Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Excerpt from “Papillon” by Henri Charrière ~~Escape~~

We took the two rafts out of the cave. And straight away all three of us were soaked to the skin. The wind was blowing with the particular howl of a strong gale coming right in from the offing. Sylvain and Chang helped me shove my raft to the top of the rock. At the last moment I decided to chain my left wrist to the rope binding the sacks. All at once I was afraid of losing my hold and being swept away without them. Sylvain got up on to the opposite rock, helped by Chang. The moon was high now and we could see very well.
I had rolled a towel round my head. There were six waves to be waited for. Only a few minutes left now. Chang had come back to my side. He hugged me round the neck and then kissed me. He was going to lie there wedged in an angle of the rock and grip my legs to help me withstand’ the shock of Lisette’s breaking.
‘Only one morel’ shouted Sylvain. ‘Then we’re away.’ He was standing in front of his raft so as to protect it from the mass of water that was about to sweep over it. I was in the same position and in addition I had Chang’s hands to hold me firm – in his excitement he had driven his nails into the flesh of my calf.
Lisette came for us, driving in as tall as a steeple. She broke on our two rocks with her usual enormous crash and rushed up the side of the cliff.
I flung myself in a fraction of a second before my friend: he was in immediately after, and it was with the two rafts tight against one another that Lisette swept us racing out to sea. In less than five minutes we were more than three hundred yards from the shore. Sylvain had not yet climbed up on to his raft. I’d got on to mine within two minutes. Chang had hurried up to Dreyfus’s seat, and he was waving a scrap of white cloth – his last farewell. Now it was a good five minutes that we had been beyond the dangerous zone where the waves formed to drive right in for Devil’s Island. Those that we were now riding were much longer, they had almost no foam, and they were so regular that we drifted along as though we were part of them; we were not tossed about and the rafts did not attempt to capsize. We rose and fell upon these great rollers, slowly moving out into the offing, for this was the ebb.
Once again, as I reached the top and turned my head right round, I caught a last glimpse of Chang’s white handkerchief. Sylvain was not far from me – perhaps fifty yards farther out to sea. Several times he held up his arm and waved it by way of showing triumph and delight.

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Excerpt from “70 Years of Miracles” by Richard H. Harvey ~~Eastland~~

During our time in Chicago, The Tribune ran a full-page ad about a boat excursion on Lake Michigan. I looked at that ad with great longing. Both my brother and my mother watched me as I stared at it.
“Dick, you’d like to go on that boat, wouldn’t you?” Lynn asked.
“I sure would,” I replied.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “We’ll put a bank on the table and all of us will put our spare cash into it. The night before the boat sails, we will open the bank. If there is enough for all of us to go, we’ll go and if there isn’t enough for all of us, then none of us will go. Is this a fair agreement?”
I agreed it was. I was willing to grasp at any hope at all.
We lived in an apartment house on Halstead Street. I ran errands for a doctor, an undertaker, and a dentist, who also lived in our apartment. We all did our part in putting what we could into the bank on the table.
As a boy, it was difficult for me to wait for the opening of the bank. The occasion is still fresh in my memory: I can see my brother trying to use a knife to slip the coins out of the acorn crockery bank, and because of the slowness of the process, finally taking a hammer and smashing it, causing the money to roll on the table. I was very excited as I watched him count it. And I was heartbroken when he announced it was $1.77 short.
It was more than I could take. I ran out of the house and went behind an old barn that was still at the back of the property and there I burst into tears. When I got control of myself, I returned to the house and my brother said, “Dick, I think we’d better stick to our agreement. We can’t go on the excursion, but tomorrow you and I will go down and watch the big boat sail.”
The next morning Lynn and I got up early. After he had done some chores, we took a streetcar to the Chicago Loop. We stood on the bridge at a good vantage point to observe all the excitement on the pier below. The flags were flying, the band was on the ship’s top-deck playing, and many, many people were waiting to board the ship.
The gangplank was lowered and the chain let down. The people poured onto the boat. In a short time the bell sounded, the whistle blew, and the chain was pulled across the gangplank.
Many of those left behind were very disappointed. Such cursing and swearing I had never heard before! As I remember, one man was permitted to crawl under the chain and go up the gangplank. The bell on the ship rang again, the whistle blew, the gangplank was pulled aboard, and the ropes to the pier were loosened.
And then, before our eyes, that giant ship, the Eastland, tipped over in the Chicago River. Something had happened on shore that had caused the ship’s passengers to rush to one side. About the only ones saved were those who had been on the top deck. Many of these crawled to shore over the bodies of those beneath them.
Soon, men were piling human bodies on the pier like one might stack boxes. The city sent dump wagons pulled by horses to carry the corpses to the funeral parlors.
God’s act of withholding $1.77 had almost certainly saved my life!

 

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Excerpt from “Famous for 15 Minutes” by Ultra Violet ~~Flowers~~

Ultra Violet (Isabelle Dufresne) visits Andy Warhol at the Factory in 1964

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Piles of silk screens are stacked along the west wall of the loft. I spot a large screen, about six feet by twelve feet, that depicts in dark ink the background of two flowers side by side, each about six feet in diameter, one larger than the other, and barely touching. We unroll on the floor some virgin canvas, on top of which we lay the flower stencil.
“What color?” he asks.
“Make it violet, since that’s my name and I’m a flower myself.”
Using a can opener, he lifts the top of a gallon can of deep violet Benjamin Moore paint. He adds a dollop of white and with a roller, applies it to the screen over one of the flowers.
“What about the other flower?” he asks.
“Orange? That’s complementary to violet.”
He opens a premixed can of orange paint and rolls the color back and forth across the other flower. The whole process takes a few minutes. We remove the silk screen and see those two colourful flowers pop out at us from the canvas.
I feel my heart jump with the excitement of experiencing the creation of this large Pop Art painting. I ask him if he’ll give it to me. After all, he’s never paid me for the films we are doing together. No, he won’t give it to me, but he’ll sell it cheap, below his dealer’s price. We agree on $2,000. I write him a check on the spot for $1,000 and later give him another $1,000 that I scrounge together. I still have the two receipts, on each of which he scribbled, “Two flowers, sold to Isabel defraine, $1,000.”
In 1970 Gordon Locksley, a Minneapolis art dealer, offers me $40,000 for the Two Flowers. In 1975 I am offered $125,000 by Ivan Karp of the O.K. Harris Gallery. In 1980 Andy tells me the painting is worth $200,000. I don’t know how much the scribbled receipts are worth. The painting hangs in my living room. It costs me a fortune just to keep it insured.

 

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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 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 “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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