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مجموعه: کتاب های خیلی ساده / کتاب 157

کتاب های خیلی ساده

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Life is full of surprises! This day is one of the most fantastic and pleasant days for Nicole Leconte. She has just arrived at the railway station in the English town Norwich. She has to speak at the local university with her scientific report. Of course, Nicole did not expect that she would be met at the station like a star. Things have been changed so much since she studied in England. Scientists in France are considered ordinary people who have to get to the destination by themselves. Nicole got here not only a warm welcome but also the best room in the hotel, a delicious breakfast and a tour around the town. How great the state supports education in the UK! One girl Melanie met Nicole at the station. Melanie admitted that she had come to this profession thanks to Nicole's example. Melanie did not expect that the French scientist would be so kind and pleasant. Everything is so good, that it can't be the truth...

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Don’t Miss the Mozart!

The train curled into the station, bending like a snake to reach the long platform; inside, the travellers standing near the exits grabbed hold of the seats to stop themselves from falling. Nicole Leconte looked at her watch. The train was on time. Good, she thought, she would have plenty of time to look around before her talk.

She picked up her small travelling case and stepped off the train, looking for somewhere where she could buy a map of the town. Or was it a city? It was the first time she had visited Norwich and she didn’t know anything about the place.

The station was crowded; people getting off the train mixed with those waiting for their family and friends. Nicole tried to keep to one side and found herself in front of a large poster for the local football club. Norwich City it was called. ‘Ah, so it’s a city,’ she reflected. One day, she decided, she really must get someone to tell her the difference.

There was a small shop selling newspapers and books, the kind you find in all English railway stations. Nicole was making her way there when she bumped into a young woman. Or rather, the young woman came flying through the door and ran straight into her.

‘I’m so sorry,’ the woman began. She was out of breath and had obviously been running.

The woman, Melanie, was about to run on when she stopped and looked at the woman she had nearly knocked down.

Nicole was wearing a light brown raincoat, under which Melanie could see a black sweater and a black skirt. A silk scarf hung across her shoulders as if held there by magic. ‘She must be French,’ thought Melanie. ‘Only a Frenchwoman could wear a scarf like that.’ On her, she knew, it would instantly fall off. Melanie began to smile.

‘Madame Leconte?’ Nicole heard her ask, as if it was the most marvellous surprise to find her there, at that moment.

‘Yes,’ Nicole admitted. She was surprised that the university had sent someone to meet her. Usually she had to look after herself and if she was offered supper after her talk, she considered herself lucky. This was obviously going to be a good day.

‘Thank goodness!’ said Melanie. ‘I’m so sorry I’m late. The traffic is awful; it just gets worse and worse all the time.’ She spoke very quickly and Nicole, although she spoke very good English, found it hard to follow her. Melanie then took a deep breath and smiled again.

‘Welcome to Norwich,’ she said. ‘My name is Melanie, but everyone calls me Mel.’

‘How very kind,’ Nicole smiled. ‘I didn’t expect anyone to come and meet me at the station,’ she said.

‘Didn’t the office tell you?’ Mel frowned. ‘Or your agent? Never mind, I’m here now. What do you want to do first, go to your hotel or have lunch?’

Nicole did not have an agent, but she supposed that some senior professors did have agents to handle their talks so Mel’s comment did not seem surprising at the time. Nor had she booked a hotel. She supposed that she would probably stay with another professor. That was what usually happened these days. Hotels, she had been told, were too expensive.

‘I didn’t expect a hotel,’ Nicole admitted. ‘I thought I’d be staying in someone’s house.’

‘Not you,’ replied Mel. She sounded shocked. ‘You’re a star, aren’t you?’

Until this moment this was a feeling Nicole had kept to herself. To go around saying you were a star would not be appreciated in university circles, however many books you had published. Nicole was charmed.

‘Not really a star,’ she told Mel. ‘Or only in my very small circle.’

‘You’re too modest,’ Mel said. ‘We’re all really looking forward to this evening.’

‘How very kind,’ said Nicole. ‘I will certainly do my best then.’ Mel laughed as if this was a joke. ‘So, hotel first?’ she asked.

‘Yes, please,’ declared Nicole. She could have a quick shower, she thought, before her talk. What a treat.

Mel led Nicole out of the station. There was a hotel immediately opposite, on the other side of the road. People were eating at a restaurant overlooking the river. Nicole thought it looked delightful, quite French in fact.

‘We’ve put you here,’ Mel told her. ‘Then it will be easy for you to catch your train tomorrow. Is that OK?’ she added.

‘Superb,’ said Nicole, wondering how the university could afford such an expensive hotel and whether she should have asked for a larger fee. ‘How very thoughtful.’

She noticed, as they went inside, that it was a four-star hotel and offered a heated swimming pool as well as a comfortable room. The university obviously had more money than most these days. This was no tiny bed and breakfast place on a noisy main road, the kind she had stayed in so frequently and disliked intensely. In one, when she had been two minutes late for breakfast, they had refused to give her anything, even a cup of coffee.

‘You’re late!’ the owner had told her. He had even laughed. ‘Breakfast is from eight till nine.’ She had laughed too, at the time. She thought he had been joking. But then she’d realised that he had no intention of giving her breakfast. Nicole could not understand why people like him ran hotels or guesthouses, or whatever it was the English called them. They obviously didn’t like people. She tried to imagine a French hotel refusing a guest a cup of coffee, but failed. It wouldn’t happen.

And yet Nicole had to admit that she had also stayed in some delightful small bed and breakfast places in Britain, some of them on farms. And although she found English food rather heavy - cooked English breakfasts, for example, that nobody seemed to eat any more except in hotels - the people who ran these little places were charming. She loved the way they had maps showing local walks and would tell her where she could find wild flowers growing.

Nevertheless, when you were travelling, the pleasures of a luxury hotel were hard to beat. And it was not what universities usually offered visiting professors giving talks on climate change. Nicole knew that the department of climate change at this university was very well respected and that its research facilities were excellent, but all the same she was surprised. And pleased.

Mel waited for Nicole in the bar. She was so relieved she had found her. It had been such a bad day until then. It had been such a bad week. First she had forgotten to give someone a telephone message and it had later turned out to be very important, and then she had got lost driving to the printers and was late getting back to the office. She felt that everyone had been shouting at her all week and she was thoroughly fed up. At least today she was doing something right. She had met Madame Conte and they were getting on really well. Everything was fine.

‘We thought that you’d probably like some lunch before you come and look at the hall,’ Mel told Nicole after she came back down showered and feeling fresh.

‘The hall?’ Nicole interrupted

‘For a soundcheck,’ said Mel. ‘I expect you want some time to check how the sound is.’ Mel took a piece of paper out of her pocket and studied it. ‘The office thought that you would probably want to go through everything from about two or three till five. But we can give you more time if you want it.’

Nicole was very surprised. It was true that she liked to check that the microphone actually worked before her talk and, if she was using her computer, she liked to check that, too. But she had never been asked if she wanted to go through everything before.

‘I don’t need all that time,’ Nicole told Mel. ‘I like to be fresh. I just go on and do it. But a soundcheck would be very helpful, just to get a feeling for the size of the hall.’

‘Oh, fine. We didn’t know,’ Mel said apologetically. ‘I’d better tell the office.’ She took a mobile phone out of her bag and tried to dial a number.

‘Oh, no,’ she muttered. ‘My battery’s dead; I forgot to charge it up last night.’ She turned to Nicole and smiled. ‘I’ll tell them later.’

Both Nicole and Mel thoroughly enjoyed their lunch. The food was better than Mel could afford to eat on her salary and Nicole had not been expecting such hospitality.

‘Tell me,’ said Nicole, as they drank their coffees and Mel ate both the chocolates, ‘what’s the difference between a city and a town?’

‘I think it’s that cities have cathedrals,’ said Mel, frowning slightly. ‘And the queen is allowed to make other important towns into cities, too. Or rather governments do. The queen just signs the bit of paper. I don’t think she does the choosing. She doesn’t actually have any power really.’

‘So what do you think of Charles?’ Nicole asked. ‘Do you think he will make a good king?’

‘Maybe if we were all vegetables,’ replied Mel. ‘You know that Prince Charles is famous for talking to vegetables.’ She laughed. ‘No, I’m not interested in any of the royal family,’ she added. ‘I don’t know anyone who is.’

‘You’re a republican then, like us, like the French.’ Nicole smiled.

‘I don’t really care one way or the other,’ said Mel. ‘I wouldn’t want a president like they have in the States. Is that what you have?’

‘Yes,’ Nicole told her. She had studied in England and visited the country many times since, so this lack of knowledge of European politics did not surprise her any more. Though she had to admit that all the young people she met were scientists and most of them had been studying nothing but maths and science for many years. She thought that the English education system was very limiting in this way, though it did produce many fine specialists.

‘Are you a scientist?’ she asked Mel.

Mel frowned. She couldn’t see the connection between republicanism and science. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I have a music degree.’

Nicole went to many concerts and was happy to talk about music. She had noticed a poster for a music festival currently running in Norwich and commented on the design, which was bright and colourful.

‘I’m glad you like our poster,’ said Mel.

‘Yes. It looks like an interesting festival.’

‘It is,’ Mel replied. She opened her bag and gave Nicole a leaflet. ‘Here’s a programme for you.’

‘How kind,’ said Nicole, looking through it. There were events every evening, and lunchtime concerts as well. ‘That’s an interesting concert on right now,’ she commented. ‘I really like that piece.’

‘Yes, I would have gone to see it if I hadn’t come to meet you,’ Mel told her.

Nicole was sorry that Mel had missed the concert.

‘Well it’s worth it just to meet you.’ Mel smiled and went a bit red. ‘Mind you,’ she said, ‘you’re not at all what I expected.’

Nicole laughed. ‘Aren’t I?’ she asked.

‘No, I thought you’d be rather distant and serious. And you’re younger than I thought, too.’

‘I’m older than you think,’ Nicole joked. ‘It must be a good day.’

Nicole looked at the festival programme again. That evening one of the best pianists in France was to play. Louise Conte. Nicole had heard her a couple of times in Paris and she would have very much enjoyed to see her again. But the concert was on at the same time as her talk. Louise Conte was going to play a Mozart concerto which was one of her favourite pieces.

‘I do love the Mozart Third,’ she told Mel.

‘So do I,’ she said. ‘I expect it will be the highlight of the festival.’

‘I expect you’re right,’ said Nicole. ‘Don’t miss it!’

Mel laughed. ‘I never thought that you’d be so funny.’ Nicole did not understand what the joke was, but she often found English humour difficult and did not say anything. Instead she asked if they could walk around for a bit and visit the city. She knew there was a cathedral. Its stone had come from Rouen, where Nicole had been born.

‘Norwich has thirty-two old churches,’ Mel told her.

‘So many?’ Nicole was amazed. ‘Are they still used?’

‘Well, not all as churches,’ said Mel. ‘Some of them are used as arts centres or galleries or for selling antiques; one is a theatre. But they’re all still standing.’

‘I had no idea that there was so much to see here.’ Nicole was impressed. She thought she might come back for a holiday. ‘You must love living here, then,’ said Nicole.

‘I’ve only just moved here,’ Mel told her, ‘so I can’t really say. There isn’t a lot to do. There are a few places to go and there are a few cinemas and clubs, but it’s not as lively as Manchester. That’s where I was at university. I’d like to get a job up north; I like it better there. It’s much friendlier.’

They stopped in front of a blue door in an old narrow street. ‘Oh, here we are,’ Mel said.

‘What’s this?’ Nicole asked.

‘It’s the festival office,’ Mel answered. ‘Come in.’

Nicole thought Mel might be going in to get herself a ticket for the concert. She still had plenty of time to get to the university, so she followed her in.

Inside the first room, lots of people were talking on phones and to each other. They all stopped talking as Mel came in and looked at her strangely. Before Mel could speak, a woman with red hair and a dark blue suit came out of the next room. She looked furious and began to shout the moment she saw Mel.

‘Where have you been Mel? Who’s this?’ she demanded, pointing to Nicole.

Mel stopped smiling. ‘It’s Madame Conte,’ she answered.

‘No it isn’t,’ shouted the woman angrily. ‘Louise Conte arrived several hours ago. When no-one met her at the station, she got back on the train and returned to London. She refuses to come back and play tonight. Do you understand? We’ve sold almost a thousand tickets for her concert and we don’t have a pianist. Just because of you and your stupidity.’ The woman turned to Nicole. ‘Who are you?’ she shouted.

‘My name is Nicole Leconte,’ she said. ‘I can see there has been a mistake. I am a scientist. I am giving a talk tonight at the university. I thought that Mel knew that.’

‘Mel knows nothing,’ interrupted the woman. ‘Mel has caused nothing but trouble ever since she arrived here. And as from this moment she is finished.’ She turned to Mel. ‘Clear your desk and get out. And you,’ she turned to Nicole, ‘can remove yourself from the hotel. I have three hours to find myself a world-famous pianist who is willing to get here and perform the Mozart.’

‘And that was it,’ Mel told her friends in Manchester some weeks later. They had heard the story before, but they were friends and knew Mel was still upset.

‘Do you know what you say to a music graduate?’ Mel asked them.

‘No,’ they replied. In fact they did know. Mel had often asked them this. It was an old joke, but they played along with her.

‘No,’ they all said. ‘What do you say to a music graduate?’

‘Two hamburgers and a coffee,’ said Mel angrily.

‘You’re still working in the cafe, then?’ asked one of her friends.

‘Yes,’ replied Mel, ‘I am. I can’t get a job in the music business because everyone knows everyone else. And now everyone knows the story of me and Madame Conte, no-one will give me a job.’

‘That’s not fair,’ acknowledged another friend.

‘It isn’t,’ complained Mel. ‘And it’s all the fault of Louise Conte. If she’d got a taxi to the office like any normal person, none of this would have happened. I blame her. And that other stupid Frenchwoman, the scientist. She should have guessed. But if Louise Conte had played, I’d still have a job. I blame her,’ she repeated.

‘I read a bit about her in the paper today,’ the same friend commented. ‘She’s playing at that big concert that Prince Charles has organised. She says she’s really excited to have been asked. She’s doing a Mozart concerto.’

‘Really,’ said Mel. ‘Well I hope it rains all evening. I hope there’s thunder and lightning and no-one can hear her playing.’

The following days it seemed that the papers couldn’t write about anything else except this concert. People all over the world were going to watch it. Mel began to have an idea. And the more she thought about it, the better the idea seemed.

The day of the concert a large black car drove up outside the Dorchester Hotel in London. The driver, a young woman wearing a dark uniform, walked up to the desk.

‘Can you tell Madame Louise Conte that her car has arrived,’ said the driver.

‘Certainly,’ said the man behind the desk. He picked up a telephone.

Louise Conte did not seem surprised that a car had been sent to pick her up. She didn’t look at the female driver who held the door open for her. ‘It’s a fine day,’ she said as they drove out of the capital and along the motorway. She studied her music and did not notice the road signs saying they were heading north instead of south to Salisbury, where the concert was to take place.

‘Yes,’ replied Mel, driving smoothly along in the car she had hired the previous day. ‘It’s a lovely day,’ she said silently to herself. ‘Just the day for a long drive into the country.’

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