maps – maybe not the most reliable source – it seems to be the mouth of the River Hull! All have now been bought up of course, although Larkin Toad is on the first floor balcony of a private house near the university: I'll include a link.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Correction: I'd already included a link in the comment under Larkin Toad, although I have included a new link to my Larkin in Coventry post.