love, did you sleep well ?"
On the point of confessing that she had had the worst night of her life,
something stopped her and she smiled back. "Yes, Mum, fine."
Watching her mother quietly for a moment she remembered the photographs
of her in the family albums. Her mother, now faded and anxious, had
once been pretty and lively and had glowed with happiness as her married
life began. And yet, looking at her kneeling there in her dressing gown,
Britt felt herself to be a cuckoo in this poky(1) suburban nest. And
she realised, with an unfamiliar twist of regret, that hers was a classic
Her parents, always believing that education was power and that it was
a gift to which girls should be as equally entitled as boys, had scrimped
and saved to give her the best opportunities they could. With their
encouragement she had gone to grammar school and on to Oxford. And steadily,
with each new achievement, she had moved further and further away from
them, until she had, now, almost nothing in common with them at all.
And as she sat sipping her tea another memory, deep and repressed, sprang
up bringing with it a sick feeling of shame which even twelve years
hadn't managed to blot out.
It had been Degree Day at Oxford, for parents the one moment where the
saving and the sacrifice seemed to have all been worth it. The day when
their sons or daughters, dressed in gown and mortar board or cap, trooped
into the rococo splendour of the Sheldonian Theatre and collected their
degree from the Vice-Chancellor before submitting themselves to the
most sacred ritual of all : the taking of the graduation photo for the
place of honour on mantelpiece(2) and in family album.
And she had deprived them of it, their one moment of reflected glory,
because she was ashamed of them. To Britt, groomed and sophisticated
now and in with the university's smart set, the idea of her father in
an ill-fitting suit and her mother wearing Crimplene and a borrowed
wedding hat, wandering uncomfortably among the rich businessmen and
titled parents of her new friends, was too much to face. So she had
put them off, telling them she would be on holiday for Degree Day and
would collect hers by post.
But she had gone all the same. And as she stood amongst a group of laughing
friends she had turned to see the only other student from Rothwell Grammar
standing watching her with her parents, and she had gone cold and sweaty,
and her day had been ruined by the fear that her parents might, after
all, discover the truth. That she had been too embarrassed to invite
If they did hear, nothing was ever said. But as she looked at the empty
mantelpiece this morning, where their only child's Graduation photo
should have proudly stood, she felt so ashamed that she had to look
Her mother smiled her faded smile at Britt perching on the arm of the
uncomfortable sofa, in a raw silk kimono which had probably cost more
than the entire three-piece suite(3).
"Warm enough, love ? The fire'll be ready in a minute."
And Britt watched fascinated as her mother finished plaiting old copies
of the Daily Mirror into neat fire-lighters and laid them carefully
in the grate, covering them with twigs(4) and coal, then sat back and
put a match to the paper and stared at the fire, listening to the hiss
and crackle of the kindling as it began to catch. And it struck her
for the first time that no matter what she thought her mother and father
were happy with their lives, that they felt secure in their daily rituals
and their strong beliefs, pulling together in a tightly knit community.
And that it was she, who believed so passionately in the individual,
whose credo decreed that you could have anything you wanted if only
you tried hard enough, and that the only person who could really help
you was yourself, it was she who found herself pregnant and alone.
it all, Maeve Haran (Signet, 1992)
(1) poky : uncomfortably
(2) mantelpiece : shelf above the fireplace
(3) three-place suite : a sofa and two armchairs
(4) twig : a little piece of wood
1 - Who are
the main characters ? What are they doing ? When does the scene take
place ? (40 words).
2 - What can
you say about the girl's results at school and university ?
3 - From "And
as she sat slipping..." to "...had to look away."
Mention four rituals of a typical Graduation Day at Oxford.
To what extent was Britt's Graduation Day different from her friends
? Explain Why.
? (Quote the text)
How long ago did it take place ?
4 - Today how
does she feel when she remembers that day ? Quote the elements from
the text in your answer (30 words).
5 - "... She
had now almost nothing in common with them"
Fill in the grid with elements from the text to illustrate this quotation.
ideals in life
6 - As far as
human values are concerned, what does the main character become aware
of at the end of the text ? (40 words)
1 - Say who
or what the underlined words refer to :
was a classic story"
c) "with their
sons or daughters"
hers by post"
e) "with her
f) "that her
2 - Put the
verbs in the appropriate forms and tenses.
a) If her parents....
(come) to the ceremony when she was a student, she..... (feel) ashamed
(change) since she...... (go) to Oxford.
c) She was afraid
her friend..... (tell) her parents the truth.
d) They were
proud that she.... (obtain) her degree.
e) She wishes
she..... (behave) differently with her parents when she was younger.
f) If she told
them the truth now, she..... (be) relieved.
the following sentences using the prompts given.
a) She regrets
not having asked her parents to come.
She thinks she should....
b) She felt
so ashamed that she had to look away.
Feeling ashamed, she couldn't help....
c) For the first
time in her life she realised she was wrong.
It was the first time....
d) The parents
certainly felt very disappointed.
e) She thought
her parents were too conventional.
4 - Use the
following linkwords in the sentences, rephrasing them when necessary.
Each word must be used once only :
Thanks to -
unlike - so.... that - in order to - although.
a) Life was
very difficult for the parents. The mother had become faded and anxious.
b) Her parents
would have loved to go. They were not invited to the ceremony.
c) They had
sacrificed themselves. They wanted to help their daughter to get a good
d) She had been
successful at school. Her parents' encouragements had helped her.
e) Her fellow
students had asked their parents to come. She hadn't.
5 - Translate
"with each new
achievement, she had moved further and further away from them".
"If they did
hear, nothing was ever said".