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December 2006

Friday, 01 December 2006

Good Luck!

Hi there

Hannah, my daughter has just called to tell me that she has had a great piece of luck and won a mobile phone in a competition. By chance she happened to take my car to a petrol station and just happened to find a competition taking place. She was just in the right place at the right time! She is so excited it’s really lovely. How wonderful to have one of those days when something unexpectedly great happens to you.

I’ve had some similar feelings opening the website every day and finding that someone has actually replied or made a comment. It has been such a great start to my day! I have really enjoyed the blogging and learnt a lot through the process. I’ve also been inspired by my co- bloggers, Chittisa and Alex and feel privileged to have been able to get to know both of you. I’ve admired your commitment and push to improve your English and I’ve enjoyed the great spirit of your writing and want to thank you for sharing your lives with us.

This is a great site for learning English and I want to congratulate the team who put it all together and thank them especially for the invitation to write. I’ve got the bug now and hope I’ll be able to come back one day!

Keep on reading, keep on writing and may the new bloggers have just as much luck as I’ve had!

By for now,

Tricia

Sunday, 03 December 2006

Hello Federico

Goodbye and hello

A big thank you to Tricia for all the hard work you've put into the blog over the last couple of months. I'm sure that our audience at home is as grateful for your useful and interesting posts as Alex and Aey, the two student bloggers you've helped.

And now it's time to say hello to Stephen, December's teacher blogger. I won't say any more because Stephen is already here to introduce himself.

William
BBC Learning English


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hello Federico,

As you can see, from the top of the page, my name is Stephen and I’m going to be your teacher blogger for the month. December is, of course, a particularly important and busy month here, and I guess we’ll talk a lot about Christmas and New Year and maybe other celebrations, too, during the month. Perhaps we’ll even exchange ideas and opinions about how Christmas is celebrated.

Right now, however, while I wait for your first blog, I’d like to introduce myself to you, briefly. Then I’ll look forward to hearing all about you and your family and friends.

What could possibly be interesting about me? I’m English. I was born in the north-east of England but I haven’t lived up there since I was eighteen (a VERY long time ago!). I’m a writer and teacher and I have worked in education almost all my professional life. Does that sound a bit dull? I lived in Sweden for a number of years in the 1970s, and in China for a couple of years in the 1980s. That wasn’t dull. It was hard, but it wasn’t dull, and I made some very good Chinese friends there.

I have worked in most of the countries of eastern Europe and have travelled quite widely. This summer, for example, I spent a few weeks in New York, apartment-sitting, in other words looking after someone’s apartment – like baby-sitting, only with an apartment instead of a baby (much easier, quieter, safer and less messy!).

I live in west London, not far from Hampton Court Palace. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Perhaps not. Anyway, I live here in a small semi-detached house with my daughter, Lucy, who is eighteen and studying very hard for her ‘A’-level examinations. ‘A’-levels are the exams we take here before we can go to university. Lucy is studying History of Art, History and English Literature and she wants to study History of Art at Cambridge (where it’s practically impossible to get a place so she’ll probably have to settle for another university).

I spend most of my time writing and reading, listening to music and running. I’m training for a trip to Tanzania in February to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I like the movies and the theatre and being with friends. I enjoy photography but don’t do as much of it as I used to. I also love the museums and galleries of London, and try to visit most of the important new exhibitions.

There are probably other things I could have told you about myself but you are free to ask for more details if you really want them. Right now I’m keen to hear from you so that I can respond more usefully. Meanwhile, I have typed some words and expressions in bold text because they may be new to you and it could be very useful to learn and use them.

education teaching; pedagogy
dull boring; not very interesting
‘A’-levels pre-university exams
to settle for to accept something which is not exactly what you
really wanted
keen to looking forward to doing something


Alright, that’s probably enough for now. This morning I will start my day in the usual way, for me. I will go to my local coffee shop and have a regular-size cappuccino and a croissant. I will read the paper and try to complete the crossword puzzle. Then I’ll go home and go online to see whether the BBC have sent me any work to do. If they have, I’ll do it. If they haven’t, I’ll go for a run. I might even think about writing a few Christmas cards. In the afternoon I’ll start to think about what to cook for dinner (my daughter is ALWAYS hungry) and I may have to go shopping. In the evening I’m going to visit an old friend and former colleague for the first of what I hope will be many pre-Christmas social gatherings over the next few weeks.

Take care, Federico, and remember to post your blog as soon as possible. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes,

STEPHEN

Tuesday, 05 December 2006

Hi Federico!

Hi Federico!

It was good to hear from sunny South America this morning because here it is dark, wet and very windy. Strangely, though, it is incredibly mild for December – about fourteen degrees Celsius at seven o’clock in the morning (we could easily expect it to be zero degrees at this time of the year).

So, you are a gold mining engineer. My daughter was interested immediately! Gold, you see. Teenage girls, eh? She asked me to ask you what sort of project you are currently working on. Actually I’m interested to hear more about what exactly a mining engineer does.

After I had read your blog I went immediately to my atlas to look more closely at Peru. As I told you yesterday, I have worked in almost all European countries, I know Scandinavia very well and I have even worked in Siberia and the Far East. However, I have never been to South America. Sorry. The nearest I have been to Peru is probably Cuba. I went there about eight years ago for a study visit. I do have a friend, here in London, from Bolivia, which is not so far away from you, is it?

So I have to learn more about Peru now. Well, I looked for your hometown of Talavera but either my atlas is not good enough or Talavera is VERY small. Perhaps you could tell me a bit more about it.

Like you, I spend much (if not most) of my time travelling – but not to work, because I work from home. Also like you, I like to read when I’m on a train or a plane. I really enjoy thrillers, especially detective thrillers, so we seem to have a lot in common. Do you know authors such as Michael Dibdin (an Irish crime writer whose thrillers are often set in Italy and who has a wonderful detective character called Aurelio Zen), Carl Hiaasen (an American journalist who writes ironic thrillers set in Florida) and Ian Rankin (a Scottish writer whose detective John Rebus works lives and works in Edinburgh)? These books could be difficult to read in English but I am sure they’re translated into Spanish. Try reading one in Spanish and then reading the same book in English.

When you cycle each morning is that to keep fit – some sort of training programme? Is there somewhere in the city centre where you can cycle for pleasure safely? You mentioned the traffic in Lima. Do you know about our Congestion Charge, here in London? There is a large part of Central London where you must pay to go in by car. Next year the Congestion Zone will be enlarged. The system has reduced traffic in Central London and although it’s expensive to drive there at least the traffic usually keeps moving. Public transport has also improved quite a lot and we now have rather comfortable buses and a reasonably good rail network. Have you ever been here?

I will think about you on the bus tomorrow morning. Four hours on a bus is not much fun. And 4,900 metres is extremely high. But I suppose you are used to altitude. How high above sea-level is Lima? I told you I’m training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, didn’t I? That’s almost 6,000 metres above sea-level, and the only thing I’m really worried about is altitude sickness. Evidently, there is nothing you can do to prevent it. My Bolivian friend, Bruna, drinks coca tea and she is convinced that it will help me to overcome altitude sickness.

OK, I think that’s enough. It’s easy for me to go on writing all morning. If this is too much for you please tell me and I will write a bit less. Meanwhile, there are a few words and expressions, which I have typed in bold, and which could be useful to learn.


atlas
a book of maps
have a lot in common
if you have a lot in common with someone you are interested in similar things
for pleasure
when you do something for pleasure you do it because you want to do it, not because you have to do it
mentioned
said, told (me) about
Congestion Charge/Zone
a charge (fee) you must pay to enter an area which is normally congested (so busy that the traffic hardly moves)
enlarged
made bigger
altitude
height (above sea-level)
altitude sickness
sickness caused by being at high altitude (e.g. dizziness, nausea)
prevent
stop something (before it happens)
overcome
beat, recover from, get over, deal with, manage

Have a good day at Castrovirreyna (do you go underground?). Don’t work too hard!

Very much looking forward to hearing from you tomorrow.

Bye for now,

STEPHEN

Wednesday, 06 December 2006

Our working day

Dear Federico,

I’m starting today’s blog before I receive yours. The time difference between Peru and the UK means that it could be late evening here before you post your blog. By then I’ll be settling down to watch my favourite football team – Arsenal, of course – beat Porto (sorry to anyone reading this in Portugal, but I’m sure you’d all agree that Arsenal is a far superior team!!!). My daughter’s favourite team is Manchester United, so she won’t watch this match with me – unless Arsenal start losing, of course. Then she’ll enjoy it. But that’s not going to happen, is it?

I don’t know much about football in Peru. Perhaps you have a favourite team you support? Perhaps you can’t stand football. I’ll wait to hear from you on that.

It is already 6th December. We have opened another window in our Advent calendar. This year we have two. The first is from the National Gallery, here in London. Every window shows a detail of a famous painting. The idea is that you’re supposed to recognise which paintings the details are taken from. My daughter is studying History of Art so she has identified most of the paintings so far. The second Advent calendar is from Finland. It is a large box of chocolates covered with a huge Christmas picture. The picture has 24 numbered and perforated windows. Behind each window there is a GORGEOUS chocolate. Lucy and I take turns to open the windows. She, however, always seems to get my favourite chocolates! We also have an Advent candle which we light each morning while it is still dark outside, before Lucy goes to school.

OK, so what about your typical working day? I guess you’re going to tell me something about it in your blog, so I’ll tell you a little about mine first.

The first thing to say is that there is no typical working day for me. When you work freelance, as I do, each day is often very different from the one before. Sometimes I have a deadline to meet. For example, if the BBC has asked me to write a lesson plan for Words In The News, I have to have it finished before midday on Wednesdays. If I am writing a school book (which is not very often these days) I will set myself a daily writing routine. I usually try to keep to that routine until the first draft of the book is finished. I stopped teaching regular classes this summer, so none of my days now has a fixed pattern. I like that very much, but sometimes I think it must be rather nice to work with a group of colleagues and to belong to a little working community, to have a coffee machine and a photocopier to meet at – and to have a regular salary!

I can never remember jokes, but here’s a favourite of mine while I wait for your blog to arrive: There are two goldfish in a tank. After a while one says to the other, “You got any idea how to drive this thing?” OK, so it’s not that funny.

Hurrah! A blog has just arrived from you! I’ve been reading the comments from some of our readers. Everyone wants to know more about your job. It seems very dangerous to me. I understand that you have to be careful and that everything must be safe. You mention that you have to protect your hearing. Is that because there are loud explosions from the blasting? Is this a big risk? Do mining engineers often lose their hearing?

I suffer from claustrophobia. Even just reading your description of being underground, surrounded by nothing but rock in a labyrinth of tunnels makes me start to panic! You must be a very calm and focused person, I guess.

Yes, I can understand that everyone asks you about gold. I also understand that it cannot easily be seen. It must be very special to see natural gold shining brightly in the darkness.

Your day sounds very long. I tried to imagine what it would be like getting up at 4.30 in the morning. No, sorry. I just can’t! However, I think it sounds so romantic to be travelling to the oldest silver mine in Peru, by bus, so early. Of course, I understand that if you’re tired and the bus is uncomfortable and it is crowded, then that’s not really very romantic at all, is it? And then I read about the cold and the snow and the travel sickness, and suddenly there was nothing romantic about it at all. I think you are heroic! Especially since you managed to post a blog despite feeling so unwell. Well done, Federico. You deserve some sort of medal for this.

By the way, thank you for your tips about altitude sickness. I will start looking for a sheep’s head immediately! I like soup, but I have to admit that I have never tasted sheep’s head soup. Do you have a recipe?

This blog is far too long. I am sorry. You must be exhausted. Please don’t work too hard on this. Tomorrow will be a tough day for you at work. I will be thinking about you – all our readers around the world will be sympathising with you. Have a good day – if that’s possible.

Lucy has just come home from school so I guess it’s time for me to make dinner. I wonder if she’d like a nice bowl of sheep’s head soup?

Stay safe! Talk to you tomorrow!

With very best wishes,
STEPHEN





SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
can’t stand + SOMETHING
When you can’t stand something it means you really dislike it very much.
EXAMPLE: I can’t stand screaming babies.
Advent/Advent calendar
Advent is the period of four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent calendars have 24 windows (or ‘doors’) numbered 1-24 to correspond to the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas. They are quite popular with families with children. The idea is that you open a window each day in the build-up to Christmas Day.
perforated
with a line of small holes designed to make it easier to tear, for example like a sheet of postage stamps
take turns
to do something one (person) after the other
freelance
someone not employed by a single employer but paid for each piece of work done for a number of different employers
deadline
a time or date when a piece of work must be finished
set
to set a target (or a deadline or a routine) means to fix, decide or agree an objective
to keep to
to do what you say you will do, for example to keep to a promise
first draft
first version, which will probably have to be revised or re-written
blasting
a way of breaking up rock by using explosives
claustrophobia
a fear of confined (small) spaces
recipe
step-by-step method for making a dish or meal

Friday, 08 December 2006

Another Hard Day at 4900 Metres

Dear Federico,

Many thanks for your blog. It came just as I was about to go out for the first of what I hope will be many pre-Christmas drinks with friends. So this is a bit later than usual. By the way, I’ve just heard another joke, on the radio (so you can blame the BBC because I never listen to anything else): A man walks into a bar. He orders a beer and asks if they have any crisps (potato chips) – helicopter flavour. “Helicopter flavour?” asks the barman. “No, I’m sorry, we just have plain.” [Think about another way of spelling ‘plain’; with the same pronunciation but completely different meaning.] OK, I’m sorry, I won’t do any more jokes. That’s a promise.

From your brief reference to football I guess you’re not so interested. The match wasn’t very good last night, anyway, but the result was fine. You know, Federico, this feels like a ‘normal’ conversation. It’s the kind of thing I would ask a couple of friends: “Did you see the match last night? Wasn’t very good, was it? Still, we won the group. Now we can win the Champions League.” I’m glad we don’t have to play at 4,900 metres above sea-level, though!

I was delighted to see that some of our readers are Arsenal fans. I noticed, too, that you have quite a lot of comments on your blog. What’s it like to have a fan club, Federico?

Well, it seems like you had another hard day. But thanks for all the information about your job. I like the way that you start your blogs with ‘Hello my dear friends’. It feels like we’ve been friends – all of us – for a long time.

I can’t imagine how noisy it is in the mines: pneumatic drills, blasting and the extractor fans. Then there is the claustrophobia and the dark. I guess you prefer working on the surface.

Thanks for doing a bit more research into altitude sickness for me. I guess the guys playing football are used to the altitude. I don’t think I can get coca leaf in Tanzania, but I don’t smoke so maybe that’s an advantage. The people advising us have told us that it is essential that we drink as much water as possible, all the time. Do you think that will help?

You must be looking forward to getting back to Lima, your ‘home sweet home’, as you said. You said, too, that you can cycle safely in a large park in Lima. That reminds me of Central Park in New York. I spent the summer there and rented a bike in Central Park where the only traffic was those big yellow taxis. Most days it was too hot to cycle (I was there in July and August) but it was good just to be in the park with so many people all walking, jogging, cycling or taking carriage rides.

OK. I guess it’s time for bed (for me). It’s 00.55 as I’m typing this. Tomorrow I will do some Christmas shopping and spend the afternoon with friends. It would be good for us to hear a little about where you live and what you do in your spare time. I have never been to Lima but I would love to hear about it from you.

Have a safe journey back home and make sure you get enough rest.

Looking forward to hearing from you again very soon.

Best wishes,

STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
about to
if you are about to do something it means that you will do it very soon
blame
If you blame someone for something (like my bad joke), you believe or say that they are responsible for it
crisps
In Britain we say ‘crisps’ for what the rest of the world calls (potato) chips. In British English ‘chips’ are what the rest of the world calls fries, French fries or pommes frites. Confusing, isn’t it? Basically just remember that if you go into a pub you shouldn’t ask for a packet of chips.
flavour
taste
promise
If you promise something, you say that you will definitely do it
delighted
very pleased, very happy
fans
Fans are people who like something or someone very much. A fan club, therefore, is an organised group of fans. Rock bands and movie stars have fan clubs. In football, you can say that someone is an Arsenal fan, or (difficult to believe, I know) a Sunderland fan, but we normally talk about supporters’ clubs, not fan clubs.
pneumatic
check the pronunciation in a dictionary: remember that the ‘p’ is not pronounced
essential
very important

The weekend starts here!

Dear Federico,

I had no idea I would ever have to blog with a Manchester United fan! What can I say? I am speechless! (I am also joking.)

It was good to get your blog this evening. Thank you. It is strange to read that the summer is coming to Lima. Here it is dark and cold. If you like the sun, northern Europe is not the best place to be right now. Our days are short and some days we don’t see the sun at all. It has been very windy all week. Yesterday there was even a mini tornado in north-west London. Several houses were destroyed and many were badly damaged. One person is still in hospital and several families will have to live somewhere else until their homes are repaired. I watched it move across the sky. It was fascinating but a bit frightening.

Your day sounds quite relaxed today, and quite a contrast with yesterday. I can imagine you having grilled chicken and vegetables with an iced beer, sitting back in the warm sunshine thinking, ‘this is the life.’ Here, right now, I think you might prefer a hot drink. It is around zero degrees at the moment and the salt truck has just gone down our road spreading salt on the road to keep it ice-free during the night.

Here’s a brief technical question from me. You said that pyrite radiates heat. So is pyrite used in any industrial processes for radiating heat or is it used in heating systems or heat exchangers? Is this a stupid question? Perhaps it’s not easy to answer. Please ignore it if it is too stupid.

I didn’t know it was a public holiday weekend in Peru. It sounds very pleasant, especially the beer and the fireworks. I love fireworks. I’m looking forward to hearing about the Scissors Dance, too. Sounds exciting! Will you take part or will you just watch? Or is that only in your home town?

Meanwhile, I guess you are at the cinema while I am writing this. I’m not a Tarantino fan but I adore Woody Allen movies. This weekend I plan to see the digitally re-mastered version of Manhattan.

Today I have been Christmas shopping: books for Lucy (Ssh! Don’t tell her!); toys for friends’ children; a couple of CDs for myself. I’m listening to one of them now. Perhaps it is a little too loud for the neighbours. Lucy is at the movies with a friend. They’ve gone to see The Holiday, which I think will be awful. She says she just wanted something “entertaining and a bit mindless to relax with” at the end of a cold, dark and very wet week. I have been wrapping a few presents and occasionally stopping to write a couple of Christmas cards. Then your blog arrived. I was grateful because I soon get bored wrapping Christmas presents.

Tomorrow morning we’re going into town early for breakfast with a good friend from the US and her English partner. Then Lucy wants to visit an exhibition and after that we’re going to see another movie, a new thriller called London to Brighton. We’ll have dinner quite early at a Japanese restaurant we like near the British Museum. Then, if we still have enough energy, Lucy and I will take a walk through central London to look at the Christmas lights in Regent Street and Oxford Street, and to see the big Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. There’s a concert of Christmas music at our local theatre, so if we are still awake when we get home we might finish our day with some live music.

The weather forecast is for a good day tomorrow but more wind and rain on Sunday, so I guess we’ll just curl up on the sofa with the Sunday newspapers and lots of tea and toast. I envy you being able to go cycling along the shore without freezing.

Hey, how about that? A whole blog without one of my lousy jokes. I did promise.

I’m glad you’ve got time to read the comments from our readers. They’re great, aren’t they? We seem to be making a few new friends out there.

Have a wild Saturday night.

Talk to you again soon.

Bye for now.

STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL EXPRESSIONS
speechless
to be unable to say anything because you are too shocked or surprised
mini
small
tornado
a powerful storm with a very strong wind
ignore
If you ignore something you don’t pay any attention to it.
a couple of
two
mindless
something you don’t need to think about
wrapping
covering in decorative paper
into town
When Londoners say we are going into town we mean we are going into the centre of London.
Norwegian
Every Christmas the citizens of Oslo, the capital of Norway, send the people of London a Christmas tree. It is always placed in Trafalgar Square. The tree is a way of saying ‘Thank you’ for help during the Second World War.
weather forecast
Usually on TV or radio, or in the newspaper, the weather forecast tells you what the weather will be like tomorrow. [NOTE: in English we don’t use the word ‘prognosis’ in this context.]
curl up
Sit with your feet under you on your seat, like a cat, for example.
envy
If you envy someone you wish you could do what they do or have what they have. It’s a little bit like being jealous of someone.
lousy
bad
wild
exciting

NOTES
In your work you have to think about safety all the time. Let’s just look at some forms of the word:
safe/safe than/the safest
is an adjective; example sentence: He drove too fast and I didn’t feel safe. You can use a comparative form, too: Her new car is safer than the old one. You can use the superlative form, too: This is the safest mine in the world.
safety
is a noun; example sentence: We must think about safety in the mine at all times.
safely
is an adverb; example sentence: The gas is extracted safely from the mine.

Taking about ‘most’ things:
most
When we use the word ‘most’ we don’t always need the word ‘the’ in front of it; example sentences: Most people like summer time. Most people will go to the countryside this weekend. Most of my friends support Arsenal.
You need ‘the’ in front of ‘most’ in a superlative sentence; examples: She’s the most intelligent person I know. It was the most delicious meal I have ever eaten. It was the most wonderful day of my life.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Having a great weekend?

Hi Federico!

I haven't heard from you since Friday so I guess you're having a great weekend in Lima, enjoying the public holiday and all that good weather.

I spent a very long day in London yesterday and have lots to tell you. I waited till midnight (London time) last night then decided to go to bed and post a long blog this morning instead.

It's now 07.30 and outside it is still dark. Everythng is covered in white frost. Anyway, I haven't heard from you so I guess you really my advice on Friday and had a really wild Saturday night!

I'm going to have breakfast now. Then I'll take a walk in the park for an hour or so. When I get back I'll post another blog about my day yesterday. I hope to get something from you during the day. Then I'll also respond to that. Meanwhile, I'm trying to work out how to get my software to work so that I can send you a couple of photos of our day in town yesterday.

Talk to you later.

with best wishes,
STEPHEN

Saturday in London

This is an edited version of the blog I would have sent on Saturday.

Saturday 9 December 2006

Hi Federico!

How are you today? Relaxing and having fun on your public holiday, I guess. Here it is about eleven thirty and I’ve just checked the website to see whether you have posted a blog or not. You’ve probably posted one by now, but it sometimes takes a while before they appear on the website.

I have had a long day, as you will find out when you read this. It is quite late so I’m going to go to bed now. I will check the website early tomorrow morning and will reply as soon as I can. Meanwhile, perhaps you would like to hear a little about my day?

It was still dark when we got up this morning, and freezing cold. Lucy isn’t very good at getting up early, especially at the weekend. However, we had arranged to meet a couple of good friends for breakfast at one of my favourite French restaurants, near Waterloo. So we took the train from where we live into the centre of London. There are two trains every hour. By the time we arrived – it takes about 40 minute – it was a bright, sunny morning. Our friends were already there. It was great to see them. They live in New Jersey most of the time. They usually come to England at Christmas and sometimes in the spring. So we don’t see them very often.

We had coffee and croissants, fresh fruit and yoghurt with honey, soft-boiled eggs and small bowls of cereal. Of course, we talked and talked and talked, but finally it was time to leave so we exchanged early Christmas presents and set off for the shops.

I had planned to take lots of photos of different parts of London for you. However, Lucy’s digital camera broke before we had even taken one photo. The solution? Buy another, of course! I will try to send you some photos later.

I bought books, including a new edition of Twenty Love Poems by Pablo Neruda and a collection of Christmas writing from the New Yorker magazine, and Lucy bought a party dress. Why? She has at least three party dresses already. Federico, here’s a little piece of advice for you. If you don’t already have children, maybe you should think twice before you start a family. You will never be a rich man if you have children. I’m not really being serious, of course. Lucy is the most wonderful thing in my life. She’s great company, lots of fun and, well, OK she spends all my money, but I think that’s just what children do.

Next we went to see London to Brighton, a new British thriller. I thought it was a pretty good movie but Lucy didn’t enjoy it. It is quite tough and rather violent – not the best movie to see at Christmas time, perhaps – but I thought it was well-made.

After the movie it was beginning to get dark so we took a walk to see the Christmas lights in Regent Street (an important shopping street) and Bond Street (an incredibly expensive street to shop in, but beautiful).

We walked past Downing Street, where Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, lives, and we looked at his tree. Very nice. Then we walked to a small bar near the river and had a glass of wine (Lucy was 18 recently so she can now buy me a drink!) and some olives and cheese. We were very tired but it was good to sit and watch the river and the crowds of people coming and going.

It was about ten o’clock before we got the train home, thirteen hours after we’d had breakfast with our friends!

On the train home I was completely exhausted.

I’m looking forward to hearing all about your long weekend off work. Did you take part in any celebrations or did you leave the city and go cycling along the shore? How did your girlfriend enjoy the movie? And please don’t forget to tell us all about the Scissor Dance.

Enjoy the rest of your day. Take care.

With best wishes,
STEPHEN

SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
good at getting up
If you are good at something it means you can do it well. If you use a verb after ‘good at’, it should be in the continuous (or ‘-ing’) form: example sentence: She is very good at playing tennis. However, you can use a noun directly after ‘good at’: example sentence: She is very good at tennis.
New Jersey
a state in the USA, near New York City.
piece of advice
If you give someone advice you tell them what you think they should do.
think twice
think about it very carefully before you make a decision

The Second Sunday in Advent

Sunday 10 December
The Second Sunday in Advent

Hello again,

I’m pretty sure that there is some kind of problem with the website. I’m sure you will have posted at least one blog to me since Friday. I posted one to you about six hours ago and it still hasn’t appeared on the site. Never mind, I have no doubt that the BBC engineers or technicians will sort it out very soon.

We got up early and lit the second of our four Advent candles while it was still dark outside.

After I checked the site again I decided to get on with my day. I think you know the routine by now. First the coffee shop, where I met and chatted with friends. It was very cold this morning, but very sunny. It’s beginning to feel like Christmas. Lucy went to the gym for a couple of hours while I did some food shopping for the week.

I passed so many people carrying Christmas trees home that I began to feel a bit guilty. I still hadn’t bought us a tree yet. So I took the week’s food home then went out to buy a tree at a nearby garden centre. The tree is about 150cm tall and cost £20. It is a handsome tree, very green and fresh, and it smells of the forest. They put it in a net and I carried it home. Have you ever carried a Christmas tree 3km? My arms and shoulders ache and my fingers are just beginning to get warm again! But I have our tree. It is standing in a bucket of water outside the house, getting a good drink before I bring it in.

This afternoon I will bring it into the house, put it up and, when Lucy has gone to bed, I will hang the lights and decorations on it. We have a lot of hand-made, wooden decorations, from Scandinavia and Russia, and some beautiful glass balls, from Germany and Austria. I still have some of the Christmas tree decorations we used when I was a boy. They are a bit battered now, but they hold some nice sentimental memories for me.

Lucy is back from the gym and is already in her room doing her weekend homework. In half an hour or so I will start to make Sunday lunch. So I had better stop now and try to post this to you. Let’s hope we get the problem sorted out as soon as possible and that we can receive each other’s blogs again.

I am, of course, looking forward to hearing all your news.

Best wishes,

STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
sort it out
solve it
lit
past tense form of the verb ‘to light’
gym
short for 'gymnasium', sports centre, place where you can do physical exercise
guilty
If you feel guilty, you feel uncomfortable because you have done something wrong
handsome
attractive
ache
hurt
battered
a bit scratched, old and damaged
hold some nice sentimental memories
remind me of some nice times from the past

Christmas in London - PHOTOGRAPHS

In Trafalgar Square, with the Norwegian Christmas tree (right) and the National Gallery (left).




















Christmas lights in Regent Street, with traditional black London taxis and red buses.




















Completely non-traditional Christmas lights on a building site.




















Both totally exhausted

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Sunburn and scissors!

Good morning Federico!

Well, it’s morning here – another cold and frosty one, but bright and sunny.

What a wonderful weekend you had! While northern Europe was cold and wet you were on the beach getting sunburned. Don’t expect a lot of sympathy from us! And take care: it can be very dangerous to get sunburned. But perhaps I am beginning to sound like a parent. Sorry.

Ceviche sounds interesting. I have no idea how to pronounce it, but I wouldn’t mind trying it. You said it must be made with fresh fish. Then I think you wanted to say, the fresher the better.

Now then, this Scissor Dance business sounds complicated and mystical. Let’s see if I understood everything properly. First of all, maybe we should get the terms right. I think the usual translation would be, The Peruvian Scissor Dance. When ‘scissors’, which is a noun, is used as an adjective, the ‘s’ at the end of the word is dropped (as in the name of the band, Scissor Sisters).

So, originally the Scissor Dancers only danced at Christmas – is that right? – but nowadays you can see them on other special occasions. Which ones?

I am interested in how dancers are trained to become Scissor Dancers. You said they must be ‘elastic’. I know exactly what you mean but a better word would be ‘supple’. I guess that’s because of all the jumping they do and the acrobatic movements they make. Then you said that the dancers offer their lives and their dance to Apu. Does that mean that once you become a Scissor Dancer you remain one for the rest of your life? What happens when they are too old to dance?

OK, let me just check I’ve got this right: the dancers make an offering to Apu before they dance. Do they drink this offering themselves? If they do, I’m not surprised they seem to be possessed and in a trance (nice word, by the way) with all that liquor and coca! They must be totally exhausted after dancing for three whole days (is that non-stop?). Then they disappear. Where to?

Absolutely fascinating stuff, Federico, and thank you so much for sharing it with me and all our readers out there in cyberspace. I didn’t know anything at all about the Peruvian Scissor Dance and I am grateful for having learned something new. I’m not sure I completely understand the significance of the scissors, though. Is it some sort of symbolism connected with cutting the old year or cutting something bad? I’m sure there’ll be lots more enquiries from our blog readers. Oh, yes, and by the way, what a superb photo.

I suppose that after all the sun and fun of the weekend today is just a normal working day, is it? Are you staying in Lima or will you travel out to another mine later in the week?

Here, in my family, we have very strong Swedish connections. Tomorrow is one of Sweden’s most important celebrations of the year – Lucia. My daughter is named after Lucia (and also after the famous Swedish children’s writer, Astrid Lindgren). Tomorrow morning, around five o’clock she will get up (which she hates) and make a pot of strong coffee for me. She’ll prepare a little tray with cups, a plate of spicy biscuits, called pepparkakor in Swedish, and a candle, and then, dressed in a long, white gown with a bright red sash, and a crown of (real) candles on her head, she will come into my bedroom and sing me the traditional Swedish Lucia song (a cruel way to wake me: Lucy singing, I mean) while we have coffee and biscuits and I give her the small Lucia gift I have bought for her. This is not an English tradition at all but we love it and I have many lovely memories of all the Lucia Days I have spent in Sweden over the years.

Federico, have a good day at work and thanks again for telling us all about the Scissor Dance.

Keep on using the after-sun lotion!

Bye for now,
STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
wouldn’t mind trying
you’d be quite interested in trying
the fresher the better
The more fresh something is, the better it will be for your needs.
significance
importance
sash
a long piece of material which you wear round your waist (like a belt) or across your shoulder, especially with formal clothes or uniforms

MORE WORDS, EXPRESSIONS AND USAGE
internet
Remember to use the definite article before the word ‘internet’: example sentence: There was no access to the internet.
despite
When ‘despite’ is followed by a verb, that verb should be in the ‘-ing’ form: example sentence: I am sunburned despite using sun block.
to dance
verb (danced, danced; dancing)
dance
noun (plural, dances)
dancer
noun: a person who dances

SPELL CHECK (AND CAPITAL LETTERS)
prepare (sp)
Peruvian (CAP)
Mexican (CAP)
hero/heroes (sp)
recognised (sp)
December (CAP)
liquor (sp)
corn (sp)
disappear (sp)
quite (sp)
quiet
(sp)

PREPOSITIONS
To consist of…
The offering consists of coca leaves, liquor, corn…
The band consists of a big harp, a violin and a …

The same as…
They play to the same rhythm as the music.

POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS
Take care to make sure you use the correct possessive pronouns. To practise, complete these sentences correctly:
1. The dancers offer __________ lives to Apu.
2. The Spaniards conquered us and tried to change __________ minds.
3. The dancers make offerings to __________ ancient gods.

GENERAL GRAMMAR POINT
Focus a bit more on verb forms and remember that past tense forms are usually only used when talking about past events. You could, therefore, re-write your last few lines like this:
In Lima there are no trees, so most people buy fake, plastic ones (like the song by Radiohead). If you had the money, you would buy a real tree. They are very expensive here because Lima is a big desert and there aren’t enough trees. A tree like yours might cost about $50 or $60, which is quite expensive for here. But in my hometown, Talavera, there are a lot of trees. We usually cut a large branch of Molle (a native tree), then we cover it with our old-fashioned balls and decorations.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Scissors, sunburn...and Shakespeare

Hello again, Federico,

So, you’re going on another business trip this weekend: what does your girlfriend think about that?

I was very interested when I read your confession that you prefer travelling to working in an office. I share your enthusiasm for travel travelling. In fact, I think that’s one reason why I became an English teacher. I wanted to travel to and live in many foreign countries, and the easiest way for me was to train to become a teacher of English.

You mentioned the IELTS exam and Australia. I have never taught an IELTS course, although I have colleagues who do. Is it a visa requirement for Australia that you must have an IELTS qualification? Do you attend a weekly evening class or are you studying for the exam by yourself?

I’m surprised that the Peruvian Scissor Dances aren’t better-known around the world (or is it just that I am very ignorant? Don’t answer that!). They seem to be an important part of your culture. Talking of culture, Lucy and I will go into town tonight to see Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy by William Shakespeare. It is being performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and one of our best comedy actresses is in it. I am very excited about it. It was extremely difficult to get tickets because the whole run is a sell-out.

There is one more thing I’d love to hear a little more about: the ‘Jesus Boy’ of Chumbibamba. Who or what is it? Or am I just being ignorant again? Sorry.

Well, Federico, the after-sun cream may not be helping much but I’m glad my advice and corrections are. It’s so good to see you using some of the new language. Well done. A few more tips and suggestions to look at now, then maybe you have time to relax with a chilled beer…before slapping on more after-sun cream and getting back to work.

Don’t work too hard!

Bye for now,
STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
confession

If you make a confession you admit to having done something you might normally not want to admit to.
visa requirement
something you must have or do, or some condition you must fulfil, before you can get a visa
qualification
something you have when you have passed an examination
ignorant
if you are ignorant of something you do not know about it
run
all the performances of a theatrical production
sell-out
the situation when every ticket for every performance has been sold so that it is no longer possible to get a ticket
slapping on
an idiomatic expression, very often used about sun cream, meaning to put lots and lots of something onto your body

WORDS (AND GRAMMAR) TO WATCH
toast

[not toasts]
news
[not new]
advice
[not advices]
These are all examples of what some teachers call uncountable (or uncount) nouns. In English, if you want to make ‘toast’ plural, you have to say, some toast or two pieces of toast or two slices of toast.
If you want to make ‘news’ singular, you have to say some great news or a great piece of news. It’s the same with ‘advice’: He gave me some good advice or He gave me a piece of good advice.
travel
This is normally a verb or an adjective. If you need a noun, it is better to use ‘journey’ or ‘trip’. Also, notice that in the ‘-ing’ form (of the verb and the adjective) it is spelled with double ‘l’: travelling: example sentences:
I prefer to travel alone.
I love reading travel books.
Next month I’m travelling to Kenya
.
depends/depending on
Look again at the end of your first paragraph. Both of these versions are possible:
I will stay there for two or three days. It depends on how fast I do my work.
and
I will stay there for two or three days depending on how fast I do my work.
at work
[not in my work]
corrected sentence: I was thinking about your questions…I had read at work.
good at
[not good on]
corrected sentence: …so your help can make me improve my English, especially my writing, because I am not good at it.

CAPITAL LETTERS
For all proper names such as days and months: Saturday, December

PARAGRAPH 2
You have written a very complicated piece here, and it is good. You communicate very effectively and there are very few errors (remember that adjectives don’t have to have number agreement with nouns in English). But because it is a complicated paragraph and because you said you don’t think you are good at writing, here is a re-written version for you to compare with your original:
When I was on the bus going home I began to think about your questions about the Scissor Dances, which I had read at work. Yes, you are right. Originally, they only danced at Christmas. But the Christmas celebrations are very long in my hometown. They start on 24th December (Christmas Eve), in Talavera, and continue for three days. Then there is a second round of celebrations which take place in Andahuaylas, a town near Talavera (the trip takes about 40 minutes). These celebrations start on 31st December (New Year’s Eve) and finish three days later. Then the last, and most important, celebration starts on 24th January, in Chumbibamba, in the countryside on the outskirts of my hometown. There is a small chapel there where the ‘Jesus Boy’ lives. This is the most spectacular celebration because there are other dances – not just the Scissor Dances – to be seen. I will say something about them soon. The Scissor Dancers take part in all our Christmas celebrations but there are also some other ‘commercial’ dancers who you can pay to dance at a special event or on a special occasion. They may be good, but they’re not as good as the real thing.

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,
STEPHEN



SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
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.
roles
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.
dealer
A dealer buys and sells things.
wallet
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
tinted
slightly coloured
steering wheel
the part of a car which the driver must turn in order to make the car change direction
leisurely
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
choir
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
installation
exhibition (usually) of 3-dimensional objects


STEPHEN’S RECIPE FOR MULLED WINE
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!

SOME CORRECTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
PREPOSITIONS
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.

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

VOCABULARY
sham
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]

POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS
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.

OTHER GRAMMAR POINTS TO NOTE
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.

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

REWRITE
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’.


Sunday, 17 December 2006

The Third Sunday in Advent - already!

Dear Federico,

This is such a great way to communicate, don’t you think? (And an interesting way to ‘teach’, too.) I look forward to your daily blog and I will certainly miss it when our month is over. Can you believe that we are starting our third week already?

I also enjoy reading the comments of our readers. They are very generous, and I’d like to reply to each one. I’m pretty sure you would, too.

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, so we lit another candle and there is now only one left to light on Christmas Eve. I’m going to try to attach a photograph of our Advent candles, on my dining table, and if I can master the software successfully I’ll add another couple of photos from this weekend. Perhaps I should add a photo of my car because although it’s a Mini it’s not like the old Mini Minor at all. This is a completely modern car, designed and built by BMW – but you probably know that.

So, you are now in Oyon, a small town in the Central Andes. It sounds very romantic, and far away from the hustle and bustle of city life at Christmas. The name of the mine looks a bit tricky to pronounce. My Spanish could be better! If it was 100% better it would still be embarrassing. You said you will stay there for three or four days depending on how much work you find. What sort of work is it this time? Do you always have to wear a suit and tie when you are working in the office in Lima? Here, in Britain, some companies have ‘dress down’ days (usually Fridays) when some employees can wear more informal clothes. It depends a little bit on your job. Bank clerks and shop assistants in smart department stores, for example, don’t have ‘dress down’ days, but if you don’t work in direct contact with the public you can often ‘dress down’ on a Friday, depending on company policy.

I can understand why 4x4s would be more useful in Peru. They would certainly be more useful than silly little sports cars with soft tops! Maybe we could do a deal between Britain and Peru. You see, here in Britain, quite a lot of people who live in big cities buy 4x4s and only use them to drive the children to school, half a kilometre down the road. Environmentalists have started to campaign against 4x4s, and have been quite successful. My local council, for example, is discussing how it can tax people who own 4x4s more than owners of eco-friendly (so-called ‘green’) cars. So, sales of 4x4s have started to decline here. Peru would be a better market, maybe. What do you think? What are the pros and cons?

Yes, G K Chesterton is well-known here, but he is not fashionable. Most people have probably heard of the Father Brown stories, but I don’t think most people in Britain today will have read them. Federico, I’m going to make a terrible confession to you: I have a university degree in English literature and I don’t think I have ever read anything by G K Chesterton. Lucy has just asked me whether there are any books I’d like for Christmas so I’m going to ask her for a G K Chesterton anthology. Thank you for the idea.

Yes, we also know panettone here. We import it from Italy and it is especially popular at Christmas although you can buy it all year round. I sometimes have a mini-panettone instead of a croissant for breakfast at the (Italian) coffee shop I go to. In my family we always buy a huge panettone at Christmas and then invite neighbours and local friends to drop in for a slice of it with a glass of dessert wine, even though, like you, I actually prefer it with hot chocolate or strong coffee.

So you have turkey on Christmas Eve in Peru? And your mother bought a live one! Sounds delicious, but why will it be impossible for you to be in Talavera to eat it? Surely you don’t have to work on Christmas Eve, do you?

I like what you said in your sixth paragraph, and I agree with every word, especially about television. Everyone I know has a smart new digital TV, or a flat screen or plasma screen, multi-channel ‘home entertainment centre’. Some of them are huge and completely dominate the room they’re in. I think Lucy feels deprived because she has no TV in her room. We have one, tiny and ancient, non-digital TV which is hardly ever switched on. We have no cable or satellite channels, just five terrestrial channels (and one of them doesn’t work properly). Fortunately, the two BBC channels we have work perfectly! We have no DVD player (except in our computers) and our video player broke several years ago and we still haven’t replaced it. Friends think we still live in the Stone Age.

I don’t think you are a pessimist. What you said is true. And I am sure you know how to have fun. If you had been with us today you would certainly have had fun. Even though it is Sunday we got up early and took the 08.21 train to Waterloo Station (central London) where we met several friends and went for an excellent breakfast overlooking the River Thames. It was cold and frosty, but very bright and sunny this morning. London looked like a Christmas card. After a long and leisurely breakfast we walked to Tate Modern – London’s newest and most-visited modern art gallery – where some of us were brave enough to go on the enormous plastic slides which have been installed inside. I’ll try to attach a photo at the end of the blog. It was fun watching and listening to people coming down at great speed – some of them screaming!

After that we exchanged early Christmas presents with friends we won’t see again until after Christmas and then separated: Lucy went off with a school friend, Rosi, to do some Christmas shopping and then to seethe new James Bond film Casino Royale. I bought a new shirt for my Christmas Eve party but began to feel a bit cold and sniffly. Yes, you’ve guessed, haven’t you? I have caught a cold, just in time for Christmas. Perfect. Of course, it’s my own fault for driving with the top down in the middle of an English winter. So, no sympathy from anyone.

I am now at home with a glass of hot mulled wine and lots of lemon and honey. I will have an early night and try to sleep it off. Have you got any traditional Peruvian remedies for a cold? It just isn’t possible to be unwell right now, I’m too busy. On Tuesday I will drive north to deliver Christmas presents to my sister and her family. It will be a flying visit because I have to be back in London on Wednesday but I’ll stop, briefly, in York on the way and when I post my blog the next day I’ll tell you more about the north, my sister and her family and the city of York. I might even give you a progress report on my cold.

Have a good time in Oyon.

Looking forward to hearing from you again soon.

Bye for now,
STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
hustle and bustle

busy, noisy activity
a bit tricky
slightly difficult (idiomatic)
dress down
Dress down [adjective] day is a day when you are permitted to wear less formal clothes at work.
To dress [verb] down means to wear less formal clothes.
bank clerks
people who work at the counter in a bank [check the pronunciation of ‘clerk’ in a good dictionary: it should be pronounced, in British English, like /clark/]
4x4s
four-wheel drive vehicles. Spoken: ‘four by four’ (plural: ‘four by fours’)
soft tops
convertibles (i.e. cars with canvas roofs)
do a deal
make an business arrangement
environmentalists
people who study or work with the environment
to campaign against
to fight against
council
local government
the pros and cons
the advantages and the disadvantages (idiomatic)
anthology
collection of poems, songs or stories
all year round
at all times (i.e. not seasonal)
drop in
pay a brief, informal (and perhaps unplanned) visit
deprived
not having something which is usually believed to be essential
brave
courageous, willing to do things which are dangerous or frightening
sniffly
having a runny nose when you have cold (idiomatic)
it’s my own fault
I am the only person to blame
have an early night
go to bed early (or earlier than usual)
sleep it off
try to get better by sleeping
flying visit
a very brief and hurried visit

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR TERMS
24th December: Christmas Eve
25th December: Christmas Day
26th December: Boxing Day
31st December: New Year’s Eve
1st January: New Year’s Day

GRAMMAR
Look again at these extracts from your blog, and the grammatically corrected versions:
1. ‘Of course I know how it is a mini minor.’
Of course I know what a Mini Minor is. [word selection and order]
2. ‘I think in Peru would be more useful4x4 cars.’
I think 4x4 cars would be more useful in Peru. [word order/sentence structure]
3. ‘It only produce in Christmas.’
It is only produced at Christmas. [passive structure/preposition]

Look again at the second half of your fifth paragraph. Then compare the following re-written and corrected version of it:
Many people buy a turkey for Christmas Eve. My mother told me she bought a live turkey three months ago and they have been feeding it up to eat on Christmas Day.

Verb forms:
feed, fed, fed
eat, ate, eaten

Adjectives and adverbs:
quick, quickly
extreme, extremely


Prepositions:
To ask about: example sentence: I would like to ask about G K Chesterton.
Because of: example sentence: I think it is because of TV.

Structure:
When we use the structure, one of his favourite + NOUN, the noun must be in the plural: example sentences: Chesterton is one of his favourite writers.
Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year.
Stockholm is one of my favourite cities.

Note the correct sentence structure with ‘hardly’: example sentences: Peruvians hardly read anything.
I hardly ever go to the theatre.
They hardly ever see their grandparents.


A FINAL NOTE
By the way, Federico, I love the way you try to incorporate many of the new words and expressions I include in my notes to you each day. You use them well. Well done.



Enjoy these pictures of the 'slides' at Tate Modern. The second one shows Lucy having just come down. It would be a better photo if my finger had not been over the aperture!



















































The Third Sunday in Advent - the photo that escaped the first time!

Hi Federico,
Here's a photo of our Advent candles. As you can see, the third one is now lit. The next one will be lit next Sunday - Christmas Eve. Enjoy, then please read the blog.



Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Two very different journeys


Oh, Federico – what a nightmare! Your journey home from Oyon sounds horrendous. I can certainly imagine how stressful, frustrating and dangerous it was for you. (I had a similar experience in north-west China in the early 80s and I still remember it very well.)

However, it also sounds to me as though you have almost all the ingredients you need for a perfect South American short story: an exotic location (the mountain road); a dramatic situation (the landslide); plenty of characters (you and your team, the other drivers, the local people) and an adventure (the walk in the dark). Add a few philosophical observations – and perhaps a little romance – and suddenly you have a little masterpiece.

Have you ever written any stories? I’m sure your trips to the different mining towns must give you lots of material. I look forward to your first volume of stories (but I guess they’ll be in Spanish so I’ll probably need a translation!). Don’t forget me when you’re a rich and famous writer.

Well, after your adventure on the mountain road you deserve at least one day off to recover. Perhaps your sister will pamper you a little? Or are you supposed to be pampering her?

I know what you mean when you talk about being a little bit jealous. Your sister lives abroad. You don’t see her very often. You miss her a lot. Then, suddenly it’s Christmas and she’s coming home. You have been looking forward to it so much. But you didn’t think about the boyfriend. It’s natural that you feel a bit resentful. I guess he makes her happy. So you should be pleased for her. But I can understand that you want her all to yourself. Life is complicated, Federico, isn’t it? (This is beginning to sound like an agony column. Sorry.)

You need something to lift your spirits. Are you going to any Christmas parties? And how will you spend Christmas itself? When do you give and open presents? And are you going to tell us what you bought your girlfriend for Christmas?

o-o-O-o-o

Another journey. Yesterday I drove to the north of the country (England) to take Christmas presents to my sister and her family. They live in Darlington, a rather pleasant, medium-sized industrial town in the north-east, not far from Newcastle (you’ve maybe heard of Newcastle United Football Club? No? Well, they’re not very good!).

Anyway, I’ve got this terrible cold I told you about and I really didn’t want to drive for four hours non-stop on the motorway. But now that I’ve read your blog I realise that I have NOTHING to complain about. Lucy and I packed the car with Christmas goodies, half a dozen of our favourite CDs and a bag of oranges (I need the Vitamin C, evidently!) and set off.

Everybody else in Britain seems to have had exactly the same idea: the motorway (M25, M1, M18 and A1 (M) – just in case you can follow the route on a road map) was extremely busy. But Lucy is great company. We chatted about school, her studies, her friends and our Christmas plans. Then we listened to the radio for a bit, and soon it was dark and the little computer in my car warned me that the temperature was zero and the road was icy.

Sorry, Federico, but nothing exciting happened to us: no literary masterpiece from me. We arrived, unloaded the car, chatted for a while to my nephew, Thomas (a fifteen year-old rugby star-of-the-future), his glamorous girlfriend (at fifteen!!!) and my niece, Charlotte, who works in the movies – well, actually she works in a cinema. They’re a nice family and we get on well. My brother-in-law, Geoff, made us drinks and sandwiches and after an hour or so we set off back to London. Yes, that’s right, we hadn’t even seen my sister, Kim, who was at work. She works in a school in Durham, about half an hour away by car. But my cold (which, I think is really flu) was getting worse and I wanted to get home before midnight if possible.

The freezing weather had got worse and there were huge trucks on the motorway spreading grit and salt. We drove 550 miles (about 885 kilometres) in one day and my lovely little car is covered in dried mud and grit and salt this morning. Even with the flu, I have to take it to the car wash. That’s the next job on my list after I’ve posted this. So perhaps I’d better stop now. I was hoping to post you a photo of our Christmas tree to brighten up your day, but Lucy is out and I have to confess that I need her help with the software (I am so ashamed to admit this). If she’s back by the time I’ve finished the exercises and corrections there will be a photo posted with this, otherwise I promise I’ll post it tomorrow (or even this evening).

Take care, Federico. Enjoy your day off. Be nice to your sister’s boyfriend. Have some fun.

Talk to you again very soon.

With very warmest best wishes,

STEPHEN

PS: I am reading Blinding Light by Paul Theroux (Penguin Books, London, 2006: ISBN 0-141-01573-X) at the moment. It is a novel, set in Ecuador, about a travel writer. Paul Theroux is one of my favourite authors. He’s from the US. If you like the novels of Graham Greene you will almost certainly enjoy the novels of Paul Theroux. He is also a successful and well-known travel writer. One of his best-known travel books is The Old Patagonia Express.)

SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
nightmare
Literally, a bad dream. Used idiomatically, like this, it means an awful or frightening experience.
horrendous
extremely unpleasant
ingredients
essential parts
landslide
a large amount of earth and/or rocks falling down the side of a mountain (A ‘landslip’ is a small landslide.)
masterpiece
an extremely good piece of work (most often used about paintings)
volume
book
deserve
should be given something because you have earned it by doing some good action
a day off
a day when you don’t (have to) go to work
pamper
to look after someone very well indeed
resentful
feeling bitter or angry
goodies
nice things, presents, little luxuries
agony column
page or column in a magazine where you can find advice about personal problems
company
if someone is great company they are very pleasant to be with
for a bit
for a little while (idiomatic, conversational)
star-of-the-future
someone who will be a star, i.e. very successful, in the future
get on
have a good relationship with
flu
influenza
grit
tiny stones
to brighten up your day
to make your day a little more pleasant

VERB FORMS – TENSES
It is important to be as accurate as possible, especially in written English. The different tenses allow you to be precise about exactly when something happened (or will happen) and whether it is completed or not. Below, I have selected 10 sentences from your blog. I have slightly edited and corrected some of them. I have also removed some of the verbs. Find each sentence in your blog. Complete each sentence with the verb in the correct tense. The answers are printed at the end of today’s blog.
1. I called my boss and he __________ me a free day.
2. I stayed underground on Saturday and Sunday so I __________ my work quickly.
3. I __________ to do some tests on certain rock types.
4. My team worked hard and we __________ ready to return to Lima on Sunday night.
5. It was at midnight when our driver woke us up and told us we _________ __________ stuck.
6. It always __________when it is rainy, especially in December, January and February.
7. I could not __________ it, we could only wait until the morning.
8. We would have to find a safe place to stay because if we stayed there we would __________ __________ by another landslide.
9. We could only wait until a special machine came and __________ to __________ the problem.
10. I __________ in Lima today at 8.00 am.


A FEW BRIEF NOTES
1. Don’t forget that nouns usually need an article (e.g. the hustle and bustle of…).
2. Prepositions: in months ('in December'), on days ('on Sunday', at times ('at eight o’clock').
3. Rewrite: sentence 5 in today’s first blog: My work consists of inputting data into the mining software.
ANSWERS: 1. gave 2. finished 3. had 4. were 5. had got 6. happens 7. believe 8. be covered 9. tried, solve 10. arrived

Friday, 22 December 2006

Are you still recovering?

Federico, my friend!

Are you still recovering from your ordeal in the mountains? I waited on Wednesday. I waited on Thursday, and I waited this morning. Still no blog from you. So I’m posting this blog anyway, firstly because there are little bits of news to tell you, secondly so that there is something new for you to read when you log on, and thirdly so that our many kind readers around the world (some of them quite faithful regulars) have something new to read, too.

So, here we go.

It is, according to my calendar, the First Day of Winter, and here you can now believe it. We have frost. It is cold, and – very unusually for London – it is foggy. Yes, that’s right. It is extremely uncommon for us to have fog in London. However, wherever I have worked in the world I have always found plenty of people who believe that we live in permanent fog here in London. Many years ago I started my own personal campaign to change that perception. I think it is probably a result of people reading too much Dickens and watching too many old movies. London is not foggy! Well, of course, it is today. It is so foggy that British Airways have cancelled all domestic flights for the second day. But please forget all about that. London is not foggy!! The motorways are jammed with traffic which has stopped because of the fog. But London is not normally foggy!!! You can’t see across the road to my neighbour’s house. But London is not usually foggy!!!! I’m staying in all day to nurse my cold and also because I can’t see anything if I go out. BUT LONDON IS NOT, AS A RULE, FOGGY!

It is the shortest day, the Winter Solstice. From tomorrow it will be about three minutes lighter each day. We can begin to look forward to spring.

Meanwhile, we can’t really look anywhere – BECAUSE IT IS SO UNBELIEVABLY FOGGY!!!

The Advent Calendar is almost finished. Only two more windows to open. That means that there are only two more chocolates left in the Finnish Advent Calendar Box we started twenty-two days ago. No box of chocolates has ever lasted that long in this house.

Despite what I said about staying in all day I have actually been out with Lucy. My cold is much better. We bought all the food we need for the holidays, had a quick breakfast at the coffee shop and then went to get Lucy’s Christmas present – a watch.

When we got home we found that the postman had been and there were another sixteen Christmas cards to open. That’s about 80 we’ve got so far. Some of our friends send us long letters at Christmas and I love sitting down with a mug of tea or a glass of mulled wine to read all about what they’ve been doing during the year. I also write a Christmas letter which I send out every December, to about 50 friends around the world.

It’s the party season, of course. In fact, because of my cold, I’ve missed a couple of parties but tonight I’m having dinner with friends and on Christmas Eve Lucy and I will be at an all-day party which starts around 11.00 in the morning and ends around 11.00 at night. When we get home, Lucy and I will then light the candles, pour a glass of wine, put on some Christmas music, open some chocolates and begin to open our presents. This isn’t usual in Britain. Christmas Day – 25th December – is the day most people open their presents and have Christmas dinner. But since my wife died, just a little over three years ago now, Lucy and I have found that we like opening our presents late on Christmas Eve when the house is warm and everything is quiet and we’re feeling good after the party.

This year, for the first time, we’re having Christmas dinner with friends – but I’ll tell you more about that later and I hope to include a photo of the dinner table with guests and a bit of information about the food and other customs.

Right now I think I’ll just get the word list finished, add a photo of our Christmas tree and get this posted.

I hope everything is fine with you and that you can find the time to post a blog today. I’ll stand by tomorrow morning to produce a longer and more thorough blog for you in response.

Hope you’re having a great time with your sister and that your preparations for Christmas are going well.

Very best wishes,

STEPHEN

SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
ordeal
difficult experience
faithful
supportive, loyal
uncommon
rare, not very common. If something is uncommon it hardly ever happens
perception
opinion, idea, understanding (noun)
domestic
Domestic flights are flights within a country. Flights to other countries are called international flights.
jammed
packed, blocked
to nurse
to look after, to take care of
as a rule
generally, normally







PHOTO: Our Christmas tree. We decorate it with many hand-made decorations from around the world but especially from northern European countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia. These are all places where I have spent Christmas or New Year in the past. It would be lovely if some of our readers from these countries – and others, too, of course – would post a comment telling us how to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’ in their mother tongues.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

No days off for Federico!

Dear Federico,

Many thanks for your latest blog. I especially liked the photo of Mount Huascaran, but it scared me, too. You may remember that I told you I intend to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, in February. Therefore, I should be training really hard right now. Instead, I have damaged my foot and got a sore knee. I strained a muscle in my arm a couple of weeks ago, and my flu has stopped me taking my daily 10 kilometre run. I feel fat, unfit and very old! What fantastic preparation!

Thanks for the cold remedies. We, too, drink lemon juice with honey, hot water and a little cognac. In English, we call that a hot toddy. And, yes, I know you’re right, I should stay in bed. But it is Christmas and there are parties to go to and friends to meet . . . and lots of people to pass my flu on to!

Anyway, my life is not as busy as yours. Another trip! And so soon after the last one. You must be indispensable. Surely, you will have some time off now, or is it possible that your boss could ring you on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (and I don’t mean to wish you “Merry Christmas”)?

You really know how to make someone feel jealous, don’t you? “We are going to go to the beach. I am learning to surf, so I will be swimming the whole day." There are actually people here in London who swim in a small river, called The Serpentine, in the middle of Hyde Park, every year on Christmas Day morning! There are other – equally crazy – people who swim in the sea at Brighton, on the south coast. Why would a person do such a thing when they could be cosy and warm indoors, drinking a glass of champagne and opening boxes of chocolates? (I will start training again soon, I promise.) What will be temperature be where you will be swimming on Christmas Day?

Your presents seem perfect. I have never read Kant and the Duck-Billed Platypus, and I can’t even remember who it’s by, but have seen it and thought that I might read it one day. The Cuban music for your mum sounds good, too. Does she dance to it? You said your brother is a scout. How old is he? And your sister: does she really only like chocolates? How come she’s so slim, then?

o-o-O-o-o

Last night I was out for dinner at a friend’s house. It was good to get dressed up, and to go out into the freezing night (with a thick overcoat on, of course) with presents and a bottle of wine to give. I took a few balloons (red and green ones, of course) and a couple of party blowers and some tinsel. The meal was really good – poached salmon with vegetables, and a rich lemon mousse dessert with berries and Swedish ice cream.

The fog has finally lifted. This morning the sky above my cosy little house is, once again, filled with aircraft. Lucy was at a sleepover last night so the house was quiet and empty when I woke at 08.00. After opening the penultimate window in the Advent calendar and letting the Advent candle burn down a bit, I had a quick shower and shave. I truly hate shaving – more than anything else in my daily life. I would rather iron 50 shirts than spend even 15 minutes shaving. So, once my face had stopped bleeding I got dressed and went to the coffee shop. This morning there were lots of regulars there and we exchanged small Christmas gifts and bought each other coffee and small panettones. It was very festive.

When I have finished writing this I will pop round to a neighbour’s house with a small present then come home and start to prepare lunch. Lucy is, for once, at home all day, trying to catch up with some of the homework she’s not been doing. So we expect to have a fairly quiet day. Tomorrow will be very different. We’re going to an all-day party. Lucy will take her digital camera and if we can manage to get one good picture I’ll post it with the next blog. I’ll also tell you a bit more about how we spend Christmas Day and then I’ll tell you about where I’m going for New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, there are a few corrections and comments, below. Have fun with them!

Enjoy your well-deserved holiday (and don’t answer the phone!).

With very best wishes, as always,

STEPHEN

SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
hot toddy

a hot drink made with lemon juice, honey and cognac (or whisky) and boiling water
indispensable
absolutely essential. If you are indispensable to your company it means that they cannot manage without you.
how come..?
An idiomatic way of asking ‘why?’:example sentences: How come you’re so late? [Why are you so late?], How come there are no newspapers today? [Why are there no newspapers today?], How come you have to work on Christmas Day? [Why do you have to work on Christmas Day?]
slim
If you are ‘slim’ you have a thin but attractively-shaped body. It is a polite and positive word. The word ‘thin’ suggests someone is too slim. It is slightly negative.
to get dressed up
to put your best clothes on
party blowers
small objects you put to your lips and blow into to make a ‘festive’ noise. Party blowers often have a curled up ‘tongue’ which opens out into a long tube when you blow into the mouthpiece,
tinsel
small strips of shiny foil paper attached to a long thread. Tinsel is often used as a garland to decorate the Christmas tree.
poached
cooked gently in boiling water or milk
mousse
pronounced like the word ‘moose’, it is a sweet, very light dessert made with eggs and cream
sleepover
a party where you sleep at the place where the party was held
penultimate
second from last
regulars
people who regularly use the same café or pub
festive
full of colour, happiness and goodwill and connected to a celebration such as Christmas, which is sometimes called ‘the festive season’
pop round
make an unplanned, informal visit
to catch up
to do work she should have done earlier

SPELLINGS TO REMEMBER
busy [not bussy]
night [not nigth]
customers [not costumers]
engineers [not engeeniers]
bought [not bougth]
lemon [not lemmon]

GRAMMAR
Look again at how you have used the word ‘which’ in some sentences. I have re-written and corrected them. Can you see the mistake you have made?
Perhaps you’re thinking that I took some days of from blogging . . . (first paragraph)
You made me laugh when you said that I will forget you . . . (fifth paragraph)
I am sure that they will be happy at home . . . (sixth paragraph)
I found that there are problems with the weather in Europe . . . (ninth paragraph)
You can get it right, because you got one perfectly correct in your eighth paragraph): …I hope that she waits until Christmas Eve to eat her chocolates.

And don’t forget ‘who’ (not ‘which’) for people: As I can’t give my gifts personally, I sent them with my sister who is travelling to Talavera today. (Eighth paragraph)

COMPARATIVES AND SUPERLATIVES
The second biggest gold mine in Peru (paragraph two) is fine, so the next paragraph it should be written like this: . . . the third highest mountain in the world.
PREPOSITIONS
at Christmas
on Christmas Day

WORD ORDER
Remember that questions are formed, in English, by changing the normal order of words, so …where is the second biggest gold mine in Peru…, in your second paragraph, should be written like this: …where the second biggest gold mine in Peru is.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

"If I ruled the world..."

Hi Federico,

Look at us! We’ve got a world-wide audience and the chance to say something profound and heart-warming at Christmas. Here, in Britain, the Queen talks to the nation on television on Christmas Day. In the Vatican City, the Pope sends a message of peace and goodwill to the world. Here’s our big chance, Federico, to do the same. What would you like to say to the world at Christmas?

Me? I find it much too easy to become very sentimental at Christmas. I have worked in very many countries around the world. Some of them – the USSR and Yugoslavia, for example – are no longer even countries. I have met and worked with so many wonderful, hard-working and thoroughly decent people, courtesy of The British Council and the BBC, and other employers, too. Many of these people have lived and worked under very difficult political, social and economic conditions. It has been a great privilege for me. Just like it is a privilege to have been your teacher blogger this month. This is a truly democratic medium – the Internet, I mean – and it has allowed you and me not only to ‘talk’ to each other but also for our many fantastic readers to communicate with us, via the BBC, too.
How lucky are we?

Federico, I want to wish you, your family and all your friends and colleagues a very happy Christmas and a successful, healthy and peaceful 2007.

We’ re still partying here so I will sign off now and write a longer (proper!) blog later, with photos of Christmas dinner and more about what’s happening in our little corner of the world.

All the very best,
STEPHEN (and Lucy)

Monday, 25 December 2006

CHRISTMAS DAY, 2006



A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, FEDERICO!

09.00
Well, it didn’t snow, so there’s no white Christmas here. But there never is. In fact the weather has become mild again, but it is dark and quiet and we are up early opening Christmas presents – a watch for Lucy, some clothes, CDs and lots and lots and lots of art books (Lucy is studying History of Art), and for me books (yes, Lucy bought me that collection of Father Brown stories by G K Chesterton, Federico), CDs and lots of useful stuff for my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in February.



We lit all the candles around the house and opened a bottle of champagne which we diluted with orange juice (because we’ll be drinking quite a lot of it during the day!) and drank together with big slices of panettone and cups of fresh coffee. Then the phone started ringing. Family and friends from around the world began calling and a couple of neighbours dropped in for a quick drink.

The house is full of boxes of chocolates and tins of biscuits, French cheeses, fruit, nuts, smoked salmon and Swedish snaps (an alcoholic spirit, like spiced vodka). This is not a good time of year to lose weight.

LATER –
We had Christmas Dinner with a good family friend, her family, friends and other relatives, about 10 kilometres from where we live. It was the traditional, full British Christmas Dinner: turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, peas, onions and Brussels sprouts with bread sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy. We drank chilled champagne and toasted our host and wished each other ‘A very merry Christmas’. Then we had Christmas pudding – a mixture of suet, dried fruit, spices and alcohol, steamed and served hot with cognac poured over it and a spoonful of brandy butter.



The conversation was dynamic, the atmosphere was warm and the food was just perfect. I told everyone about you and your adventures on the mountain-side, about your work as a mining engineer, your life in Lima, your girlfriend, your sister, yes, and even about the Scissor Dances. And everyone around the table (we were English, Irish, Scottish and Swedish) asked me to pass on to you their very best wishes for a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year.











LATER STILL –
Lucy and I are back home now and about to settle down with a final glass of champagne, a handful of chocolates. Just before we do that we’ll post this blog and then put on warm clothes and go for a brisk walk down to the village, past the church, along the riverbank and back home in time for a cosy evening with some of our new books and CDs.

I hope you and all your friends have had a great day, and I look forward to hearing all about it very soon.

Very best wishes,

STEPHEN





diluted
made weaker by adding water or another liquid
toasted
drank a drink to show our appreciation of
suet
hard animal fat used in cooking
brandy
cognac
brisk
quick and energetic

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Recovering From Christmas?

Hello Federico!

Well, it’s been some time since I’ve heard from you so I assume you’ve been having a good time enjoying your Christmas holiday to the full. Or have you been recovering from Christmas, like me? I don’t think I drank too much but I certainly ate too much, and now I’m feeling guilty, fat and sluggish. Here, the weather has changed again and it is once again sunny and incredibly mild. There are flowers growing in my garden – very unusual for December.

On Boxing Day (26th December), Lucy and I did almost nothing. We got up late. Late, for me, is eight thirty. For Lucy, late means lunchtime! Anyway, we had a very late breakfast then spent the rest of the day reading some of the new books we’d been given for Christmas, listening to new CDs, and, I have to admit, falling asleep in front of the TV. I feel so ashamed.

Lucy, as ever, got lots of books. Most of them are about art and the history of art but she also got a wonderful book for students about how to cook good food very cheaply. She’ll need that in September when she leaves home for university.

The day after Boxing Day was more or less the same. I’ve got some new leather walking boots and they are very stiff. So I went for a long walk in them yesterday and came back practically unable to walk. The boots rubbed against my feet, gave me blisters, hurt my ankles and were so heavy. So today I decided I needed a rest!

I’m looking after a cat while its owner is away so I have to go to feed it every morning. Unlike most British people, I think, I’m not much of an animal-lover, but I have taken to this cat in quite an unexpected way. This morning he didn’t turn up for breakfast and now I am worried that he’s been run over or injured in some way – or even kidnapped. Am I being too neurotic?

I’ve been having some problems with my computer for the last couple of days. I decided to install an updated form of virus protection and it hasn’t allowed me onto the internet ever since (I’m posting this from Lucy’s laptop). When I finally got onto the blog page and realised there was no news from you, I decided to read through all our readers’ comments again. I am touched and moved by the wonderful comments our readers post. They are not only very generous but also very interesting and I wish I could reply to each one individually.

One grammar point arises out of some of the recent comments I’ve just read. It is a common error with students from a wide variety of linguistic backgrounds: ‘fun’ and ‘funny’. 'Fun' is a noun and 'funny' is an adjective. But it isn’t quite as simple as that. ‘Funny’ is not really the adjectival form of ‘fun’. ‘Funny’ means humorous (for example, He’s a very funny comedian or It wasn’t a very funny joke). ‘Fun’ is used about an activity or situation which is pleasant and enjoyable (for example, The picnic was a lot of fun or We all had fun at the Christmas party).
These sentences are useful:
Have fun at Christmas.
I hope you have a good time at Christmas.
Have a great New Year.

‘Funny’ can also mean ‘strange’ (for example, A funny thing happened to me last night or She can be a bit funny about people using her desk).

Well, Federico, I guess that tomorrow may be a normal working day for you. If you have time, I’d love to hear how you spent Christmas and what, if any, plans you’ve got for New Year.

On Sunday morning I will be taking the 09.04 train from London Waterloo to Paris Gare du Nord (France) to celebrate the New Year there. The train journey takes a little over two hours, non-stop. We have celebrated New Year in Paris four or five times before. In fact, in our family it has become a tradition to celebrate New Year abroad. I’ve had wonderful New Year’s Eves in Moscow, Prague, Beijing, Paris and several other European capital cities. I’ll tell you more about my plans later.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes,
STEPHEN

SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
to the full
If you do something to the full you make the most of the opportunity.
sluggish
tired and without much energy, slow and heavy, lethargic
ashamed
feeling embarrassed or guilty about something you should not have done
blisters
painful swellings (caused by friction) containing clear fluid on the surface of your skin
taken to
started to like
turn up
come
run over
hit by a vehicle
kidnapped
stolen




Saturday, 30 December 2006

Only One Day of 2006 Left!


Federico, my friend!

I understand that you have been very busy (at work) during the last week and that finding the time to blog has not been easy for you. Now, I guess, you are perhaps preparing for New Year celebrations. I hope to hear from you before the year ends but, just in case I don’t, I thought I’d post this blog today. If I have time before I leave for Paris – very early tomorrow morning – I’ll post a final blog just to wish you, and all our loyal and generous readers, Happy New Year.

So, what has been happening in Lima? One of our readers, from Russia, says that it has been raining very heavily and there is severe flooding in parts of Peru. I have heard nothing about that in the news here. How bad is it, and have you been affected?

Here the weather continues to be strange. Last night we had a fierce storm with extremely strong winds, but this morning it is like a day in late spring – bright sunshine and temperatures around 14 degrees, no wind, no rain, just perfect in fact. I hope it stays like this in our part of Europe for the next few days (the climate in Paris is more or less the same as the climate in London).

I’m sorry that this has to be such a short blog but I have to go to the bank to collect my euros (for Paris), then I have to pack, and then I have to go out and do some food shopping so that Lucy doesn’t starve while I’m away. Actually, I feel very uneasy about leaving Lucy here. It was her choice to stay here. She’s going to a New Year party with some good friends and I’m sure she’ll be OK, but…

Some of our readers asked about New Year in Moscow. I know Moscow quite well having been there five or six times. The last time I was there was for New Year three years ago. I found it fascinating to be back there for the first time since the end of the USSR. It was cold, of course, but not too bad, and there was no snow until about 11.00 pm on New Year’s Eve when it started to snow gently so that by midnight Red Square was just perfectly ‘decorated’. Red Square is one of my favourite places in the world. In winter, covered in fresh snow, it is like fairyland. Lucy and I had a good time with our Russian ‘champagne’ and a handful of balloons and streamers. Everyone around us was friendly. The entertainment was good, and the fireworks at midnight were lovely. One of the best photographs I have ever taken shows St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, part of Red Square and the New Year fireworks.

There will be fireworks in Paris tomorrow night. If I can relax enough to stop worrying about Lucy (and whether she’s wrecking the house!), I’m sure I’ll enjoy them. If I get any good photographs I may be able to post them here before the end of next week. With a bit of luck I should be able to continue blogging, with a new student, during January, too.

Here is London, people gather in Trafalgar Square to listen to Big Ben at midnight on New Year’s Eve. When I was a much younger man I spent a New Year’s Eve there, dancing and splashing around in the fountains. Nowadays, the fountains are switched off and covered for the night, which is a good idea. I spent the next month trying to recover from the worst flu I’d ever had. It was minus ten degrees and all those of us stupid enough to jump in the fountain were totally soaked. Like I said, I was a VERY young man.

Down by the River Thames, by the London Eye (a huge wheel you can take a ride on – the view from the top is spectacular), there are fireworks, too. But London probably isn’t the best place to be in Britain on New Year’s Eve. If you are ever here for New Year you should try to get to Edinburgh, in Scotland. There they have a two-week Winter Festival with ice-skating, rock concerts, fairgrounds and fireworks. On New Year’s Eve itself – the Scots call it Hogmanay – there are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of the city centre and the atmosphere (so long as you don’t mind crowds!) is wonderful.


Right now, though, Federico, I am thinking of you. You must be very overworked. Now you really must find time to relax and enjoy the New Year. I hope to hear from you today. But if you really can’t make it, well, have a great New Year’s Eve and a healthy, happy and successful 2007. It has been a really great experience for me to blog with you for these four weeks. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I hope it’s been useful, too.

All the very best of luck with your exams and your plans for Australia.

Take care!

STEPHEN


SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
severe

very bad, extreme
fierce
strong, violent
to pack
to put clothes, etc., into a suitcase before a journey
starve
die from lack of food (I am using the word in an ironic, exaggerated, way here)
uneasy
uncomfortable, worried
streamers
very long narrow strips of coloured paper used for decoration
wrecking
damaging, destroying
With a bit of luck
If everything goes well, if nothing unexpected happens
soaked
as wet as possible


A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO FEDERICO, OF COURSE, AND TO ALL OUR LOYAL AND GENEROUS READERS! THANK YOU AND GOOD LUCK IN 2007!




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