Julian Barnes agreed to come and talk to students at Hull about his book A Sense of an Ending on one condition – he would be taken to visit the grave of Philip Larkin.
Cottingham claims to be England’s largest village and swells to join itself to Hull. I drove out to the cemetery at its far side, so I could learn the way and lead Julian Barnes directly. A main road edges the cemetery so traffic sounds intrude through a high hedge, but otherwise there’s a sense of rural calm. Gravestones are low and many.
A man walking his dog guided me through the maze. I sat on the grass while rabbits grew used to me and hopped closer. My phone rang. My partner was overseas. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I’m sitting on Philip Larkin’s grave,’ I replied.
The gravestone could have stated ‘Poet’ or ‘Librarian’ but Larkin chose simply ‘Writer’. I brought Julian Barnes to stand before it. Some rows behind the grave lie the remains of his girlfriend Monica. Away to the left lies another girlfriend, Maeve. She has chosen Larkin’s lines for her own epitaph: ‘And what remains of us is love.’