Michael Dibdin

‘What are you?’ As far as I remember, these were the first words ever spoken to me by an Ulsterman. Well, an Ulster child, actually. We would both have been about seven years old and it was my first day at school in the province. I’d previously attended a preparatory school in Cambridge and another in Dunfermline, but neither had prepared me for the question so abruptly shoved in my face that morning. In form it seemed grandiosely philosophical, a rhetorical gesture in the ‘What is the stars, Joxer?’ tradition. But the tone of voice – down-to-earth, menacing – belied that idea. I wasn’t sure what the question meant, but I was left in no doubt that the wrong answer would have unpleasant consequences.

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