My father says

Brian Dillon

  • The Sailor in the Wardrobe by Hugo Hamilton
    Fourth Estate, 263 pp, £16.99, February 2006, ISBN 0 00 719217 7

I owe what sense I have of the power of the word to a man whose power depended on words failing him. The first time I heard the term ‘West Brit’, it was spat out by a florid-faced teacher at a suburban Dublin school in the early summer of 1981. He was, I suppose, feeling harried: a week earlier, the stick with which, stuttering to a stop, he would, thin-lipped, beat us, had been stolen. To my horror, the word in the playground was that the thief had been inspired by an essay of mine, read out to the class by the soon-to-be-offended party himself; it was entitled, fairly unambiguously: ‘The Day I Stole the Teacher’s Stick’. Today, however, he was exercised by another sort of crime, a cultural betrayal of which we were all, apparently, guilty. Did we not watch British television? Listen to British music? Follow English football teams? We were so thoroughly anglicised, he conjectured, warming to his topic (and maybe by now missing the punctuating wallop of the old cane on his ample thigh), that we would probably favour the English team against our own. This last seemed preposterous to a roomful of 12-year-old boys; but something of his anger seeped in, along with my guilt at the episode of the stolen stick, so that I felt myself, for the first time, somehow insufficiently Irish.

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[*] The first, The Speckled People, was reviewed in the LRB, 7 July 2003.