'A Rough Guide'
A Rough Guide
by Mark Haddon
Be polite at the reception desk.
Not all the knives are in the museum.
The waitresses know that a nice boy
is formed the same way as a deckchair.
Pay for the beer and send flowers.
Introduce yourself as Richard.
Do not refer to what somebody did at a particular time in the past.
Remember, every Friday we used to go
for a walk. I walked. You walked.
Everything in the past is irregular.
This steak is very good. Sit down.
There is no wine but there is ice cream.
Eat slowly. I have many matches.
Mark Haddon, who won the 2004 WhitBread prize for best novel for his phenomenal Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was also longlisted for the 2004 Booker, which DBC Pierre won, has a poetry collection, called The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea.
In the first line, even though the initial sounds are made up of plosives (‘Be polite’), they are understated. The b and p’s are in non-stress syllables. It sounds like the speaker is lowering her voice but still maintaining a sense of earnestness. After these two syllables comes the first stress syllable, ‘lite’. Then the speedy reading after this, over ‘at the re’ makes me wonder if the person is speaking with a slur. The stress at ‘cep’, the non-stress at ‘tion’, and ‘desk’ – they all give an image of someone collecting herself. Especially so when the mute consonant at the end of ‘desk’ makes the end-stopping here more poignant, like someone stopping for breath or someone bringing up short.
The second line is full of nasal sounds, like someone is still in her cups: ‘are in the museum’ makes this patent.
‘Pay for the beer’ in line 5, repeats the plosive scheme of line 1, but this time they are in the stress syllables. And this time, the speaker sounds adamant in her insistence, but she softens a little in ‘send flowers’ and in the next line, which has a lot of tongue-rolling sounds.
The next 4 lines talk about the past. And the word ‘past’ itself is repeated and it also sort of circumscribes these lines. The speaker reminisces about the regular walks they take on Fridays. The line with 3 repeats of the word ‘walk’ is interesting. Notice this line has 3 sentences, so that there are 2 pauses. Also, the first and second sentences are similar in structure. However their symmetry belies any congruity. Rather, their separation by a pause between them shows up a contrast, a distance separating them: she and he were walking but not together, and this is affirmed by the line ‘Everything in the past is irregular’. Which, indeed, the pace of this walking was: irregular.
The penultimate line is a slurred rendering of ‘There is no wine but there is’. Then she perks up at ‘ice cream’, with a high-note end-stop.
The last line repeats the nasal sounds of line 2, with more labial sounds. The caesura or mid-pause, and ‘many matches’, which puts me in the mind of ‘knifes in the museum’ of line 2: something sinister or naughty is going to happen.