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November 2008

Tuesday, 04 November 2008

A busy week!

Hi everyone,

This week John was supposed to be writing the blog, but he's been a bit snowed under and so it's my turn again. Actually, I'm quite pleased as this week is a busy week in London (and around the UK), so there's quite a lot to tell you about. In fact, this is going to stretch to two blogs! (oh, and Ana Paula - Paul has promised to write a blog too and show you some photos of the cruise he went on!)

OK, let's start at the end of October. As you know, 31st October is Halloween. In recent years, the American tradition of "trick or treat" has caught on in the UK. Children dress up and go door-to-door collecting sweets from their neighbours. Although most of them will dress up as witches, wizards, monsters and other scary things, there's always someone who would rather be a fairy! Of course, young children are not allowed to go around the streets by themselves, so their parents go with them. Some parents go even dress up's my friend Claire:

Another Halloween tradition, again from America, is carving pumpkins in to faces. A candle is put inside and the effect is really spooky!

Of course, the problem then is, what do you do with all the flesh you've scooped out? Well here's a really simple recipe for pumpkin soup:

For 4 people:
400g of pumpkin flesh, cut in to chunks
1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 a large onion, peeled and chopped
3/4 of a litre of hot vegetable stock

Heat the oil in a pan and gently fry the onion for 10 minutes. It should be soft, but not brown.

Add the pumpkin and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft.

Put the soup in to a food processor, and blend until smooth.

Put the soup in to a clean pan, heat gently and add salt and pepper as needed. Add more stock or water if the soup is too thick. Enjoy!

Does anyone else have recipes for pumpkins?

Unlike Olfa, we don't do anything special in England to mark 1st November. Our next event in this busy week is Bonfire Night on 5th November. In November 1605, some Roman Catholics plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I, by putting barrels of gunpowder in the cellars.

Guy Fawkes was the man in charge of guarding the gunpowder and lighting the fuse. On the 5th November, some soldiers discovered Fawkes hiding under the Houses of Parliament and he was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. It's now a tradition that before the official opening of Parliament each year, the cellars are searched! To mark the fact that he had survived, the King ordered everyone to celebrate with bonfires: and the tradition has continued. There is a children's rhyme about the event:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

If you want to know more about this story, look here

When I was a child, it was common to see children standing on the streets with a "guy" in an old pram. The "guy" was made of old clothes, stuffed with newspapers to make it look like a body and it had a mask of Guy Fawkes instead of a head. Children would ask people for a "penny for the guy". The money they collected was then spent on fireworks (or sweets!) and the guy was burned on the bonfire on 5th November. Nowadays, children aren't allowed to buy fireworks and most people go to big, organised firework displays rather than having a bonfire in their back garden. One of the big London displays is at Crystal Palace (if you've been following this blog, you'll have heard of Crystal Palace before!) and that is where I went on 5th November. I went with some of the Rangers, as one of them was celebrating her 18th birthday. We had to dress up warmly - November in England can be very cold

There were hundreds and hundreds of people there, enjoying the food stalls (chips, burgers, chips, fish, chips, doughnuts...oh, and chips) and the funfair rides.

No I didn

The merry-go-round

There were also lots of stalls where you could win prizes (usually soft toys) by throwing balls in to a bucket or darts at a board or just by picking a ticket with a lucky number

The birthday girl trying to win a prize

And, of course, the evening finished with a huge firework display which lasted for 20 minutes

Of course, fireworks never look as good in photos and I can't begin to tell you how noisy it was. When the rockets exploded, the ground under your feet shook! A good way to celebrate your 18th birthday, don't you think? In the UK, your two "special" birthdays are your 18th and 21st. Is it the same in your country? And how do you celebrate?

That's about it for this blog, but there are two more big events coming up over the weekend: the Lord Mayor's Show in London and Remembrance Sunday: I'll write about these in my next blog.

Until then, take care


snowed under: to be really busy
to catch on: to become popular
spooky: ghostly
Houses of Parliament : the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the House of Commons and House of Lords
treason:: the crime of betraying your country
soft toys: teddy bears and animals made of fabric and stuffed with soft material

Thursday, 06 November 2008

Poppies and parades

Hi everyone,

Last weekend London played host to two major events. The first was on Saturday morning when the Lord Mayor's Show took place. The Lord Mayor is elected each year: he is the Lord Mayor of the City of London - that's not the whole of London, but an area of approximately one square mile, right in the centre of London. There's been a Lord Mayor of London ever since 1189. In 1215, King John granted a Charter that allowed the City's citizens to elect their own mayor. Each year from then on, the new Mayor has had to travel from the City to Westminster to pledge allegiance to the King or Queen. So for nearly 800 years there has been a procession or parade through the streets of London. Over the years the Mayor's journey became so splendid that it became known as the Lord Mayor's Show.

This year over 6,100 people took part in the Lord Mayor's Show and I was lucky enough to be one of them. Can you spot me?


If it's a bit small you can try looking here

Also taking part were: 2000 servicemen and women

220 vehicles

71 floats

13 marching bands and 21 carriages including the State Coach

The procession is 3 miles long but fits into a route of only 1.7 miles! How do they do that?!

As some of the Rangers were taking part, I was asked if I wanted to go and help. We were all part of the Jack Petchey Foundation display. We had to meet in London at 9.30 and were then given a flag and instructions. All the nationalities that live in London were represented by flags.

There was quite a lot of waiting around until the start of the parade at 11.00, but once we got going it was fantastic! Thousands of people lined the streets, shouting, cheering, waving and blowing whistles. We had been told to wave, smile and cheer as we walked along - but at the same time, we had to watch where we put our feet, as there were a lot of horses in front of us....and you know what horses do! About half an hour in to the parade and it started to rain. in fact, it didn't poured! But we kept marching and smiling and waving. Soon after, I had to take my glasses off, as I needed windscreen wipers to see! But I kept marching and waving and smiling. It was, as one of the Rangers said, "awesome"!

We followed the traditional route through the streets of the City to the Royal Courts of Justice (close to Bush House) and while the new Lord Mayor went inside to take his oath of allegiance, we stopped for lunch. Can you imagine how much organisation goes in to feeding 6,000 people? Everyone was given a bag with a sandwich, crisps, water and chocolate - then everything was cleared away and in less than an hour we were marching back to the City of London. Needless to say, it rained, but it was a wonderful experience. You can see by the smiles on our faces that we may have been wet and cold, but we were very happy!

And so to the second major event: Remembrance Sunday. Helen has actually written quite a bit in her blog about this, so I won't write much more, but I thought I'd say a little bit about poppies. The poppy was chosen as the symbol of remembrance at the end of the First World War. In 1915 a Canadian doctor serving in France wrote a poem called "In Flanders fields"
. The day before, a friend of his had been killed. The grave was marked with a simple cross but wild poppies were growing between the graves. In Britain, the poppy is now the symbol of the Royal British Legion. "Poppy Sellers" stand in the streets in the weeks leading up to Rembrance Day (which is 11 November) and in exchange for a donation, give you a red paper poppy to wear. The money raised goes to help people who fought - and are still fighting - in wars, and their families. On the nearest Sunday to 11 November, the Queen, members of her family, politicians and many other representatives lay poppy wreaths at the Centotaph - not far from Westminster Abbey

In the grounds of Westminster Abbey itself, there is a "Field of Remembrance"

rows and rows of crosses and poppies put down by people who have lost a friend or family member fighting in a war. I went to take a photo for you and for the first time put down my own cross. My grandfather was a mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and was killed when the ship he was travelling in hit a mine.

Helen wrote about the two minute silence and many of you commented. I'd just like to add that many, many people in Britain observed the silence at 11 o'clock on 11 November. Buses pulled over to the side of the road, people stopped work, at school, in meetings or just in the street. At the Cenotaph more wreaths were laid. As this year marks 90 years since the end of the First World War, 3 veterans laid wreaths: they were aged 108, 110 and 112. The 112 year-old also served in the Royal Flying Corps. Just think, he might have met my grandfather!

Take care


P.S. Thank you for all your comments about "special" birthdays.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Derelict London

Hello I’m John Escolme, one of the presenters of BBC Xtra English, the live English learning programme on BBC Arabic, which you can hear 5 days a week at 1050 GMT on radio, and online at BBC Xtra English

I just love derelict and decrepit buildings and the blog this week has given me a great opportunity to share with you some of the great sights of run-down London!

Across Europe the credit crunch is being felt, businesses are shedding jobs, and people are being more cautious with their money. If some predictions are to be believed, the economy in the United Kingdom will be one of the worst affected by the downturn.

I’ve been wondering about how this will affect the ‘look’ of London when the investment dries up, unemployment is high, and people start to leave the capital of the United Kingdom to find work elsewhere.

The word derelict has a special resonance for me, and I predict there will be plenty of disused shops, abandoned warehouses, and mothballed railway stations in London before long.

Now I know what you are thinking, ‘he’s a real prophet of doom’.

Well not quite. I think there’s real romance in abandoned buildings especially when a former occupier has left one or two things behind in a building that otherwise would be an anonymous shell.

My interest in all things decrepit stems from a visit to a disused London Underground station not long ago.

Down Street station is in central London and is located not far from The Ritz. It was built to serve the wealthy Mayfair neighbourhood, but was so close to other stations that it remained open for only a few years and shut in the 1930’s.

This is what it looks like today. It may look like a standard Underground, or tube station, but the original doors have been blocked up, a newsagents has been squeezed inside the old entrance hall, and there’s just one tiny door to get in.

What’s interesting is that it had been used by the then Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill as office and bedroom accommodation during the early years of the Second World War – fascinating!

When we visited we entered through the tiny front door. Down a long tunnel we descended, caked in a kind of grey soot and smelling heavily of drains!

As we worked our way down a wide emergency staircase, we noticed a number of mysterious corridors and rooms leading off in a number of different directions.

One housed an old telephone exchange, complete with the stool that an operator would have sat on. Our guide told us that the name of the operator was Miss. Biddle.

The name instantly conjured up an image of her for me. She was certainly a rather orderly, no-nonsense and proper person I decided.

I could almost hear Miss Biddle putting important calls through to the Prime Minister. I like to think a conversation might have gone something like this.

Miss Biddle: “Hello, Top Secret Bunker, Down Street Station, Mayfair
how can I help you?”

Caller: “I wish to speak with the Prime Minister”.

Miss Biddle: “Who is this please?”

Caller: “It’s his dentist”.

Miss Biddle: “Oh, I don’t think he’s got time for dental treatment,
there’s a war on don’t you know!”

Ever since that expedition, I have wanted to see more of derelict and abandoned London, and I’ve found some great images.

This is one of my favourite scenes.

It’s The Dalston Music Hall, now, sadly demolished. It was certainly a grim site, but had stood here in the East End of London for more than 100 years. On the day of the demolition there were protesters determined to physically prevent the building being torn down. They failed.

Around the corner are some more grim buildings, in what must be the last few months of their lives. They really do look like they have seen better days.

You see, London isn’t all shimmering skyscrapers and wonderfully restored Victorian museums. Underneath the tourist gloss there’s quite a lot of poverty.

The U.K. has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the western world.

Now back to the pictures.

This is an old pub in Bethnal Green. Again, you will still find buildings like this in the East End of London. To see what were once chunks of thriving shopping streets at the heart of their communities reduced to this state is sad. It is surprising too, given that the financial centre of London is nearby.

Even nearer to the financial centre stands this building, which at the time I saw it was being squatted. You can see the vast glass buildings of the various financial institutions rising up around it. It won’t be long before the wreckers move in to raise this one to the ground.

But hang on, with no end to the credit crisis in sight, and the building boom over, it may live on for just a little while yet!

Well, that’s it. Let me know how you feel about all things derelict, do you think there’s any romance in these images?

Don't forget if you are an Arabic speaker, and want to improve your English, join us live on BBC Arabic, 5 days a week at 1050 GMT on radio, and online at BBC Xtra English
There are special quiz and question and answer programmes, on Saturday and Sunday at the same time.

Bye for now!


Credit crunch: A lack of money in the financial system.

Shedding: To get rid of.

Downturn: A decline in an economic cycle.

Derelict: In a bad state of repair, often unusable.

Resonance: Generates feelings or memories.

Run-down: In a poor state of repair.

Mothballed: To remove from active service.

Prophet of doom: To tell of worrying events to come.

Decrepit: Weakened or worn out.

Newsagents: A shop selling newspapers and snacks.

Smelling heavily: Smelling strongly.

Telephone exchange: Machinery designed to connect telephone

No-nonsense: Sensible and straightforward.

Grim: Grimey, dirty, generally unpleasant.

Demolition: The act of deliberately destroying buildings.

Shimmering: Shining.

Chunks: Sections, pieces.

Squatted: To live in a building without permission from
the owners.

Financial institutions: Banks, investment banks.

The wreckers: Slang word meaning those whose job it is to
demolish buildings.

Hang on: Slang phrase meaning to wait.

November 2008

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