Tuesday 5 May 2015


I never believed those people who said that when you give up full-time work you find you don't have time to do anything; further, I resolved not to be one of those people who fills their time with unimportant chores (possibly protracted deliberately to fill time) so that they are eternally busy.

And yet I do not seem to have time even to write this Blog. Why would that be?

The reason I write now after many weeks of silence is that I have finally been brought to a complete standstill by...pain. I had a tooth pulled a week ago and it didn't heal properly. I won't assault you with too much information but anybody who has experienced "dry socket" will know what I am talking about (a recent chatroom conversation on Mumsnet compared the pain with childbirth - I won't go there but you get the idea). I am sitting here marginally sedated by Cocodamol and numbed by Ibuprofen, surrounded by the apparatus of dental cleansing - and so, finally, I have time for you, loyal readers.

The filling of my time could be due to unhealthy things: perhaps sheer inefficiency arising from not having the same need to value my time and plan it economically - I dare say there might be some of that; more sinisterly there might be a fear of purposelessness and redundancy - I'm sure some people do fear that but I'm fairly confident that I'm secure on this one; or it might be that I fear that empty time might lead to dark thoughts better avoided or denied - ooh, well, nobody would dare be sure that wasn't the case but I don't sense any ghastly neurosis waiting to break out into my consciousness.

No, I think rather that I have just saved up over most of a life-time a massive list of things I fancy doing, many of them trivial, and the consequence is a disorderly NHS-style waiting list of things to do which never seems to get shorter. What I do need to do is prioritise sensibly, not necessarily do things as they turn up - and that I have not yet done.

But time enough and, if it is true that time goes faster when you are enjoying yourself, then it must mean something that the last five months (five months!) have seemed like as many weeks only. And there is a worry - Time's winged chariot hurrying near - I had better get on and do the really important things.

Although it is important not to get obsessed by mortality...

One of the things on my list which I have now completed was to read (or reread) Philip Larkin's poetry and discover more about him. I had previously read Andrew Motion's rather prissy biography Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life and have just read James Booth's Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love which is less well written but an important corrective confirming Larkin's warmer side.

It is well known that Larkin never settled down with a partner but rather kept two, sometimes three girlfriends at a firm geographical and personal distance over many years. Both biographers put this mainly down to a fear of intimacy and defensiveness about his creative space but I think it is simpler than that. Larkin had an acute consciousness - and fear - about death from an early age and made it clear that this did not just dominate his thinking and feeling but also made everything else pretty much not worth anything. This is what stopped Larkin living with anybody in spite of his passionate nature.

Compare the equally Eeyoreish Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard who broke off his engagement to the lovely Regine Olsen, arguably shattering both their hearts and compromising their whole lives (they were passionately in love), because he saw that their relationship had to end in tragedy (one of them had to die first). But they were only young, too young you would think to worry about that.

Danish Eeyore Soren Kierkegaard

Crikey! This might seem extreme to us but it would only have made sense to Larkin...

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel
, not seeing
That this is what we fear — no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

English Eeyore Larkin with long-term but but not live-in girlfriend Monica Jones

Of course we can all see what he means - he couldn't be deceived by religion and he couldn't buy into what he saw as Epicurean philosophers' sophistry ("specious stuff") about how you "can't fear nothingness".

To me the ability of thoughtful people to enjoy life and thrive in it in spite of Larkin's inexorable logic is a profound mystery, more interesting than questions about the veracity of religion (which most people know the answer to if they are honest with themselves).

Even conventionally religious people may have to address Larkin's oblivion problem because their common sense tells them the truth. Michel de Montaigne feared death - and it stalked him through his daily life - until he had an epiphany. This was precipitated by what is now called a near-death experience when he collided with another horseman when out riding: after that he never feared death again and had a rare old time in spite of some painful kidney stones (now, a chap ejecting one of those through his urethra is probably competition with childbirth).

French Eeyore Montaigne - until age 36 after which he had fun

It would be great to be able to tell you what Montaigne worked out at his moment of truth but, although I am a fan and although he wrote much about the incident and its effect on his thinking, it isn't actually that clear what he means. What he does say, and this is important, is that plenty of sensible people don't fear death overmuch: this is a mystery but it isn't as though some philosophers had found the secret to contentment in life - on the contrary the explanation of the mystery must lie in observing - and engaging in - life, not just in detached theory.

Much depressive illness self-evidently must also have its source in Larkin's problem so there are reasons beyond the philosophical to enquire into this. Personally I feel I mainly inhabit the mysterious rather than the Larkin side of the matter - but I can't say exactly why.


Like Eeyore Larkin had a sense of humour underneath all the grumpiness, perhaps an indication that he could have found his way out of the hole he found himself in. The other of the two greatest poets of the twentieth century, R S Thomas, was even more austere and his sense of humour was well-hidden if just about discernible. They did meet at least once: Larkin described him to his friend Kingsley Amis as "Arsewipe Thomas" - and, in another example of the casual racism which upset Motion so much, said that his one redeeming feature was that at least he didn't seem particularly Welsh!

Welsh Eeyore R S Thomas - really the quintessential Eeyore