Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

A17B Audio CD: Part 4

Cuthbert Dry-Monotone, the eminent Reader from the Social Public University Enterprise (SPUE*), attempts to rescue his career from the barren spell which recently seems to have afflicted it.  His determined attempts to shed light into the dark corners of the human condition yield results which are not quite what he bargained for.

“Good afternoon.  Welcome to Part 4 of the audio CD which goes with the course A17B Start Talking Bollocks.  My name is Cuthbert Dry-Monotone, and I will be chairing a round-table discussion in which we hope to cover a range of important subjects with a panel of eminent writers.  I am delighted to say that, on this occasion, the SPUE has outdone itself in being able to secure contributions from some of the most famous authors alive today.  Here we have Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; Doris Lessing, also winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; J. K. Rowling, now the top-selling fiction writer in history; Philip Pullman, CBE, and – for his notable contributions to life-writing – Nelson Mandela, the man who will go down in history for his tireless and ultimately successful struggle against apartheid.”

[All.] “Good afternoon.”

“Before we go any further, I would just like to say on a personal note how fortunate I feel to be able to observe at close hand such a glittering constellation of literary stars.  What a mouth-watering prospect our conversation must be for students and academics alike!”

[All: murmuring.] “Mmph.  Not at all.”

“I wonder if we could start with you, Toni Morrison.  Your novels surely bear comparison with any of the jewels of world literature on their own merits.  Nevertheless, you have achieved particular fame because of your articulation of the modern black American experience.  I would like to ask you directly: what methods have you used to do this?”

“Before I answer that question, I am afraid I will have to leave the room for a while.”

“Oh.  I am very sorry to hear that.  Are you unwell?”

“No, not at all, but I have just realised that, while I was getting ready for this interview, I made a cottage pie, and I have left it in the oven.  I must go and see if it is ready.”

“Cottage pie?”

“Certainly.  Since I arrived in your country, I have developed a taste for traditional British food.  I’m going to be serving it with what I believe you call ‘mushy peas’ and gravy.”

“Er…I see…”

[Sound of chair-legs scraping.]

“Are you sure?  Can’t we send one of the office boys to do it?”

[Receding.] “No, I’ll take care of it myself, thank you.”

“Oh.  Oh.  Well, we seem to have lost Toni Morrison – and for what would seem to be the most incongruous of reasons – but – never mind – we still have everybody else.  Maybe we could try to keep as close to the previous subject as possible by examining the black experience in apartheid South Africa.  Before coming to you, Mr Mandela, let me ask Doris Lessing to summarise her personal journey towards the realisation that she had to do something to oppose racial segregation.”

[Sound of spectacles being taken out of case and rustling newspaper.]

“Your personal journey…?”

“Young man, could you tell me what time it is?”

“Er…It’s three o’clock.  Might I ask why that is important?”

“Aha!  Mr Mandela, I have just noticed that there is a horse running in the three-forty at Kempton Park called Long Walk to Freedom.  It is being ridden by a jockey I happen to know and the price given here is twelve to one.  I think we’ve just got time to get to the bookies!”

“Is that true?  Long Walk to Freedom at twelve to one? I’ll put my shirt on it.”

[More sounds of chairs scraping.  Strangled cry of dismay from Cuthbert Dry-Monotone.  Receding sound of an elderly lady and gentleman heartily singing Camptown Races in unison, with the substitution of Kempton for Camptown.]


“And what about you?  What have you got to say for yourselves?”

[J. K. Rowling.] “Er.  I wrote the first Harry Potter book while sitting in a café in Edinburgh.”

“Is that all you’ve got?  EVERYBODY knows that!  It’s even in the bloody course material!  It’s one of the stalest items of non-news in the contemporary literary world!  Get out!  Go on!

[Sound of chair scraping and hurried footsteps receding.]

“And you?”

“Now that you ask, I think I have left the immersion on.  Very forgetful of me.”


[Sound of chair scraping and receding footsteps.  Sound of clock ticking, crescendo.  Sound of a man crying.]

“Cottage pie… I just don’t believe it… Cottage pie…”  [Fade.]


* References to any real institution have been altered for legal reasons.


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