Category Archives: Literature

Excerpt from “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World” by John Baxter ~~Foie gras~~

My own introduction to foie gras was, in a way, my introduction to France, and to the rigor that sustained its apparent self-indulgence. On a visit to Paris in the 1970s, when Marie-Dominique was my girlfriend and not my wife, we lunched at one of the big brasseries near the Gare du Nord, where, she suggested I might enjoy foie gras as a starter.
Well, try anything once. And I didn’t want to appear gauche by admitting it was my first time.
The thin slices of liver, gleaming gold and beige with the slickness of fat, arrived, garnished with the gelée that gathers when it’s cooked. A metal dish contained slices of thin dry toast folded in a napkin.
“There’s no butter,” I said, scanning the table.
“Why do you need butter?”
“For the toast.”
“For foie gras, you don’t butter the toast.”
“Dry toast isn’t very inviting,” I protested. “Couldn’t we ask the waiter?”
Non!”
Her vehemence was startling. I shut up and ate my toast dry – to find, of course, that she was perfectly right. Foie gras is as fatty as butter and to combine the two would have been absurd. Even worse, from the French point of view, it would have transgressed the spirit of comme il faut – the way things should be. In doing so, it would have also, which was worse, invited the derision of the waiting staff (“Can you believe, this plouc of a tourist wanted butter with foie gras!”) and thus made us look foolish. This had already happened on an earlier trip to Paris for the BBC. After a hard day of interviews, the producer and I returned to our hotel and, not realizing the French never drink cognac before dinner, ordered a reviving Courvoisier while we waited for Marie-Do, whom we were taking to dinner.
As she sat down, the waiter asked superciliously, “Mademoiselle also desires a digestif?”

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Excerpt from “Not Dead Yet” by Phil Collins ~~Audition~~

The first person I see is a tall, distinguished-looking fellow in carpet slippers and what looks like a Noël Coward smoking jacket.
The only thing missing is a Sobranie being inhaled through a cigarette holder. He’s youthful-looking, but wonderfully casual, the kind of guy you want to be when you grow up. But if this is Peter Gabriel’s dad, how young is Gabriel?
Turns out it’s not his dad, it’s his band mate. Mike Rutherford, nineteen, is the bassist/guitarist with Genesis. Like my dad, his dad has a lot of experience with boats. Except his dad is a Royal Navy admiral.
A grand piano has been hauled on to the terrace, and hovering in the shadows, about to play it, is another chap. He introduces himself as Tony Banks, Genesis’ twenty-year-old keyboard player. My first impressions? I don’t really have any. Tony is reserved to the point of invisibiity, another politely spoken young man who won’t say boo to a goose – unless, I soon find out, that goose plays the wrong chord.
Finally I meet Peter Gabriel. He’s twenty and cut from the same fine cloth as his band mates. His demeanour can be summed up as hesitant, one hand clutching the other arm at the elbow, almost shy, very embarrassed, don’t-look-at-me-I’m-not-here. He’s in charge – well, his parents are, it being their house – but doesn’t want to be seen to be in charge.
‘Um,’ he begins, ‘maybe we should go indoors and listen to the album in the living room?’

Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Phil Collins

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Excerpt from “A Hard Day’s Night” by John Burke, based on the screenplay by Alun Owen ~~Puddles~~

Ringo moved away along the pavement.
A young woman came around the corner and headed towards him.
Now this is what Grandfather had been talking about. She was dainty and elegant, and it made you feel good just to look at her. There might be clouds in the sky behind and above her, the traffic might be gushing diesel fumes and the coke brazier might be laying a pall of grit across the pavement; but when creatures like this appeared, you knew that the world wasn’t such a dump after all.
The girl was stepping neatly, smilingly around a series of puddles. As there had been no rain today that Ringo could recall, the puddles must have come from a burst water main (which perhaps the workmen were repairing), a window cleaner’s clumsily handled pail (going up as the workmen dug deeper), or the dregs of a series of teapots (tossed away by the workmen after one of their breaks).
The setting was right, the mood was right. Ringo twitched the mackintosh from his shoulders and, with a flourish which would have turned Sir Walter Raleigh pale with envy, swept it across one of the puddles as the girl approached.
She faltered, then smiled graciously and walked over it.
Ringo backed away in front of her, whisking the mackintosh away and spreading it over the following puddles. The girl laughed and Ringo laughed back at her. Yes, you had to admit it: there were more things in life than beating out four in a bar and putting your earnings in the Post Office.
Suddenly the girl disappeared. One moment she was there, the next she had gone. And Ringo’s mackintosh had gone, too. By now, well and truly in the rhythm of the thing, he had reached out to snatch the coat away and spread it over whatever dark patch appeared next. But he groped at thin air.
And then the girl was yelling. And a man’s voice, a bit muffled, was adding a bass continuo.
The man appeared. He waved something in the air to get it freed from his head and arms – and the something was Ringo’s mackintosh. And the man, his head peeping furiously over the edge of the hole in the road, had someone clinging to him. It was the girl, collapsed over his shoulder. The workman tried to straighten her up, and found himself pinned in the hole with his arms round her.
Ringo, in what might be described as a flash of intuition – though this is not how the workman was describing it right at this moment – decided that he must have spread his raincoat over space rather than over a puddle. It was an unfortunate but perfectly understandable mistake.
The trouble was that nobody seemed disposed to understand. There was a general air of unpleasant criticism about.
A smart young man came hurrying round the corner as though he had lost something or as though he were anxious to catch someone up. His sleekness matched that of the young woman and it was clear that they belonged together. It was also clear that he was hurrying to catch her up and that he had in fact lost her – down a hole in the road, into the arms of a stupefied workman.
The workman was climbing out, supporting the girl.
The young man dragged the workman’s arm away from the girl’s shoulder and hit him, careless of the strikes or go-slow decisions which might result.
Ringo decided to abandon his mackintosh. He backed cautiously away over another sequence of puddles, and then turned to run.
He ran straight into the waiting policeman.

 

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Excerpt from “A Long Way from Home” by Saroo Brierley ~~Discovery~~

There didn’t seem to be any train lines in this part of the country, which might have been why it was relaxing to look at. But once I’d noticed that, I found myself almost subconsciously looking for one. There were villages and towns dotted around here and there, and I wondered how the people travelled without rail – perhaps they didn’t get around much. And further west, still no tracks! Then, as the countryside flattened out into farmlands, I finally came across a little blue symbol denoting a train station. I was attuned to looking for them, I was somehow relieved to find it, and I checked out the tiny wayside station, just a few buildings to the side of a reasonably major train line with several tracks. Out of habit, I started tracing the route as it wound south-west. I quickly came across another station, a bit bigger, again with a platform on only one side of the tracks but some areas of the township on either side. That explained the overpass, and was that . . . was that a water tower just nearby? Holding my breath, I zoomed in for a closer look. Sure enough, it was a municipal water tank just across from the platform, and not far from a large pedestrian overpass spanning the railway line. I scrolled over to the town side and saw something incredible – a horseshoe-shaped road around a square immediately outside the station. The ring road I used to be able to see from the platform. Might it be? I zoomed out, discovering that the train line skimmed the north-west of a really large town. I clicked on the blue train station symbol to reveal its name – it was called Burhanpur.
My heart nearly stopped. Burhanpur!
I didn’t recognise the town, but then I’d never been in it – I’d never left the platform. I zoomed back in and re-examined the ring road, the water tower, the overpass, and they were all positioned where I remembered them. That meant, not far away, just up the line, I should find my home town, Ginestlay.
Almost afraid to do so, I dragged the cursor to pull the image north along the train line. When I saw that the track crossed a gorge just on the edge of the built-up area, I was flooded with adrenalin – I remembered in a flash that the train I took with my brothers travelled on a small bridge over a gorge like that, before pulling in to the station, I pushed on more urgently, east then north-east, zooming in moments over seventy kilometres of green farms, some forested hills and small rivers. Then I passed across some dry flat land broken up by a patchwork of irrigated farmland and the occasional small village, before I hit a bridge over a substantial river and I could see the town’s outskirts ahead. The river’s flow was significantly reduced below the bridge by dam walls on either side. If this was the right place, this was the river I used to play in, and there should be a bigger concrete dam wall to my right a little further from the bridge.
And there it was, clearly visible as if on a sunny day, which it must have been when the satellite passed overhead and took the picture.
I sat staring at the screen for what seemed like an eternity. What I was looking at matched the picture in my head exactly. I couldn’t think straight, frozen with excitement and terrified to go on.

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Excerpt from “The Stand” by Stephen King ~~Mankind~~

“What’s the other possibility?”
“That we may finish the job of destroying our species ourselves,” Bateman said calmly. “I actually think that’s very possible. Not right away, because we’re all too scattered. But man is a gregarious, social animal; and eventually we’ll get back together, if only so we can tell each other stories about how we survived the great plague of 1990. Most of the societies that form are apt to be primitive dictatorships run by little Caesars unless we’re very lucky. A few may be enlightened, democratic communities, and I’ll tell you exactly what the necessary requirement for that kind of society in the 1990s and early 2000s is going to be: a community with enough technical people in it to get the lights back on. It could be done, and very easily. This isn’t the aftermath of a nuclear war, with everything laid to waste. All the machinery is just sitting there, waiting for someone to come along-the right someone, who knows how to clean the plugs and replace a few burned-out bearings – and start it up again. It’s all a question of how many of those who have been spared understand the technology we all took for granted.”
Stu sipped his beer. “Think so?”
“Sure. Bateman took a swallow of his own beer, then leaned forward and smiled grimly at Stu. “Now let me give you a hypothetical situation, Mr Stuart Redman from East Texas. Suppose we have Community A in Boston and Community Bin Utica. They are aware of each other, and each community is aware of the conditions in the other community’s camp. Society A is in good shape. They are living on Beacon Hill in the lap of luxury because one of their members just happens to be a Con Ed repairman. This guy knows just enough to get the power plant which serves Beacon Hill running again. It would mostly be a matter of knowing which switches to pull when the plant went into an automatic shutdown. Once it’s running, it’s almost all automated anyhow. The repairman can teach other members of Society A which levers to pull and which gauges to watch. The turbines run on oil, of which there is a glut, because everybody who used to use it is as dead as old Dad’s hatband. So in Boston, the juice is flowing. There’s heat against the cold, light so you can read at night, refrigeration so you can have your Scotch on the rocks like a civilized man. In fact, life is pretty damn near idyllic. No pollution. No drug problem. No race problem. No shortages. No money or barter problem, because all the goods, if not the services, are out on display and there are enough of them to last a radically reduced society for three centuries. Sociologically speaking, such a group would probably become communal in nature. No dictatorship here. The proper breeding ground for dictatorship, conditions of want, need, uncertainty, privation . . . they simply wouldn’t exist. Boston would probably end up being run by a town meeting form of government again.
“But Community B, up there in Utica. There’s no one to run the power plant. The technicians are all dead. It’s going to take a long time for them to figure out how to make things go again. In the meantime, they’re cold at night (and winter is coming), they’re eating out of cans, they’re miserable. A strongman takes over. They’re glad to have him because they’re confused and cold and sick.
Let him make the decisions. And of course he does. He sends someone to Boston with a request. Will they send their pet technician up to Utica to help them get their power plant going again? The alternative is a long and dangerous move south for the winter. So what does Community A do when they get this message?”
“They send the guy?” Stu asked.
“Christ’s testicles, no! He might be held against his will, in fact it would be extremely likely. In the post-flu world, technological know-how is going to replace gold as the most perfect medium of exchange. And in those terms, Society A is rich and Society B is poor. So what does Society B do?”
“I guess they go south,” Stu said, then grinned. “Maybe even to East Texas.”
“Maybe. Or maybe they threaten the Boston people with a nuclear warhead.”
“Right,” Stu said. “They can’t get their power plant going, but they can fire a nuclear missile at Beantown.”
Bateman said, “If it was me, I wouldn’t bother with a missile. I’d just try to figure out how to detach the warhead, then drive it to Boston in a station wagon. Think that would work?”
“Dogged if I know.”
“Even if it didn’t, there are plenty of conventional weapons around. That’s the point. All of that stuff is lying around, waiting to be picked up. And if Communities A and B both have pet technicians, they might work up some kind of rusty nuclear exchange over religion, or territoriality or some paltry ideological difference. Just think, instead of six or seven world nuclear powers, we may end up with sixty or seventy of them right here in the continental United States. If the situation were different, I’m sure that there would be fighting with rocks and spiked clubs. But the fact is, all the old soldiers have faded away and left their playthings behind. It’s a grim thing to be thinking about, especially after so many grim things have already happened . . . but I’m afraid it’s entirely possible.”
A silence fell between them.

 

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Excerpt from “Bid Time Return” by Richard Matheson ~~Meeting~~ Also known as “Somewhere in Time”

Suddenly, I had the chilling premonition that I’d walked too far; that my grasp on 1896 was confined to the hotel itself and that, now, I would begin to lose hold and be drawn inexorably back to 1971. I closed my eyes, fighting the threat of transposition. Only after many moments did I have the courage to open my eyes and look at the hotel again. It was still there, unchanged.
When I looked at the narrow beach again, I saw her. How did I know it was her? She was little more than a tiny outline moving almost imperceptibly against the dark blue background of the water. Under any other circumstances, I could not possibly have identified her from so little evidence. As it was, I knew it had to be Elise.
The initial sight of her had caused a chill to flood my body, made my heartbeat leap. Now, the only sensation I felt was one of numbing fear that the moment wouldn’t last, that, having reached her, I’d be taken back to where I’d come from. Fear that, even if I managed to accost her, her reaction would be one of distaste at my presumption. I had, against all logic, hoped that the sight of her at long last would instil confidence in me. The exact opposite was true. My confidence was at its nadir as I stood there wondering what I could possibly say to convince her it was not some madman who confronted her.
My head seemed to be pulsing slowly, my entire body cold, as I watched her walking near the surf line, holding her long skirt above the sand. Her approach seemed dreamlike in its slowness; as though, in the instant I’d caught sight of her, time had altered itself again, seconds extended to minutes, minutes stretched to hours, Time 1 no longer in effect. Once more, I was outside the realm of clocks and calendars, condemned to watch her moving toward me through eternity, never reaching me.
In a way, it was a relief since I had no notion of what to say to her. In a larger way, however, it was torture to believe that we would never truly come together. Once again, I felt as though I were a ghost. I actually visualized her walking up to me, then by me, eyes not even moving toward me since, to her, I wouldn’t be there.
Exactly when I started toward her at an intercepting angle, I cannot recall. I first grew conscious of movement when my boots began to skid down the eroded, four-foot-high slope to the beach, then crunch across the damp sand toward the water. Adding to the dreamlike vagueness of the moment was the now nebulous sunset along the cloudy horizon and the summit of Point Loma. My eyes kept going out of focus, sometimes losing sight of her as we walked toward each other like figures on a phantom landscape. I remembered the soldier on Owl Creek Bridge moving toward his beloved yet never reaching her, because his movements were the last, fierce moments of a dying delusion. In such a manner, endlessly, Elise McKenna and I approached each other while the low waves rolled in, one by one, the noise they made as they struck the shore so unremitting that it sounded like a roar of distant wind.
When she first became aware of me, I cannot say. I only knew, for certain, that she’d seen me when she stopped and stood immobile by the water, a silhouette against the last, dim lambency of the sunset. Her eyes were on me, I could tell, though I couldn’t see her eyes or face or dream with what emotion she regarded my approach. Was it fear she felt? I had not anticipated that she might behold my coming with alarm. Our meeting had seemed so inevitable that I’d never considered such a possibility. I considered it now. If she were to bolt or scream for help, what would I do? What could I do?
At long last, I stopped in front of her and, in silence, we gazed at each other. She was shorter than I’d expected. She almost had to tilt her head back to look at my face. I couldn’t see hers at all because her back was to the sunset. Why was she so still, so motionless? I felt some relief that she was not calling out for help or turning away to run from me. Still, why no reaction at all? Was it possible she was disabled by fear? The thought unnerved me.
What I had felt while approaching her had been nothing in comparison to what I felt now. My body and mind seemed paralyzed. I could not have moved or spoken if my life had depended on it. Only one thought penetrated. Why was she, too, standing mutely, staring at me? Somehow, I sensed that it was not because of disabling fear but, beyond that, I could neither fathom her behavior nor react to it.
Then, abruptly, unexpectedly, she spoke, the sound of her voice making me start. “Is it you?” she asked.
If I had compiled a list of all the opening remarks she might have made to me, that one would have had to be on the bottom if it were there at all. I stared at her incredulously. Had some enchantment totally beyond my visions taken place so that she knew about me? I could not believe it. Yet I did sense, -within a moment after she had spoken, that I had the miraculous opportunity to bypass what might be hours of persuading her to accept me. “Yes, Elise,” I heard myself answer.

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Excerpt from “Morrissey” by Morrissey ~~Sing~~

I respond to a card stuck on the wall at Virgin Records, and a paper trail leads me to Billy Duffy, a guitarist who lived with his mother in Wythenshawe. I no longer wanted to watch others do what I felt sure I could do so much better, so I present myself to Billy as ‘a singer’.
Could I now tell reality what to do? Should versus could? Would I continue to take no responsibility for my own life? Is the safe way the only way?
Billy was well turned out and had a voluptuously statuesque girlfriend named Karen Concannon. He was also an impressive guitarist, and he looked at me and listened to me with bemused interest. Inside my head a tape looped and looped itself around and around, and it repeatedly told me that I would not be good enough when the time came. It unfolds, and then it happens, and when it does, it seems like it had always been there … just waiting.
From Wythenshawe, back to Stretford, back to Wythenshawe, on dark nights of self-creation, each slab of construction happened quickly, although Billy and I will never be drunken co-confessors. Billy pulls in some random musicians, and I am there at his urging – suddenly in rehearsal rooms loaded with amps and wires and headphones, and the clock strikes.
Merging forces meet, and I, too deep to be rescued, sing. Against the command of everyone I had ever known, I sing!
My mouth meets the microphone and the tremolo quaver eats the room with acceptable pitch and … I am removed from the lifelong definition of others, and their opinions matter no more. I am singing the truth by myself, which might also be the truth of others … and give me a whole life … let the voice speak up for once and for all …
‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord …’

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