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Unit 50 – Hannibal Lecter’s Palace

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

The passage below is an extract from Hannibal by Thomas Harris. 

The memory palace was a mnemonic system well known to ancient scholars and much information was preserved in them through the Dark Ages while Vandals burned the books. Like scholars before him, Dr. Lecter stores an enormous amount of information keyed to objects in his thousand rooms, but unlike the ancients, Dr.Lecter has a second purpose for his palace; sometimes he lives there. He has passed years among its exquisite collections, while his body lay bound on a violent ward with screams buzzing the steel bars like hell’s own harp.
Hannibal Lecter’s palace is vast, even by medieval standards. Translated to the tangible world it would rival the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul for size and complexity.
We catch up to him as the swift slippers of his mind pass from the foyer into the Great Hall of the Seasons. The palace is built according to the rules discovered by Simonides of Ceos and elaborated by Cicero four hundred years later; it is airy, high-ceilinged, furnished with objects and tableaux that are vivid, striking, sometimes shocking and absurd, and often beautiful. The displays are well spaced and well lighted like those of a great museum. But the walls are not the neutral colors of museum walls. Like Giotto, Dr. Lecter has frescoed the walls of his mind.
He has decided to pick up Clarice Starling’s home address while he is in the palace, but he is in no hurry for it, so he stops at the foot of a great staircase where the Riace bronzes stand. These great bronze warriors attributed to Phidias, rased from the seafloor in our own time, are the centerpiece of a frescoed space that could unspool all of Homer and Sophocles.
Dr. Lecter could have the bronze faces speak Meleager if he wished, but today he only wants to look at them.
A thousand rooms, miles of corridors, hundreds of facts attached to each object furnishing each room, a pleasant respite awaiting Dr. Lecter whenever he chooses to retire there.
Fearfully and wonderfully made, we follow as he moves with a swift stride along the corridor of his own making, through a scent of gardenias, the presence of great sculpture pressing on us, and the light of pictures.
His way leads around to the right past a bust of Pliny and up the staircase to the Hall of Addresses, a room lined with statuary and paintings in a fixed order, spaced wide apart and well lit, as Cicero recommends.
Ah… The third alcove from the door on the right is dominated by a painting of St. Francis feeding a moth to a starling. On the floor before the painting is this tableau, life-sized in painted marble.
A parade in Arlington National Cemetery led by Jesus, thirty three, driving a ’27 Model-T Ford truck, a “tin lizzie,” with J. Edgar Hoover standing in the truck bed wearing a tutu and waving to an unseen crowd. Marching behind him is Clarice Starling carring a .308 Enfield rifle at shoulder arms.

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Unit 43 – The Doctor’s Wife Extract

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

 

The passage below is an extract from The Doctor’s Wife by Brian Moore.

Her flight had been called twice now and it was definitely the last call. There as no delaying it any longer, there was nothing to do but say goodbye, turn her back on him, and walk through the security check and onto the aircraft. An anxiety, the unreasoning anxiety of departure, came into her voice as she said, ‘Well, I must go this time.’
He stared, his dark eyes all question, as though he waited for her to give him some sign.
‘Goodbye, then,’ she said.
He did not speak.
‘If you ever come back to Ireland you must look us up.’
He moved toward her. She was sure he was going to kiss her, but, instead, he stopped and awkwardly held out his hand. For a moment she thought of kissing him on both cheeks in the French manner and making a joke of it, but her courage left her, and instead she shook his hand, then went up to the security people. A man and his wife were ahead of her in the check line, loaded down with cartons of gifts. She turned to look back. He was still standing there. She waved, he smiled and waved back. And then she entered the security checkpoint and, once through it, could no longer see the departure lounge. When she entered the aircraft, the seat-belt sign was already on, and as she sat down in her allotted seat, a stewardess offered her a choice of magazines. She took the first magazine off the pile, hurriedly, because she wanted the stewardess to move so that she could look across the aisle at the window facing the terminal. But saw only the terminal wall. No sign of him. The aircraft door shut and the plane taxied out for takeoff. She sat, staring numbly at the magazine cover.
As the plane moved forward in the takeoff queue, the quotation from the front of the magazine repeated itself in her head: L’avenir n’est interdit a personne – the future is forbidden to no one. The engines increased their thrust, the plane rushed down the runway and lifted into the air. Outside the window, great canyons of cloud opened and closed like the corridors of heaven as the plane climbed up into a bright-blue void. The seat-belt sign went off. On the intercom, a female voice announced that drinks would be offered and that luncheon would be served. She remembered the fuss she had made in the British Airways office in Belfast, two months ago, when the clerk told her this luncheon flight was fully booked, but that there was space on the later flight at three o’clock. She had wait-listed herself on this flight because she didn’t want to miss lunch. And if I hadn’t done that, at this moment I would be having lunch with Tom Lowry in Paris. Why didn’t I change my reservations this morning, why did I worry about the stupid old hotel? How did I get so bogged down in ordinariness that even this once I couldn’t do the spontaneous thing, the thing I really wanted to do.
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Unit 37 – Orchestral Anecdotes

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 9 minutes

 

The passages below have been adapted from ‘Orchestra’, edited by Andre Previn

 

Passage I
We prepared for the Proms with Sir Henry Wood, he had everything planned out and timed to the minute. He had his big watch on the music-stand, and at 10 a.m. precisely his baton went down. You learnt things so thoroughly with him, but in the most economical time. Our Wagner nights, whole acts from the operas, we did that on just the morning rehearsal. Before I knew him he had the reputation for being a tartar. He took my teacher to lunch, which was always a bad sign, and she had her notice when she got home. But he changed. He met Lady Jessie and she changed him. He had been badly dressed, awful clothes. Jessie got him a new evening suit, instead of the mouldy green one, and he flourished yellow gloves and a cigar. She changed his clothes and he became human, and began to look after the orchestra. He began to give us a dinner after the last night of the Proms.

 

1. Which of the following is not implied by Passage 1?

  • A      Sir Henry Wood didn’t take people he likes to lunch
  • B      Sir Henry Wood fell in love with Lady Jessie
  • C      He was a tough and mean
  • D      He was a robot

 

Passage II

Arthur Fiedler is so old, it’s so difficult for him now. He gets himself up for special concerts, but day in day out his concerts are, oh, unbelievable. He’s very, very old. Sometimes for Pops concerts we go out to Fitchburg, Worcester, places like that, and there’s always a clause if Fiedler is sick, the concert is cancelled. He’s the star. The audience come for him, not for the music. Well, that sort of thing happens at Tanglewood also, say when Bernstein comes, then there’ll be 15,000 people at least. A lot of it is just a personality trip, and Fiedler it’s particularly upsetting because he is now so bad. If any of us in the orchestra played the way he conducts we’d be fired for sure. Yet nobody cares.
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Unit 35 – Pericles in Athens

Difficulty: easy

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

Below is an extract fro Old Men in Love by Alasdair Gray.

Soon after daybreak Pericles came to the Athenian port and for nearly three hours conferred with harbourmasters, dockers and seamen, occasionally scratching notes on a thin wax tablet backed by wood. He then returned to the city, striding swiftly uphill between two great new walls joining the port to the Athenian citadel. The sky was clear and blue, the air warm yet fresh, the big marketplace more than usually busy. He crossed it, entered the council chambers and stood in a corner of the big lobby, glancing over his notes but able to see those who entered or left. Most councillors were as familiar to him as he to them. He steadily ignored knowing looks from many who shared his views and enquiring looks from some who did not, but beckoned to his side one at a time new councillors whose opinions were not exactly known. He talked to them about revenues to be voted for dock maintenance, for equipping warships and for building new ones. Each councillor tried, usually successfully, to hide his elation at being singled out by the nation’s greatest statesman. He listened to them as carefully as they to him, giving different reasons for increased expenditure, He told a merchant it was needed to protect trade from barbarians and pirates – an arms manufacturer that it would maintain Athenian military supremacy – a landowner that it would reduce local unemployment – a patriotic farmer that it would spread democracy abroad. Pericles thought all these reasons valid but did not expect others to be so broad-minded. He ended each speech by saying how the expenditure would profit dealers in timber, metal, sailcloth, cable, earthenware and food.
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Unit 33 – Office life

Difficulty: Easy/medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

 

The passage below is an extract from James Plunkett’s short story The Eagles and The Trumpets

On the first Friday of every month, precisely at 11.45, the chief clerk put on his bowler hat, hung his umbrella on his arm, and left to spend the rest of the day inspecting the firm’s branch office. It was one of the few habits of the chief clerk which the office staff approved. It meant that for the rest of the evening they could do more or less as they pleased. Sweeney, who had been watching the monthly ceremony from the public counter with unusual interest, turned around to find Higgins at his elbow.
‘You’re wanted,’ he was told.
‘Who?’
‘Our mutual musketeer – Ellis. He’s in his office.’
That was a joke. It meant Ellis was in the store room at the top of the building. Part of the duties assigned to Ellis was the filing away of forms and documents. The firm kept kept them for twenty-five years, after which they were burned. Ellis spent interminable periods in the store-room, away from supervision and interference. It was a much-coveted position. Sweeney, disturbed in his day-dreaming, frowned at Higgins and said:
‘Why the hell can’t he come down and see me?’
It was his habit to grumble. He hated the stairs up to the store-room and he hated the store-room. He disliked most of the staff, especially the few who were attending night-school classes for accountancy and secretarial management in order to get on in the job. Put into the firm at nineteen years of age because it was a good, safe, comfortable job, with a pension scheme and adequate indemnity against the boredom, no contributory scheme which would save his manhood from rotting silently inside him among the ledgers and the comptometer machines. From nine to five he decayed among the serried desks with their paper baskets and their telephones, and from five onwards there was the picture house, occasional women, and drink when there was money for it.
The store-room was a sort of paper tomb, with tiers of forms and documents in dusty bundles, which exhaled a musty odour. He found Ellis making tea. A paper-covered book had been flung to one side. On the cover he could make out the words Selected Poems, but not whose they were. He was handed a cup with a chocolate biscuit in the saucer.
‘Sit down,’ Ellis commanded.
Sweeney, surprised at the luxury of the chocolate biscuit, held it up and inspected it with raised eyebrows.
Ellis offered milk and sugar.
‘I pinched them out of Miss Bouncing’s drawers,’ he said deliberately.
Sweeney, secure in the knowledge that the chief clerk was already on his way across town, munched the biscuit contentedly and looked down into the street.
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