EDUCATIEI SI CERCETARII
Olimpiada de limba engleza
Faza PE JUDET / MUNICIPIUL BUCURESTI
Subiectul 1 100
Read the text The Universal Story by Ali Smith and write a 300-word essay in which
· explain the
title of the short story,
· express your
opinion about the role the fly plays in the text,
· explain the
significance of the phrase 'Boats
against the current' as used in the text.
You may refer to the above in the order you think fit.
Subiectul 2 100
Write a 250-word narrative essay
beginning: 'Life is full of surprises. I woke up one morning and found I could make
myself invisible at will. On the first day … '
subiecte sunt obligatorii. Timp de lucru; 3 ore.
The Universal Story
by Ali Smith
was a man dwelt by a churchyard.
no, okay, it wasn't always a man; in this particular case it was a woman. There
was a woman dwelt by a churchyard. Though,
to be honest, nobody really uses that word nowadays.
Everybody says cemetery. And nobody says dwelt any more. In other words:
There was once a woman who lived
by a cemetery. Every morning when she woke up she looked
out of her back window and saw -
There was once a woman who lived by - no, in - a
second-hand bookshop. She lived in the flat on the first floor and ran the shop
which took up the whole of downstairs. There she sat, day after day, among the
skulls and the bones of second-hand books, the
stacks and shelves of them spanning the lengths and breadths of the long
and narrow rooms, the piles of them swaying
up, precarious like rootless towers, towards the cracked plaster of the
ceiling. Now each was here, with too many
possible reasons to guess at when it came to the question of how it had
ended up sunk in the book dust which specked the air in which the woman, on
this winter's day, sat by herself, sensing all round her the weight of it, the covers shut on so many millions
of pages that might never be opened to light again.
shop was down a side street off the centre of a small rural village which few tourists visited in the summer and in
which business had slowed considerably since 1982, the year the Queen Mother,
looking frail and holding her hat on her head with one hand because of
the wind, had cut the ribbon on the bypass which made getting to the city much
quicker and stopping in the village quite
difficult. Then the bank had closed and eventually the post office. There was a grocer's but most people
drove to the supermarket six miles away. The supermarket also stocked books,
though hardly any.
The woman sat in the empty shop.
It was late afternoon. It would be dark soon. She watched a fly in the window. It was early in the year for flies. It flew in veering
triangles then settled on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott
Fitzgerald to bask in what late winter sun there was.
There was once a fly resting
briefly on an old paperback book in a second-hand bookshop
window. It had paused
there in a moment of warmth before launching back into the air, which it would
do any second now. It was a common house fly, a musca
domesticus linnaeus, of the diptera
family, which means it had two wings. It stood on the cover of the book and breathed
air through its spiracles.
It had been laid
as an egg less than a millimetre long in a wad of manure in a farmyard a mile
and a half away and had
become a legless maggot feeding off the manure
it had been laid in. Then, because winter was coming, it had wriggled by sheer muscle
contraction nearly a hundred and twenty
feet. It had lain dormant for almost four months in the grit round the base of
a wall under several feet of stacked
hay in the barn. In a spell of mild weather over the last
weekend it had broken the top off the pupa
and pulled itself out, a fly now, six millimetres long. Under an eave of the barn it had spread and dried
its wings and waited for its body to
harden in the unexpectedly spring like air coming up from the Balearics. It had entered the rest of the
world through a fly-sized crack in the roof of the barn that morning then zigzagged for over a mile looking
for light, warmth and food. When the
woman who owned the shop had opened
her kitchen window to let the condensation out as she cooked her lunch, it had
flown in. Now it was excreting and regurgitating, which is what flies do when they rest on the surfaces of
To be exact, it wasn't an it, it was a female fly, with a longer body and red
slitted eyes set wider apart than if she had been a
male fly. Her wings were each a thin, perfect, delicately
veined membrane. […] Her long mouth had a sponging end for sucking
up liquid and for liquefying solids like sugar or flour or pollen. She was sponging with her proboscis the picture of the actors Robert Redford and Mia Farrow on the cover of the Penguin 1974 edition of The Great Gatsby. But there was little there really of interest, as you might imagine, to a house fly which needs urgently to feed and to breed, which is capable of carrying over one million bacteria and transmitting everything from common diarrhoea to dysentery, salmonella, typhoid fever, cholera, poliomyelitis,
anthrax, leprosy and tuberculosis; and which senses that at any moment a predator will catch her in its web or crush her to death with a fly-swat or, if she survives these, that it will still any
moment now simply be cold enough to snuff out herself and all ten of the
generations she is capable of setting in motion this year,
all nine hundred of the eggs she will be capable of laying
given the chance, the average twenty days of life of an average common house fly.
No. Hang on. Because:
There was once a 1974 Penguin
edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic American novel The
Great Gatsby in the window of a quiet second-hand bookshop in a village that very few people visited any more. It had a hundred and
eighty-eight numbered pages and was the twentieth Penguin
edition of this particular novel — it had been
reprinted three times in 1974 alone; this popularity was partly due to the film
of the novel which came out that
year, directed by Jack Clayton. Its cover, once bright yellow, had already lost
most of its colour before it arrived at the shop. Since the book had been in the window it had whitened even more. In the film-still on it, ornate in a twenties-style frame, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow,
the stars of the film, were also quite faded.
The novel had first been bought
for 30p (6/-) in 1974 in a Devon
bookshop by Rosemary Child who was twenty-two and who had felt the urge to
read the book before she saw the film. She
married her fiancé Roger two years later. They mixed their books and
gave their doubles to a Cornwall
hospital. This one had been picked off the
hospital library trolley in Ward 14 one long hot July afternoon in 1977 by
Sharon Patten, a fourteen-year-old girl with a broken hip who was stuck
in bed. Though she'd given up reading it halfway through she
kept it there by the water jug for her
whole stay and smuggled it home with her when she was discharged. Three
years later, she gave it to her school
friend David Connor who was going to university to do English, telling
him it was the most boring book in the world. David
read it. It was perfect. It was just like life is. Everything is beautiful, everything is hopeless.
By the time he went up north to university in Edinburgh two years later, now a mature
eighteen-year-old, he admired it. The
tutor, who every year had to mark around a hundred and fifty abysmal first-year essays on The Great Gatsby, nodded
sagely and gave him a high pass in
In 1985, having landed a starred
first and a job in personnel management, David sold all his old literature
course books to a girl called Mairead for thirty pounds. Mairead didn't like English — it had no proper answers — and
decided to do economics instead. She
sold them all again, making a lot more money than David had. The Great Gatsby went for £2.00, six times its original
price, to a first-year student called
Gillian Edgbaston. She managed never
to read it and left it on the shelves of the rented house she'd been living in
when she moved out in 1990. Brian Jackson, who owned the rented house,
packed it in a box which sat behind the freezer in his
garage for five years. In 1995 his mother, Rita, came to visit and while he was tidying out his garage she found it in the open box, just
lying there on the gravel in his
driveway. The Great Gatsby! she said. She hadn't
read it for years. He remembers her reading it that summer.
When she died in 1997 he boxed them
all up and gave them to a registered
charity. The registered charity checked through them for what was
valuable and sold the
rest on in auctioned boxes of thirty
miscellaneous paperbacks, a fiver
per box, to second-hand shops all over
The woman in the quiet
second-hand bookshop had opened the box she bought at auction and had raised her eyebrows, tired. Another Great Gatsby.
Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Now a Major Picture.
The book was in the window. Its pages and their edges were
dingy yellow because of the kind of paper used in old Penguin Modern Classics;
by nature these books won't last. A fly was resting on
the book now in the weak sun in the window.
But the fly suddenly swerved
away into the air because a man had put his hand in among the
books in the window display in the second-hand bookshop and was picking the
There was once a man who reached
his hand in and picked a second-hand copy of F. Scott
Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby out of the window of a quiet
second-hand bookshop in a small village. He turned the book over as he went to
'How much is this one, please?'
he asked the grey-looking woman.
She took it from him and checked
the inside cover.
'That one's £1', she said.
'It says thirty pence here on
it', he said, pointing to the back.
'That's the 1974 price', the
The man looked at her. He smiled
a beautiful smile. The woman's face lit up.
'But, well, since it's very
faded', she said, 'you can have it for fifty.'
'Done', he said.
'Would you like a bag for it?' she asked.
okay', he said. 'Have you any more?'
'Any more Fitzgerald?' the woman
said. 'Yes, under F. I'll just -'
'No, the man said. I mean, any more copies of The Great
'You want another copy of The
Great Gatsby?' The woman said.
'I want all your copies of it', the man said, smiling.
The woman went to the shelves and found him four more copies of The
Great Gatsby. Then she went through to the storeroom at
the back of the shop and checked for more.
'Never mind', the man said.
'Five'll do. Two pounds for the lot, what do you say?'
His car was an old Mini Metro.
The back seat of it is under a sea of different editions of The Great Gatsby. He cleared some stray copies from beneath the driver’s seat so they wouldn't slide under his feet or the pedals while he was driving and threw the books he'd just bought over his shoulder on to the heap without even looking. He
started the engine. The next second-hand bookshop was six
miles away, in the city. His sister had called him
from her bath two Fridays ago. 'James, I’m in the bath',
she'd said. 'I need Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.'
'What?' he'd said.
She told him again.' I need as
many as possible', she said.
'Okay', he'd said.
He worked for her because she
paid well; she had a grant.
'Have you ever read it?'
'No, he'd said. Do I have to?'
'So we beat on', she'd said. 'Boats against the current. Borne back ceaselessly into the past. Get it?'
'What about petrol money, if I'm
supposed to drive all over the place looking for books?' he'd
'You've got five hundred quid to
buy five hundred books. You get them for less, you can keep the change. And I'll pay you two hundred on top for your trouble. Boats against the current. It's perfect, isn't it'
money?' he'd said.
'I'll pay it', she'd
There was once a woman in the
bath who had just phoned her brother and asked him to find her
as many copies of The Great Gatsby as possible.
She was collecting the books
because she made full-sized boats out of things boats aren't
usually made out of. Three years ago she had made a three-foot long boat out of daffodils which she and her brother had stolen at night from people's front gardens all over town. She had
launched it, climbing into it, in the local canal. Water had come up round her feet
almost immediately, then up round her knees, her
thighs, till she was midriff-deep in icy
water and daffodils floating all round her, unravelled.
a small crowd had gathered to watch it sink and the story had attracted a lot
of local and even some national media attention. Sponsored by Interflora, which paid enough for her to come off
unemployment benefit, she made another boat, five feet
long and out of mixed flowers, everything from lilies to snowdrops. It also
sank, but this time was filmed for an arts project, with her in it, sinking.
This had won her a huge arts commission to make more unexpected boats. Over the
last two years she had made ten- and
twelve-footers out of sweets,
leaves, clocks and photographs and had launched each one with great ceremony at
a different UK port. None of them had lasted more than eighty feet out to sea.
The Great Gatsby,
she thought in the bath. It was a book she
remembered from her adolescence and as she'd been lying in the water fretting about what to do next so her grant wouldn't be taken
away from her it had suddenly come into her head. It was perfect, she thought, nodding
to herself. So we beat on. The last line of the book.
And so, since we've come to the end already: The seven-foot
boat made of copies of The Great Gatsby stuck together with waterproof sealant was launched in the spring in the port of Felixstowe.
artist's brother collected over three hundred copies
of The Great Gatsby and drove between Wales
and Scotland doing so. It is still
quite hard to buy a copy of The Great Gatsby second-hand in some of the places he visited. It cost him a hundred and
eighty three pounds fifty exactly. He kept the change. He was also a man apt to wash his hands before he ate, so was unharmed by any residue left by the fly earlier in
the story on the cover of the copy
he bought in the quiet second-hand bookshop.
particular copy of The Great Gatsby, with the names
of some of the people who had owned it inked under each other in their different handwritings on its inside first
page - Rosemary Child, Sharon Patten, David
Connor, Rita Jackson — was glued into the prow of the boat, which stayed afloat for three hundred yards before it
finally took in water and sank.
The fly which had paused on the
book that day spent that evening resting on the light fitting and
hovering more than five feet above ground level. This is what flies tend to do in the evenings. This fly was no exception.
woman who ran the second-hand bookshop had been
delighted to sell all her copies of The Great Gatsby at once, and to such a
smiling young man. She replaced the
one which had been in the window with a copy of Dante's The Divine Comedy and as she was doing so she fanned open the pages of the book.
Dust flew off. She looked at the book dust smudged on her
hand. It was time to dust all the books, shake them all open. It would take her
well into the spring. Fiction, then non-fiction, then all the
sub-categories. Her heart was light. That evening she began, at the
woman who lived by a cemetery, remember, back at the very beginning? She looked
out of her window and she saw — ah, but that's another story.
lastly, what about the first, the man we began with, the man dwelt by a
lived a long and happy and sad and very eventful life, for
years and years and years, before he died. (abridged)