Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

Raymond Dank is crouching in the kitchen of his dark, malodorous pothole described by estate agents as a basement flat. A fog of cigarette smoke hangs in the air. In front of him on the formica-topped table is an ashtray overflowing with stubbed-out Marlboros1 and a smeared half-empty whisky glass. Around him are piles of yellowing newspapers that were once an acre of Norwegian forest2. Dank looks at his watch. He is late for a dinner party at Clive and Cynthia Vertue’s docklands duplex. Hastily he inspects his burgeoning wine rack and seizes a choice bottle of powerful Barolo, stuffed full of tannin3 and artificial colouring. Leaving the flat, he grabs his potent aerosol ‘air sanitiser’ and jets an ozone-hostile blast4 behind him to annihilate all known odours and airborne bacteria while he is out. For good measure5, he ambushes his cat and showers it with a good blast of highly toxic flea spray (also deadly to the ozone layer). Outside, his ageing Renault Five is dripping oil onto the street. He leaps in, pulls out the choke and emits a stifling cloud of lead-abundant exhaust gas as he roars off6 in search of adventure, pausing only to empty his choked ashtray on to the pavement behind him.

Raymond Dank is not the sort of guest you and I welcome these days. He is walking death to the planet7, a one-man band of toxic effluent, and—worst of all—he has no compunction about the damage he’s doing to other people’s environment. The only good thing about him is that we can all feel superior to him, because we’ve all given up the things he still does every day.

Clive and Cynthia Vertue certainly feel superior to him. They are already apologising for him to their other, more caring guests8.

Arriving with his bottle of additive-friendly red, Dank immediately pulls out his pack of Marlboro, cheerfully observing that no one will mind if he smokes. There is a shocked silence9. Everyone else has, naturally, given up. ‘I’m sorry, Raymond,’ says Clive softly. ‘But we do rather mind, actually. There is a significant risk of getting lung cancer from passive smoking10, you know.’

They sit down to dinner. Dank’s bottle is uncorked and passed round the table. One by one, the right hand of each guest flies up over the glass. ‘I’ve given up red, actually;’ ‘I don’t drink any more on weekdays.’ Piggish and obscene, Dank slugs down his brimming red12 in solitary, brutish indulgence.

Renouncing the world used to be popular with those about to enter fulltime religious instruction. But its13 appeal has spread lately. Everyone is busy giving up activities which, until now, were a normal part of human behaviour. It is not enough simply to stop using, say, drink or cigarettes or biological washing powder. ‘Giving up’ has taken on the fervour of religious conversion14. Those newly converted to the refusal of tap water or artificial preservatives find it necessary to broadcast their self-denial at every opportunity. Even worse, they excoriate those who are still drinking themselves to death or polluting the environment. The mere act of ‘giving up’ confers the illusion of moral virtue. If you’ve given something up, you can’t help feeling you are a better person than poor old Raymond Dank, still yielding to his baser, animal appetites.

(adapted from Jane Ellison’s ‘The Dank Outsider’)

Questions

1 What does the writer mean by ‘overflowing with stubbed-out Marlboros’?

2 What does the writer mean when she says that the newspapers ‘were once an acre of Norwegian forest’?

3 Who or what is ‘stuffed full of tannin’?

4 Explain the phrase ‘jets an ozone-hostile blast’.

5 Give another expression for ‘For good measure’.

6 What does ‘roars off’ mean, and why is it appropriate in this context?

7 What does the writer mean by ‘walking death to the planet’?

8 What are ‘more caring guests’?

9 Why is there ‘a shocked silence’?

10 Explain the meaning of the phrase ‘passive smoking’.

11 What happens when they sit down to dinner? What excuses do they make?

12 Explain the phrase ‘slugs down his brimming red’.

13 What does ‘its’ refer to?

14 What similarities are there, according to the text, between ‘giving up’ and ‘religious conversion’?

15 In a paragraph of 70–90 words, summarise the criticisms of Raymond Dank.

Sample Answers

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