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Wednesday, 11 April 2007


Hello again Ana Paula, and everyone else.

Sorry to hear you found 300 so disappointing. I didn’t think it was great, but on the other hand I didn’t think it was that bad. Maybe it’s just a ‘boys’ film’. I went to see it with a couple of male friends; none of my female friends had any interest at all in watching it.

Anyway, I promised last week to tell you something about the Easter tradition of egg-rolling. To be honest, this isn’t a very widespread English tradition; in fact, it’s traditional in my family but most of my other English friends have never heard of it. Anyway, it works like this: on Easter Sunday, the whole family gathers together for lunch. After lunch, everyone is given a hard-boiled egg. Paints are placed on the table, and each person decorates their egg. Some people personalize their eggs with colourful patterns or traditional Easter symbols such as rabbits, but others choose more off-beat designs. This year I couldn’t decide what to draw on mine, so I asked my four-year-old cousin Lydia for advice. “You should draw a wolf,” said Lydia, so I attempted to draw a fearsome and terrifying wolf. Unfortunately, I’m not a particularly good artist, so the result was neither fearsome nor terrifying.

After lunch, when the eggs have all been decorated, we all walk together to the top of a nearby hill, and then the egg-rolling begins. Somebody shouts, “three… two… one… ROLL!”, then everyone rolls their egg down the hillside. The winner is the person whose egg rolls the furthest. The problem is, the eggs tend to break as they roll. By the time they reach the bottom of the slope, they have normally disintegrated into a mess of egg-white, yolk and painted shell, so it’s impossible to see which egg has actually won. The game usually ends with all the children of the family shouting, “my egg won!”, “no, my egg won!”, “no, MY egg won!”, while the adults pick up the broken pieces of egg and try to calm the kids down.

You asked about favourite books, Ana Paula. It’s difficult to choose just one, but if I had to, I think I’d choose the famous novel ‘The Trial’ by the Czech writer Franz Kafka. I first read this book many years ago, when I was at university, and I immediately fell in love with it; I’ve re-read it many times since then, and I never get tired of it. It’s quite a dark, strange story, and very dream-like – a man called Josef K is arrested, and the book described his attempts to discover why he has been arrested and how he can get off the hook.

OK, it’s time to move on and talk about language. I noticed some very nice sentences in your last blog, Ana Paula. I particularly liked this one:

"The Clarice Lispector´s book that I like most is " Uma Aprendizagem Ou O Livro dos Prazeres ( A Learning Or The Book Of The Pleasures), which tells the story of Lóri, a woman in search of herself, and in search of the understanding of just "being"."

This sentence makes excellent use of relative clauses (“that I like most”, “which tells the story of…”). In fact, it’s almost perfect; the only grammatical problem in the whole sentence is the phrase, ‘the Clarice Lispector’s book’. This should be ‘the Clarice Lispector book’. Similarly, ‘my favourite Hitch’s films’ should be ‘my favourite Hitch films’ (or ‘my favourite Hitchcock films’) and ‘my favourite Dostoievski’s novel’ should be ‘my favourite Dostoievski novel’.

I’d also like to say a little about the present perfect and the past simple. The present perfect is looks like this:

I´ve read Capitães de Areia (Capitains of Sand).”

The past simple looks like this:

“On Saturday I went to the movies.”

Many students find it difficult to know when they should use the present perfect and when they should use the simple past. The simple rule is this: the present perfect is for actions or situations which are not finished, or for actions or situations which are finished but we don’t know when they happened. Therefore, I could say,

I’ve lived in London for three years.” (This is not finished. I still live in London now.)

I could also say,

I’ve read ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ .” (I’m not reading this book now, so it’s finished, but it’s not clear when I read it. Maybe it was last week, maybe it was ten years ago).

We use the past simple to describe actions or situations which are finished and we know when they happened. So I could say,

I lived in Manchester ten years ago.” (I don’t live in Manchester now, so this is finished, and we know when it happened – ten years ago).

Please look again at this sentence:

“Later, when I was at home, I´ve picked one of my favourite Hitch films to watch, Rebecca.”

This sentence is about picking a film to watch. Is this action finished? Yes it is. Do we know when it happened? Yes, “when I was at home”. Therefore, you need to use the past simple here, like this:

“Later, when I was at home, I picked one of my favourite Hitch films to watch, Rebecca.”

Also, there’s this sentence:

“Many of his novels were adapted for TV.”

Here, the sentence describes an action which is finished but we don’t know when it happened – maybe they were adapted last month, maybe they were adapted twenty years ago. Because it’s finished but we don’t know when it happened, we need to use the present perfect here:

“Many of his novels have been adapted for TV.”

OK, I’d better go and plan my lessons now. More soon!

All the best,


PS Thanks very much for your sympathy and helpful suggestions for my toothache. It’s much better now, thanks!


Widespread is an adjective meaning ‘common’.

A hard-boiled egg is an egg which has been boiled for a long time, until it’s completely solid and hard.

To personalize something means to change it in order to make it uniquely your own. Many of my students personalize their textbooks with pictures, stickers, etc.

Off-beat is an informal adjective, which we use to describe people’s ideas or behaviour. It means unusual, unexpected or unconventional.

Fearsome and terrifying are both adjectives meaning frightening or scary.

If something tends to happen, that means it normally (but not always) happens. For example, I tend to write my blog after lunch – that’s the time when I normally write it.

If something disintegrates, it breaks apart into many small pieces.

An egg has three parts: the yellow yolk in the centre, the white (or egg-white) around it, and the shell on the outside.

To calm down means to become calm and peaceful. So, to calm someone down is to make that person become calm. For example, if someone is shouting and behaving in an angry way, people might say, “Hey! Calm down!”

The prefix re- means ‘again’. Therefore, to re-read a book is to read that book for the second time (or the third time, or the fourth… )

The informal phrase off the hook is used when someone has avoided some kind of punishment or unpleasant task. For example, maybe I tell my students to do some homework and they don’t want to do it. If they persuade me to cancel the homework, I might say, “OK, I’ll let you off the hook.” In this case, I ‘let the students off the hook’; the students ‘get off the hook’.

The verb to pick has several meanings; here, it means to choose or to select.


Hi Alex,here is my yesterday's comment that had a problem to be published here. Sorry for the delay: You are an adorable teacher. You still have found a way to make jokes eventhough you were suffering from a cruel toothache. I am facing now a big dilema. I should relief the suffering of a person in an emergency situation but there are legal issues and ethical problems that I should pinpoint. I understand how it's upsetting you. I know it's not easy to cope with this. For this reason I forgive you for being so cruel giving us those nasty exercices. To decide about an appropriate treatment, you need to know which is the condition, right? It could be a range of conditions not only a simple decay. I could prescribe a NSAID (Non Steirodal Anti-inflammatory Drug) or an antibiotic, if it was the case but how could I do that without knowing about your medical history? And before you start giving me details, it's impossible to do that through internet because of professional confidentiality. Returning to medical history, the only thing I am sure is that you are not pregnant or in terminal care otherwhise you were not really with this scintilating smile on the top of the page. And what if you were immunocompromissed or if you were allergic to any of these "remedies"? You may also have hepatic or renal impairment ( the dosages would be different). Even the well-known "Aspirin"has its risks if you have gastrintestinal ulceration and an overdosage of "Paracetamol" can lead to liver failer, for instance. So giving you support is not merely a mean of typing any medication here for you if I want it to be legal, decent, ethic, honest and truthful. On the other hand an omission would make me feel responsible for your suffering. There are classical questions for this situation like these: Where's the pain? Is that a localized pain? Can you describe how the pain is ( aching, dull, sharp...)? When did it start? What brings it on (heat, cold, sweets, spontaneous pain)? among many other which are key questions to find out what is the condition. It can be a variety of conditions like accute abscess, sinusitis, hay fever, a problem on you third molar (wisdon Tooth), a cracked tooth, periodontal disease and so on... Therefore, it's advisable to look for a qualified dentist (private or not) that use evidence-based dentistry in his or her practice. I don't know if the UK has a kind of health service as in my country that the government provides health care for the general population in which, anyone can use that. Some clinics have a number to contact for emergency and after-hour emergency( I don't know the exact expression for that. For example, when a person is suffering from pain like you in the midle of night an go there to have an assintance). Oh! I found the expression is: "out-of-hours emergency treatment". So, a good dentist is the best choice. Remember antibiotics do not replace the drainage of the pus ( If this is an accute abscess.If it is, please do not put heat on the surface of your skin. You should use a warm mouthwash recommended by your dentist to rinse your mouth in order to drainage the secretion inside the mouth and not outside, avoiding, in this way, scars in your handsome face). He or she will be in a better position to give you a conclusive diagnosis. He or she will decide wheather or not you have to undergo a root canal treatment. Without doubt the dentist will need at least one x-ray but the most important thing is to avoid extractions as much as you can. Obviously, it's apparent that my advices did not meet your expectations due to ethic issues that are not imposed here by legislation but are important to maintain the high standard of the profession wherever we are. I'd be happy to assist you providing with appropriate advices but it is the only thing I can do for you. Try to stay calm because it is very common to occur that after holidays. .I don't know why. It could be a perfect subject for study. After all, you will survive. I hope so. You have been so kind

The egg-rolling sounds great fun. When I was a child, we used to paint eggs also, just like you told us Alex your family does. The custom is not very common any more here in Finland… I must admit that it is a while since I was a child. The Trial by Kafka is one of my favorites as well. It is a universal book; Kafka was a genius as a writer. If you liked The Trial, I recommend that you read (maybe you have already?) the book called “Darkness at noon” by Arthur Koestler. By the way Australian Tea-Tree oil is a good remedy for tooth ache also. I never go anywhere without my Tea-Tree oil, it is a multipurpose mixture.

Hi! Alex, I am very glad that you feel better now. Thank you for your long blog which was very constructive. I have heard the phrase "off the hook" before but, I don't know the meaning at the time.

Good evening teacher. You have just cleared the scenery for me. Now I really understand wheather or not I have to use the present perfect or the past simple. I have to certify if an event has certainly finished to use the past tense. If not, I might use the present perfect. Wonderful! Thank you for letting me off the hook. It was stressful to organize those letters but I promisse I will make all the coming exercices. Good night!

Hi,Thank you for your thoroughly explaination of the present perfect and the simple past.Here,i have a question about double negative sentence.Would you like to share your advice on that subject?I feel so confused about the double negative sentence.

Hi Alex:when I open the "comments entry"page, it appears'Sorry - we can't find that page ",I don't know why. About toothache,I have two recipes. one is: A clove of garlic with a little rock salt should be placed on the affected tooth. It will relieve the pain and, sometimes, may even cure it. A clove should also be chewed daily in the morning. It will make the cure teeth making it strong and healthy. The second is:Toothache relief using Onion Latest research has confirmed the bactericidal properties of onion. If a person consumes one raw onion every day by thorough mastication, he will be protected from host of tooth disorders. Chewing raw onion for three minutes is sufficient to kill all the germs in the mouth. Toothache is often allayed by placing a small piece of onion on the bad tooth or gum. best wishes for you

Hello Alex!You must have enjoyed the traditional sport of egg-rolling. I have seen this once on BBC-FOOD TV in the programm of a chef called Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.It was quite interesting and enjoyable to see that.

Hello Alex, I’m glad to catch up with you. I hope you have recovered from your toothache. In my hometown, there is a tradition similar like yours. On the Tomb-sweeping day, which I think is only a traditional festival in China, we eat eggs that are painted in different colours, but we don’t have the egg-rolling game. We use our own eggs to hit others’ in order to see whose eggs are harder. If the egg is hit broken by others, the broken egg’s owner will eat it. So you know, that day, maybe you will eat many eggs if your eggs are not hard enough. By the way, thanks for your kind explanation of the present perfect and the past simple tenses. I’m much clearer than before. Thanks Alex. Jill.

Nice to hear from you,Alex. Your blog is very interesting and fun. You led me to follow up reading it intriguingly. I haven't seen 300 yet and I may not see the film because the storyline is not interested to me. However, it's very well-maden film and used huge CG. I absoulutely agree with you that the film is male's favorite. One thing is quite different that korean woman like to watch the film. Can you guess why? I would say that there are very attractive and beautiful muscle man. Now korean females like much strong and touch guys. I watched a viwer's interview at the cinema on the TV that girls were very attractive to main characters and their shiny muscles. For me, I don't keen about man's muscle. Sometimes I feel scared. Never mind. I have a experience like you that you painted eggs on Ester. It was tradition at the sunday school. When I was a student, I painted eggs. But now people attach some traditinal picture or pretty photo sticker on the eggs. At the church, people shared it others and said "Jesus is born again" Korea is not christian country and we don't have Ester holiday. Some christian celebrated Ester at the church. It's very tradtional. Your teaching tips are very useful and helpful for improving my level. Tks for your reading in advance. Happy day!!

Hi, Alex. Thanks for information about egg-rolling. A few year ago I read a book on British traditions and I was convinced that egg-rolling was a widespread English tradition. Sometimes I told my friends about egg-rolling and I always informed them that it was a very common English tradition. Thank you once more.

Dear teacher! The story about your family Easter tradition sounds so lovely that I can`t resist to write you that I am realy envious. I can lively imagine that happy company , the shouting kids and hope their kisses could be the best painkilers for your ache. And slowly I start to envy to all the happy students on Oxford Street that they have such good-natured teacher! But we have him too, so I am keen to read and learn from your blogs.

Hello! Very funny tradition Alex. In Sweden we also paint eggs, like you described. But we don't roll them afterwards. I wonder how to take after your tradition. I can see two problems. The sloop which is near is to short, and the other sloop is full of dog-poo (mess). Maybe one can throw it instead. The winner is that one who can throw the egg a certain distance. The egg which don't fall apart win! Greetings Leffe

Hi Alex, Ana Paula and the whole virtual audience:) I would like to tell you something about the Easter tradition in Armenia. Armenians were not the first Christians, but Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity, approximately 30 years before the Roman Empire did. Just like the American tradition of boiling and coloring Easter eggs, Armenians also have this tradition. The Easter eggs are called Red eggs. The eggs have this name because the shells are dyed dark red. The peels of the purple onion are boiled with the eggs resulting in the eggshell turning a dark red color and hard boiling the eggs. Before the eggs are eaten, it is the tradition to have an egg fight (instead of egg-rolling:))). This is not the type of fight that may come to mind, with eggs being thrown at everyone. The way you egg fight is that one person holds his or her egg while the other person tries to break it by hitting it with his egg.

Hi, Alex! I wrote earlier, and told you about how envious I was at your blazing weather, but not at your toothache. I can now see how the sun partly coming throw the clouds, here in Sweden, and maybe the blazing weather is on its way, thank you Alex. I have one question to ask, if I may: Why does BBC offer this fantastic place for free to people like me? I can guess, but I’m not certain of the answers. Thanks! Leffe

Hi Alex, thank you for the explanation of the present perfect and the simple past tense. That was great. I think I'll make much less mistakes now. Bye.

Hi Alex ! thanks for your friendliness,competence and humour. I'd like to ask you something I've never found in grammars."Britain's Prince Harry to serve in Iraq":I notice the use of an infinitive form in headlines on TV or newspapers. Why and where from? It's very interesting to read about the Easter traditions from all over the world. In Italy too we buy chocolate eggs, decorate branches with coloured eggs or boil them and play hitting them one-to-one. In my opinion, eggs mean new life, rebirth of nature but....what about the Easter traditions in those countries where now it's autumn?? Tks again. Romana

Hi,Alex, you speak really great. may later i will be a memeber of bbc blog group and be one student of you. cordially andelia from china

Why is ‘my favourite Hitch films’ not ‘my favourite Hitch’s films’? I think "xx's novel, film,etc" is correct.We can say, Alex's comments not Alex comments, cann't we? I hope you can further clarify the question.

Hi,guys and hassan abdi i wouild like to say big thank for doing this great job which realy i like how it's working now i learned many new thing i didn't have any idea before i saw in the BBC LEARN ENGLISH thank very much guys God blees u. see again i love this.

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

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