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Friday, 15 December 2006

Fifteen degrees on 15th December?

Dear Federico,

Many thanks for today’s blog. It’s good to hear from you. I am really pleased that you are finding this experience useful.

Yet another window open on the Advent calendar – fifteen already! (By the way, Lucy is still getting all the best chocolates from our Finnish Advent calendar!) It’s only a couple of days since we last ‘talked’, but so much has happened in that time. So, I’m sitting down, with my favourite Christmas CD playing in the background, to tell you about it. My favourite Christmas CD? Well, it’s simply called Carols at Christmas and it’s performed by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band in Concert. It’s a very English collection, performed in a traditional folk music style, and I could listen to it all day at this time of year.

The Shakespeare was just perfect. Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It’s extremely funny and it has two of the best comedy roles in all of Shakespeare. This production was set in pre-revolutionary Cuba. There was live Cuban music throughout and the acting was inspired. I haven’t laughed so much for a long time.

When we came out of the theatre it was 15 degrees! Can you believe it? The evening temperature in mid- December should be around or just below freezing. Lucy and I went for a quick drink after the theatre – and we sat outside!

It was still warm the next morning (Thursday) when I got up at 06.30. I showered, shaved and had a quick slice of toast before setting off for Windsor. Windsor is a small town about half an hour by car from where I live. I bought my car there and had to take it back to the dealer for its annual service. I have a Cooper ‘S’ Mini Convertible. Does that mean anything to you? I’m not sure whether they are exported to Peru. Well, it’s a very fast, very smart and very impractical car. And I love it! I don’t exactly keep a photo of it in my wallet, but I think you get the picture. It helps me to believe I’m still 18 (believe me, it is a very long time since I was 18). How pathetic is that?

Anyway, I set off for Windsor and because it was so warm I had the top down all the way there. I was practically frozen stiff when I got there, but I’ll only admit that to you. While my car was being serviced the dealer gave me a brand new Cooper ‘S’ Mini for the day. My car has lots of ‘toys’, but this one had even more: a fabulous sound system (BBC radio has never sounded better!); heated seats (not needed right now); tinted windows, so I could feel like a VIP, and lots and lots of switches to play with all around the steering wheel. Where do you think I went first? That’s right, the coffee shop, of course. Then a bit of leisurely Christmas shopping – leisurely because I have bought practically all the presents I have to buy so now I can just enjoy it a bit more.

I took the car for a spin in some of the country lanes around Windsor and then got a phone call to tell me my car was ready. The best part of the day was that the service was free. I had no idea it would be. Evidently, when I bought the car I also bought something called ‘Tender Loving Care’ (!) which means I get ‘free’ servicing for three years.

In the evening, Lucy and I went to her school’s Christmas carol concert which was held at a local church. Lucy is at a truly wonderful school. They have a choir and various orchestral groups which perform like professionals. The concert was free, of course, but if I had paid £25 for a ticket it would have been worth it. We had a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine afterwards and walked home full of happy Christmas spirit, in the incredibly warm evening air.

Well, Federico, the postman has just been and it looks as though I have at least twenty Christmas cards to open. Tonight I’m going to hear a modern opera group and on Sunday we’re meeting a few friends at Tate Modern – one of London’s most popular art galleries – for a kind of pre-Christmas party. Right now, there is an installation at the gallery which consists of several large plastic tubes which you can climb into and ‘ride’ down to the bottom – a bit like water chutes at a swimming pool, but without the water. Sounds like fun.

Your blog was very interesting, as usual, especially your comments on globalisation. It seems that all over the world people are, as you said, forgetting their own customs and traditions. I agree with you that it could soon become a monotonous world. One reason why I used to love visiting other countries so much was that they were different from each other. Now you can go anywhere in the world and drink the same coffee and eat the same hamburgers, buy the same clothes and watch the same TV programmes. Like you, I think I sound quite pessimistic. Why do you think that the Scissor Dances, for example, are not so well-known even in Peru? Do we value ‘foreign’ things more than we value our own traditions? Why, and what should we do about it?

I strongly agree with you, too, about how the spirit of literature changes when you translate it. Your example, Don Quixote, is perfect, too. I have a good American friend who is bi-lingual in English and Spanish. Don Quixote is her favourite book. She has probably read it more than 20 times and she has bought me several different English editions of it over a number of years. However, no matter how much I try I have never managed to really enjoy it. She sits down with it and is laughing immediately – even when it’s an English translation. But that’s because she knows it so well in Spanish I think.

Has your sister come to stay for Christmas? I envy you that Colombian coffee! Yes, I’ve heard of it! It is probably the second best-known Colombian export. Why is she studying in Colombia and not in Peru? Are the legal systems more or less the same in both countries? Why does she want to be a lawyer? Sorry. Too many questions. It must be very nice for you to have her with you again.

As I write this it is Friday and I am wondering whether you finished all the work you had to do this week. Will your boss let you go on your business trip? What will your sister do while you’re away? More questions! I will stop right now.

Have a good trip. Have a good weekend. I look forward to hearing from you again very soon.

Best wishes,

By the way…

This is a useful idiomatic expression you can use when you want to introduce another (incidental) subject into a conversation. Use it to refer back to something you have already talked about (like the Finnish Advent calendar) or to introduce a subject you have just remembered.
parts or characters played by actors
was set in
took place in, was located in. If a play is set in Cuba, for example, that means that the story of the play takes place in Cuba.
A dealer buys and sells things.
a small, flat case, usually made of leather or plastic, where you keep paper money (banknotes), credit cards – and, perhaps, a photo of your children
get the picture
an idiomatic expression meaning ‘understand’: example: You don’t need to explain any more. I get the picture.
had the top down
drove the car with the hood down (open). In British English the ‘hood’ is the canvas roof of a convertible or ‘soft top’ car. In US English the ‘hood’ of a car is what British English calls the ‘bonnet’ (the ‘lid’ you open to get access t the engine).
frozen stiff
an idiomatic expression meaning to be extremely cold
brand new
totally new, not used before
slightly coloured
steering wheel
the part of a car which the driver must turn in order to make the car change direction
in a relaxed way
took the car for a spin
An idiomatic expression meaning to drive the car for pleasure.
Christmas carol
traditional religious or folk song for Christmas
group of singers. Note the pronunciation (check it in a good dictionary): ‘choir’ is pronounced like ‘quire’.
mince pie
A mince pie is a small, round pie (about 3-4 centimetres in diameter) filled with ‘mincemeat’ which is a mixture of chopped, dried fruit and sugar. Mince pies are a traditional English Christmas food.
mulled wine
see Stephen’s Recipe for Mulled Wine, below
exhibition (usually) of 3-dimensional objects

Different kinds of mulled wine are drunk in most northern European countries at Christmas time. This is how we make it in our family.
Take one bottle of wine (non-alcoholic wine, if you prefer). Red is more usual, but mulled wine can be made with white wine. Pour the whole bottle into a saucepan. Add 8-10 cloves, 3-5 cardamom seeds, a cinnamon stick, two large slices of lemon, five large slices of orange a generous handful of sultanas and a dessertspoonful of honey. Pour in half a teacupful of either vodka or cognac (you can leave this out if you prefer your mulled wine to be non-alcoholic) then add three dessertspoonfuls of brown sugar and begin to heat the liquid, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Do not allow the mulled wine to boil. When it is very hot, but not boiling, pour a little into a small mug (use a filter or strainer to avoid getting bits of the fruit and spices in the mug). Add more sugar if you need it, and a fresh slice of orange. Cheers!

to be grateful to
[not with]: example sentence: I am very grateful for your help.
by myself is good. If you want an alternative, you can say, on my own, but don’t mix the two.

I need a little kick [not punch]
My day is done and dusted [not cut and dried]

means ‘false’ or ‘fake’. The kinds of tests you are doing are called ‘practice’ tests. Another term is ‘mock exams’.
get used to it [not accostume with]
customs [not costums]
It’s the same with [not It occur with]

Focus really sharply on these in your next blog. Look again at your third paragraph and try to correct any personal pronouns which are wrong. Look especially at your use of ‘his’. Remember, the personal pronoun should agree with the number and type of person you re referring to: example sentence:Many of my friends have their own apartments.

Colombia is the name of the country; Colombian is the adjective from it (example: Colombian coffee)
Focus carefully on verb endings. Look again at your sixth paragraph and compare it with the following:
Now I am eating in. I have prepared burgers, rice and vegetables because my sister has arrived from Colombia. She is studying there. She wants to be an attorney. She brought me some delicious Colombian coffee. Have you heard of it? I have been looking forward to seeing her. I have missed her a lot, in fact she is my best friend. She has become very thin. She says that she eats a lot but she never gains weight. My poor little sister.

Don’t forget, ‘English’ always has a capital ‘E’.
busiest [not bussiest]
coming [not comming]

Look again at your fourth paragraph and compare it with the following:
With regard to the ‘Jesus Boy’, I couldn’t find the English word for the Son of God, when he was a boy. Here in Peru, we call him ‘Jesus Boy’ and he is very highly respected by the people, especially those who live in the mountains.
In English, we say, ‘the baby Jesus’.


Wow, Stephen! You're really a productive writer. I even got tired reading Your blog today. But it's great. It's both interesting and useful. There are lots of recipies both for English and for food (drink). Fascinating! By the way, about the weather. It's some sort of a disaster in this winter, I reckon. Today we've got a pouring rain over here. And there is no snow any more, it all has melted. I've heard it's a result of some hyperactivity on the Sun. Anyway, keep us in the track of Your Advent calendar and other events. Bye.

Hello Stephen!!! In cosideration of the weather, in Poland We have the same situation as you. We have much warmer temperature of the air in comparison to the same period of time in the previous year. I've heart, that the averge temperature of our enviroment is growing up about 0,5 degree of Cels. scale every year. If it will be continuing, there will not be the sevare winters any more on all over the world. Beside, I envy you such a beatifully traditions like mince cake and mulled wine. I will try to make of use of your receipe. Best wishes!

Hej Stephen! I came in contact with your blog by pure chance and I found it great. I could directly get a lot of useful expressions and I got even a good help with your corrections. When you see as a learner the mistakes of others you recognize at once your own mistakes and then it is easier to avoid them in the future Thanks a lot!

Do you know your blog is being seen by the users from the BBC website?

Elvis Presley recorded some great Xmas songs, too. ;-)

Thanks for all your contributions. This blog has now closed and can no longer accept new comments.

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