Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ages of Man : V

(attempt at sustained dialogue, and at creating impressions for the reader without explicitly stating them. Nothing startling, just some basic character exposition.)

It was some minutes after they had left the house before conversation started in earnest. Edward's 'driving head' appeared to require such concentration as rendered him incapable of speech, at least until they reached the motorway, where he steadfastly drove in the middle lane irrespective of his or anyone else's velocity.
"That's better. Always good to get out on the open road and stretch the old wheels!" said Edward in enthusiastic tones.
"Quite." said George, at once relieved to break the silence and shy of the impending conversation.
"Second lane to the right, and straight on 'til morning!"
"I hope it won't take that long."
"Won't be much more than an hour."
"That's not so bad."
"So, tell me. Glad to be rid of school?"
"It hasn't really sunk in yet that I've left for good. I'm well accustomed to moving between there and home, so it just feels like another summer holiday. Funny to think I won't be going back."
"Did you like it there?"
George paused. "Yes, I suppose I did. A lot of the other boys hated it and couldn't wait to leave, but I never felt like that."
"Home from home, eh?"
"I remember the day I left school. We bounced the headmaster's car between two trees so that he couldn't drive it home. Goodness knows how he got it out again."
"I never thought of you as a troublemaker."
"I didn't actually bounce the car myself, but I helped them by watching out for teachers. Not that they could have done anything to stop them."
"There was a big water-fight around the school grounds."
"Get very wet?"
"Not really, we went and played croquet instead."
"Croquet? How civilised! Does anybody still play that these days?"
"They certainly do. At least, we did. For all its apparent gentility, it is a vicious game, and excellent fun. There was a group of us played every Sunday. We thought we wouldn't get another chance to play at all, let alone with each other, so it seemed a good idea to get one last game in."
Edward considered this for a moment. "I bet you'll miss your friends."
"We'll keep in touch, by post, or possibly by electronic mail. We've already arranged to meet up again after the first university term."
"What are you going to study?"
"Aeronautical Engineering at Bristol."
"Oxbridge not appeal to you? I'd have thought the cloistered passageways were right up your alley!". Edward beamed, pleased with himself.
"Shall we say they appealed to me, but the feeling wasn't mutual. Still, Bristol is closer to home, and it has a very good reputation. Most of my friends are going to Cambridge, though."
"Must be a bit of a disappointment! All your friends off to Cambridge and you to Bristol, talk about kicking you when you're down."
"Hadn't thought about it that way, really." He hadn't, but he did now. Conversation halted while George gazed blankly out of the passenger window and realised that he was the only member of his beloved Croquet Club who wasn't going to Cambridge. He wasn't ambitious by nature, and felt no envy for his more successful friends, but instead he felt left out of all the fun. Being a Cambridge undergraduate fitted his self-image so perfectly that he couldn't imagine fitting in anywhere else. He didn't like where this new train of thought was going, having boarded it so suddenly thanks to his grandfather's tactless questioning, and after a while he restarted conversation purely to stop having to think about it.
"How is work going?"
"Still chuntering away, pretty quiet for me at the moment."
"Not much business these days?". George wondered if 'chuntering' was a real word.
"Hardly, we've the highest utilisation on record, we've a huge backlog of orders. I've been back at work nine months now, they gave me lots of compassionate leave after Marjorie passed on, were very good about it."
"It must be good to be working again."
"I've been with the company for a quarter of a century now. I've got the gold pen and everything. Nothing surprises me any more. No point getting another job at 63, not that I could, so I'll just hang in there for another couple of years and top up my pension fund. Still, keeps me out the house!"
"Remind me exactly what it is you do?"
"I'm a chemical engineer. I work down at the plant, making chemicals for industry. Compressed nitrogen and oxygen, mostly."
"Do you work a lot with the machinery?"
"All the time. Well, I spend more time in the office than the crawl-spaces these days, the younger lads do that.
George gazed again out of the passenger window, and spent the next half-an-hour in silence, watching cars under-taking them.

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