two angry old men

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Though lasting literary friendships between natural rivals are not rare — Byron and Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth and Edward Thomas and Robert Frost spring to mind — few have been as durable as the one that began in the Front Quad of St John’s College, Oxford, one afternoon in May 1941 when a mutual friend introduced what their biographer calls ‘the odd couple’ by pointing his fingers at Kingsley Amis while imitating the sound of a gunshot. On cue, the fair-haired freshman yelled in pain, clutched his chest and staggered back to fall on a convenient pile of laundry sacks. Philip Larkin, a deliberately conspicuous figure in drab wartime Oxford, clad in bow tie, yellow waistcoat and the city’s only pair of cerise trousers, was suitably impressed by the performance. ‘I stood silent. For the first time in my life I felt myself in the presence of a talent greater than my own,’ he later publicly recalled.

more from Nigel Jones at The Spectator here.

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