Monthly Archives: November 2014

Excerpt from “Q’s Legacy” by Helene Hanff ~~Marks & Co~~

picture-QsLegacy-HanffThen, in September of ’69, I got an assignment to write a full-length book for teenagers on the young reformers of the Sixties. With money coming in I decided to splurge on a set of Jane Austen for my best friend, whose birthday was coming at the end of October; and for the first time in two years I wrote to Frank Doel. (‘Still there, are we?’ I began. And Frank wrote back: ‘Yes, we’re all still here.’)
He had no Austen to sell me, which turned out to be a blessing because the teenagers’ book took much longer than I’d expected and by December, when I began the final draft of the book, I was very low in funds. I thought I’d better phone the editors of the two children’s history series and get an assignment for February.
Both greeted me warmly on the phone, not having heard from me in six months. And in my memory, both broke the same news to me in the same words:
‘Oh, we’re not publishing the history series anymore. These kids won’t read history; they say it’s not relevant.’
That evening I tried to take stock of myself and my future, but there seemed no stock to take. I was a failed playwright, a TV writer whose experience in live TV was useless in an age of film and a writer of children’s history books nobody was publishing anymore. I was nowhere. I was nothing.
In January, revisions of the Sixties book staved off the blank future for a few more weeks. Early one morning I left the house to spend the day going from library to library in search of transcripts of Southern civil rights trials. It was nearly six when I walked into the lobby and stopped in the mail room to pick up my mail. I had an armload of books and I went through the mail that lay on top of them as I rode up in the elevator. Among the pile of bills and throwaways was the familiar blue envelope from Marks & Co.
There was something wrong with it. Frank Doel always typed the name and address single-spaced and always spelled out my first name. On this envelope the typing was double-spaced and the letter was addressed to ‘Miss H. Hanff’. I thought:
‘He’s left the shop.’
I was tired and depressed and the wrong-looking letter threatened to depress me further. I put it on the table and decided it would wait till after dinner. I made myself a rare and extravagant martini and worked a Guardian Weekly crossword puzzle as I drank it. And the letter waited.
I cooked dinner and went on working the crossword puzzle as I ate. Then I poured a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. Feeling more cheerful (‘If he’s left the shop, you can always write to him and Nora at home, you have their address’), I reached for the blue airmail letter.

Excerpt from 84 Charing Cross Road ~~Frank Doel~~


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“Westgate” released by Mark Seymour

My name is Eddie, I am a worn man now
But I know where I was that day
Hiding from the foreman at the base of the tower
When I saw the mighty bridge give way

Bolts started snapping on the western span
They sounded like machine gun fire
You should have heard when she came down
The wind blew me over the wire

And the cold wind blows
Down by the river where nobody goes
Hell broke free when the bridge came down
When the bridge came down

We overheard the engineers
Talk about the master plan
Something about rust and a difference in camber
And buckles in the western span

We went back on the job that day
Well they swore blue murder she would never come down
I got away with six broken ribs
I am the luckiest man around

And the cold wind blows
Down by the river where nobody goes
Hell broke free when the bridge came down
When the bridge came down

When you go to work each day
You think you are going to come back alive
You kiss your wife and your kids goodbye
When you know your going to play to survive

Sometimes I lay awake at night
And think about the ones who died
The riggers and the chippies and the boilermakers
The boys who had nowhere to hide

I think about how proud we were
And how we got a badge all done
You’ve got to trust who you are working with
When the steel starts to buckle in the sun

And the cold wind blows
Down by the river where nobody goes
Hell broke free when the bridge came down

And the cold wind blows
Down by the river where nobody goes
Hell broke free when the bridge came down
When the bridge came down



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Excerpt from “Those Ragged Bloody Heroes” by Peter Brune ~~Golden Stairs~~

picture-RaggedBloodyHeroes-BruneFrom Uberi lay an extremely hard day’s march to Ioribaiwa. Distance, so the soldier would quickly learn, was to be measured not in miles but by the number of gruelling hours’ marching with, of course, usually a 65-pound pack and a weapon to carry. Many men quickly acquired a body-length stick to assist them in their labours. Such a stick was to become a trade mark of the appearance of troops on the Kokoda Trail. The first day’s march across the mountains began with a mile’s rough journey beside the Goldie River, and then a steep and daunting climb up a razorback spur on the Imita Ridge. The soldier was confronted by the first, but by no means the last, excruciating ascent on the Trail – the Golden Stairs.
The Golden Stairs consisted of several thousand logs of wood pushed into the ascent and held in place by wooden pegs. Filthy, putrid mud constituted the rest of the ‘step’. At some points the exposed roots of trees formed the steps thereby making them irregular in distance and shape and often harder to climb, especially for shorter men. The stairs became permanently sodden and slippery because of the daily rains that soaked and saturated the jungle. Men fell, banged knees, shins and ankles on the exposed log steps, gave vent to their anger and struggled agonisingly to their feet; and orderly progress became impossible.
Lieutenant Hugh Dalby, 39th Battalion:
They were so steep . . . We soon had it worked out that instead of trying to walk over the mountain range in sections as we started off doing, and nearly killed ourselves, the next day we set off at intervals . . . So you might be five minutes getting rid of your men. But instead of getting to the next staging place at five o’clock at night when it was dark and have people out looking for you, you’d get there at two in the afternoon because you weren’t hampered by this stop start, stop start.
Periodically the soldier would catch and clutch at a glimmer of hope through the foliage – sky. The top of the ascent was near, extra strength was summoned; the ultimate exhausting effort was put forth; the Golden Stairs were beaten. But the beguiling point of success was repeatedly found to be a false crest and the daunting reality that there were many hundreds of steps still to climb became evident. When the summit was eventually reached, to reveal that the distant horizon bounded a succession of ridges and valleys all of which appeared as formidable as the one just conquered, the true proportion of the torture of the Kokoda Trail began to appall even the toughest soldier.

Soldiers and a native bearer climb the Golden Stairs rising towards Imita Ridge

Soldiers and a native bearer climb the Golden Stairs rising towards Imita Ridge


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Excerpt from “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel ~~Training~~

picture-LifeofPi-MartelIn my case, to protect myself from Richard Parker while I trained him, I made a shield with a turtle shell. I cut a notch on each side of the shell and connected them with a length of rope. The shield was heavier than I would have liked, but do soldiers ever get to choose their ordnance?
The first time I tried, Richard Parker bared his teeth, rotated his ears full round, vomited a short guttural roar and charged. A great, full-clawed paw rose in the air and cuffed my shield. The blow sent me flying off the boat. I hit the water and instantly let go of the shield. It sank without a trace after hitting me in the shin. I was beside myself with terror – of Richard Parker, but also of being in the water. In my mind a shark was at that very second shooting up for me. I swam for the raft in frantic strokes, precisely the sort of wild thrashing that sharks find so deliciously inviting. Luckily there were no sharks. I reached the raft, let out all the rope and sat with my arms wrapped around my knees and my head down, trying to put out the fire of fear that was blazing within me. It was a long time before the trembling of my body stopped completely. I stayed on the raft for the rest of that day and the whole night. I did not eat or drink.
I was at it again next time I caught a turtle. Its shell was smaller, lighter, and made for a better shield. Once more I advanced and started stamping on the middle bench with my foot.
I wonder if those who hear this story will understand that my behaviour was not an act of insanity or a covert suicide attempt, but a simple necessity. Either I tamed him, made him see who was Number One and who was Number Two – or I died the day I wanted to climb aboard the lifeboat during rough weather and he objected.
If I survived my apprenticeship as a high seas animal trainer, it was because Richard Parker did not really want to attack me. Tigers, indeed all animals, do not favour violence as a means of settling scores. When animals fight, it is with the intent to kill and with the understanding that they may be killed. A clash is costly. And so animals have a full system of cautionary signals designed to avoid a showdown, and they are quick to back down when they feel they can. Rarely will a tiger attack a fellow predator without warning. Typically a head-on rush for the adversary will be made, with much snarling and growling. But just before it is too late, the tiger will freeze, the menace rumbling deep in its throat. It will appraise the situation. If it decides that there is no threat, it will turn away, feeling that its point has been made.
Richard Parker made his point with me four times. Four times he struck at me with his right paw and sent me overboard, and four times I lost my shield. I was terrified before, during and after each attack, and I spent a long time shivering with fear on the raft. Eventually I learned to read the signals he was sending me. I found that with his ears, his eyes, his whiskers, his teeth, his tail and his throat, he spoke a simple, forcefully punctuated language that told me what his next move might be. I learned to back down before he lifted his paw in the air.
Then I made my point, feet on the gunnel, boat rolling, my single-note language blasting from the whistle, and Richard Parker moaning and gasping at the bottom of the boat.
My fifth shield lasted me the rest of his training.

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Dialogue from Film – “Roman Holiday” ~~Truth~~

Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), both members of the press, unbeknownst to the Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) are accompanying her on a truant day from her official duties.

ANN [stopping]:
I’m a good liar too, aren’t I, Mr. Bradley?

The best I ever met.

IRVING [dramatically]:

Thank you very much.

JOE [looking over at a building in the distance]:
Say… come with me.

Joe takes her arm, leading her away. They arrive in a small, dark building. They walk inside and up to a large stone carving of a face in the wall.

The Mouth of Truth.
[He stands on one side, Ann the other]
The legend is that if you’re given to lying, you put your hand in there [points to the mouth] it’ll be bitten off.

Ooh, what a horrid idea.

Let’s see you do it.

She looks up worried, but seeing Joe looking at her, feels some resolve and, tentatively, she puts her hand towards the mouth. Ann moves her hand, closer and closer, her fingertips entering the mouth, but loses her nerve and with a nervous giggle, she pulls it back.
Irving stands in the background secretively using his ‘cigarette lighter’ camera.

Let’s see you do it.

JOE [he looks worried for a moment, then finds his nerve]:

Joe takes a step forward, moving his hand onto the lip of the mouth. Ann watches with the tension building. Joe slides his fingers into the mouth and then his hand up to the wrist. He looks at her reassuringly then suddenly gives out a loud cry, struggling to free his hand from the mouth.
Ann screams and rushes to his side, pulling at him from behind.
Joe takes out his hand, apparently severed at the wrist and Ann screams in fright, putting her hands over her face.

JOE [Smiling, he lets his hand spring open, out of his sleeve, and makes to shake hands]:

ANN [stunned for a moment, then lunges at Joe, playfully beating her fists at him, laughing, Joe takes her in his arms as she throws herself toward him]:
You beast! It was perfectly alright! You never hurt your hand!

JOE [letting her go]:
I’m sorry, it was just a joke! Alright?

ANN [laughing still]:
You never hurt your hand.

JOE [calming her]:
I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Ok?

ANN [regaining her composure]:

Alright, let’s go.
[They turn to leave and he cries out, jumping away from the Mouth]
Look out!

Ann screams, running out of the building.
Joe follows her, laughing.





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Excerpt from “Travels With My Aunt” by Graham Greene ~~Bored~~

picture-TravelsWithMyAunt-Greene‘Exactly,’ I said, ‘so you see I needn’t make up my mind. I can go next week, or the week after. We can wait and see how things go.’
‘I have always thought that one day we might be together.’
‘Always, Aunt Augusta? We’ve known each other for less than a year.’
‘Why do you suppose I came to the funeral?’
‘It was your sister’s funeral.’
‘Yes, of course. I had forgotten that.’
‘There’s plenty of time to make plans,’ I said. ‘You may not even want to settle here yourself. After all you are a great traveller, Aunt Augusta.’
‘This is my journey’s end,’ Aunt Augusta said. ‘Perhaps travel for me was always a substitute. I never wanted to travel as long as Mr Visconti was there. What is there in Southwood which draws you back?’
The question has been in my mind for several days and now I did my best to answer it. I spoke of my dahlias, I even talked of Major Charge and his goldfish. The rain began to fall, rustling through the trees in the garden: a grapefruit tumbled heavily to earth. I spoke of the last evening with Miss Keene and her sad undecided letter from Koffiefontein. Even the admiral stalked through my memories, flushed with Chianti and wearing a scarlet paper cap. Packages of Omo were left on the doorstep. I felt a sense of relief as a patient must feel under pentothal, and I let my random thoughts dictate my words. I spoke of Chicken and of Peter and Nancy in the Abbey Restaurant in Latimer Road, of the bells of St John’s Church and the tablet to Councillor Trumbull, the patron of the grim orphanage. I sat on the bed beside my aunt and she put her arm round me while I went over the uneventful story of my life. ‘I’ve been very happy,’ I concluded as though it needed an excuse.
‘Yes, dear, yes, I know,’ she said.
I told her how very kind to me Sir Alfred Keene had been, and I told her of the bank and of how Sir Alfred threatened to remove his account if I did not remain as manager.
‘My darling boy,’ she said, ‘all that is over now,’ and she stroked my forehead with her old hand as though I were a schoolboy who had run away from school and she was promising me that I would never have to return, that all my difficulties were over, that I could stay at home.
I was sunk deep in my middle age. All the same I laid my head against her breast. ‘I have been happy,’ I said, ‘but I have been so bored for so long.’

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Excerpt from “The Source of the River KwaI” by Pierre Boulle ~~Mandalay~~

picture-SourceOfTheRiverKwai-Boulle                                                          February 1942
Come you back, you British soldier;
Come you back to Mandalay!

Rangoon, Pegu, Toungoo . . . I drove all the way across Lower Burma, about two hundred and fifty miles of flat roads, without even sparing a glance for the countryside, so great was my impatience to reach the mountains. My only memory is of buffalo carts forming an uninterrupted column along the tracks reserved for them on either side of the road. The vehicles were laden with Burmans in multi-coloured sarongs, most of them fast asleep, including the driver.
Before leaving I had decided to drive in one lap into China. I had not thought of the petrol problem. Petrol stations were few and far between on the Burma Road; at night they were closed. I prudently stopped in a deserted spot, which I calculated to be about forty miles from Mandalay. I spent the night in the car, woken from time to time by the noise of a convoy of lorries.
I started off again early in the morning and reached Mandalay just as the golden pagodas were beginning to sparkle in the rising sun. I found some petrol fairly easily and, without lingering to look at the palace of the Burman emperors, at last climbed out of the plain and into the mountains, which I was not to leave again for some time.
The first impression of The Road was extraordinary – even better than I had imagined. I stopped a few miles above Mandalay which was dominated by sheer cliffs bathed in a marvellous light. In the distance I could see the immensity of the Burma Plain with its green paddy-fields bordering the Irrawaddy. The huge South-Asiatic range started abruptly at my feet and extended above my head into other loftier, more chaotic, more mysterious mountains. No film has ever given me an idea of this landscape. Nothing here resembled what I had seen in Malaya or Indo-China. The sky was bluer than the sky of Annam; the air was as sparkling as the air of Provence in spring; and the forest, which was as thick as the Malay jungle, did not exude the smell of decay characteristic of equatorial flora.
Mandalay lay at my feet: Mandalay, the town with pagodas even more dazzling than those of Rangoon; Mandalay, with its palace which housed generations of Oriental despots famous for their quarrels and the murders in which they all indulged, so much so that one day the British lion decided to come and establish a little order among them; Mandalay, whose conquest by the handsome soldiers of the Indian Army was hymned by Kipling* and which was to presently experience the Japanese invasion. The few unfortunate thousands of British soldiers defending Rangoon and the plain were soon to be driven back toward these cliffs, cross these reputedly impassable mountains, make their way to India and from there prepare for a glorious return.

*Kipling again – what dreadful colonialists we were!

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