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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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Unit 30 – Ulysses Extract

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 6 minutes

Below is an extract from Ulysses by Irish writer, James Joyce.


What parallel courses did Bloom and Stephen follow returning?
Starting united both at normal walking pace from Beresford place they followed in the order named Lower and Middle Gardiner streets and Mountjoy square, west: then, at reduced pace, each bearing left, Gardiner’s place by an inadvertence as far as the farther corner of Temple street, north: then at reduced pace with interruptions of halt, bearing right, Temple street, north, as far as Hardwicke place. Approaching, disparate, at relaxed walking pace they crossed both the circus before George’s church diametrically, the chord in any circle being less than the arc which it subtends.

Of what did the duumvirate deliberate during their itinerary?
Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glowlamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of the presabbath, Stephen’s collapse.
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Unit 22 – Two Men in a Bar

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

 

The following is an extract from Overload by Arthur Hailey

The cocktail bar pianist switched nostalgically from ‘Hello Young Lovers!’ to ‘Whatever Will Be, Will Be’.
‘If he plays many more of those oldies,’ Harry London said, ‘I’m gonna start crying in my beer. Another vodka, pal?’
‘Why the hell not? Make it a double.’ Nim, who had been hearing the music too, now listened to himself objectively. His speech was slurring at the edges, he observed, which figured. He had already had too much to drink, and knew it, but found himself not caring. Groping in a pocket, he took out his car keys and pushed them across the small, black-topped table. ‘Take care of these. See that I get a taxi home.’
London pocketed the keys. ‘Sure thing. You can stay at my place overnight, if you want.’
‘No thanks, Harry.’ Soon, when the liquor had dulled his perceptions further, Nim intended to go home, in fact wanted to. He wasn’t worried about appearing there drunk – at least, not tonight. Leah and Benjy would be asleep and wouldn’t see him. And Ruth, with her compassion and sympathy, would be forgiving.
‘Testing, testing,’ Nim said. He had wanted to hear his voice again before using it. Now, satisfied with his coherence, he told Harry, ‘Y’know what I think? I think Wally’d be better off dead.’
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Unit 17 – Sci Fi with C.S. Lewis

Decided to change the numbering on the units from here on out because that old method made far too little sense…

 

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 6 minutes

 

The passage below has been adapted from That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis.

‘It was the worst dream I’ve had yet,’ said Jane the next morning. She was seated in the Blue Room with the Director and Grace Ironwood.

‘Yes,’ said the Director. ‘Yours is perhaps the hardest post: until the real struggle begins.’

‘I dreamed I was in a dark room,’ said Jane, ‘with queer smells in it and a sort of low humming noise. Then the light came on – but not very much light, and for a long time I didn’t realise what I was looking at. And when I made it out… I should have waked up if I hadn’t made a great effort not to. I thought I saw a face floating in front of me. A face, not a head, if you understand what I mean. That is, there was a beard and nose and eyes – at least, you couldn’t see the eyes because it had coloured glasses on, but there didn’t seem to be anything above the eyes. Not at first. But as I got used to the light, I got a horrible shock. I thought the face was a mask tied on to a kind of balloon thing. But it wasn’t, exactly. Perhaps it looked a bit like a man wearing a sort of turban … I’m telling this dreadfully badly. What it really was, was a head (the rest of a head) which had had the top part of the skull taken off and then … then … as if something inside had boiled over. A great big mass which bulged out from inside what was left of the skull. Wrapped in some kind of composition stuff, but very thin stuff. You could see it twitch, Even in my fright I remember thinking, “Oh kill it, kill it. Put it out of its pain.” But only for a second because I thought the thing was real, really. It was green looking and the mouth was wide open and quite dry. You realise I was a long time, looking at it., before anything else happened. And soon I saw that it wasn’t exactly floating. It was fixed up on some kind of bracket, or shelf, or pedestal – I don’t know quite what, and there were things hanging from it. From the neck, I mean. Yes, it had a neck and a sort of collar thing round it, but nothing below the collar; no shoulders or body. Only these hanging things. In the dream I thought it was some kind of new man that had only head and entrails: I thought all those tubes were its insides. But presently – I don’t quite know how, I saw that they were artificial. Little rubber tubes and bulbs and little metal things too. I couldn’t understand them. All the tubes went into the wall. Then at last something happened.’
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Unit 1.10 – The Rain Maker

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 6 minutes

 

The following extract is taken from The Rain Maker by John Grisham

 

The Shelby County Justice Center is a twelve-story modern building downtown. The concept is one-stop justice. It has lots of courtrooms and offices for clerks and administrators. It houses the district attorney and the sheriff. It even has a jail.

Criminal Court has ten divisions, ten judges with different dockets in different courtrooms. The middle levels swarm with lawyers and cops and defendants and their families. It’s a forbidding jungle for a novice lawyer, but Deck knows his way around. He’s made a few calls.

He points to the door for Division Four, and says he’ll meet me there in an hour. I enter the double doors and take a seat on the back bench. The floor is carpeted, the furnishings are depressingly modern. Lawyers are as thick as ants in the front of the room. To the right is a holding area where a dozen orange-clad arrestees await their initial appearances before the judge. A prosecutor of some variety handles a stack of files, shuffling through them for the right defendant.

On the second row from the front, I see Cliff Riker. He’s huddled with his lawyer, looking over some paperwork. His wife is not in the courtroom. The judge appears from the back, and everyone rises.

A few cases are disposed of, bonds reduced or forgotten, future dates agreed upon. The lawyers meet in brief huddles, then nod and whisper to His Honor.

Cliff’s name is called, and he swaggers to a podium in front of the bench. His lawyer is beside him with the papers. The prosecutor announces to the court that the charges against Cliff Riker have been dropped for lack of evidence.
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