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One Morning in Robyn Penrose's Life




Robyn rises somewhat later than Vic this dark January Monday. Her alarm clock, a replica of an old-fashioned instrument pur­chased from Habitat, with an analogue dial and a little brass bell on the top, rouses her from a deep sleep at 7.30. Unlike Vic, Robyn in­variably sleeps until woken. Then worries rush into her conscious­ness, as into his; but she deals with them in a rational, orderly man­ner. This morning she gives priority to the fact that it is the first day of the winter term, and that she has a lecture to deliver and two tu­torials to conduct. She always feels a twinge of anxiety at the begin­ning of a new term. She sits up in bed for a moment, doing some complicated breathing and flexing of the abdominal muscles, learned in yoga classes, to calm herself.

She was born, and christened Roberta Anne Penrose, in Melbourn, Australia, nearly thirty-three years ago, but left that country at the age of five to accompany her parents to England. Robyn had a comfortable childhood. She attended an excellent grammar school which she left with four A grades at A-level. Though urged by the school to apply for a place at Oxbridge, she chose instead to go to Sussex University.

Robyn kicks off the duvet and gets out of bed. She goes to the window, pulls back the curtain, and peers out. She looks up at the grey clouds scudding across the sky. A gust of wind rattles the sash window and the draught makes Robyn shiver. Clutching herself, she skips to the door from rug to rug, like a Scottish country dancer, across the landing and into the bathroom. She pulls the nightdress over her head and steps into the bath, not first pulling the chain of the toilet because that would affect the temperature of the water coming through the showerhead on the end of a flexible tube, with which she now hoses herself down. She steps from the bath, stretch­ing for a towel in one of those ungainly postures so beloved of Im­pressionist painters.

Robyn, a dressing-gown over her underclothes and slippers on her feet, descends the short dark staircase to the ground floor and goes into her narrow and extremely untidy kitchen. She lights the gas stove, and makes herself a breakfast of muesli, wholemeal toast and decaffeinated coffee. The sound of the Guardian dropping on to the doormat sends her scurrying to the front door. Robyn scans the front-page headline of the Guardian, but does not linger over the text beneath. She puts her soiled breakfast things in the sink, already crammed with the relics of last night's supper, and hurries upstairs.



Robyn straightens the sheet on the bed, shakes and spreads the duvet. She sits at her dressing-table and vigorously brushes her hair, a mop of copper-coloured curls. Now she robs moisturizer into her facial skin as protection against the raw wintry air outside, coats her lips with lip-salve, and brushes some green eyeshadow on her eye­lids. Her simple cosmetic operations completed, she dresses herself in green tights, a wide brown tweed skirt and a thick sweater loosely knitted in muted shades of orange, green and brown. She takes from the bottom of her wardrobe a pair of half-length fashion boots in dark brown leather and sits on the edge of the bed to pull them on.

Robyn goes into her long narrow living-room, which also serves as her study. She lifts from the floor a leather bag, and begins to load it with the things she will need for the day.



Returning to the kitchen, Robyn turns down the thermostat of the central heating and checks that the back door of the house is locked and bolted. In the hall she wraps a long scarf round her neck and puts on a cream-coloured quilted cotton jacket. Outside, in the street, her car is parked, a red six-year-old Renault Five. Robyn turns the ignition key, holding her breath as she listens to the starter's bronchial wheeze, then exhales with relief as the engine fires.

She drives through the gates of the University, parks her car in one of the University's car parks, and makes her way to the English Department. She passes into the foyer of the Arts Block. There are several students slouching against the wall, or sitting on the floor, outside her room. Robyn gives them a wry look as she approaches, having a pretty good idea of what they want.

'Hallo', she says, by way of a general greeting as she fishes for her door key in her coat pocket. 'Who's first?'

Eventually they are all dealt with, and Robyn is free to prepare for her lecture at eleven. She opens her bag, pulls out the folder containing her notes, and settles to work.

(Extractfrom "Nice Work" by David Lodge. Abridged)

Discussion points.

1. How does Robyn's morning differ from Vic's?

2. What kind of person is Robyn? Prove your point.

3. Imagine what else Robyn will do on this day. How will her day end?

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