'Would you like some … bread?' Heaney asks, tentatively. I tell him that I have already eaten. 'A monastic biscuit then!' he says, and goes off to dig out the tin of digestives from the cupboard. It is, perhaps, the casual exactness of that word 'monastic' that might betray Heaney's profession to one who didn't know.
But then almost no one can be unaware, either, of Heaney's profession, or his stature within it. Irish wags refer to him as 'Famous Seamus' in a sly but proud acknowledgement of his international celebrity, crowned with his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.
Although Heaney was born into a Catholic, nationalist family in Northern Ireland - and once objected to inclusion in a book of British poets with the warning lines: 'Be advised, my passport's green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen' - British readers can't get enough of him: it is an oft-cited statistic that his books account for two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain.