Tales of Faringdon: The Long Shot

Faringdon was created in a glacial accident that left a single hill standing above the rolling downloads on every side. And on that hill, in what was definitely not an accident, Lord Berners placed England’s last folly. It stands surrounded by trees, a compass cross of paths quartering them. The hill contains a reservoir: Faringdon orbits that weight of water. There are other geographical markers laid down, by accident or design. The ‘Egypt’ statue stands looking down the grand valley towards Radcot. Two schools form a gate across a road. The quarries and the new stone circle in the park set bounds on a landscape that’s perfectly weighted, a modern reflection of the chalkhills of Uffington across the way. This place seems to have stumbled upon a natural order. I walked into my flat, the first I’d looked at, of any I might buy within a twenty-five mile radius of a particular spire in Oxford (that marks where my wife is allowed to live while at university), and knew I would live here and be happy here. In our first month in the house, we were infested with Red Admiral Butterflies, once and never again. They were like confetti, to go with the bells of the churchyard outside my window, where every other day I watch the Happy Wolfhound and his owner bounding about amongst the graves. And still, while walking my ten thousand paces a day for fitness, or going definitely somewhere amongst these perfectly right lengths of street, or relaxing when I reach the roundabout that means I’m home from London, I know that I live inside exactly the right shape for me.
Faringdon is the navel of the world, and the top table of the Portwell Bar is the navel of the navel of that navel (unless you go to the Bell, who have their own version, and will stand no talk of navels). And in Faringdon there are no accidents, just love and chaos written by someone who seems often to be drunk, but occasionally displays flashes of ability.
‘I’ve been betting again,’ I said to the others one night, to try to stop them playing Liar Dice.
‘Did you find out who’s going to be Robin Hood?’ asked Guy, who works for a betting shop chain, and indulges my attempts at gambling like a mother bird one day hoping her offspring might fly. ‘Because when that online bookmaker offered odds on that, you set up a meeting with that production company to find out who it was –‘
‘Yes, thank you, Guy –‘
‘But they ended up letting you write for them instead.’
‘Which was very good luck and for which I’m very grateful. And they still won’t tell me.’
‘And then there was that bet you made on that actor, you know, the one who’s up for the Orange Award-‘
‘And you found out it was voted for online, so you tried to get all the SF geeks to vote for him –‘
‘I happen to think he deserves to win. As well as having put a small sum of money on the outcome. And don’t use the G word if you please. But this time it’s my Oscar bets –‘
They groan. ‘Can I get you a drink?’ says Martin. ‘Save you some money for March. Not that there’s any particular reason you’re going to need it in March…’
‘Only crippling poverty after he does another Sideways,’ says Simon.
Sideways was the best movie last year by a mile!’ I… well, yell. ‘It’s only because it was promoted as a comedy, and Hollywood don’t give Oscars to comedies. Paul Giamatti will win Best Supporting this year as a consolation prize, like Jeremy Irons won the year after Dead Ringers because Hollywood don’t give Oscars to Cronenberg!’
‘Anyone following this?’ mutters Huw, looking up from his dice.
‘This year it’s going to be a full set for Brokeback Mountain. Even Heath Ledger as Best Actor. He deserves it more than anyone.’
‘And of course everyone gets what they deserve…’ says Simon.
‘Like they’re going to give even a truly great character actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman a lead’s award for a picture nobody saw! The only other exception will be Reese Witherspoon, who’ll get Best Actress for I Walk The Line.’
‘Is this like Rachel out of S Club 7 being in Casino Royale? And isn’t Ricky Gervais going to host the Oscars?’
One hundred to one against Ricky, a stand up with a gift for improvisation, beloved in Hollywood!’ I, well… bellow.
‘And the U.S.A. to win the World Cup?’
Guy holds my gaze until I look away, and back to the glass in my hand, which contains my sixth Vodka and Diet Coke. ‘It’s a long shot. I was just thinking one night, after I came back from here, about how sometimes people do get what they deserve. Not that I quite believe I deserve this town. And with all the work they’ve put into laying down a structure for soccer in the States, all those pitches and lines and circles and…’
‘Anyone?’ Huw looks up again.
Martin hands me my seventh drink. ‘Mate,’ he says, ‘just don’t put your house on it.’
I tell him that’s the last thing I’d do.

8 Response to "Tales of Faringdon: The Long Shot"

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    For the sake of completeness, I'd like to point out that I'm also betting on Kate Bush at the Brit Awards, for Best Female and Best Album. The odds on her are quickly narrowing, and she's an old Brit favourite, so you never know. But I suspect I may still be doing another Sideways there.

  • Kate Orman Says:

    Damn you and your butterflies and hills and navels and things! The best that can be said about the House of Sticks is that it still hasn't fallen down.

  • LJC Says:

    *drive-by fangirl attack*

    contact addy, since it is curiously lacking from my card.


  • Caroline Symcox Says:

    Heh. Wrong again, sweetheart, although I do think Kate would have deserved a Brit. Tell me you're not actually betting on the Oscars? Please?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Cheers, Kate. For a moment there, I thought my wife was talking about you, and you're not even eligible for a Brit. Which means I'd probably have bet on you. (And Eva Green was cast in the Bond movie today.) I am betting on the Oscars, dear, you can't stop me, but I may now opt for Phoenix rather than Ledger. And Tara, I'd guess that's you, but your link doesn't work!

  • caroline symcox Says:


  • margaret the american Says:

    hi paul- hope it's not too strange, but after leaving dinner at the blue dragon, kathryn and I decided to see if you were on wikipedia, for a lark, and guess what, you are! found the link to your blog there- glad to see that we americans aren't the *only* ones unhealthily obsessed with the oscars. I do worry that you're destined for disappointment if you bet on phoneix for best actor, but the oscars being what they are, you can never be sure. Anyways, dinner was lovely, and your blog is charming. I hope we see you tomorrow!

    p.s. well done agitating for Chiwetel Ejiofor- he's a tremendous actor, great in both Serenity and Dirty Pretty Things. Also, the robin hood series you're working on sounds great- when do you think it's going to air?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    It was wonderful to meet the two of you as well. I'm going to blog next about Richard Freeman and The Unknown as relating to Microcon, so please dive in and reply there, and hopefully we can get a little Microcon folk chat going. I would guess, and it is a guess, that Robin would be on in autumn this year.