Back to England
landed a job(1) as overseas sales director for a shipping company which took us
in turn to
Hong Kong, Australia and South Africa. They were good times, and
I came to understand
why black sheep are so often sent abroad by their families
to start again. It does wonders for
the character to cut the emotional ties
that bind you to places and people. We produced two
sons who grew like saplings
in the never-ending sunshine and soon towered over their
and I could always find teaching jobs in whichever school was educating them.
one always does, we thought of ourselves as immortal, so Sam's coronary at the
fifty-two came like a bolt from the blue. With doctors warning of another
one being imminent
if he didn't change a lifestyle which involved too much
travelling, too much entertaining of
clients and too little exercise, we returned
to England in the summer of '99 with no employment
and a couple
of boys in their late teens who had never seen their homeland.
For no particular
reason except that we'd spent our honeymoon in Dorset in '76, we
rent an old farmhouse near Dorchester which I found among the property ads in
Sunday Times before we left Cape Town. The idea was to have an extended summer
while we looked around for somewhere more permanent to settle. Neither
of us had connections
with any particular part of England.
My husband's parents were dead and my own parents had
retired to the neighbouring
county of Devon and the balmy climate of Torquay. We enrolled
the boys at college
for the autumn and set out to rediscover our roots. We'd done well
time abroad and there was no immediate hurry for either of us to find a job. Or
The reality was rather different.
England had changed [...] during the time we'd been
abroad, strikes were almost
unknown, the pace of life had quickened dramatically and there was
a new widespread
affluence(2) that hadn't existed in the 70s. We couldn't believe how expensive
was, how crowded the roads were, how difficult it was to find a parking space
that "shopping" had become the Brits' favourite pastime. Hastily
the boys abandoned us for their
own age group. Garden fetes
and village cricket were for old people. Designer clothes and
were the order of the day, and clubs and theme pubs were the places to be
particularly those that stayed open into the early hours to show widescreen satellite
of world sporting fixtures.
"Do you get the feeling we've been left behind?"
Sam asked glumly at the end of our
first week as we sat
like a couple of pensioners on the patio of our rented farmhouse, watching
horses graze in a nearby paddock.
"By the boys."
peers(3). I was talking to Jock Williams on the phone today" an old
our Richmond days "and he told me he made a couple
of million last year by selling off
one of his businesses."
He pulled a wry face. "So I asked him how many businesses he had
and he said, only two but together they're worth ten million. He wanted to know
what I(4) was
doing so I lied through my teeth(5)."
I took time to
wonder why it never seemed to occur to Sam that Jock was as big as a
as he was, particularly as Jock had been trumpeting "mega-buck sales(6)"
phone to him for years but had never managed
to find the time or money? to fly out for a
did you say?"
"That we'd made a killing on the Hong Kong stock market
before it reverted to China
and could afford to take early retirement. I also
said we were buying an eight-bedroom house
and a hundred acres in Dorset."
"Mm," I used my foot to stir some clumps of grass
growing between the cracks in the
patio which were symptomatic of the air of
tired neglect that pervaded the whole property. "A
brick box on a modern
development more likely. I had a look in an estate-agent's window
and anything of any size is well outside our price range. Something like this
cost around £300,000 and that's not counting the money we'd need
to spend doing it up. Let's
just hope Jock doesn't decide to visit."
gloom deepened at the prospect. "If we'd had any sense we'd have hung on
house in Graham Road. Jock says it's worth ten times what we paid for
it in '76. We were mad to
The Shape Of Snakes, 2000.
(1) : Land a job : succeed
in getting a job.
(2) : Affluence : money and a good standard of living.
: Peer : person of the same age or status as you.
(4) : I : en italique dans
(5) : To lie through one's teeth : to lie outrageously
(6) : Mega-bucks
sales : sales implying very large amounts of money.
one of the following subjects.
1. l.2. "...Hong
Kong, Australia and South Africa. They were good times..."
Would you be
ready to go and live in faraway countries if it meant getting a better life? (300
2. a. Do "garden fetes, village
cricket" and "theme pubs" correspond to your vision of Britain?
b. How can you account for young people's attraction to designer
clothes? Do you approve of it? (150 words)
Note importante aux candidats
Les candidats traiteront le sujet sur la copie qui leur sera fournie en respectant
l'ordre des questions et en faisant apparaître la numérotation, (numéro
et lettre repère le cas échéant, ex : 15b - voir en particulier
les questions 2, 4 et 9). Ils composeront des phrases complètes à
chaque fois qu'il leur est demandé de rédiger les réponses.
Le nombre de mots indiqué constitue une exigence minimale. En l'absence
d'indication, les candidats répondront brièvement à la question
posée. Les citations seront précédées de la mention
de la ligne.
1. a. Who is the narrator? How is he/she related
b. Justify your answer by quoting from the text.
one element from column A with an element from column B.
1. Sam had a heart-attack
a. in '76
2. They had children
b. in the late 70s
3. They got married
c. in the early eighties
4. Sam found a good job
at the age of fifty-two
They moved back to England
in the summer of '99
3. What consequences did Sam's job have on his lifestyle ? (30
4. Choose the right answer.
a. buy a brick house in Richmond.
b. rent a place in Dorset.
a farmhouse in Devon
d. rent a flat in Torquay
Questions 5, 6
and 7. Focus from line 18 to 29 ("We'd done well ...world sporting fixtures").
a. l.19. "There was no immediate hurry for either of us to find a job."
does it reveal about their standard of living while abroad? (15 words)
"Or so we imagined." - What does this mean? (20 words)
How do they see the British society on their return to their homeland? (30 words)
Find a key sentence showing that it wasn't difficult for their children to adapt
to their new environment.
Questions 8 to 12. Focus on line 30 to
8. a. Who was Sam in touch with some time after their return?
What did they talk about on the phone?
9. Say who the underlined
words refer to. (l.39 to l.42)
I took time to wonder why it never seemed to
occur to Sam that Jock was as big a fantasist as he was, particularly as Jock
had been trumpeting 'mega-buck sales' down the phone to him for years but had
never managed to find the time - or money? - to fly out for a visit. "What
did you say?"
10. l.38. "I lied through my teeth".
did Sam lie about? Why did he feel the need to lie? (30 word)
Did the narrator and Sam share the same vision of Jock Williams? (20 words)
What is Sam's state of mind at the end of the passage? (20 words)
13. Translate into French from "The idea was to have..."
line 14 to "...Torquay" line 17.