That’s the spirit!

‘On you go now! Run, son, like the devil

And tell your mother to try

To find me a bubble for the spirit level

And a new knot for this tie.’

Harry Johnson, Councillor Charlie Casey and A N Other

But still he was glad, I know

When I stood my ground

Putting it on him

With a smile that trumped his smile, and his fool’s errand

Waiting for the next move in the game.


Seamus Heaney … from The Spirit Level (1996)

Famous Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature the previous year. Most of his best poetry, I believe, reflects on his early life and on his relationship with his father.

We have all fallen foul of practical tricksters at one time or another.

I remember my first job – general helper in Henry Thompson’s spirit store in Hill Street – and being sent to Mr Kirk (the manager) or Jimmy or Hughie McInerney (department heads) on such foolish errands.

The first time I was caught.

All the other times I played along, quickly learning how to ingratiate myself with these people. They liked the variety I introduced … A long stand, an extended weight etc. Thus I learned how to reciprocate without causing offence to my superiors.

First lesson of work: never, ever appear smarter than your bosses!

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