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Last Photographs

By William Christison.

The Proficiency level (very advanced) English activity below is by William Christison who is an English teacher in Madrid, Spain (Clases Particulares de Inglés). You can either simply read and listen at the same time to the text below or do the interactive activities in this order: Last Photographs - Websequitur, LP Matching, LP Cloze, LP Quiz, and for the really daring: LP WebRhubarb (extremely difficult).

William Christison:

Profesor de inglés en el centro de Madrid imparte clases particulares de inglés.
Profesores de inglés
Profesores norte
Profesores noroeste
Profesores sur
Profesores suroeste
Profesores sureste
Corredor Henares
Online Teachers
Estudiar inglés
Vocabulario - inglés
Gramática - inglés
William Christison
William Christison.

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Read and listen to the story

(If you prefer, read and listen to the text in the interactive activities listed above instead.)

(Or right-click and select "save target as" to download: MP3)

It had rained hard for most of the night but Marion, seeing patches of blue outside their Mansfield tenement, finally gave in. “Don’t worry, Mum, only as far as the park,” Willie said watching her, wrapped in fox pelt, straightening her hat in the mirror. There was no getting film on a Sunday even in Glasgow, but the young man took his camera, a gift from his sister in Canada, anyway. A click of the ratchet showed maybe one exposure left and Willie hadn’t taken pictures of his old mum in ages. As he spread the day's paper on a damp bench, he reflected on how well she looked. “Sit down here, love,” he said, “this is a nice spot.” It wasn’t, but Willie wasn’t about to make his portly mother walk any further either. There were just two street benches on their side of the park. At the opposite end of the bench where Marion had settled, a young couple embraced, to her right stood another left half-charred by vagrants. As he framed the woman in the viewfinder, Willie took care to compensate for the displacement of the image as it would actually appear; he wanted the hill in back and perhaps the trees and sky beyond as well. Then, if he got it right, he might even have it tinted. Marion slipped off her gloves and sat patiently watching her son as he bent, then knelt on the rough pavement. Taking pictures was no bother now. She remembered the day she and William had to stand like statues in the studio on Sauchiehall, how Em and Susie had fidgeted, and how when William, spotting the blurred figures on cardboard, insisted, cost be damned, that they be retaken. “The wee ones are growing so fast,” his voice rose, “they’re disappearin’!” It had been seventeen springs and there wasn’t a day the woman did not miss him. Marion had blotted out the morning in Corrie that she had awoken next to her husband’s lifeless body and her subsequent loss of speech; only the good times remained, and dear Willie, the one who’d stayed behind. A passing cloud darkened the sky. The couple rose and left and, as her son turned to change settings, heavy drops began to fall. Willie paused, looked upward and then back into the viewfinder. Just over his mother’s hat a man had suddenly appeared on the bench at the top of the hill. He wore a blue cap and drooping moustache and, hunkered forward as he was, seemed to peer out at them from beneath his lowered brim. Willie squinted at the figure for several moments as drops splashed onto his forehead. In a photo taken in the garden behind the Corrie Hotel shortly before his death, Willie’s dad had worn a similar cap. He lowered the camera to wipe his eyes; when he looked up, the man in the viewer had gone. Only Marion remained now, beaming, hands folded, impervious to the rain as it spattered upon her hat and fur. She nodded and Willie, rubbing the lens on his elbow, raised the camera again and quickly pressed the shutter. As he threw his coat over his mother’s shoulders and helped her to her feet, the sun once more emerged casting a pale arc upon the receding clouds.


Three quarters of a century later, a young man sits gazing at a gentleman in cap and shirtsleeves. The latter leans forward stiffly, his rugged face wreathed in turn-of-the-century whiskers, a garden hoe clutched in his hands. Could that be him? He gently bends the cardboard image till it slips from the four corners glued to the page of a black, leather-bound album, one his grandmother received from the old country and lay unopened for years under her bed. Not so much as a date. Several loose photos have spilled out and when he thrusts them back between the pages, a snapshot catches his eye. It is brittle, and meticulously hand-coloured. He studies it for a few moments. It must have meant a lot to somebody, he thinks, and then, for safety, tucks it behind that of the gardener. Later, in darkness, as water trickles down the gutter outside his window, he thinks of the old woman on the bench in the rain. He fancies that despite her smile she is intimate with loss, that the picture-taker is someone dear to her, that she once wrote a poem about a moth and a spider and that (he feels drowsy now) she knows there are no more photographs to be taken.

The young man rouses with a start. Instead of predawn shadows, sunlight floods the room. Late again! He pulls on his clothes, pours tap water into a mug of powdered coffee, and races out the door to his van. It isn’t until he is reversing down the drive that he begins to remember his dream. Above the letters “Warning: objects may be larger than they appear” a landscaper in shirtsleeves is shovelling dirt. The young man pulls out and, shifting gears, is quickly on his way. At the edge of his neighbour’s garden, the landscaper, unseen now in the side view mirror, raises a hand to his blue cap and nods.

Copyright 2008 by William A. Christison

If you like, test your memory: LP Cloze.


If you prefer, do the interactive Vocabulary Matching Activity: Last Photographs Matching.

  1. patches of blue - “manchas” de cielo azul (nubes y claros).
  2. tenement - casa de vecinos.
  3. gave in - se dió por vencida.
  4. wrapped - envuelta (aquí “vestida”).
  5. fox pelt - piel de zorro.
  6. straightening - arreglando, poniendo derecho.
  7. ratchet - un tipo de palanca.
  8. one exposure left - quedaba una foto.
  9. in ages - en mucho tiempo.
  10. spread - extender.
  11. the paper - el periódico.
  12. damp - húmedo-a.
  13. bench - banco para sentarse.
  14. reflected - reflexionó.
  15. spot - sitio.
  16. He wasn’t about to make somebody do something - No estaba dispuesto a hacer que alguien hiciera algo.
  17. portly - corpulenta, gruesa.
  18. settled - sentada cómodamente.
  19. embraced - abrazados-as.
  20. left - dejado.
  21. half-charred - medio carbonizado.
  22. vagrants - vagabundos.
  23. framed - enmarcado-a.
  24. viewfinder - visor.
  25. took care - fue cuidadoso.
  26. actually - en realidad.
  27. beyond - más allá de.
  28. got it right - conseguirlo bien hecho.
  29. He might even have it done - Podría incluso hacer que se haga.
  30. tinted - teñido, pintado, coloreado.
  31. slipped off - se quitó (una prenda).
  32. bent - se inclinó.
  33. knelt - se arrodilló.
  34. rough - desigual, en mal estado.
  35. pavement - acera.
  36. bother - molestia.
  37. statues - estatuas.
  38. fidgeted - se movieron nerviosamente.
  39. spotting - notando.
  40. blurred - borroso-a.
  41. cardboard - cartón, cartulina.
  42. cost be damned - al diablo con el precio.
  43. retaken - tomada de nuevo
  44. wee ones - los pequeñitos (término escocés)
  45. blotted out - borrada una experiencia de la mente.
  46. lifeless - sin vida.
  47. subsequent - posterior.
  48. loss of speech - pérdida del habla, de la palabra.
  49. stayed behind - se quedó.
  50. the couple rose - la pareja se levantó.
  51. settings - ajustes.
  52. drops - gotas (de lluvia).
  53. hill - colina.
  54. cap - gorra.
  55. drooping moustache - bigote grande que cuelga.
  56. hunkered - agachado.
  57. peer out - esforzarse por ver.
  58. lowered brim - ala del sombrero bajada.
  59. squinted - miró con los ojos entornados.
  60. splashed - salpicaron.
  61. forehead - frente.
  62. wipe - secar.
  63. viewer - visor.
  64. beaming - sonriendo (abiertamente).
  65. hands folded - manos unidas.
  66. impervious - insensible.
  67. spattered - salpicado-a.
  68. fur - piel (de animal muerto).
  69. nod - asentir con la cabeza, saludar con la cabeza.
  70. rubbing - frotando.
  71. lens - objetivo (fotografía).
  72. elbow - codo.
  73. shutter - obturador (fotografía).
  74. casting - proyectando.
  75. pale - pálido.
  76. arc - arco.
  77. upon - sobre (prep.).
  78. receding - alejándose.
  79. gazing - mirando fijamente.
  80. shirtsleeves - mangas de camisa.
  81. latter - éste, el último.
  82. leans - se inclina.
  83. stiffly - rígidamente.
  84. rugged face wreathed - facciones duras envueltas.
  85. turn-of-the-century - comienzo del siglo.
  86. whiskers - patillas.
  87. hoe - azada.
  88. clutched - apretada.
  89. slip from - deslizarse de.
  90. glued - pegadas.
  91. leather-bound album - albúm de fotos encuadernado en cuero.
  92. the old country - el país de los antepasados.
  93. not so much as a - ni siquiera un-a.
  94. loose - sueltas.
  95. spilled out - se desparramaron.
  96. thrusts - empuja con fuerza.
  97. snapshot - una foto instántanea.
  98. catches his eye - le atrae la atención.
  99. brittle - frágil.
  100. hand-coloured - pintado a mano.
  101. safety - seguridad.
  102. tucks - meter cuidadosamente.
  103. trickles - salir un hilito de agua.
  104. gutter - canalón.
  105. fancies - se imagina.
  106. intimate with loss - bien familiarizado con la pérdida.
  107. moth - polilla.
  108. spider - araña.
  109. drowsy - somnoliento-a.
  110. rouse with a start - despertar sobresaltado.
  111. predawn - antes del amanecer.
  112. floods - inunda.
  113. pours tap water - echa agua del grifo.
  114. mug - tazón.
  115. races - corre de prisa.
  116. van - furgoneta.
  117. reversing - dando marcha atrás.
  118. the drive - entrada enfrente de la casa para coches.
  119. landscaper - jardinero.
  120. shovelling - cogiendo con la pala.
  121. pulls out - se incorpora al tráfico.
  122. shifting gears - cambiando de marcha.
  123. edge - borde.
  124. side view mirror - retrovisor lateral de un coche.

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William y Steven: MadridTeacher podcast: "Post-apocalyptic fiction" (MP3, Text)

William Christison
William Christison
Nov. 23: Disponible para clases particulares en Madrid.

Comprehension Quiz
    (The correct answers are below.)

If you prefer, do the interactive quiz: Last Photographs Quiz.

A) Did Marion want to go for a walk?

  1. Yes, she did.
  2. No, she didn't.

B) Why or why not?

  1. She didn't want to go for a walk because she didn't want to fix the fox pelt with the blue patches.
  2. She didn’t want to go for a walk because it had been raining all night.
  3. She wanted to go for a walk because she was worried about the park.
  4. She wanted to go for a walk because a man named "tenement" was going to give away some blue patches in a field.

C) Why did she finally decide to go for a walk?

  1. She saw a little blue sky outside and she didn't have to walk very far.
  2. Some people were finally giving away some patches of blue.
  3. She wanted Willie to take a photograph of her hat, which was wrapped in a fox pelt.

D) Who was "wrapped" in a fox pelt?

  1. Marion.
  2. Willie.

E) How many photos did Willie have film for that day?

  1. One.
  2. The text doesn't say.

F) What was a characteristic of the area that Wilie and Marion lived in?

  1. You could always find film on a Sunday.
  2. You could never find film on a Sunday.

G) What does "a click of the ratchet showed maybe one exposure left" mean?

  1. They took a trip to the park and sat on the left side of the bench.
  2. He pressed a lever on the camera and saw that there was only one more photograph of the film.
  3. He had never taken a photo of Marion.

H) How long had it been since Willie had last taken a photograph of Marion?

  1. He hadn't taken a photo of Marion since she was a young girl.
  2. He hadn't taken a photo of Marion for a very long time.
  3. Willie opened his ratchet and took out a fresh roll of film.

I) What was Marion's relationship to Willie?

  1. She was his mother.
  2. She was his grandmother.
  3. She was his wife.

J) Why did Willie choose the particular bench where Marion sat down?

  1. It was a nice spot.
  2. Marion was fat and wouldn't want to walk any further.
  3. He was in love with her and he could see her reflection from there.

K) Were the couple on the same bench as Marion or on another bench?

  1. on the same one.
  2. on a different one.

L) Were there any vagrants near them?

  1. Yes, there were some drunk vagrants standing on the left of the bench.
  2. Yes, there were some drunk vagrants standing on the right of the bench.
  3. No, there weren't any vagrants. There was a bench that the vagrants had burned some other time in the past.

M) What was one of the problems with the camera?

  1. It tinted some of the photos.
  2. The image in the viewfinder didn't correspond with what the photograph would finally look like.
  3. It displaced the images to the right.

N) What did Marion do while Willie prepared the camera for the photograph?

  1. She felt bothered by the photo taking.
  2. She gave her gloves to Willie.
  3. She remembered going to a studio with William a long time ago.

O) How was taking photos better "now" than in the past?

  1. You had to go to a studio, stand motionless for a long time and pay a lot of money.
  2. The "wee ones" grow faster.
  3. Photos were cheaper, faster and easier now.

P) What was William's relationship to Marion?

  1. He was her son.
  2. He was her husband.
  3. He was her father.

Q) Did Marion miss William?

  1. No, she didn't.
  2. Yes, she did.

R) What happened to William?

  1. He disappeared.
  2. He died in his sleep.
  3. He lost his voice.

S) What was different about Willie, Em and Susie?

  1. Willie had stayed with his mother.
  2. Susie had fidgeted.
  3. Em had blurred figures.

T) When did the man on the bench at the top of the hill sit down?

  1. At the same time Marion and Willie sat down on their bench.
  2. After the young couple left.
  3. After Marion took off her hat.

U) When did the man on the bench at the top of the hill leave?

  1. Before Willie took the photograph of Marion.
  2. After Willie took the photograph of Marion.

V) What's similar about the three people in: a) the large photograph above, b) the landscaper that the young man sees seventy-five years later and, c) the man sitting on the bench in the second large photograph above?

  1. All three are wearing a blue hat.
  2. All three are landscapers.
  3. All three are in the photographs.

W) Who is the man in the first large photograph above? (The man "in cap and shirtsleeves," "his face wreathed in turn-of-the-century whiskers.")

  1. Willie.
  2. William.
  3. a stranger.

X) Who is the man that the young man sees seventy-five years later?

  1. a neighbour.
  2. a gardener.
  3. William.

Y) Who was the man sitting on the bench in the second large photograph above?

  1. Willie.
  2. William.
  3. a stranger.

Answers to comprehension questions: A2, B2, C1, D1, E1, F2, G2, H2, I1, J2, K1, L3, M2, N3, O3, P2, Q2, R2, S1, T2, U1, V1, W2, X3, Y2.

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Print the article-activity in pdf format: Print Last Photographs.
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