Monday, 27 September 2010

Larkin with Toads - Part One

I have failed in my duties as Hull Ambassador. I should have told you all about this months ago, when I first planned to. I don’t know what happened though – I wanted it to be a good post but for some reason couldn’t find the words so I just kept putting it off and putting it off. And then I knew that I was going to have to do some serious photo mosaic-ing and it just never seemed to happen.

And now it’s too late really to share it all with you.

Do you remember my post about Roy Hattersley and about how we Hull people like to adopt those that have anything vaguely, remotely to do with our city? (Don’t get us started on Maureen Lipman baby.) We have another adopted famous person – one Phillip Larkin. No he isn’t originally from Hull but he worked here (at the University of Hull library) and lived here and that’s good enough for us.

This year is the 25th year since he died and there have been a host of commemorative events organised by Larkin25 which are taking place between 12th June and the 2nd December.

The largest part of this project has been the Toad trail – which saw 40 giant fibreglass toads placed all around Hull city centre and the wider area. They were inspired by two of Larkin’s poems Toads and Toads Revisited. 

The exhibition/installation/whatever arty word is appropriate has not been without its low points. Unfortunately there are times when Hull disappoints me and none more so when it comes to culture. It’s just not given a high enough premium in the city. People “don’t see the point” in having cultural exhibitions in the city, it’s seen as a waste of money. When the Toad project was first announced, it caused a storm of publicity for all the wrong reasons. Council money was earmarked for the project and when there was an outcry from culturally-deprived people that it was a waste of money, the Council didn’t have the guts to stick by its conviction and instead withdrew their funding
I hope they are hanging their heads in shame now.  

The Toad project was reduced in size, but went ahead anyway, with most of the toads being sponsored by local businesses and schools. And guess what? It’s been ridiculously popular. The Council missed out on a huge trick here – they could have raked in money in merchandise, but because they have no balls and are as short-sighted as some of the people they represent they have lost out big time.

And when the toads were first plonked down in their locations there was a massively irritating spate of toad vandalism in the first couple of weeks. Poor Kasey Toad had a big hole kicked in his side the first weekend he was out and someone pulled off Punkphibian’s mohican. I so desperately didn’t want that to be the story of the toads – Hull doesn’t get to have nice cultural things because there are morons who just want to spoil it – and fortunately it wasn’t. After the initial vandalism, things calmed down and we began to just view them as part and parcel of the furniture.

I became over-the-top ridiculously excited about this project. Having seen the Cow Parade in Manchester and Prague I was loving the idea of having toads all over the city and the first day that they arrived I rushed out to Tourist Information to get my toad map. Once it was in my sweaty little hands I made a declaration – I was going to photograph each and every one of these toads. By hook or by crook they would become mine.

I don’t really know quite why I took to it so wildly and somewhat worryingly. I think it was just that it coincided with a fairly crappy time in my life and this gave me something fun to focus on. It allowed me to spread my little independent wings – some of these toads were spread across the city and not having a car doesn’t make them easier to get. Had I still been with my boyfriend we would have gone in his car to get them – it was important to me that I get as many of these toads on my own as possible, this was a demonstration that I could do things on my own.

(That’s not to say that I didn’t have help – on the way to stay at Culture Friend’s house she took a small detour so I could capture Magenta Toad and also walked with me around the docks and marina on our Day of Culture and my Mum took me on a trip out to Beverley to see Tannery Toad.)

It was more that this was a project for me to get excited about. Oh it’s hard to explain. This is why this post is so delayed you see, I couldn’t find the words to tell you that I liked this project not just because it was amazing, but because it somehow became representative to me of my new life.

And now I sound like a twat.

Anyway. I should have told you about this much earlier and persuaded you to come to Hull and see them for yourself. But I didn’t and now it’s too late because they were auctioned off this weekend (my plan was to provide photos but I ended up not being able to go) and today they are being moved and taken to their new loving homes.

So I’m hoping that you’ll indulge me with a couple of posthumous toad posts today and tomorrow as I try (and try and try and try) to explain how important this exhibition was both to Hull and to me. 


  1. The toads are wonderful. I love the concept and the execution. I can understand how these characters captivated you so much. I also understand the drive to visit them all as "proof" to yourself that you are strong and independent. Sometimes an idea grabs hold of you and the only outcome is to see it through.

    The idea of art and culture is to capture the imagination and this exhibition obviously worked in a way that may not have been the intention of the organisers but every viewer of art makes their own experience. This exhibition will obviously stay with you a long time and remind you that you are smart and determined and perfectly capable of standing on your own two feet. Sometimes we have to set ourselves tests and yours was such a fun one!

  2. I dont think you sound like a twat at all! And I "get" your reasons for wanting to do this. Culture often is an escapism form and its a shame thatcouncils dont always get it. I may have a jaunt across to take a look - they have something similar happening in Skipron with pigs I think. xxxx

  3. They're wicked!! Esp love the one in a space suit!
    There's always going to be people who try and ruin it for everyone else - it was the same in Bordeaux, some cows had obviously been vandalised and it's such a shame
    About the funding, I'm not surprised actually, no one had any guts to stand up to idiots these days

  4. Ace post.

    I'm a huge Larkin fan and I'd no idea about larkin25 - I hope there's still something happening that I can take part in.

    I love all your toads and I think you're ace for being so determined to make the toads a success for Hull and yourself. I'm glad they were there to help you through a tough patch.

    It makes me think of:

    The first day after a death, the new absence
    Is always the same; we should be careful
    Of each other, we should be kind
    While there is still time.

  5. That is absolutely brilliant! Love your mosaic! Susie xxx

  6. Aww I love stuff like this.

    As for vandalism and 'not seeing the point' - don't you just hate the General Public?!

  7. You don't sound like a twat. I think they're great, there were elephants in Norwich a couple of years ago - they were so cute I wanted one. As for those who don't get culture - well it's their loss really isn't it, just a shame some of them feel a need to spoil it for others.

  8. I loved this toady post. the space-toad is my favourite, but they're all pretty cool.

    Vandalism makes me sooooo darn angry - these people need to put on public display themselves and have rotten eggs thrown at them.


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