AQA · AQA new specification · For Pupils · Reading skills · structure · Teaching Ideas · Writing

Tickets, Please – the power of the preposition

I tried this extract – the opening to D.H. Lawrence’s Tickets, Please – with a small revision group. I chose it because of its long opening sentences which capture the breathless urgency of the trams that Lawrence describes (and become a character in themselves) in the text. Here’s the full text:

This story, set during world war one, centres on the young inspector of the tram system who flirts with all the female conductors! One of them, Annie, falls for him, but he is unfaithful and unreliable. As a result, all the female conductors set a trap for him and get their own back!

There is in the North[1] a single-line system of tramcars[2] which boldly leaves the county town and plunges off into the black, industrial countryside, up hill and down dale, through the long, ugly villages of workmen’s houses, over canals and railways, past churches perched high and nobly over the smoke and shadows, through dark, grimy, cold little market-places, tilting away in a rush past cinemas and shops down to the hollow where the collieries are, then up again, past a little rural church under the ash-trees, on in a bolt to the terminus[3], the last little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy country beyond. There the blue and creamy coloured tramcar seems to pause and purr with curious satisfaction. But in a few minutes—the clock on the turret of the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s[4] shops gives the time—away it starts once more on the adventure. Again there are the reckless swoops downhill, bouncing the loops; again the chilly wait in the hill-top market-place: again the breathless slithering round the precipitous drop under the church: again the patient halts at the loops, waiting for the outcoming car: so on and on, for two long hours, till at last the city looms beyond, the fat gasworks, the narrow factories draw near, we are in the sordid streets of the great town, once more we sidle to a standstill at our terminus, abashed by the great crimson and cream-coloured city cars, but still jerky, jaunty, somewhat daredevil, pert as a blue-tit out of a black colliery garden.

To ride on these cars is always an adventure. The ride becomes a steeplechase. Hurrah! we have leapt in a clean jump over the canal bridges—now for the four-lane corner! With a shriek and a trail of sparks we are clear again. To be sure a tram often leaps the rails—but what matter! It sits in a ditch till other trams come to haul it out. It is quite common for a car, packed with one solid mass of living people, to come to a dead halt in the midst of unbroken blackness, the heart of nowhere on a dark night, and for the driver and the girl-conductor to call: ‘All get off—car’s on fire.’ Instead of rushing out in a panic, the passengers stolidly reply: ‘Get on—get on. We’re not coming out. We’re stopping where we are. Push on, George.’ So till flames actually appear.

The reason for this reluctance to dismount is that the nights are howlingly cold, black and windswept, and a car is a haven of refuge. From village to village the miners travel, for a change of cinema, of girl, of pub. The trams are desperately packed. Who is going to risk himself in the black gulf outside, to wait perhaps an hour for another tram, then to see the forlorn notice ‘Depot Only’—because there is something wrong; or to greet a unit of three bright cars all so tight with people that they sail past with a howl of derision? Trams that pass in the night!

This, the most dangerous tram-service in England, as the authorities themselves declare, with pride, is entirely conducted by girls, and driven by rash young men, or else by invalids[5] who creep forward in terror. The girls are fearless young hussies. In their ugly blue uniforms, skirts up to their knees, shapeless old peaked caps on their heads, they have all the sang-froid[6] of an old non-commissioned officer. With a tram packed with howling colliers, roaring hymns downstairs and a sort of antiphony[7] of obscenities upstairs, the lasses are perfectly at their ease. They pounce on the youths who try to evade their ticket-machine. They push off the men at the end of their distance. They are not going to be done in the eye—not they. They fear nobody—and everybody fears them.

Footnotes: 

[1] Many of Lawrence’s stories were set in the East Midlands (around Nottingham).

[2] The tram system was a public form of transport. Trams ran on iron rails set in the ground. Some of them still exist today.

[3] The final stop – normally the tram station.

[4] The Co-Operative was (and still is) a series of stores.

[5] Remember this is set in war-time: Lawrence is possible referring to those unfit for active duty or else wounded men sent home from the front-line. Remember, whilst the men were away at war, women occupied many of the jobs that men usually carried out. 

[6] Coolness and composure

[7] A call and response type of singing.

 

Here are some activities you could do to accompany this text.

Firstly, think about that long opening sentence. Here it is without the words – just the punctuation:

————————————————————————————————————————-, ———————-, ———————, —————-, ———————————, ————————, —————————————————————, ————, —–, ————————-, —————————————————————————————–, ————-, —————————————————————————-, ————————————–, ———————————————————, ———————.

So what does this tell us? It’s difficult without context of course but look at the spaces between the commas. What might be happening between these commas? Longer spaces of course  indicate extremely long clauses, medium space might be short phrases. What might be happening between the shorter spaces on the fifth line? Is this a list of adjectives? What effect might the writer be trying to create here? Breathless, yes, but what else? Meandering thought processes? A sense of movement?

Now look at the same piece of text with the first clause left in:

There is in the North a single-line system of tramcars which boldly leaves ————————————————————————————————————————-, ———————-, ———————, —————-, ———————————, ————————, —————————————————————, ————, —–, ————————-, —————————————————————————————–, ————-, —————————————————————————-, ————————————–, ———————————————————, ———————.

What might be happening now? Why the long sentence? What other information would be useful to see what is happening here? What if we leave in the prepositions and the verbs linked to the main object of the sentence (the trams):

There is in the North a single-line system of tramcars which boldly leaves ——————–plunges off into ———, ———————-, up ——————, through ——————————————-, over ——————-, past ———————————————————-, through —-, —–, ————————-, tilting away ——— past —————– down ————————————–, then up —–, past —————————————–, on ——— to the terminus, ————————————–, ———————————————————, ————– beyond.

Now we can begin to think about how the writer has used punctuation to create meaning. What effect to the prepositions create? Even without the verbs there is a clear sense of movement and vitality. Why end the sentence with the preposition ‘beyond’? What about the two active verbs – plunges, tilting? What image of the trams do these create in the reader’s mind? Even before reading the text, the student can formulate some ideas about meaning and how this is shaped by punctuation and then by the often ignored (or at least under-rated) preposition.

And so, when you look at the sentence complete:

There is in the North a single-line system of tramcars which boldly leaves the county town and plunges off into the black, industrial countryside, up hill and down dale, through the long, ugly villages of workmen’s houses, over canals and railways, past churches perched high and nobly over the smoke and shadows, through dark, grimy, cold little market-places, tilting away in a rush past cinemas and shops down to the hollow where the collieries are, then up again, past a little rural church under the ash-trees, on in a bolt to the terminus, the last little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy country beyond.  

You can begin to explore the finer details of the sentence. Where does the tram take us? List the nouns – county town, (industrial) countryside, dale, houses, canals, railways, churches, market-places, cinemas, shops, collieries, (rural) church, ash-trees, terminus… You get a real sense of place that is dictated by the rhythms of the tram’s journey and its circularity. Where are the churches? Why ‘perched high and nobly’? What can we infer from this? Obvious questions. What is important here is that we have drawn students’ attention to the structure of the sentence and how it complements what Seymour Chapman calls ‘the existents’ – items of character/setting.

Now look at the third sentence in that opening paragraph. Again, I’ve left in only the verbs, prepositions but this time the adverb ‘again’.

Again ———————- swoops downhill, bouncing ———; again ———- wait in ————————-: again ————– slithering round ——————– under ———-: again ————halts at———-, waiting ———————: so on and on, ———————————————– beyond, —————-, ——————————, —— in ————————————, once more —sidle ——————————-, ———————————————————, —————, ——, ——————, ————————————————-.

How is this sentence structured differently to the first one? Notice there are more verbs linked to the tram and thus more clauses as opposed to prepositional phrases. The verbs have a different feel to them: more animalistic as one of my students said – slithering, sidle, swoops. The contrast between waiting and the other more active verbs suggests a patient predator perhaps (and of course, this links effectively to the story’s content and themes). Students love the anaphoric structure – the word ‘again’ emphasising the monotony of the journey, its repetitive circularity, but there is also an urgency suggested by this adverb – again, again, again – the writer’s tone seems to be driving the narrative forward, thrusting, forceful.

Again there are the reckless swoops downhill, bouncing the loops; again the chilly wait in the hill-top market-place: again the breathless slithering round the precipitous drop under the church: again the patient halts at the loops, waiting for the outcoming car: so on and on, for two long hours, till at last the city looms beyond, the fat gasworks, the narrow factories draw near, we are in the sordid streets of the great town, once more we sidle to a standstill at our terminus, abashed by the great crimson and cream-coloured city cars, but still jerky, jaunty, somewhat daredevil, pert as a blue-tit out of a black colliery garden.

Relevance? Remember, sentences are as much a part of language in the new specification as they are part of structure. Analysing this sentence at the level of phrase and clause, as well as the deployment of prepositions and verbs, allows the student to unlock higher levels of meaning and interpretation.

Here are some slides I also used…

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-22-58screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-23-05screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-23-22

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