English for advanced learners
A Suitable Job - a short story
Note: words in bold are explained in the vocabulary guide, words in red italics appear in one of the exercises below.
"Aren't you a bit...small for this kind of work?" Robbie was asked at the interview.
"I'm strong for my size," said Robbie.
"If we offered you the job, would you take it?"
The panel weren't long in deciding. It would make them look progressive to appoint Robbie.
To begin with, the other dustmen left Robbie the heaviest, smelliest bags.
It would have got anyone else down, but Robbie, who was a big fan of martial arts, remembered David Carradine in the old movie "Kung Fu". His initiation ordeal had been to pick up a tub of burning coals: much worse than rubbish bins.
In the end the other dustmen decided that the kid was O.K. Robbie kept them supplied with liquorice and seemed to have an understanding with the assorted pooches of the neighbourhood. They nicknamed Robbie "Ginger Ninja" and clubbed together to buy him a white headband. For a time Robbie felt that life was complete.
What changed this contented state of affairs was the arrival of Graeme, or more precisely, Graeme and Graeme's Mum. They moved into Mrs Green's house at number 19 after the old lady had died in the autumn. Robbie emptied their bin every Tuesday.
Robbie adjusted the white headband and walked up the path of number 19. The new owner of the house was nineteen, a year or so older than Robbie, and here he was.
"Hi Graeme. How's your Mum today?" Graeme looked after his invalid mother, full-time.
"She's fine, thanks."
Graeme's voice was pleasant, his smile even better, thought Robbie.
Graeme was Robbie's new idol. True he was skinny, his jeans bagged in the wrong place, but he was a hero. Stealing a peep through the front window of number 19 one Tuesday, Robbie watched Graeme lift his Mum from her wheelchair to her bed. Graeme had done that with the same ease as Robbie heaved bins about, only with much more care.
"Do you want a liquorice?" asked Robbie.
"Do you want a Fisherman's Friend?" Trading sweets kept them together a bit longer.
"Robbie, can I ask you something?"
Anything, thought Robbie. "Go on."
"Don't your parents mind you being a dustman?"
If disappointed by this question, Robbie did not show it. "My Dad says that as I'm not academic, it doesn't matter what I do. And I wanted to be a dustman."
"Why was that?" Graeme sounded really interested. Robbie knew that he wouldn't laugh at the answer.
"I remembered when I was a child and the dustmen came round to our house. They used to wave at me and they always seemed cheerful, like milkmen. I don't have the maths to be a milkman, but I'm a good dustman."
Glancing at Graeme, Robbie added impulsively, "I bet you'd make a great paramedic, with your experience."
"Come on Ginger Ninja!" bawled Joe, one of the dustmen, who had overheard their conversation whilst emptying the bin next door.
Graeme could do everything that his invalid mother needed, but Robbie blushed scarlet at this remark.
"Don't let them get to you," said Graeme, but he spoiled his own advice by going red too. "Why do they call you Ginger Ninja?"
The dustcart was revving its engine. Robbie snatched the rubbish bag. "I'll tell you next week."
Robbie's workmates sent Robbie to empty the bins of Fitzpatrick Street and discussed the situation in the kid's absence.
"It's a shame," concluded Joe, tucking into his sandwiches, "That stick insect at number 19 is an idiot."
"No, you're wrong about Graeme, the lad's just shy," said the driver. "Those two seem to get on well."
He looked round. Robbie was out of earshot. "And you know what Robbie's problem is: older parents and an only child. There was a brother, but he died a baby. Robbie's having to fill the gap." The dustmen glanced at each other, silently resolving to do what they could for their Ginger Ninja.
Next day, Graeme Pearson found a stack of Kung Fu CDs on his doorstep. He watched them whenever he could. Practising before the bathroom mirror, Graeme saw a different youth to the lad who could scarcely say two words to Robbie. He saw himself a hero.
In the event the terrier at number 17 provided the catalyst. Robbie, walking up number 17's drive, deep in thought as to whether to take the dustmen's advice and ask Graeme to the karate class, absent-mindedly trod on the dog.
Yapping furiously, the terrier took off, launching itself from number 17's high-banked garden at the next high point - the back of the stationary dustcart. The dog teetered on the yellow rim before slithering into the cart, into a sea of rubbish.
If the driver switched on the crushers...
Shouting, Robbie was rushing back when Graeme appeared, darting down the steps of number 19; but the driver, misunderstanding Robbie's shouts, switched on the crushers just as both plunged their arms into the churning mass of black bin bags.
Inexperienced in the intricacies of Kung Fu, Graeme couldn't grab the terrier, but Robbie pulled out the dog unharmed.
Graeme blanched as white as the Ninja headband, but Robbie was all right.
Graeme stumbled closer. "You're fantastic!"
At that moment Mr Coningsby, the terrier's owner, rushed out of the house, and advanced on Robbie like a sumo wrestler. "I'll sue you! You'll not get away with this, you weirdo!"
"Oi!" Graeme thrust himself in front of Robbie, seized the dog and threw it back at its owner. "Don't you talk to my girl like that!"
At the words "my girl" Robbie went as red as her hair and had to sit down on the pavement.
"You O.K?" Graeme sat beside her whilst the other dustmen argued with Coningsby.
"What"s your real name?" asked Graeme gently.
"Roberta. But my Dad called me Robbie." Arnold had always seemed disappointed that Roberta wasn't a boy.
"Roberta. I like that," said Graeme.
Roberta looked up at him. "You do?"
"Yes," said Graeme. And as every hero should, he kissed her.
suitable: appropriate, right - dustmen: garbage collectors, rubbish collectors - ordeal: difficult experience - rubbish bins: trash cans, garbage cans - liquorice: a kind of black sweet or candy - pooches (slang): dogs - ginger: red-haired - clubbed together: all contributed some money - Stealing a peep: looking quickly - heaved: threw; bawled; shouted - scarlet: red - revving: accelerating - stick insect - very thin person - terrier: a kind of dog - absent-mindedly: without meaning to - teetered: wobbled, swayed - crushers: mechanism to crush or reduce the volume of garbage - churning: turning - intricacies: fine details - sue: take legal action against - weirdo (slang): strange person - pavement (in Britain): sidewalk (in the USA), path beside a road.
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Short story: A suitable job
1. Characterising:Write a short sentence (at least ten words) to characterise each of these characters mentioned in the story
2. Phrases and meanings:From the drop-down lists, select the suggested meaning that most closely corresponds to each of the following words or phrases :
- got anyone else down:
- kept them supplied with :
- looked after:
- with much more care:
- Don't your parents mind:
- it doesn't matter:
- Don't let them get to you:
- was out of earshot:
- provided the catalyst:
Rewriting / précis writing.Have students tell the story in less than 200 words, as seen from the point of view either of Joe, the dustman, or Graeme.
VocabularyThere are quite a lot of words in this story that your students will not have met. The more important or useful words are explained in the vocabulary guide; other words are not explained, either because their meaning is not essential for understanding the story, or because their meaning can be guessed. For example the word wrestler is not explained, but being precded by the word sumo which is understood worldwide (sumo wrestling is an olympic sport) , its meaning is likely to be understood or easily guessed. By the time it is used in the second half of the story, the word dustcart should be intuitively understandable in the context.
To elicit this word, ask students to describe the photo that accompanies the story.
A "Fisherman's friend" is a type of very strong menthol throat lozenge, popular in the UK.
At the end of the story, note the sentence "You do?" This is an unusual example of declarative word order being used in a question. We know it is a question on account of the question mark. In spoken English, the interrogative nature of the sentence is expressed through rising intonation.
Note on difficulty scores (CEFR / Flesch-Kincaid)
While this text is rated C1 on the CEFR scale, it is rated more easy (80) on the Flesch Kincaid scale.
The Flesch Kincaid score - which measures the difficulty of texts for native English-speaking readers - underestimates the difficulty for EFL / ESL learners of texts that contain a lot of dialogue and short sentences.
EFL teachers: Help develop this resource by contributing extra teaching materials or exercises.
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