Updated: Mar 12
My uncle had the most gargantuan bookshelf in all of Wicklow. The doors were so tall it took three men to open them, or rather two men and a six-year-old girl. The knobs were tied together with twine, in case a breeze blew in the adjacent window and caused the doors to open slightly. Luckily that never happened, or else ten shelves of books would be on top of his king-size bed. It didn’t take much for the books to fall out. That’s the problem with bookcases this size, the gravity decreases and the books have a life of their own. Once we opened the towering doors I’d always take a step back for fear of being hit in the head with a thesaurus, or worse an Irish dictionary.
The first edition of the Guinness World Records lay on the very top shelf. It had a photo of the smallest woman ever. I’ve never been one for measurements, as far as I’m concerned a kilogram is one hundred millimetres. This woman was supposedly two feet tall, but my grandfather convinced me she was half an inch in height. And I believed him! This was coming from the man who told me he used to carry me around in his jeans pocket until I turned two.
“You were this size,” he’d state while making a pinching motion with two fingers. I haven’t grown much since.
There was always a fair share of children’s books hanging around the place, but we dusted them off pretty quickly. One night when I felt sick my grandfather read every single children’s book he had, until I fell asleep while he was halfway through the very last one. No matter how many new books we bought, there was only one book that caught my eye ‘Overheard in Dublin’.
For anyone who may be unaware of this literary masterpiece ‘Overheard in Dublin’ lives up to its name, really. I didn’t just love the quotes, or the accents that my uncle would take off, my favourite part was the drawings of the ould wans with their headscarves and hair rollers in because they reminded me of my own nanny.
I was taught how to read at the old age of three, they knew very well I could understand the language. I might not know all the slang but I had a fair idea of what was going on at the best of times. My personal favourites were ‘Can I borrow your face? I want to stop a dogfight’ as well as ‘She’s got a facelift, she’s still ugly it’s just up higher.’ Phrases my family would waddle around the house reciting, no offence shown in the slightest. I’d even throw a few phrases in at the dinner table and no one would bat an eyelid!
The only problem was when I wanted to see one particular drawing. On page fifty-six there was a scary drawing accompanied with an even scarier quote. This phrase was so bold that my grandparents refused to let me read it, for fear I’d repeat it to my mother. My uncle got so terrified I’d read that page that he used to hold each corner of the book while I’d read through it; letting me flick each page then forcefully turning two pages at once when we reached page fifty-five.
One spring day when the cows were calving I decided that this would be the perfect time for me to dig into page the book, especially page fifty-six. I headed into my uncle’s room and (carefully) took the book from the bookshelf. There it was. The drawing of the skinny man with long fingers and swirly eyes, accompanied with the quote underneath. The words don’t bear repeating, but I’ll never forget the fright that ran through my body as the whole house burst through the door amid my reading. They were appalled! They grabbed the book from my hands and ran through the infamous hallway into the spare bedroom where they buried it under the mattress. Luckily my short height helped me bolt down the corridor and onto the bed, squirming past the opposition and taking hold of the book.
It was no use. The book had been censored forever. To this day I still haven’t come across it, even when hunting down titles for my cousin’s bookshop or looking for an encyclopaedia to use as a doorstop. The image of that caricature haunts my mind, but the phrase will scar me forever.