Toes or how to judge a woman: Reading comprehension for the matriculation exam in English (Upper-Intermediate level)

Instructions: Read the texts below. Then read the questions that follow it and choose among A, B, C or D, True, False or No information in the text, respectively.
Kay Oakley stretched out on her sun-lounger, wiggled her toes and decided that the deep plum polish the beautician had talked her into really was too dark. The nails looked bruised, as if someone had stepped on her foot. The infuriating thing was she’d known all along she wouldn’t like it, but had given in. Now she’d have to go back tomorrow and have them re-varnished her usual pillar-box red. Then she sighed. Was this what her life had come to? When the colour of her nail-polish constituted a crisis? It wasn’t as if another trip to the salon was even an inconvenience. She genuinely didn’t have anything better to do. And when had she lost the ability to paint her own toenails? When had the prospect of lifting a finger to do anything herself become inconceivable?

From an outsider’s point of view, she had little to complain about. The twenty-metre pool rippled in front of her, blue and inviting. The gardens were lush and well-kept, the stone of the terrace glowed warm in the afternoon sun. The nearby poolhouse provided a wet room, a huge fridge stocked with beers, wines and soft drinks, and a stack of fluffy towels that was replenished daily by the maids. A walkway sheltered by a vine-covered framework meandered back up to the house, with its white-washed walls and cool tiled floors. Her daughter Flora and her little friend splashed in the children’s pool under the watchful eye of the nanny.

Here she was, leading the perfect magazine existence, in a luxury villa on a luxury complex in Portugal, and she was bored out of her mind. She’d thought about getting a job, but there were none. At least nothing that would make it worth her while. She could get a job as a manicurist. Or as a guide, showing potential purchasers around the new developments that her husband Lawrence and his colleagues were throwing up overnight. But neither of these opportunities was what she had in mind. She wanted something that would shake her out of her complacency. Something that would make her feel excited. Afraid, even. Something that would enable her to justify her place on this planet. It wasn’t
as if they needed the money. At the moment, they couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. What she needed was some mental stimulation.

A few months ago, in desperation, she’d tried setting up a book club. Kay was no scholar, but she longed for some witty repartee. For the opening read she had chosen Chocolat, because she didn’t want to put the other women off with anything too erudite. But out of six, only three managed to finish it, and the ensuing discussion revolved around the calorific content of the subject matter and the casting of Johnny Depp in the movie. Hardly an intellectual debate. Kay, who’d devoured it, adored it, and been enchanted by the concept of magical reality (which she’d read about in the reader’s notes on the website) realized she was fighting a losing battle. There were no like-minded women in her social
circle. Kay had never been one for close friends, but she found that for the first time in her life she was lonely.

For questions 7-10

Added to which, she missed England dreadfully. She’s never considered herself particularly at one with nature, but she missed the changing seasons. The relentless Portuguese sunshine was driving her mad. She’d give anything for a sparkling frost, or a brisk autumnal breeze, or even a torrential downpour.

In her mind’s eye she longingly imagined Honeycote, the tiny village she and Lawrence had lived in before they moved here. It would be preparing for winter now, shedding its leaves, putting on its mantle of mist, the air crisp and sharp.

She’d talk to Lawrence when he got home this evening. She was starting to suspect that he too had had enough of paradise. He had been restless of late. A bit heavy on the vodka and tonics too, which she didn’t like. It was often the way, when you had the Midas touch. Money didn’t always make life easier. Maybe they should cut their losses, get out while the going was good, and settle for a quieter existence. She pictured a small house back in Honeycote – well, not small small, but certainly not as big as the manor house they had once lived in. Flora could go to a decent school – she pictured her in the red and gray uniform of the prep school in Eldenbury, the nearby market town. And she could have a proper conversation, with a man who wasn’t a sexist jerk drenched in Hugo Boss, trying to paw you under the dinner table at every opportunity. Not that men in the Cotswalds didn’t have wandering hands, but they were more subtle about it. Kay allowed herself a little smile, both at the memory and the prospect, and felt a flicker of adrenalin. Perhaps they could be back in time for Christmas? Images of roaring log fires, flickering candles and intoxicating mulled wine rushed through her head. Surely Flora deserved a proper English Christmas. Perhaps that was the tack she should take with Lawrence? Flora was his Achilles’ heel, after all.

Something had to happen to get them out of this existence.


For questions 11-15

Like a ninja