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Read the first part of the story. Study the way the author introduces the characters of the story
Coincidences, writers are told (usually by the critics) must be avoided, although in truth the real world is full of incidents that in themselves are unbelievable. Everyone has had an experience that if they wrote about it would appear to others as pure fiction.
The same week that the headlines in the world newspapers read ‘Russia invades Afghanistan, America to withdraw from Moscow Olympics’ there also appeared a short obituary in The Times for the distinguished Professor of English at the University of Budapest. “A man who was born and died in his native Budapest and whose reputation remains assured by his brilliant translation of the works of Shakespeare into his native Hungarian. Although some linguists consider his Coriolanus immature they universally acknowledge his Hamlet to be
Nearly a decade after the Hungarian Revolution I had the chance to participate in a student athletics meeting in Budapest. The competition was scheduled to last for a full week so I felt there would be an opportunity to find out a little about the country. The team flew in to Ferihegy Airport on the Sunday night and we were taken immediately to the Hotel Ifushag. (I learned later that the word meant youth in Hungarian.) Having settled in, most of the team went to bed early as their opening round heats were the following day. Breakfast the next morning comprised of milk, toast and an egg, served in three acts with long intervals between each. Those of us who were running that afternoon skipped lunch for fear that a matinee performance might cause us to miss our events completely.
Two hours before the start of the meeting, we were taken by bus to the Nep stadium and unloaded outside the dressing rooms (I always feel they should be called undressing rooms). We changed into track suits and sat around on benches anxiously waiting to be called. After what seemed to be an interminable time but was in fact only a few minutes, an official appeared and led us out on to the track. As it was the opening day of competition, the stadium was packed. When I had finished my usual warm-up of jogging, sprinting and some light calisthenics, the loudspeaker announced the start of the 100m race in three languages.
Walking around Budapest reminded me of my childhood days in Bristol just after the war, but with one noticeable difference. As well as the bombed-out buildings, there was row upon row of bullet holes in some of the walls. The revolution, although eight years past, was still much in evidence, perhaps because the nationals did not want anyone to forget. The people on the streets had lined faces, stripped of all emotion, and they shuffled rather than walked, leaving the impression of a nation of old men. If you inquired innocently why, they told you there was nothing to hurry for, or to be happy about, although they always seemed to be thoughtful with each other.
On the third day of the games, I returned to the Nep stadium to support a friend of mine who was competing in the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles which was the first event that afternoon. Having a competitor’s pass, I could sit virtually anywhere in the half-empty arena. I chose to watch the race from just above the final bend, giving me a good view of the home straight. I sat down on the wooden bench without paying much attention to the people on either side of me. The race began and as my friend hit the bend crossing the seventh hurdle with only three hurdles to cover before the finishing line, I stood and cheered him heartily all the way down the home straight. He managed to come in third, ensuring himself
“You are English?”
“Yes,” I replied, turning in the direction from which the question had been put.
An elderly gentleman looked up at me. He wore a three-piece suit that must have been out of date when his father owned it, and even lacked the possible virtue that some day the style might come back into fashion. The leather patches on the elbows left me in no doubt that my questioner was a bachelor for they could only have been sewn on by
“I hope you didn’t mind my asking?” he added.
“Of course not,” I said.
“It’s just that I have so little opportunity to converse with an Englishman. So when I spot one I always grasp the nettle. Is that the right colloquial expression?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to think how many Hungarian words I knew. Yes, No, Good morning, Goodbye, I am lost, Help.
“You are in the student games?”
“Were, not are,” I said. “I departed somewhat rapidly on Monday.”
“Because you were not rapid enough, perhaps?”
I laughed, again admiring his command of my first language.
“Why is your English so excellent?” I inquired.
“I’m afraid it’s a little neglected,” the old man replied. “But they still allow me to teach the subject at the University. I must confess to you that I have absolutely no interest in sport, but these occasions always afford me the opportunity to capture someone like yourself and oil the rusty machine, even if only for a few minutes.” He gave me a tired smile but his eyes were now alight.
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