(Warning: this post contains some fucking bad language.)
Clearly, I’m looking like shit these days. Or at least (oh God I can hardly bear to think it let alone write it…old). Apart from the mirror, how do I know this? Because at work this week the on-site nurse, in her starched white uniform with matching jackboots made from the hide of some unfortunate albino creature, visited the staffroom clutching clipboard and forms to her ample bosom. She was offering flu jabs to teachers of a certain age. Surely, I blustered, there must be some mistake – in England flu jabs are only offered to the sick and elderly. I was told that this is the case in Turkey also. I was asked if I wanted one. There was some sniggering from the young bloods in the corner. I declined, maintaining a degree of composure and dignity, although inside I was crushed. (Male vanity). Besides, I wouldn’t trust this lot not to inject me with a fatal dose of something that wouldn’t show up in a post-mortem, so they could get rid of me without a fuss. (I think everyone has had enough of me throwing up on the commute. There are only two of us left on the long journey now – me and the driver. And he’s stopped trying to make conversation. I can see that before long I’ll be driving the school bus myself.)
As part of last week’s blog-post I wrote and included the first line for my new writing project. (A bit gimmicky, ne desperate, even for me.) For those of you who missed it it went like this: ‘Will someone please tell me exactly how the fuck that happened?’ (I’m not even sure whether it should have a question mark at the end. And I’m an English teacher.) I’ve now written the first chapter and the opening line hasn’t changed.
I had a comment on the blog-post on this use of the ‘f’ word in the opening line of a book, which made me think about how opening lines of other landmark novels (other?) might have been affected for better or worse if the author had shown some mettle and spiced them up a bit by dropping an ‘f’ bomb or two.
Because the Internet is amazing I was able to punch a few buttons and within seconds I was presented with a website that contains the first lines of one hundred famous books. I was then intrigued to see whether inserting the ‘f’ word into any of them would make me want to read them. I wonder what you think, dear reader. Here is a selection.
‘1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my fucking landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.’ Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a fuck.’ Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
‘Lolita, fuck of my life, fire of my loins.’ Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
‘It was a fucking cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ 1984 by George Orwell.
‘He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fucking fish.’ The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway.
‘It was a fucking pleasure to burn.’ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
‘This is the saddest fucking story I have ever heard.’ The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.
‘I am a fucking invisible man.’ The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
‘The fucking sun shone, having no fucking alternative, on the nothing fucking new.’ Murphy by Samuel Beckett.
‘It was another fucking beautiful morning on the Island of Sodor.’ Thomas the Tank Engine: Thomas Saves the Day by Rev. W. Audry
‘Once upon a time two or three weeks ago, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record for posterity, exactly as it happened, word by word and step by step, the story of another man for indeed what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal, a somewhat paranoiac fellow unmarried, unattached, and quite irresponsible, who had decided to lock himself in a room a furnished room with a private bath, cooking facilities, a bed, a table, and at least one chair, in New York City, for a year 365 days to be precise, to write the story of another person—a shy young man about of 19 years old—who, after the war the Second World War, had come to America the land of opportunities from France under the sponsorship of his uncle—a journalist, fluent in five languages—who himself had come to America from Europe Poland it seems, though this was not clearly established sometime during the war after a series of rather gruesome adventures, and who, at the end of the war, wrote to the father his cousin by marriage of the young man whom he considered as a nephew, curious to know if he the father and his family had survived the German occupation, and indeed was deeply saddened to learn, in a letter from the young man—a long and touching letter written in English, not by the young man, however, who did not know a damn word of English, but by a good friend of his who had studied English in school—that his parents both his father and mother and his two sisters one older and the other younger than he had been deported they were Jewish to a German concentration camp Auschwitz probably and never returned, no doubt having been exterminated deliberately X * X * X * X, and that, therefore, the young man who was now an orphan, a displaced person, who, during the war, had managed to escape deportation by working very hard on a farm in Southern France, would be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to come to America that great country he had heard so much about and yet knew so little about to start a new life, possibly go to school, learn a trade, and become a good, loyal citizen. Fuck!’ (OK, so I broke the rule there by putting the ‘f’ word after the first sentence but it just seemed to be crying out for it.) Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman. (I think the gentleman who does my proofreading and editing might have something to say if I opened a book like that. And I bet he’d use the ‘f’ word in his first sentence.)
Before I go, I just have to relate a totally surreal reading experience I had on the mini-bus home today. (This is a true story.) I’ve just started reading Animal Farm by George Orwell. So there I am reading the story on my Kindle in the front seat of the bus and I’ve got the window down because the weather is still pretty good here. We’re in the centre of Istanbul which is just cars and concrete as far as the eye can see. And I’m about four chapters in and at a place where the animals are in the barn being spoken to by Napoleon. And I can actually smell the farm animals. (The scent of livestock is unmistakeable for me because I was born and raised in the country, with a farm down the road from home. I’d know it anywhere, blindfolded.)
My first thought was, holy crap what a writer – I can actually smell the scene. How can he do that with words? Can you imagine? I’m not exaggerating anything. I think my mouth was hanging open. And I looked up, and in the parking area of whatever-the-place-was the other side of the fence from where we were stuck in traffic there were cows and pigs and a big pile of soiled straw. In the middle of Istanbul! I’d have been less surprised to have seen Elvis. This will now be my prime example when I have conversations about coincidence.