"Disenchanted, lonely guy (21), long dark hair, would like communication with aware, thoughtful girl, appreciate anything creative like: progressive, folk, fine art."
"Lonely, unattractive guy (22), needs female companionship, looks unimportant. Into Moodies, BJH, Camel etc."
"Lonely Hairy, Who and Floyd freak, needs a chick for friendship, love and peace. Stockport area."
Her mother put the newspaper aside and said: "Cup of tea, anyone? Lemonade?"
When she had gone to the kitchen, Paul laid down his rabbit saga and picked up the Daily Mail. He began reading it with a tired, sceptical smile on his face.
"Any chick want to go to India. Split end of Dec, no Straights."
"Any chick who wants to see the world, please write."
Yes, she did want to see the world, now that she thought of it. The slow awareness had been growing inside her, fuelled by holiday programmes on the television and colour photos in the Sunday Times magazine, that a universe existed beyond the confines of Longbridge, beyond the terminus of the 62 bus route, beyond Birmingham, beyond England, even. What's more, she wanted to see it, and she wanted to share it with someone. She wanted someone to hold her hand as she watched the moon rise over the Taj Mahal. She wanted to be kissed, softly but at great length, against the magnificent backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. She wanted to climb Ayers Rock at dawn. She wanted someone to propose marriage to her as the setting sun draped its blood-red fingers over the rose-tinted minarets of the Alhambra.
"Leeds boy with scooter, looks OK, seeks girlfriend 17–21 for discos, concerts. Photo appreciated."
"Wanted girl friend, any age, but 4 ft. 10 in. or under, all letters answered."
Benjamin slammed his exercise book shut and made a big show of packing his pens and books away in the little briefcase he always took to school. His physics text book had started to come apart, so he had re-covered it with a remnant of the anaglypta his father had used to wallpaper the living room two years ago. On the front of his English book he had drawn a big cartoon foot, like the one at the end of the Monty Python signature tune.
"That's me done for the night." He stood over his sister, who was sprawled across both halves of the settee. "Gimme that."
It always annoyed him when Lois got to read Sounds before he did. He seemed to think this gave her privileged access to top-secret information. But in truth she cared nothing for the news pages over which he was ready to pore so avidly. Most of the headlines she didn't even understand. "Beefheart here in May." "New Heep album due." "Another split in Fanny."
"What's a Freak?" she asked, handing him the magazine.
Benjamin laughed tartly and pointed at their nine-year-old brother, whose face was aglow with amused contempt as he perused the Daily Mail. "You're looking at one."
"I know that. But a Freak with a capital 'F.' I mean, it's obviously some sort of technical term."
Benjamin did not reply; and he somehow managed to leave Lois with the impression that he knew the answer well enough, but had chosen to withhold it, for reasons of his own. People always tended to regard him as knowledgeable, well-informed, even though the evidence was plainly to the contrary. There must have been some air about him, some indefinable sense of confidence, which it was easy to mistake for youthful wisdom.
"Mother," said Paul, when she came in with his fizzy drink, "why do we take this newspaper?"
Sheila glared at him, obscurely resentful. She had told him many times before to call her "Mum," not "Mother."
Excerpted from The Rotters' Club by Jonathan Coe Copyright © 2002 by Jonathan Coe. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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