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The curious incident of the Dan in the night-time

6 Aug 2011

It was late spring in 1998. I was renting a college room alongside my friend Dan. Wadham College - my college - has done so much of what they call "growing organically" over the years that the room you might end up with during the third year of your degree is both metaphorically and literally something of a lottery.

Exercise in Song Homage: End

Farewell, Parisian streets,
The gare Saint-Lazare and Cour de Rome!
I had a little wander, in style after style,
But now I’ve found my way home.

My writing hand grows slow
For I started long ago,
And it just remains for me to declare
Merci! to Raymond Queneau.

Exercise in Song Homage: Middle

Picture the rush-hour S bus,
That chap, with the long neck and felt hat,
The way he thought that everyone would tread on him,
And the speed with which he sat.

Now see, much later, when,
With a friend he walks; and then
Let’s repeat these scenes in different modes,
Over and over again.

Exercise in Song Homage: Beginning

Show me the way it might start:
A writer imagines the banal—
Two chance encounters with some chap, two hours apart—
Now he’s in the story’s thrall!

He sets himself a trial
That will test his strength and guile:
Tell the same tale in some 99 ways;
That’s Exercises in Style!

Exercise in Song War and Peace

Show me Napoleon’s war
As seen by the Muscovite elite.
As Bezukhov’s good luck turns sour, Bolkonsky flees
Austerlitz and grim defeat.

Through marriage, death and birth,
Trudging over frozen earth,
These aristocrats will come to enquire:
What was this bloody war worth?