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Sam landed a job 1as 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 parents, and I 5 could always find teaching jobs in whichever school was educating them.
As one always does, we thought of ourselves as immortal, so Sam's coronary at the age of 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 10 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 decided to rent an old farmhouse near Dorchester which I found among the property ads in the Sunday Times before we left Cape Town. The idea was to have an extended summer holiday while we looked around for somewhere more permanent to settle. Neither of us had 15 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 during our time abroad and there was no immediate hurry for either of us to find a job. Or so we imagined. 20
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 affluence2 that hadn't existed in the 70s. We couldn't believe how expensive everything was, how crowded the roads were, how difficult it was to find a parking space now that 'shopping' had become the Brits' favourite pastime. Hastily the boys abandoned 25 us for their own age group. Garden fetes and village cricket were for old people. Designer clothes and techno music were the order of the day, and clubs and theme pubs were the places to be seen, particularly those that stayed open into the early hours to show widescreen satellite feeds of world sporting fixtures.
"Do you get the feeling we've been left behind?" Sam asked glumly at the end of our first 30 week as we sat like a couple of pensioners on the patio of our rented farmhouse, watching some horses graze in a nearby paddock.
"By the boys."
"No. Our peers3. I was talking to Jock Williams on the phone today" - an old friend from our Richmond days - "and he told me he made a couple of million last year by selling off one of 35 his businesses." He pulled a wry face. "So I asked him how many businesses he had
left, and he said, only two but together they're worth ten million. He wanted to know what I4 was doing so I lied through my teeth5."
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’ 6down the 40 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?"
1 Land a job: succeed in getting a job. 2 Affluence: money and a good standard of living. 3 Peer: person of the same age or status as you. 4 I: en italiques dans le texte 5 To lie through one's teeth : to lie outrageously 6 Mega-bucks sales: sales implying very large amounts of money.
"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." 45
"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 yesterday and anything of any size is well outside our price range. Something like this would cost around £300,000 and that's not counting the money we'd need to spend doing it up. Let's just hope 50 Jock doesn't decide to visit."
Sam's gloom deepened at the prospect. "If we'd had any sense we'd have hung on to the house in Graham Road. Jock says it's worth ten times what we paid for it in '76. We were mad to sell." Minette Walters, The Shape Of Snakes, 2000.55
I. COMPREHENSION 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 a la question posée. Les citations seront précédées de la mention de la ligne.
1. a) Who is the narrator? How is he/she related to Sam? b) Justify your answer by quoting from the text.
2. Match one element from column A with an element from column B.
A 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 abroad d) at the age of fifty-two 5. They moved back to England e) in the summer of `99
3. What consequences did Sam's job have on his lifestyle? (30 words)
4. Choose the right answer. They decided to a) buy a brick house in Richmond.
b) rent a place in Dorset. c) buy a farmhouse in Devon. d) rent a flat in Torquay.
Questions 5, 6 and 7. Focus from line 18 to line 29 ("We'd done well ...world sporting fixtures").
5. a) l.19. "There was no immediate hurry for either of us to find a job." What does it reveal about their standard of living while abroad? (15 words) b) l.19-20, "Or so we imagined." - What does this mean? (20 words)
6. How do they see the British society on their return to their homeland? (30 words)
7. 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 the end.
8. a) Who was Sam in touch with some time after their return? b) 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". What did Sam lie about? Why did he feel the need to lie? (30 words)
11. Did the narrator and Sam share the same vision of Jock Williams? (20 words)
12. 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.
Choose 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 words)
2. a) Do "garden fetes, village cricket" and "theme pubs" correspond to your vision of Britain? (150 words)
b) How can you account for young people's attraction to designer clothes? Do you approve of it? (150 words)