Romeo; oh Romeo

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I sometimes think I didn’t go to a proper school. The building in which we were incarcerated was built just after the war, and the authorities were in a hurry to fill it with staff, so although our teachers did their best, some of them were perhaps not of the highest order.

I picture a shell shocked, demobbed, ex-soldier called Billy, barefoot and in rags, dragging his war-torn body along mud-lined roads, stumbling through the tyre grooves and stubble of freshly cut corn fields to approach farmers who seem somehow regal as they sit atop their tractors, surveying their land. Billy begs for work, food and a barn to sleep in, only to be told that the harvest is over. Eventually he finds his way to that small, backwater town in rural Devon. Exhausted, sweating and half-starved he drags himself into a shop, where the odour of last night’s cabbage drifts unpleasantly from a back room. With breaking voice, Billy humbly requests a glass of water. The drink revives him a little. He asks the shopkeeper if there is any employment to be had around these parts. The shopkeeper looks momentarily doubtful, but then a smile cracks his face and he says:

“Yer, Can you read ‘n’ write? ‘Cuz my missus was sayin’ the other day about ‘ow they’m needin’ teachers up at that there school they built.”

After being given directions to the school at the top of the hill the other end of town, Billy finds his way there and collapses at the steps, where he is soon discovered and carried in to the headmaster by a teacher who is leaving the building to carry on his regular job of cleaning the streets.

The headmaster learns that before the war Billy worked behind the counter of a hardware shop, so he must be able to add up. By the end of the day the soldier is fed, washed and teaching maths to a class of thirty-eight fourteen year olds.

The following week another de-mobbed soldier staggers into town, stuttering and scared, leaping into the air and then shrinking within himself at every unexpected sound. He, too, needs a job.

He used to work in a factory where beautiful pottery was produced, and his job was to paint pink rosebuds onto dishes, piling them up as each one was completed. The next stage in the process was to paint the leaves. This operation was carried out by the man to the left of him. How fortunate that there was an opening in the school for an Art teacher.

I accept that my imagery is fanciful, but I expect you get the idea. There are a lot of gaps in my education, because some of the teachers were uncertain about what they were meant to be teaching, or else they didn’t know how to go about it.

So, on the subject of Shakespeare – we didn’t “do” Shakespeare at school. We managed Salinger, which I enjoyed, and that smaller portion of Tolkien, which I didn’t, because, seeing my immature self as a mature, serious thinker, I considered it frivolous. At home, we had The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and both of my parents often quoted from it. My habit with books was generally to begin at the beginning, and work through to the end. The weight of the book, combined with the language, put me off, although I did like the three witches in Macbeth, because, like most adolescents I had a fascination for the macabre.

I have since seen several of his plays performed, my favourite being The Taming of the Shrew, but I have to shamefully admit I have never read any Shakespeare except the occasional sonnet, and even then I’ve been guilty of having a rather cynical attitude towards him. Today I was going to humorously paraphrase a piece from Romeo and Juliet. I chose the famous bit that begins “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”
Once I started reading I couldn’t stop. I’ve heard it many times before, but never listened. It’s beautiful!

This is a disaster! There was no disrespect intended, and yet I can’t bring myself to make fun of it.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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69 thoughts on “Romeo; oh Romeo

  1. God, I thought it was compulsory to read some Shakespeare at school – we did a few, definitely Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. Love a bit of tragedy 🙂
    You read Tolkien at school? I’ve never heard of anyone reading him through school and Salinger … That would’ve been way too controversial at my Catholic comp.
    We did Lord of the Flies – didn’t everyone? – an upcoming Books in the Blood on my blog and a book I think teachers picked just to show kids what revolting beasts they are!
    Recently read that a new curriuculum will require kids to read more 20th C British authors – which may mean no more Crucible, no more Of Mice and Men, no more To Kill a Mockingbird.
    Just what our kids need in these times of international upheaval – to become more inward looking 🙂

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    1. To be fair, my English teacher wasn’t a shell-shocked war veteran. He was young, and probably wanted us to read books that he thought we’d appreciate, with a little bit of politics slipped in – we did Animal farm. He started us off with The Hobbit, probably to get our interest, and he must have known that most having Shakespeare shoved down your throat almost guantees that you won’t enjoy him later in life.
      I remember doing Pygmalion, too. He was good teacher, but he’s not the one I rave about. We moved to Bucks for a year, and that’s when Mr. Bunce taught me. He didn’t give us any books to read. He wanted us to write creatively, and he had a unique way of helping us to do that. I expect he knew that readers read, and non-readers don’t learn anything from being forced.
      He would be crushed by the current school curriculum.

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      1. Yeah, we did Pygmalion too – it was good, but I preferred to see Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady!
        I read a suggestion that there will be more 19th C British authors included – Dickens was mentioned. Nothing surer to put teens off literature than making them read Dickens before they’re ready 🙂

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        1. I haven’t liked Audrey Hepburn since saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She didn’t convince me. But, luckily, I’d already seen My Fair Lady.
          I agree with you about Dickens. I read some of his books when I was about thirteen, because I felt the need to devour everything on mum and dad’s shelves – except Shakespeare. They didn’t have War and Peace. Phew!
          I think I had read two Solzhenitsyns by the time I was sixteen. Maybe I was a masochist. Then I went on to Camus and Kafka, and all of the obvious stuff that goes alongside it.
          I’m really glad I grew out of all of that!

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          1. Whoah! Way to go for a bit of light reading there Jane! Never read some of the heavy weights you mentioned – the heaviest I’ve ever got is Jude the Obscure and after that harrowing experience I’ve never read another Hardy. Children committing murder/suicide? Too bleak for me.
            You remind me of a friend who didn’t read at all until she was in her early teens and plunged straight into Sylvia Plath – not an easy route into literature!

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            1. Some idiot said that I reminded him of Jude the Obscure, so I made the mistake of reading it. After that I tried to read some other irritating book he wrote, but to be honest, apart from the dodgy content, I didn’t like his writing style.
              Sylvia Plath. I think I had a go, but by that time I realised life was hard enough without making yourself suicidal. I learned that from reading Camus.

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              1. Is the autodidact element that reminded him of you? Yes, great writer and social commentator though I’m sure Hardy was, I wouldn’t recommend Jude to anyone. And Sylvia Plath, bless her – just the knowledge of her troubled life put me off.
                I’ll stick to something reasonably intelligent that doesn’t give me nightmares or make me spin off into a well of anxiety, thanks 🙂

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                1. OK. I practically kills me to have to ask you. Autodidact? Can I have a definition of the word please?
                  You would never have discovered that i have the faintest clue what you mean if I had managed to find the word in the Thesaurus.

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                    1. Ha ha! I think whatever he was getting at, it was intended as a veiled insult. We were working together while he took some time out to make up his mind whether to follow his childhood ambition to join the cat-lick priesthood. He gave me a lot of attention, because he really fancied me, but every so often he’d get angry about the sins of the flesh tickling his nether regions, and then he’d find small ways to get at me.
                      Cor! He was a bit of alright. Not quite Richard Chamberlain in Thornbirds, but leaning in tnat direction in some sweet way. We both got what we wanted out of our association in the end…

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                    2. Ooh, sounds like a great candidate for the priesthood!
                      I remember Richard Chamberlain – very fit in a dog collar. ‘Oh, Meggy,’ he’d whisper, loosening his cassock!
                      Is he still alive? I remember it came out (no pun intended) that he was gay, and I haven’t heard of him since.

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                    3. Gay? Oh well, i was never in with a chance, whatever his sexual preference.
                      I envied Meggy, except that I was looking for romance rather than sex.
                      He’s 81 now, and still around.
                      Yes, sad woman that I am, I just Googled him

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                    4. It’s ok, you can have Ben Brown if I can have Nicolas Cage.
                      Although I’d rather go back a few years and have robertredfordpaulnewmanstevemacqueendavidmacallumdavidessexrichardwidmarkbrucespringsteenandevenmeatloafbecausethere’ssomethingdeadsexyabouthim
                      Although it’s all beginning to seem a bit exhausting, and even boring.

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                    5. Can’t like Nic Cage – he reminds me too much of my older brother! Now, David Macallum … Back in his Sapphire and Steel days – I think he was my first serious crush. Maybe it was the ‘Milky Bar Kid’ hair …

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                    6. You don’t feel that way about your older brother? Oh, but you don’t come from Rural North Devon, do you?
                      I’m going back to when David M. was Ilya Kuryakin in The Man from Uncle –
                      showing my age.

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                    7. Oh, I remember him in The Man from Uncle – yes very dishy. Though not very Russian 🙂 Definitely the heart throb of the two. Robert Vaughan was his partner, wasn’t he? I loved some of the action programmes from that time – which one had ‘Avenues and Alleyways’ by Tony Christie as the theme tune? Ah, I could happily sing that at full pelt to this day 🙂

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                    8. Oh, yes, you’re right – he used to get the women, didn’t he? While Illya was all studious and did the planning and research – must have been written by a bloke, not to see MacCallum’s potential 🙂

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                    9. He feel in love once, and I wished it was with me. He went all soppy and moony, and I think Napoleon gave him a good talking to, which helped him over it.
                      It’s better to have loved and lost…

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                    10. Speaking as a man, I’d say you’re quite right old chap. You’ve no idea of the amount of trouble I have had with one of the servants, mooning over some silly slip of a girl when he should have been polishing the silver. Love? That’s something one buys by the hour and washes off before one goes home to the little wife.

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                    11. HaHa! Oh, my word that’s scarily in character. Is that alternate personality you’re channelling there? Washing off love – now there’s a poem prompt if ever I read one 🙂

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                    12. All I have to do is think of Hector Christie.
                      seriously, I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me before. I’m feeling vitriolic. Once I’ve plucked up the courage to take my laundry to the washing room I may have a go at being him.

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                    13. He’s the dick who tried to ruin my niece’s wedding. I thought you recognised him from my angry post some weeks back?
                      He went to Eton, so he can do posh, but he likes to play at slumming it. It puts him in a place where he can kick people in the teeth without moving from his chair, or putting down his wine glass.

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                    14. Ha! I though you were talking about the Marquess of Bath! He’s got a pretty ropey reputation too. So many dodgy posh men in the world … Just saw a newspaper artical about Christie that claims he’s some kind of eccentric eco warrior – mind you, that was in the Mail Online. Their idea of an eco warrior is probably someone who DOESN’T pave their whole garden so they can park their fifth Range Rover. 🙂

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                    15. Eccentric eco-warrior is the game he plays for some sort of fame. I used to be his permaculture gardener. I took over from the previous one who left because she was sick of him creeping into the permaculture garden and spraying the weeds with Roundup.
                      We all know what that Roundup is and what it does. Hector Christie also knows that it’s owned by Monsanto. He likes to go to anti GM demos and, rather than working with the demonstrators, hand out flyers about how wonderful he is because he’s fighting the GM evil. Rather than join the crop destroying crew, he turns up a week early and destroys a few plants, making sure he has the media coverage. Then he says that it makes him so angry he just couldn’t wait.
                      What? Just couldn’t wait to steal their thunder? To make a mockery of them?
                      No, he just couldn’t wait to be the centre of attention for two minutes on some news programme.
                      If you can’t place the fool, he’s the brother of a rather less stupid, more handsome and far more intelligent man called Guy Christie, of Christie Estates, who runs Glynebourne Opera house in Sussex because his older brother is not to be trusted with anything beautiful or creative.
                      Hector’s story is that they drew straws for Glynebourne. Good story Hector.
                      I say! This doesn’t sound like sour grapes does it? He has grapes in his kitchen garden, and they are as sweet as anything, because he has a gardener to look after them.

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                    16. Sounds like a charming man. He couldn’t earn kudos by running Glyndbourne, so he seeks it through upstaging genuine protestors? Apart from being immoral (and please don’t start me on products like Roundup-the evil of it, using products like that to keep your drive clear!) it’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Sounds as if there’s something seriously laking in his mental make up that he has to seek validation in such a way. Many of us actually don’t feel the need to be the centre of attention – I wonder what’s happening in his head that he does.

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                    17. I think he feels inferior when he mixes with his own “class” so he pretends to be one of us, because he thinks that we are inferior to “them”. But that’s not enough; he has to show “them” that he’s rejected their ways by being embarrassing.
                      That’s simplistic. When you see a 45 year old man shaving his head before he meets his father, because he knows his father hates to see him with a bald head, you know there’s more to it.
                      He’s a horrible spoiled brat. He’s written and self-published two books, No Blade of Grass, and The Final Curtain Call. If you’re ever fortunate enough to find either of them in a gutter, I challenge you to read it. If you reach the end your a better man than me. One of them is a novel about him saving the world even though he knows he must die in the process, and is written from the perspective of his hero-worshipping daughter as the first person. Unfortunately he keeps forgetting the story-line to put inself-congratulatery tales of his eco-warrior actions. It has one review from someone who must have got it mixed up with a different book. He thought it was funny. It wasn’t meant to be, and wasn’t. It was painful. I can’t even remember what the other book was about, but it was bad. There may even be a third one, but the horror of the other two blocked it out.

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                    18. People who make the mistake of moving into his grounds – he lets people live there, and they pay him by working in the grounds, it used to be 16 hours a week, and they were allowed to eat the spare veg – need help after being around him for a while.
                      He needs a lobotomy. He thinks he’s better than us serfs.
                      I’m supposed to be learning to love everyone in the world. The last couple of months I haven’t done so well. This feels like a test…
                      I must get past this grumpiness. Last week’s drama with my daughter seems to have hit me hard.

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                    19. He doesn’t sound like a well man – one to be avoided. It’s not easy to like everyone – some people are impossible to like, let’s face it. Don’t be so hard on yourself – you’re a better gal than I for even trying 🙂
                      I’m sorry, Jane – I didn’t know you’d had such a hard time. Hope you’re doing better now. Take care of yourself x

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                    20. There was a time when I would have got drunk. Not a brilliant idea when I carry “that” gene. Luckily I caught myself before it was too late. Now I toast brides with fruit juice and limit myself to toasting the dead father of my grandson with a small shot of vodka, purely because it is a family tradition, and a mark of remembrance. As if we could ever forget. 19 years ago last Friday. I’m sorry – I seem to be falling apart.

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                    21. No need to apologise – we all crumble from time to time. Things come along, then other things and before you know it, you’re under a truckload of pressure – you have to have an escape valve and you have a healthy one on poetry and fiction. Hope you’re feeling brighter now. All the best X

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                    22. I’ve had a good day, thanks. I got up late and took my time with the morning’s routines, then I went to my voluntary job at Oxfam. I made an appointment to see a different GP than my usual one, because I prefer to see a woman, and because, nice though he is, I’m not getting anywhere with my usual doctor. My son rang me with two lots of good news, I met an old school friend, and my addicted daughter came into the shop, looking very ill as usual, but she seems to be reaching the point where she may go into recovery. Even when her boyfriend died she didn’t seem to have hit rock bottom, but now I think she has. The “rock bottom” theory is a bit simplistic, but it’s an easy way to explain it.
                      I think me letting her sleep on the streets rather than have her in my home has helped – not that I had a choice in the matter.

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                    23. I’m glad things are going better for you. Changing GP is definitely a good idea sometimes – even good GPs don’t see things that pthers will. A new viewpoint is no bad thing. I guess your daughter has to reach her own idea of rock bottom before she can get herself help. It must be tough seeing her that way – I’m so sorry. Hpefully, she’s reache that point. Well, the sun looks like it will shine on Bristol today – hope it’s shining on you too 🙂

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                    24. Just back from the park now table tennis interesting in a strong breeze! A lovely thought, to gift the city outdoor table tennis tables, but as our park is at the top of a hill and almost always windy ….

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                    25. Tut-tut. Who let that frightful family in? Disgraceful.
                      It’s as I’ve said all along, Wilberforce old chap. This park should be nominated members only. That would put a stop the riff-raff entering, and their dreadful children.

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                    26. They’re an entertaining bunch to watch, really – I don’t know who does their washing, but they wear the WHITEST clothes I’ve ever seen. Blinding. I thought of a story once, where some of the bowling club members were actually elderly angels in disguise, come to earth to help some of the local kids solve a mystery. Still quite like the idea 🙂

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                    27. My quip was unfair. I was thinking of golfers. I used to know a professional shoplifter who joined a bowling club. Hewas 30’s at the time. It was really funny to see him with all those elderly peope.They were so proud to have someone younger on the pitch! I don’t think they new what he did for a living.
                      Have you ever played croquette? I don’t understand the rules, but it’s really funny to watch, and everyone is so pleasant and polite – always conceding points to the opponent, making it look like a game where the player with the lowest score wins.

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                    28. There’s a story there – the shoplifter and the bowling club. Could be a bit of fun 🙂 Only played croquet once, at my cousins’ house – they lived in Chiswick at the time in a lovely old Victorian house – mansion I thought of it. (They’re the wealthy part of the family 🙂 Croquet seemed pretty ruthless to me – whacking your opponent’s ball out of the way etc. It’s all very cucumber sandwiches and afternoon tea.

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                    29. When i worked at Tapelet House, (Hector Christie’s place) the dairy lawn was hired out a few times to a group of croquette players. None of that ungentlemanly stuff went on between them. They were incredibly sweet and polite! I assumed that was how the game was. Maybe you’re family do things a little differently…
                      The shoplifter and the bowling club – I have a bit of a problem there. I feel is if I am nevergoing to be able to write anything again. I’ve become stupidly gripped by my bloke on the gallows. I’ve got a novel there -ghosts, horror, crime romance – the whole lot! The story has fixed itself in my head. But I don’t do novels. My mind can’t stay in one place for long enough. I don’t even read any of those genres as a rule, so what’s going on with me?
                      Worse still, although I know the plot, I keep getting stuck, obsessing over particular words. It’s taken me over 4 hours to write less than 350 words.
                      Maybe I should have a sleep.

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                    30. Sleep is always good.
                      But don’t let yourself be put off novel writing. Early on, I read some advice in a ‘how to write a novel’ guide – the author said to envisage each chapter as a short story. So you only have to write 20 – 30 (50 if you’re George R.R. Martin) short stories and you have a novel. And bang that first draft out – just write, don’t rewrite or edit or tweak at the moment. That’s what second drafts are for.
                      Sounds like an exciting story, though – it’s got a bit of everything that people love. I say go for it 🙂

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                    31. The idea of a lot of connected short stories appeals to me. was kind of thinking along those lines, but having it verbalised helps a lot. I could just sandwich the odd story in between all of the other stuff and it wouldn’t seem like a chore. Thank you. Really. Thank you for being so helpful.

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                    32. Breaking it down into chunks makes it feel more manageable, I think. You can write 20 odd short stories with your eyes closed – I don’t recommend it though, unless you touch type 🙂 Good luck with it and I lok forward to reading it in the future

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                    33. I can touch type, but after a while my left hand strays and my fight hand follows. I press the caps lock key instead of A and end up writing “insteS, ubarwS ID UBARWs”. That’s what “instead, instead of instead” looks like if I close my eyes when I’m typing.
                      I’ll try to stick with that story, but no guarantees.
                      I still feel tired. Maybe I’ll go back to bed – again.

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                    34. I can’t touch type and still find my hands misbehave – I’m forever typing ‘ot’ instead of ‘to’ and can’t type ‘character’ without really pausing to think. I like UBARWS – think it must be an acronym for something. ‘United Biscuits Association, Revolution and Waffle Society’?
                      It’s the plots of novels that fox me – i have to let things mull in my head for a long time then come back to them. They make my head hurt!

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                    35. I’m no good at plotting novels. I had a friend who could come up with the most wonderful, crazy plots, but he didn’t write. He suggested I used a couple, but turned him down because i didn’t think that someone else’s ideas would gel in my head.
                      Have you ever tried that thing where you let the creative side of your brain take over, ignoring logic, just writing whatever comes up? Often it’s a waste of time, but you get the occasional gem from it. I don’t think it would work for a novel though!

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                    36. It’s a good idea, to let the creative part run free and it does work sometimes – you xcan come up with the most amazing stuff. But plotting’s just hard work, isn’t it? I’ve read all these guides about the seven point plot structure etc and they just confuse me. I’ve ended up just plotting in a more free from way for my book .Mind you, that might mean it’s rubbish 🙂

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                    37. I’m sure you’re right, but some of us (well, me anyway!) need rules to follow or we feel totally lost. 🙂 Time will tell if other people think my story works. We’ll see

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  2. That is awesome that you are tongue-tied by the work. Means S. hit his mark rather cleanly, I’d say. We read a few S. pieces and The Old Man and the Sea… But the one I fell in love with was Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I think that’s why I’m such an enthusiastic reader of Austen, Bronte, or E.M. Forster. Not just the classic writers, but writers of that genre like Kazuo Ishiguro who wrote Remains of the Day. So I think you can be forgiven this time!!!

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