Tom Irwin thinks of himself as Poland, ever afterward. After the motorbike accident and Hector's death and never meeting Dakin for the promised drink. After he's left Cutlers' Grammar School and managed to forget as much as he could – he still thinks of himself as Poland at odd moments in bookshops and pubs and even, most worryingly, in bed.
Of course he'd not been taken by surprise, not completely. It wasn't so long since he'd been in school himself; he recognised the not-so-subtle looks, the way that Dakin – and others, yes, Scripps and Posner certainly – altered their speech patterns when he was around. He'd had a similar urge at that age towards one of the staff at his own school, but he hadn't had the brash confidence and good looks to have ever gone through with such a proposal.
Poland, yes, Poland had known that something was up in 1939, had made some effort at defence, had in the end yielded to the inevitable. Perhaps riding with Hector had been inevitable, too, perhaps Tom's salvation – is it salvation? or merely evasion? – is more than chance. He thinks more than once of writing Dakin at Oxford, even ringing him, but the golden moment passed long ago, he decides, and he would be worse than a fool to try to recapture it.
For that is what history is, is it not? One fucking thing after another, as Rudge said. But history is the past, not the present. Tom has lived in the safe past all his life, and if now his mind tangles up thoughts of invasion and conquest with the brief flirtations he experiences (dark hair, dark eyes, always, and he knows why but refuses to acknowledge it), that is only inevitable.