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September 2008

Wednesday, 03 September 2008

Bikes, trikes and automobiles. Well, just bikes.

Hi all,

My first ever post. So be gentle.

I've just got back from the land of design, vikings and a brand of beer that maintains it's probably the best in the world; Denmark. The carefully designed chairs, the delicious hotdogs, the scale model of a Fafnar (Viking ship), the famous pastries; all of these were lovely but I'd like to talk about something else.

I was impressed by the cycling. Perhaps not as exciting as Tivoli, the world famous pleasure gardens but bear with me. Everyone rides a bike. Everybody. Old, young, business people, families, pets. Well, perhaps not pets but I saw at least two dogs in the baskets on the front of their owner's bikes.

In the centre of Copenhagen the streets are ideal for cycling as many are wide and straight and have been modified so that there are wide traffic lanes given over entirely to cyclists. There is strength in numbers and motorists seem used to the idea that they share the streets with cyclists.

The city even has a free bike scheme that means any tourist can pick up one of the clearly marked city bikes and use it to get around. I was told by a Danish friend though that it is apparently very uncool to be seen on one of these although quite why I never worked out. It might be because the Danish are stereotyped as design conscious and the city bikes really don't compare design wise with the enormous range of stylish bikes on offer. I don't know, this is me speculating wildly. Perhaps one of you has a better idea why it might be "uncool"?

All this cycling gives the city a human scale. By "human scale" I mean that one isn't reliant on cars to get around, that it is possible to travel under one's own power, that your surroundings are easy to navigate because they are literally at a scale you can understand . This really appealed to me. Although cycling may not work everywhere when it's supported it can change the character of a place, making it more accessible. What, where you live, is "human scale"?

In my home town, Brighton, cycling is increasingly popular and the city itself has been named a Cycling Demonstration Town which means much public money has been set aside to improve the access for cyclists within the city. People even use cycling as the basis for demonstrations. Not a demonstration I took part in but perhaps next time!

Compared to Copenhagen though it feels as though we are still lagging behind when it comes to supporting cyclists. On my cycle to the station in Brighton there are some cycle lanes but they are thin on the ground. At one point on the journey there is even a section of cycle lane that starts and ends apparently at random and is only about ten metres long. But things are changing and perhaps one day we will catch up. What provisions for cyclists are there in your country?

I'd like to end with a mini task for you. One early slang term for bicycle was "dandy horse", can you think what a "dandy" might be? Email and let us know.

Thanks for reading. I've put a few definitions for the words in bold below.

All the best, Matt

bear with To have patience with.
design conscious An awareness that products can be beautiful and functional.
speculating wildly I am infering on the basis of not much real evidence. I'm guessing.
public money Money from the government, money from tax.
lagging behind falling behind, not keeping up with.
thin on the ground This is a cliche meaning scarce, difficult to find.
provisions Supplies for use. In this case providing cycle lanes, education etc.

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Friday, 19 September 2008

Going home (or Blog 2 at last!)

Hello. It seems like a long time ago I promised I would tell you all about walking to work… and walking back home. I told you about walking to work… and then I went silent. I didn’t tell you about going home. So I’ve just started worrying that you might think I haven’t gone home in four weeks or so! Maybe you think I’ve been living in the office? With a little bed under my desk? You know we do work hard here in BBC Learning English…

Well I am happy to say that is not true. I’ve been home every single day, it is just that I haven’t told you about it. And now I will. You’ll remember that my intention was to do a little exercise. I do it on the way home by walking from Bush House, where we have our offices, to Victoria station, where I take a train to my home in Brighton.

I really enjoy this walk. It takes me past some typical London attractions.


I walk down a road called the Strand, and very soon I am in Trafalgar Square, part of the traditional centre of the city, and site of Nelson’s column – that’s that tall thing above the cyclist!

Admirality Arch

Then I walk through a very impressive archway, which leads into the Mall – a wide and tree-lined road that goes straight up to the entrance gates of Buckingham Palace.

As you go through the archway, there is a little parking space, which says ‘Reserved for the Cabinet Office’. The Cabinet Office is of course at the core of the British government – after all Number 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives, is about 200 metres away on my left as I walk though. I must say, I’ve always hoped that I’d see a big car with a minister jumping out, maybe running with lots of important papers, trying to deal with a critical political crisis, or perhaps nowadays I should say a financial crisis. But I have never seen that. The parking space is either empty, or has a tiny little white van parked there. I think the Ministers get to Downing Street a different way.
Anyway, once I’m through the archway the really good bit of the walk starts. I turn off to the left a little and enter St James’ Park. Suddenly everything goes green and you forget that you are in the centre of London.

St James

What I really like is that in summer the park is full of people just relaxing, playing football or sitting on the grass reading or talking. Whatever day of the week it is, it suddenly feels like the weekend or a holiday.


More deckchairs

There are also some great deckchairs, the traditional striped ones and some new more artistic ones.

And believe it or not, there are lots of animals. Pigeons, ducks, swans – and squirrels. The squirrels seem to put on little shows for the tourists, running right up to them to get little pieces of bread or biscuits. This one however ignored me… I think he was too interested in what he had just found to eat.

A squirrel

So, finally, after my small trip through the park, I come back into the city again. I’ll leave you with a last picture - a traditional British pub, just before I get to Victoria railway station. It is called ‘Bag O’Nails’ – a way of saying ‘Bag of Nails’ but not bothering to pronounce the ‘f’ in ‘of”. In Britain lots of pubs have strange names. But why call it Bag O’Nails? I just don’t know. There must be a story there!

Bag o

All the best!


Thursday, 25 September 2008

A calendar for 2009

Hi everyone!

How would you like to help us here at BBC Learning English? We're just about to start designing our new 2009 calendar (here's the link to the 2008 calendar in case you haven't seen it.)

I know you all love talking and hearing about food, so this time we want our calendar to feature recipes for traditional dishes from the countries that you live in.

Are you up for it? Yes? Then this is what you need to do:

Send us:
1) A recipe for a traditional dish. It needs to be something that other people around the world can try to cook, so try to choose something with ingredients that can be bought in other countries too.
2) A photo of the ingredients (or one of the ingredients) or the finished dish


Chocolate cake

3) A photo of you holding what you have cooked

Me and my cake!

4) Your name and the name of the city and country where you live

Last year we had an amazing response from you and I'm sure the same thing will happen this time. Sadly, because there are only 12 months in the year, we won't be able to use all the photos that we receive. However, we'll create a site to showcase as many of the pictures as we can. We will also put the final calendar on our website so that you can download your own copy in December 2008 - a great December gift for friends and families!!!

You need to send your pictures to us by Sunday 12 October to and put "2009 recipe calendar" in the subject box.

Please spread the word! We look forward to hearing from you....

Take care


You must own the copyright to any photos that you send us; you also agree to grant the BBC a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sublicenseable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt and publish any material you send to us.
Thank you for helping us with this.

Carrie & the BBC Learning English team

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Jackie is currently in Bangladesh….

It could be a smell, a taste, a colour, maybe a word…. there are all kinds of triggers that can awaken a vivid memory of a place you’ve been to. There’s a certain deep blue that brings me straight back to the streets of Granada, where the sky seems to have its own special colour against the whitewash houses of the Albaizin. Strong mint tea with a little too much sugar makes me think of evenings in Morroco. There’s a slightly musty smell in some houses that reminds me of climbing the steep flight of stairs to my ballet class when I was a child, it still gives me butterflies.

A month into my stay, I know that Bangladesh will be all about sounds. I’m not sure exactly which sound yet, but there are several strong contenders. I suppose my first uniquely Bangladeshi auditory experience was on the London to Dhaka flight. Behind me was a large man with an appropriately large pair of headphones clamped to his head. He was listening to Bangla pop, loving it, and clearly keen that none of us should miss out on the musical brilliance he was enjoying so much. And so we dug into our evening meal boxes accompanied by his gentle humming. By coffee time, his performance had blossomed into synchronized armrest tapping and enthusiastic bleating-like noises. And just as I’d settled under my blanket for the night, our friend erupted into a heartfelt wail as he belted out lyrics passionately, tunelessly. I arrived in Dhaka tired.

From bleating to beeping, mention Dhaka to many people and soon you’re talking cars - lots of cars, packed in perfect pandemonium and apparent gridlock with rusty rickshaws, street sellers and small children. Yet, despite the seemingly impossible situation, everyone is determined to do what they have to do and somehow muddles through to get to where they’re going. I think of it as an epitome of life here.

Anyway, it’s not the cars per se that bug me: it’s the car horns. They’re endless. Hooting seems to be as integral a part of driving as turning the steering wheel. I’m sure no driver in Dhaka has ever managed more than two streets without bleeping at least twice. It must be genetic. It’s like breathing. The only thing that makes it bearable is that it’s intermingled with the feeble tinkle of rickshaw bells and occasionally, a call to prayer which rings out across the city and carries the thrilling reminder that I’m somewhere far from home.

Several times at night my dreams (which are usually about dull things, like ironing or arriving late for work) have been pierced by the music of some kind of flute-like instrument. It passes under my window and continues off down the road. It’s magical and if I ever go missing overnight, it will be because I’ve jumped out of bed and gone off in pursuit of this sound. I even became so enthusiastic about it that one day I allowed myself to be talked into buying a flute off a street seller. So far I’ve only managed a few dying-owl type noises and my fingers are too small to cover the holes anyway, but the enthusiasm is there.

And finally, there’s one sound here which is replicated across the world and drowns out all other noises as nature lets you know it’s taking over for a while. Whether it’s in Kerala, Cairns or Cancun there’s something about a torrential downpour that has a universal quality and the sound of rain always reminds me that wherever I am, ultimately we’re all together in one small world.

Jackie Dalton, Dhaka, Bangladesh

musty an unpleasant, old kind of smell
dug into started to eat
pandemonium chaos, confusion
intermingled mixed
in pursuit of trying to follow, hunt down

September 2008

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