Sometimes you come across books in the most bizarre of circumstances. In this time of lockdown with libraries and bookshops being closed, people have taken to putting books out in the street for others to take, and a couple of weeks back I happened to pass a local craft shop where the owner had done just that. On her windowsill sat a bunch of books all thoughtfully wrapped in plastic and just waiting to be taken home and read. Aha! I thought. I’ve never read The Darling Buds of May; I’ll take that one.
Not only had I never read the book, I’d not watched the TV series either, though it was very popular at the time. It starred David Jason and now that I’ve finished reading, I can see exactly why. Though it was published in 1952, it could have been written for him; every time Pop Larkin speaks I hear David Jason’s voice.
Ma and Pop Larkin inhabit an idyllic rural world where without anyone doing too much work there is a superabundance of food and drink. This is lavishly described, as are the prodigious dimensions of Ma Larkin, reminding us that 1952 was still a time of rationing. Into this bucolic world enters Mr Charlton, a hapless tax collector sent by the Inland Revenue to persuade Pop Larkin to cough up what he owes. But Charlton is completely swept away by the overwhelming hospitality of the Larkins and despite his protests ends up staying the night – and the weekend – and, having fallen in love with Mariette, the rest of his life with the Larkins.
So similar is Pop Larkin to Del-Boy Trotter that I can’t help wondering whether the one was based on the other. Both series deal with the rise of the working class; in Buds of May, the Larkins are generally better off than their aristocratic neighbours whereas Del-Boy merely aspires to be so. There’s also a gentle and open-minded attitude to sex which must have been deeply refreshing in the buttoned-up ’50’s; when at the beginning of the book Mariette announces that she’s pregnant, rather than reacting with righteous fury Pop Larkin says ‘Oh? Well, that don’t matter. Perfick. Jolly good.’
It’s all great fun and a far cry from poor old Philip who was writing at the same time, sexually frustrated, pent-up in lodgings and miserable to the core. Nevertheless he was a great poet and here, specially for Beetley Pete, is his poem Days: