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November 2007

Friday, 02 November 2007

Welcome Leila!

G’day all, and an extra special g’day to Leila!

I’m afraid this is only going to be a short one, as I’m supposed to be marking some assignments (but writing to you is much more interesting – hope my boss isn’t reading this!!). I really just wanted to give a warm welcome to Leila, and to say I’m really looking forward to the next month, especially to hearing more about Finland (I’m ashamed to say my knowledge about your country is sadly lacking, and I’m very excited by this chance to improve myself!). I am happy to be as strict as you like, and please do let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to work on!

Well, talking of being strict, your first post was fantastic – very accurate with a great range of vocab! Excellent! There are just two tiny little things I could pick you up on: have a look and see if you can correct them yourself (I’ve italicised what you need to look at) –
1. I do my best to keep you interested
2. I’ve been watching American Idol on / in TV

And that’s really all to say, grammatically! I would like to know more about what you mean by a “lack of looseness” in your writing style, though, and if I can give you any help, I will certainly do so.

And a little quiz question for all of you – does anyone know the title of Australia’s national anthem? I’ll tell you the answer in my next post (and no cheating by looking it up on Google!).

Personally, Leila, I am not a good singer, although that doesn’t stop me if I’m in the car and something I really like comes on the radio! Owen loves singing – he knows the words to lots of nursery rhymes already. He has his own CDs in the car; I found some world music for kids CDs in a local toy shop, and we love listening to them, even though we have no idea what they’re about! (Except for Old MacDonald had a Farm (in Italian) and Waltzing Matilda (in one of the Aboriginal languages). But we sing along anyway!) Owen hates my music in the car, and nags me for “Daddy’s Music” – how bad is that? Even a two-year-old doesn’t like my music!

By the way, do you know Waltzing Matilda? It’s probably the most famous Aussie song (more famous than the national anthem, I think!). It’s based on a poem by A.B. Paterson, and has a really lovely melody. It’s quite a sad song, and has some very interesting vocabulary – I can tell you some more about later on, if you’re interested.

One thing I really need to do before I go and do my marking … give you a pavlova recipe! This one is from Stephanie Alexander, who is an Aussie cooking legend, and who has written the most amazing book which covers every ingredient from A-Z, and suggests recipes for them all. Everything I’ve tried from this book has worked a treat, so I hope this recipe works for you!

You need:
4 egg whites at room temperature
pinch of salt
250g castor sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
a few drops of pure vanilla
300ml cream, firmly whipped
fresh fruit (she suggests 10 passionfruit, pulped, but you could use berries or any soft fruit instead – I like strawberries or raspberries).

Preheat oven to 180˚C
Line a baking tray with baking paper and draw a 20cm circle on the paper.
Beat egg whites and salt until peaks form.
Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny.
Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly.
Put onto the paper-lined tray, keeping the mixture within the circle, flattening the top and smoothing the sides.
Place in the oven, immediately reducing the heat to 150˚C and cook for 30 mins. Reduce heat to 120˚C and cook for another 45 mins.
Turn off oven and leave pavlova inside until completely cool.
Remove pavlova from oven and invert it onto a plate.
Spoon the cream over the top and cover with the fruit.

It can be a bit tricky to make – Stephanie suggests cooking it for 2 hours at 120˚C if your oven takes a while to adjust the temperature. I have a cheat’s version too – it’s sometimes possible to buy the meringue cases in the supermarket, so you don’t need to worry about cooking the egg mixture at all, and then you can just top them with cream and fruit. Hurray!

Talking of recipes, Naheed, Chris would love me to have a go at making vindaloo here at home, so if you wouldn’t mind letting me have the recipe, that would be great! Thank you!

I’m working again tomorrow, but Sunday should be fun, and will hopefully give me the chance to take some more pictures for you – we’re having a picnic with some friends in a park in Balmain, which overlooks the water. This particular park is quite special to us, and I’ll tell you why on Sunday! I’ll also tell you the tragic story of Chris’s best shoes … And we’ll have a look at some of the vocab from the past few weeks. Won’t we be busy?!

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend!


Two tiny bits of vocab …
to pick you up on sth (phr vb)
to work a treat (expr)

Monday, 05 November 2007

Remember Remember the Fifth of November

Hello everyone, and especially my bosom possum

(I loved that, Leila, what a great expression!!)

Well I’m going to start by disappointing you – we had a lovely picnic in the park yesterday, but you’ll have to wait until next time to read about that, because today is the Fifth of November, so we have to commemorate Guy Fawkes. I’ll tell you all about him in a minute …

First, some of you have been nagging me to tell you the tragic story of Chris’s shoes. OK, but be warned, you will need at least a box of tissues, and you may never want to speak to me again …Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin!

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a young prince called Chris. Being a prince of adventurous spirit, he decided after leaving university to travel and explore the world before returning home to settle down. So he flew away to the continent of Europe, where he saw many wonders. Eventually, he arrived in the country of Italy, which is famous for its food, wines and … shoes! The prince decided that there would be no better way to remember his trip than to buy a fine pair of shoes (that were about as expensive as his entire kingdom) that would last for his lifetime. So the noble prince bought the most wondrous Italian leather shoes he could find, and returned to his kingdom a happy man. Some time later, the prince met Princess Rachel and they decided to get married and live happily ever after. The shoes remained treasured in their box, and the prince wore other shoes to go about his business. But, one day, the other shoes began to fall apart.

“I know!” exclaimed the prince. “I will wear my best shoes for work until I can find some new ones, and then the best ones can go back into their box for special occasions.” So the prince wore his best shoes for work, and eventually found another pair to replace the old ones. After buying the new shoes, Prince Chris decided to wear them immediately, and put the best shoes into the box so he could take them home safely. And this is where the story becomes a tragedy – when Prince Chris arrived home from work, he left the shoe box containing the wondrous Italian shoes near the door where (according to Princess Rachel) it remained for several days. And so, assuming that the box contained the old, worn-out work shoes, Princess Rachel carried it downstairs and put it in the bin, where it remained until the palace garbage trucks came to take the bins away. The devastating loss went unnoticed until it was far, far too late. To this day, Prince Chris has kept the empty box for his beloved shoes, and whenever the prince and princess have a disagreement, the prince always says “But at least I’ve never thrown your shoes away.”

So there it is. The story of how I threw away Chris’ best shoes. (In my defence, it was an ACCIDENT! But I admit I really should have looked in the box before I chucked it out …)

Anyway, let’s move on!

Who is Guy Fawkes? And why is 5th November so special? Well, I shall tell you. I hope you like history! I’ll give you the potted version, and then tell you how we celebrate it today.

It begins with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Elizabeth had been strongly Protestant, and many Catholics had been persecuted during her reign. English Catholics hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant, since his mother had been a Catholic. Two years into his reign, in 1605, a group of young men decided that James was no better than Elizabeth had been, and that the only way to stop the persecution was with violence. So they hatched a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and hopefully kill the King and the members of parliament who were responsible. To carry out this plan, the group got hold of several barrels of gunpowder and stored them in a cellar directly under the House of Lords.

However, some members of the group had friends in the Houses of Parliament, and were worried that innocent people would be killed. One of them wrote a letter to a friend of his who was an MP, warning him not to go into Parliament on 5th November. This friend took the letter straight to the King, who sent troops to investigate. And guess who they found in the cellar, along with 36 barrels of gunpowder? That’s right! Guy Fawkes! He was immediately arrested, and then executed.

On the night that the explosion was intended, 5th November, bonfires were lit all over the country to celebrate the King’s safety, and ever since then, 5th November has been known as “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night”.

Bonfire Night was my favourite celebration as a child. In the north of England, the night before is known as “Mischief Night”, I think because of all the plotting that happened on the fourth. My sister and I used it as an excuse to be naughty and disobedient at home, although I remember taping up our letterbox (I think my parents still do this) because other people’s idea of mischief is to throw things (especially firecrackers, can you believe it?) through other people’s letterboxes.

The 5th November isn’t a public holiday in the UK, but for a few days beforehand you can see children asking for “a penny for the Guy”. We used to make effigies of Guy Fawkes from our dad’s old trousers and shirts, stuffed with newspaper, and take them round the streets, and people would give us a penny to spend on sweets (I don’t know if this still happens, but it was quite common when I was young). In the evening, we went round to a friend’s house for a bonfire and fireworks – sometimes bonfires were organised by local councils, or pubs, etc – and a bit of a party. We put the Guy on the bonfire to burn (this represents the end of the plot, I think), and watched the fireworks. The sad thing is that in the news the next day there are always reports of people who were injured by fireworks, and I think there are more public bonfires now to try and prevent this from happening. Because it’s November, it’s always freezing, and dark, so I remember wrapping up very warmly (and having a burning hot face and a freezing cold back from standing near the fire!) and lots of hot food – soup, baked potatoes, roast chestnuts etc. We used to have toffee apples, which are apples on sticks, dipped in toffee so they’re all sticky, and a special sort of toffee, called Bonfire Toffee, which was much darker than normal toffee – I’ll have to find out how to make it!

There’s even a rhyme about it (I think the rhyme is almost as old as the plot), which goes like this:

Remember remember the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

I have some very fond memories of Bonfire Night, and I hope I’ve managed to give you a bit of a picture of what it was like. It’s not celebrated here in Oz (well, why would it be?!), so I do get a bit nostalgic at this time of year! (If any of you are really interested, try searching online for “Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot”) Oh, and, if any of you have any celebrations that are specific to your country, or to the area where you live, I’d love to hear about them!

Leila, let me give you my full attention for a little bit, possum!

Things Down Under are getting interesting, thank you for asking! It’s the Melbourne Cup tomorrow (the race that stops the nation), and even though horse-racing really isn’t my thing, I’ll try to write a bit about it. We also have an election coming up in a few weeks, and for the first time it looks like the opposition might be in with a chance, so more on that as it happens!

First of all, well done on the homework – spot on both times! I agree that “in TV” is probably more logical, but we do say “on TV” – Isn’t English great?!

You can use for example or e.g. – either is fine! Remember for instance is also an alternative to for example, if you want a bit of variety!

How many thousands is fine too.

No article with arrogance – in English we don’t tend to use articles with abstract nouns, unless we’re talking specifically (e.g. The arrogance of the Prime Minister is incredible). Does Finnish have articles, Leila? I know a lot of languages don’t, and articles can be horribly confusing for students of English. Shall we have a look at some places where articles are missing from your last posts? See if you can put them in the right place (and everyone else, you can have a go at this too! Aren’t I mean?!).

1. Reason for that is …
2. I am rather impatient person
3. The reason for above is …
4. Someone knew that couple of songs

Leila, please don’t look at this and think “Oh my goodness, she’s found so many mistakes!” – The truth is, your writing is very accurate and I’m so glad I’ve found something I can maybe help you with!

One other tiny thing (I’ve picked up on this because I think it might be helpful to everyone else as well) I’d like to look at is how we use lack in English. Lack can be either a noun or a verb, meaning not to have something, and we use it like this:

As a verb: I lack space in my wardrobe for all my shoes. (no preposition)

As a noun: Lack of rain has made the ground hard and brown. (+ of)

There’s also an adjective: I’m lacking inspiration for these examples (no preposition)

And another adjective, meaning not to have a particular quality: Owen is certainly not lacking in charm (+ in)

OK, here are two sentences from Leila’s posts where she has used lack as a verb.
1. Can you suggest a correction?
2. Can you rewrite the sentences using lack as a noun or an adjective?
Have a go and we’ll see how you get on!

a. I maybe lack of it (self-confidence) at times
b. I lack of looseness in my writing style

Now, I realise I am LONG overdue to do some work on vocabulary, which I promise faithfully to do in my next post (once again I’m finishing this off after work, and I really need to be fully awake in order to do vocab properly).

Oh, and the title to Australia’s National Anthem is “Advance Australia Fair” (I sometimes try to wind Chris up by saying that as Elizabeth II is still technically Australia’s Head of State it should be God Save the Queen … but he just shakes his head at me!)

Anyway, good night (or I suppose it’s good morning for most of you now the clocks have changed!), and I’ll be back again soon with more amusing stories of life in Oz …


Today’s vocab:
to commemorate (vb)
to nag (vb / n)
to settle down (phr vb)
to chuck sth out / away (phr vb - informal)
a potted history (expr)
to persecute (vb)
to hatch a plot (expr)
an effigy (n)
to wind sb up (phr vb)

Thursday, 08 November 2007

Springtime in Sydney

Hello again everyone and greetings from rainy Sydney!

Firstly, Prince Chris would like to greet his loyal subjects and express his gratitude for all your messages of sympathy concerning his terrible loss … And yes, Princess Rachel is pleased to admit that she did the right thing and bought the prince another pair of Italian shoes. However, Italian shoes bought in Sydney are not the same as Italian shoes bought in Italy … (Naheed, your wonderful recipe for vindaloo might just do the trick and repair the shoe-shaped hole in our relationship, so thank you very much for that! And thank you also to everyone else who sent recipes and descriptions of some of your national dishes; they all sound delicious and if I can’t make them myself I shall certainly find out where I can get them!)

Anyway, on to much happier things – the weather! (Well, I am a Pom, after all!) It has been raining off and on since Thursday now, which is actually great in terms of drought-relief, but not so much fun when you have a small boy who hates being stuck indoors! The weather was so bad on Saturday that we were seriously considering calling off the picnic, but Sunday was actually beautiful weather (to the extent that I got really sunburnt – ow! It was stupid really, but by the time I’d covered Owen in sunscreen and made him put his hat and sunglasses on, the last thing I felt like doing was attending to myself. I’m paying for it now, though!)

So, on Sunday, we went to Elkington Park in Balmain with some friends for a picnic. Balmain is another of Sydney’s gems – it’s also on the water (the other side of the ANZAC Bridge to Glebe), and is a very old suburb. It used to be a very working class area, because a lot of the docks were situated there; Chris went to primary school in Balmain and can remember the siren going at the end of the day for knocking off time. Balmain is similar to Glebe in that there are a lot of cafes and restaurants (and pubs - LOTS of pubs!), and also some interesting shops (no chain stores or fast food, which is a rarity these days!). However, in my opinion, Glebe is still quite alternative (and therefore more appealing to me) whereas Balmain is more upmarket.

I took some photos of the park to show you – no views of any bridges from here, but it’s lovely to look out over the water. The reason this particular park is special to us is that we got married here seven years ago (seven years!!!!). We really wanted to get married in a park and spent ages driving round the Inner West looking for one, and eventually chose Elkington. When Chris was really little, he used to live just across the road from the park, so he has fond childhood memories of it as well. We also had Owen’s naming ceremony here, right at the end of the park under the big tree. In Australia, you can get married anywhere you like as long as you have a licence, which I think is great! I think the idea is catching on in the UK, but as far as I know parks are still out of the question for weddings.

This is the view of the water at the edge of the park

We got married near the water to the right of the picture as you're looking at it, and Owen's naming ceremony was held under the big tree right at the end of the park.

Here’s another sign that it’s spring time – the jacaranda trees. They come into bloom at the end of October, so all across Sydney you can see patches of purple, which I think is just beautiful. When the flowers start appearing it always reminds me that it’s nearly our anniversary! A lot of Aussie trees and plants are evergreens; they never shed their leaves, so spring here (I think) is a lot less noticeable than in Europe, where everything suddenly bursts into life after winter. Anyway, I took a photo of the jacarandas here in Hurlstone Park so you can see them for yourself.

Oh, and one more picture – ice-cream! And Owen! This was our young man in the seafood restaurant where we went for our anniversary – ice-cream eating is such a serious business, isn't it?

I also said I would tell you about the Melbourne Cup, which for many Aussies is the definitive sign that spring has arrived. I think we have a couple of readers in Melbourne (yes, Hualan, I’m thinking of you!!) so if anyone wants to tell us what it’s like being in Victoria for the Cup, we’d love to hear about it. The first race was held in 1861, and (I think) it’s a two-mile course, which means the race itself only lasts about 3 minutes! At the last school where I worked, the students in the Business English class organised a whole-school sweepstake, and then just before the race started all lessons stopped and everyone went to the reception area to watch it. Even people who aren’t normally into horse racing (or gambling) put a bet on for the Cup (except me – I didn’t even know the names of any of the horses in this year’s race, and in fact they were running it while I was typing this; I’m probably the only person in Australia still not to know who this year’s winner is!). I do know one thing, though, which is that this year’s race was almost cancelled because of the equine flu (horse flu)epidemic that broke out recently. It was so bad that all horses were quarantined to try and stop the flu spreading, and there was talk of calling off the Cup. I think to some extent the quarantine is still in place, so a lot of horses who were expected to race this year couldn’t do so. If you’re really interested in knowing more about the Cup, the official website is:

Well, let’s have a look now at the homework from last time, and then we can get into some vocab.

Well done everyone for having a go, and especially to Leila (I always think it’s a bit harder to correct yourself!)

1. The reason for that is …
2. I am a rather impatient person OR I am rather an impatient person
3. The reason for the above is …
4. Someone knew that a couple of songs

Corrections (using lack as a verb)
a. I maybe lack it (self-confidence) at times
b. I lack looseness in my writing style
(no of in either of these examples)

You could rewrite them like this:
As nouns:
There’s a lack of self-confidence
There’s a lack of looseness in my writing style

As adjectives:
I’m lacking in self-confidence (=not to have a quality)
Her writing style is lacking looseness

Leila, thank you for your last couple of posts; I really enjoyed your photos (especially the one that Katri took – wonderful! What time of day was it taken?), and I would like to wish you and your husband a very happy (belated) anniversary; I hope you had a lovely day. I’ve taken note of your questions (off and of – wow! I’ll need to think about that one!) and I promise I’ll get to them in my next post.

I couldn’t find any fault with your sentence about All Saint’s Day; it was grammatically accurate and the vocab you used was perfect to describe the graveyards – I had an instant mental picture of how it would look. (Ana Paula, I should say the same to you too about your description of the Day of the Dead; I was really moved when I read it.) Sadly, it’s not celebrated here in Australia (at least, not by the general population).

You can say “me and my sister”; I think some people would insist that it’s not correct English, but the truth is it’s used so commonly these days that it’s become acceptable.

A quick question for you and all our readers – would you like to do a little bit of work on articles? Several people seemed to indicate that articles are a difficult area, so if you’d like a bit of help, just let me know.

OK, ready for some vocab? (This is for everyone, not just Leila!) I’m not going to do it all at once, so let’s just look at the vocab from my posts on 18th and 22nd October. If you’re able to, have a look back at these two posts just to refresh your memory about the context, and if you wrote the words down in your vocab book with a definition, have a look at that too.

This time, I’m going to give you the definitions so you can check your ideas about what the words meant. Then, there are some exercises at the end to give you some more practice if you want to do some – answers next time!

18th Oct – The biggest “loser” sport in the world
(three years) on the trot (expr) = three years consecutively
gala (n) = a special occasion with a variety of entertainment
evocative (adj) = making you remember something pleasant
kidding (vb) = joking
opponent (n) = a person you are competing against in a sports event
make a comeback (expr) = to regain popularity
knock sb out (of a competition) (phr vb) = to eliminate
spot on (adj) = exactly right

22nd October – Culture Shock
to sledge (vb – slang) = to shout insults against a sports team during a match
to be / get wound up (expr) = to become annoyed or upset
good natured (adj) = pleasant, friendly
designated (adj) = a place or area that has been assigned for a specific purpose
to come by (phr vb) = to get*
* to come by is often used with easy or hard
biting wind (collocation) = a freezing cold, bitter wind
vocal (adj) = noisy, outspoken
Down Under (n) = Australia
exhilarating (adj) = making you feel excited and happy
live (adj) (rhymes with five, not with give) = a performance that is seen or broadcast while it is happening (not recorded and watched later).

And now for the exercises! With a lot of these questions, the aim is for you to apply the vocab to your own experiences so you can start using it naturally. You don’t need to write long answers – just a sentence is fine. And some of the questions are intended to build on the vocab. Ready? OK then!

1. “on the trot” – can you write a sentence about something that you did / have been doing “on the trot”? (e.g. I’ve been blogging for the BBC for two months on the trot.)
2. What’s the verb of “evocative”?
3. In a team sport, what’s the opposite of “opponent?”
4. Can you think of a famous person who has “made a comeback”? Who?
5. When was the last time your team was knocked out of a competition? What happened? (e.g. “England was knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by South Africa”)
6. What really winds you up?
7. Who is the most good-natured person you know? Why?
8. Can you think of any places that might have designated seating?
9. Are there any products that are easy to come by in your countries at this time of year?
10. Do you ever get a biting wind in your country? In which months?
11. What are the noun and verb forms of “exhilarating”?
12. What was the last live performance/event you saw?

Oh, and before I forget, here’s the vocab from today!
off and on (expr)
(one of Sydney’s) gems (n)
knocking off time (expr)
sweepstake (n)
be into sth (phr vb)
epidemic (n)
quarantine (n / vb)

Well I think that’s all folks, as they say in the cartoons, so I’ll leave you in peace for now!



PS - Niaz Ali from Aryana; G'day is what Australians say to greet each other. It's a short form of "Good Day"

Monday, 12 November 2007

Waltzing Matilda

G’day Leila and everyone!

The rain has stopped! Yay! Apparently this has been the wettest November for 24 years! It’s done the ground a lot of good – everything is green instead of brown, and it has also cooled the temperature down a bit, so it’s quite nice at the moment.

I hope you all had a nice weekend; we did! (My sympathy to you, Carolina – it’s bad enough being stuck inside with one small child, let alone 22!!! You poor thing!!) I was working on Saturday but yesterday we took advantage of the nice weather and went to the park with Owen (he had a great time – he’s been stuck inside all week, poor boy!), and treated ourselves to lunch in a local café – very relaxing!

Leila, I have enjoyed reading your last couple of posts, especially the pictures! Do you know how Finnish happens to be related to Hungarian, even though geographically they’re so far apart? (Just curious – I’m sure I can find out for myself!) I’m looking forward to hearing about Finnish food (always my favourite topic!).

Well, I thought since we’d been discussing it a little bit, I would tell you about Waltzing Matilda. People often think that Waltzing Matilda is Australia’s National Anthem, and a lot of people think that it should be. There is still a lot of discussion about where the song comes from; most people think it’s from a poem by A.B. Paterson (a famous 19th century Australian poet). Some people think it’s a political poem, others say it’s a folk song. I was watching a TV show the other night about English in different parts of the world, and the presenter mentioned Waltzing Matilda because it had a mix of Aboriginal words, and Australian colloquial words. I’ve had a look on the web to try and find some more information about it for you, and I found a great site from the National Library of Australia; the address is: As Dusan says, there’s a very informative entry in Wikipedia, and if you do a search yourself you’ll find heaps more information (there are some sites where you can actually listen to the song).

The story is about a swagman – a swagman is best described as a tramp; someone who moves around carrying his belongings in a “swag” (a bag). “Waltzing Matilda” means just that – moving around from place to place carrying your swag with you. The swagman sets up camp for the night by a stream (billabong) and is just making a cup of tea when a sheep turns up to drink at the stream. The swagman steals the sheep and is putting it in his tuckerbag (a bag for food) when the troopers and the sheep’s owner (the squatter) arrive to claim the sheep back. Rather than be arrested, the swagman jumps into the billabong and drowns.

I haven’t done the story justice at all, I’m afraid, so if you have time, please look at some of the sites and find out more for yourselves!

Well done all of you on your answers to the vocab, and thank you all for taking the time to write such detailed comments – I always enjoy reading what you have to say. My answers are below, but just remember a lot of these questions are aimed for you to draw on your experiences, so there are lots of different possible answers!

1. “on the trot” – I’ve been taking Owen to swimming lessons for two months on the trot.
2. The verb of “evocative” is evoke. (Be careful with this one – the structure is evoke something for someone. E.g. in Leila's post: “what evoked this theme for me?”)
3. In a team sport the opposite of “opponent” is team mate.
4. A famous person who has “made a comeback” – John Travolta (he did Grease and Saturday Night Fever, and then had hardly any work until Pulp Fiction). Also Britney Spears, maybe? A few of you mentioned Benazir Bhutto, too.
5. The last time my team was knocked out of a competition was last month: England was knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by South Africa
6. What really “winds you up”? – people who push their way onto the train when others are trying to get off.
7. The most good-natured person I know is probably my husband.
8. Some other places that have designated seating might be conference venues, sports venues, theatres, concert venues, public transport, etc.
9. Products that are easy to come by in Australia at this time of year are – mangoes (yum!), peaches, strawberries …
10. Do you ever get a “biting wind” in your country? In Yorkshire, we get biting winds from December to February. We don’t really get them in Sydney, but if you go to the Blue Mountains (2hrs drive from here) in winter (June-August) the wind is pretty cold!
11. The noun and verb forms of “exhilarating” are exhilaration (n) and exhilarate (vb). (Swimming in a frozen river, Leila?! Crikey! (As we say in Oz!))
12. The last live performance/event I saw was so long ago I can’t remember! I think maybe it was a few years ago and Chris and I went to see REM at the Entertainment Centre. They were fantastic!

OK, so here’s some more vocab and definitions for you – and just a couple of questions this time! Again, the aim of the questions is to help you use the language naturally, so there are lots of possibilities!

25th Oct - Glebe
the rain comes down in spades (expr) = to rain heavily
slack (adj – informal) = lazy
dear to my heart (expr) = precious, important to you
doing a roaring trade (expr) = having a very successful business
pretty (adverb - NOT an adjective here!) = quite
streetscape (n) = the way that the street looks, its appearance
upgrade (n / v) = to improve the quality of something
conk out (phr vb) = break down, stop working (of machines)

28th Oct - Food Glorious Food
to stock up (phr vb) = buy a lot of a particular product
come into season (expr) = (of fruit and veg) available and ready to eat
hooked (on) (adj) = addicted to
boutique (adj) = a small, exclusive producer (e.g. boutique beer is not mass-produced or available everywhere)

1. Is there a place near where you live that’s dear to your heart? What’s it called?2. Are there any businesses in your area that are doing a roaring trade? What do they sell?
3. Can you think of any other words in English that end in “-scape”?
4. What kinds of things might you need to upgrade?
5. When was the last time a machine conked out on you? What happened?
6. Are you hooked on anything (I mean in a non-serious way, e.g. chocolate, learning English …)

And today’s vocab:
to do sth (or sb) good (expr)
to take advantage of (expr)
it’s bad enough … let alone (expr)
to do sth justice (expr)
crikey! (Aus. exclamation)

Just before I go, I was wondering if there are any topics you would really like me to talk about (not necessarily grammar stuff, maybe something about Oz that I haven’t mentioned yet)? I suddenly realised that we’re in the middle of November and time is starting to run out, so if there’s anything you’d like me to talk about, just let me know! (Ana Paula, I haven’t forgotten your request for some Aussie authors! Leila, did you read any local writers when you were in NZ?)

Back soon!


Thursday, 15 November 2007

Drama, drama, drama!

Hello everyone!

Massive apologies for not getting this posted sooner – I had intended to do it last night when I got home from work, but there was drama in Hurlstone Park, which I shall tell you about in a minute …

Leila, I have to say that you put me to shame; you are such a dedicated blogger and your entries are always informative and enjoyable to read. I especially liked your description of Finnish food – I had heard of the wonderful variety of fish that’s available in your country, but had no idea about any of the other things you describe, so thank you for extending my culinary knowledge! I’ll try to match your excellent standard and get another post up and running over the weekend. Thank you all also for your suggestions – I’m on it!

Well, let me tell you what happened last night! As you know, I work on Wednesday nights and we have a lovely babysitter who looks after Owen until Chris gets home at about 6.30. A good friend of ours has a little boy a couple of days older than Owen, and she was on her way home with him when her car broke down … just at the junction near our street! The car had totally conked out, and the people behind her were starting to get impatient (Sydney drivers are NOT famous for their patience and consideration!), so she thought she’d call Chris to see if he could come and help her out. Just as she was about to make the call, she saw him crossing the road to come home, so he and another guy helped her push the car round the corner. So she and her son came home with Chris, then Chris gave them and our babysitter a lift home – meanwhile, I was delayed at work, so I missed my train and had to wait half an hour for the next one; when I got home, Chris and my friend’s husband were sitting waiting for me so they could go out and try to fix the car. They drove it back to their house and then Chris came home, by which time it was about 11.30!

And then there was a MONSTER in the kitchen!! Really!!
C: There’s a noise in the kitchen.
R: I’m asleep.
C: The bin’s making a noise.
R: Go away.
C: But it’s a really regular noise.
R: It’s probably about to fall over. I’m asleep.
(Bin makes another noise)
C: See?
R: If it’s bothering you that much, go and tie it up so if it falls over the rubbish won’t go all over the floor. I’M ASLEEP!
(C goes into kitchen)
C: But it’s still making a noise.
R: Oh for heaven’s sake! I’M ASLEEP!
(R stomps angrily into kitchen. Bin is indeed making a very strange noise)
R: Oh *#*#*#** there’s something in there!
C: I told you it was making a noise.
R: There’s something in there!
C: What shall we do?
R: Put it outside.
C: I’m not going outside. It’s 4am!
R: Not outside outside, just outside the door and then you can throw it out on your way to work.
(C puts bin outside front door, goes back to bed and falls straight back to sleep. R goes back to bed and can’t get back to sleep at all – typical!)

We think it was a moth or something that had fallen into the plastic bag and couldn’t get out, but it was really making a very strange noise!

Anyway, that’s enough drama for one night! All the lovely photos that Leila had been posting have inspired me to dig out the following pictures of our trip to the UK earlier in the year. Last week I told you about spring in Sydney and how it’s not as noticeable as spring in the UK, where everything bursts into life practically overnight. So I thought you might like to see some photos of spring in the north of England, where I come from, just to prove that it’s not always rainy and miserable! Owen and I flew over in April, and then Chris joined us in May for another four weeks, so we had a great time catching up with family and friends, and revisiting our old haunts.

This is Owen making friends with the local wildlife (a baby hedgehog) in my parents’ back garden.

These two were taken in Durham, where Chris and I met (we were studying at Durham Uni).

And this one is at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire; we went up to the moors for a week with my parents (we always used to go camping there when my sister and I were little) and had a great time. Owen loved the Abbey, mainly because there are lots of stairs and tunnels and things to explore!

So, do you feel like a little bit of vocabulary? I hope so, because ...

... here are the answers to the last set!

1. A place that’s dear to my heart is a small town in Lincolnshire called Winterton, which is where my grandparents lived. My sister and I always used to spend some of our summer holidays there, and every Christmas as well. Thank you all for sharing the places that are dear to your hearts – I enjoyed reading about them!
2. One business near me that’s doing a roaring trade is the smokehouse in Dulwich Hill, where they produce and sell sausages and smoked meats. They used to be open 3 days a week, but due to the huge demand for their produce, they’re now only open to the public on Saturdays, and the rest of the time is spent on production. (I love their sausages so much that I go whenever I can and stock up on things to freeze and whenever I go Chris refers to the owner and staff as “Rachel’s sausage boyfriends”)
3. I think most of you got these – landscape, cityscape and seascape. I can’t think of any more, but if you can, feel free to add them!
4. Again, you’re absolutely right – upgrade your computer, job …
5. The last time a machine conked out on me was my toothbrush (my dentist advised me to start using an electric one) and something went wrong with it and I couldn’t get the stupid thing to turn off! Eventually it conked out altogether.
6. I am hooked on reading – I will read anything, even complete rubbish (I always hope that a bad book might get better, so I’ll read it to the end just to see). I reread books too – some of my favourites I’ve read dozens of times. Chris is hooked on cricket, and Owen (bless him!) is hooked on Thomas the Tank Engine. I don’t know which is worse!!

Well, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m going to be terribly lazy and not give you any homework tonight (bad teacher!!) – I’ll make up for it next time, though!

Good night, sleep tight, mind the bed bugs don’t bite! (Do you know this bedtime rhyme? Or do you have a similar one in your countries?)


PS Thanks for all your questions – I’ll get round to them in my next post, so watch this space!

And, of course, a bit of vocab for you from today …
to put sb to shame (expr)
to get sth up and running (expr)
to dig (sth) out (phr vb)
to catch up with sb (phr vb)
old haunts (collocation)
to make up for sth (phr vb)

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Music and Movies

G’day Leila and everyone!

I hope you’re all having a nice weekend! I’ve sent Chris to the supermarket with a shopping list (what a lovely husband!) and Owen is asleep, so I’m all yours for the next couple of hours (unless there are any more monsters in the kitchen, and then I hope you’ll forgive me if I run away and hide …).

Leila, once again thank you for the photos – I honestly don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself! There’s an equally crazy custom in the north of England (around Newcastle) for people to go swimming in the North Sea on Boxing Day – it’s probably not as cold as Finland, but I bet it’s pretty close! By the way, what did you do with your unwanted possum visitor while you were in NZ?

I thought I’d write a bit about Aussie culture in the form of music, books and film today, as some of you have been asking about that. And next time, I hope to bring you an Aboriginal legend, if I can get my act together! As we haven’t done a quiz for a while, I thought we’d start with a few little questions … Look at the names below, and decide which people are actors, which are musicians (bonus points if you know the name of the band!), and which are authors. Ready?

1. Tim Winton
2. Peter Garrett
3. Russell Crowe
4. Kylie Minogue
5. Peter Carey
6. Neil Finn
7. Geoffrey Rush
8. Thomas Keneally
9. Cate Blanchett
10. Angus Young
11. Kate Grenville
12. Nicole Kidman
13. Hugh Jackman
14. Darren Hayes
15. Colleen McCullough

How about we do the easiest first? Aussies in the movies are …
Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Peter Garrett (from Midnight Oil), Kylie Minogue, Neil Finn (from Crowded House), Angus Young (from AC/DC – Chris would have been furious if I’d missed him out!) and Darren Hayes (from Savage Garden).

So that means the rest must be writers!
Tim Winton – his most famous book is probably Cloudstreet (1991), which was adapted into a play. He’s written three since then, and has been shortlisted for several awards.
Peter Carey – probably most well-known for Oscar and Lucinda, which was made into a movie. His latest book (as far as I know) was The True History of the Kelly Gang, which is about Australia’s most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly. It’s a great book, but very hard to read, as it’s written in idiomatic 19th century Australian English!
Thomas Keneally – has written many, many books (fiction and non-fiction). You’ve probably heard of Schindler’s List, which was made into a movie by Steven Spielberg.
Kate Grenville – again, she’s published several novels, the latest of which is The Secret River.
Colleen McCullough – a prolific writer. Her latest novels have been a series about Ancient Rome (called the Masters of Rome); she has also published several other novels, the most famous of which is probably The Thorn Birds.

As I said last time, I am a total bookworm and will read anything! Probably my favourite types of books are novels, and I also like crime (I grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie!) and history (fiction and non-fiction). Some of you have asked for some recommendations – the following are among my current favourite authors …
• Joanne Harris (the author of Chocolat*, among other books)
• Tracy Chevalier (she wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring*, and has published several more since then)
• Robert Harris (he writes gripping, edge-of-your-seat thrillers)
• Mark Haddon (I discovered his books very recently and really enjoyed them)

(* You might have seen these as movies – both were great adaptations of the books!)

It’s just dawned on me that the above are Poms (and one American)! No Aussies! So, if you’d like to read something Australian, you could try one of the following:
• A.B.Facey, A Fortunate Life (biography - an account of his life in WA from childhood to old age; he fought at Gallipoli in World War I, and the book is an Australian classic. It’s very readable, and I’ve done some extracts from it in class; my students seemed to enjoy it, or so they said!)
• Doris Pilkington Garimara, Rabbit Proof Fence (biography again – an account of growing up in WA in the 1930s as an Aboriginal child, and being taken into care. It’s a wonderful story, but very confronting. It was made into a movie a few years ago, if you’d rather watch it than read it.)
• Kate Grenville, The Secret River (fiction – set in the 19th century, about a convict and his family who settle on the Hawkesbury River and what life was like for them.)
• Andrew McGahan, The White Earth and Last Drinks (fiction – very different stories but both quite dark and disturbing, if you like that sort of literature. I enjoyed both, but they’re not for the faint hearted!)
• Or, try one of the authors I’ve mentioned above!
• Or, if you’re feeling really inspired, have a look on the web and find out about some other Aussie writers, as there are many many more than I’ve talked about here!

Several of you have asked me about my tastes in music; well, I’m not ashamed to admit that I love anything from the 1980s, the cheesier the better! (Please don’t hold that against me; in most other respects I’m a very normal person, honestly!) I also like REM; I’ve been lucky enough to see them in concert twice, which was fantastic! Ana Paula, there are so many great REM songs it’s hard to pick my favourites, but if I can choose 3, they are: Find the River, Losing My Religion and Strange Currencies. Which are yours? And the British bands from the 1990s – Oasis, Blur, Pulp, (especially Pulp!). Oh, and Bon Jovi! Gosh, I’m really stuck in a time warp, aren’t I? Just to prove that I’m not a completely hopeless case, I also like James Blunt (unfortunately, Owen hates him, so I never get to listen to him in the car! Not fair!)

Chris is more of what I’d call a “sweaty rocker”; he’s a huge AC/DC fan, and also likes Placebo, the White Stripes and Snow Patrol. Owen really likes Chris’s music, so when the two of them gang up on me in the car I’ve got no chance!! When Owen was tiny (just a couple of months old), he used to like the Guns’N’Roses version of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” to help him get to sleep – we’d have to have it on constant replay! We’ve got some world music CDs for Owen (to encourage him to take an interest in other cultures), and they’re great – we all like listening to them (and I’d much rather have those in the car than some of the others!).

As far as Aussie music goes, there are a lot of great bands and musicians around – “classics” like Midnight Oil (who aren’t really together any more since Peter Garret became a politician), AC/DC and INXS (now there’s an example of a band who’ve made a comeback!), and also more modern ones like Powderfinger, Silverchair, Pete Murray and the John Butler trio. And let’s not forget that all-time Aussie classic “Land Down Under” by Men at Work. If you’ve never heard of it, stop reading this immediately and look up the lyrics on the web. And then listen to it!

Rather than talk about Aussie movies now, I’ll leave you with a question – have you seen any Australian movies? What did you think? (We can talk some more about movies next time, if you’re interested!)

I’ve been a bit remiss about answering some of your language questions, so let me make up for it now …

Kirsti – wow! What a tricky question! Appear is used correctly here. I think in cases like this we use “appear” to talk generally about when the book became available to the public, whereas “publish” refers to the production date (this is usually linked to the date of copyright).

Benka – emigrate is to leave a country (e.g. I emigrated from the UK in 1999)
immigrate (used more as a noun; immigration or immigrant) is to enter the new country (e.g. I immigrated to Aus in 1999)

Passive with “By”Rocio – “by” can be used in any tense of the passive. Remember that we use the passive in English to focus on the action rather than the person doing the action. If we want to talk about the person, that’s when we use “by”.
e.g. This post was written today - the important thing is the writing.
This post was written today by Rachel – to talk about who wrote it.

Habooba, Rachel is a Hebrew name in origin, and it means gentle and innocent like a sheep. Chris always laughs at this! (Owen, by the way, is a Welsh name – I’m not certain what it means; we just liked it! And his middle name is James …) Do any of you know the meanings of your names? It would be interesting to find out!

in/for 24 years
Ana, in this case, you could use either! Good question!

Gerund/present participle
Kakafung, a gerund is a noun (used as the subject or object of a sentence) whereas a participle is used as a verb (to describe what someone is doing).
In these sentences, which is a gerund and which is a participle?
• I’ve never really been interested in watching sci-fi movies
• I tripped over walking down the stairs
• Owen gets a lot of attention being so cute
• Going to the park makes Owen happy.

purchase/buy(I’m sure someone asked me about this, but I can’t find who it was – sorry!)
The meanings of both are the same, but we would use “purchase” in a more formal situation, for example in writing a letter of complaint. “Purchase” can also be used as a noun; e.g. “Look at all my purchases”. To use “buy” like this, we’d have to say “Look at the things I bought”.

Leila, you asked about off/of a while ago. (Did you think I’d forgotten?!)
Of is usually used to show a connection, or to talk about a specific thing:
• the colour of the jacarandas
• the noise of children playing
• I met Chris at the age of 22
(Notice how often we use “the” with “of”!)
Off can be used as an adverb as well as a preposition, and for this reason it’s very common in phrasal verbs. If it’s used as a preposition, the meaning is the opposite of “on” – e.g. I got on the bus in the city, and got off in Hurlstone Park”.
That’s a very brief description of the differences; a good grammar book or dictionary will give you more details and examples. I hope that helps!

I’ll just warn you now – next time I’ll be focussing a little bit on articles, so be prepared!

I’ll finish off with a bit of vocab (did you think you’d escaped? Never!) Here are the definitions, and there are some lovely questions for you below … Enjoy!

31st Oct – Goodbye Satya
to be spot on (expr) = to be exactly right
grubby (adj) = dirty
to crack sb up (phr vb) = to make sb laugh
to show off (phr vb) = to attract attention in a way that others find annoying
things are hotting up (expr) = things are getting exciting
cumbersome (adj) = awkward because it’s too large or heavy
take your hat off to sb (expr) = admire sb for sth they have done

2nd Nov – Welcome Leila
to pick you up on sth (phr vb) = to notice a small error or mistake
to work a treat (expr) = to operate very well

5th Nov – Remember, remember the Fifth of November
to commemorate (vb) = an official ceremony or day to remember sth
to nag (vb / n) = to complain or criticise repeatedly
to settle down (phr vb) = start living in a place where you intend to stay
to chuck sth out / away (phr vb - informal) = to throw away
a potted history (expr) = a brief overview
to persecute (vb) = to treat sb unfairly over a long period of time
to hatch a plot (expr) = to make a secret plan
an effigy (n) = a model or image of a person, especially sb who is hated, for display in public
to wind sb up (phr vb) = to annoy sb

And here are your questions …
1. What cracks you up?
2. What sort of things might you do or say if you were showing off?
3. Can you tell us about someone you take your hat off to?
4. Can you tell us something that works a treat if you have a headache?
5. Do you ever nag anyone? Who? What about? (Or does someone nag you?)
6. If you could settle down anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
7. What was the last thing you chucked out? Why?

OK possums, Chris is back from the supermarket (with mangoes, I hope – I have a new recipe that I want to try! If it’s nice, I’ll let you know, Naheed!) and Owen has woken up, so I’ll leave the virtual world for the real one …

Thank you all for continuing to leave comments – I really enjoy reading about what you’re doing and I promise I’ll get round to replying to you all again before the end of November! Keep it up!

See you later, alligators (another little rhyme for you – the response is “in a while, crocodile”),


And, of course, today’s vocab …
get my act together (expr)
adapted (adj)
shortlist (n)
prolific (adj)
bookworm (n)
to be taken into care (expr)
not for the faint hearted (expr)
cheesy (adj – informal)
a hopeless case (expr)
a time warp (n)
to gang up on sb (phr vb)
remiss (adj)
get round to (phr vb)

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The Three Sisters

Hello everyone, and especially Leila!

Wow, what a response to the movies! I don’t think there’s much more for me to tell you, except maybe to make some recommendations for Aussie movies you might like. As I’m sure you know, there are a lot more Aussie actors than I mentioned last time; people like Eric Bana, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson, to name a few. A lot of movies are filmed here too – the ones that spring to mind are The Matrix (and the sequels), which was filmed here in Sydney (one of my students at the time bumped into Keanu Reeves in a lift), and Mission: Impossible 2. Some of you mentioned some real Aussie classics: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, Crocodile Dundee, Shine. All of these feature some great actors – Geoffrey Rush in Shine is fantastic. A couple of more recent ones you may have seen are:

Ned Kelly (2003 – I think, starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom & Naomi Watts. It tells the story of Australia’s most famous outlaw, the bushranger Ned Kelly. There’s a 1970s version starring Mick Jagger, if you’re really keen!)
Rabbit Proof Fence (I really recommend this one, although I should warn you it’s VERY sad, the more so because it’s based on a true story.)
Strictly Ballroom (directed by Baz Luhrmann, who you may know as the director of Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet – also filmed on location in Sydney)
The Castle (this is an Aussie classic; a comedy with very typical Aussie humour; you’ll either love it or hate it!)
Japanese Story (starring Toni Collette, about a Japanese business man coming to Aus and the cultural differences they experience. Again, a very sad movie)
Jindabyne (I have to admit, I haven’t seen this one)
Lantana (I did see this one, but I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember much about it …)

Leila, possum, you mentioned Vegemite … has anyone ever tried it? I have to say I really don’t like it myself, although I’m trying to bring Owen up as a true Aussie by giving him Vegemite on toast for breakfast … Vegemite is a spread made mainly from yeast and malt. It’s actually very high in certain vitamins (vitamin B, I think), and there’s even an expression in Aus where we can refer to someone as a “happy little Vegemite”. I’ve just looked on the pot we have in the fridge, and there’s a website (of course there is!), so have a look if you’re really interested:

Now, I promised you an Aboriginal legend, didn’t I? Leila, you’ve inspired this, as I was looking for some more photos to post, and I found some of a recent trip to the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are about 90 mins drive west of Sydney, and are really beautiful; in fact I think the area has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The mountains themselves aren’t really what I would call mountains; they’re more a series of ridges with high plateaus and steep valleys. From a distance they look blue because of the gum (eucalyptus) trees, hence the name Blue Mountains. A few years ago, in a remote area of the mountains, a species of tree was discovered that was thought to be extinct; they managed to grow it in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney and now you can buy seeds so that you can grow it yourself! The area in the mountains where it was first discovered hasn’t been made general knowledge, though. The tree is the Wollemi Pine, and there’s a website which can give you a lot more information about it if you’d like:

Probably the most famous area of the Blue Mountains is the Three Sisters at Echo Point in Katoomba. Katoomba is the main town of the mountains – the early explorers tried for years to find the route across as they’d guessed (correctly) that there would be fertile farmland on the other side, and they eventually found a way. It’s the only way across, with the result that all the villages in the Blue Mountains area are strung out along the highway – the railway from Sydney also follows the same route.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the three sisters for you (it's from the Blue Mountains Tourist website:, and I’ll tell you how they came to be turned into stone.

The Aboriginal dream-time legend says that three beautiful sisters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo' of the Katoomba tribe lived in the Jamison Valley (below modern Katoomba). They had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, but they couldn’t marry because it was against tribal law. The brothers, who had fallen deeply in love with the sisters on account of their great beauty, decided to break the law and to use force to capture the three sisters, which caused a major battle between the two tribes. As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe turned the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. Although he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed in the fighting. As he was the only one who could reverse the spell to change them back into human form, the sisters remained as a reminder of this battle for generations to come.

There’s another version of the story, which says that the sisters were out one day with their father when they were attacked by a bunyip (a terrifying spirit who lives near water and eats any people who come near). In order to protect the sisters and save himself, their father turned them into stone and himself into a lyrebird. Unfortunately, when he did this he lost his magic bone, which had the power to change them back again. So he remains a lyrebird, scratching the floor to try and find the bone to reverse the magic, while his daughters look down on him from above.

Which version do you like best? And can you tell us about any legends from your country?

I thought I had a picture of a lyrebird that my dad took last time my parents visited us in Aus, but despite looking everywhere I can’t seem to find it! Lyrebirds have an amazing ability to mimic any noise, including cars, chainsaws, dogs and mobile phone ringtones! The lyrebird is also featured on the Australian ten-cent coin.

The following pictures are from our last day out in the mountains, in July this year. We went to Leura, the village before Katoomba on the way up from Sydney, and had a short walk and a picnic. We were expecting it to be really cold, but in fact the weather was wonderful! I’d packed the car full of gloves, scarves and woolly hats, and we didn’t need any of them!

Leila, I have to say that I’m hard pressed to find errors or possibilities for improvement in your writing, as you use English very accurately and precisely to say what you want to say! I’m really glad that you’re feeling that your writing has developed, and that you feel more confident – that’s great! (I don’t know how much I’ve helped you, though!!).

We’ve had a couple of discussions about articles, so we might have a brief look at them now, and I’ve also noticed a couple of structures that you’ve used that might be useful for everyone else. So that’s the plan! (Sorry, the interesting bit’s over!)

I’m sure all of you have had some horrible experiences with articles in English, especially if you’ve been trying to learn all those little rules and exceptions that always come up in the grammar books. Don’t get me wrong, the little rules are important, but there are some more general rules that can be really helpful to know.

Let’s have a look at a few examples:

I took Owen to a park in Dulwich Hill this morning.
The park had lots of things to climb on.
Parks are well set-up for toddlers.

In the first sentence, have I mentioned the park already? Do you know exactly which park I’m talking about? (No – there might be a lot of parks in Dulwich Hill and you don’t know which one we went to.)

What about the second sentence? Have I mentioned the park already? Do you know which one I’m talking about? (Yes – the park that I took Owen to this morning)

In the third sentence, am I talking about one park, or parks in general? (General)

So you can ask yourself these questions:

Does the person listening to me know what I’m talking about? (Maybe I’ve mentioned it already)
If yes - Use the
If no - Use a/an

Am I talking generally?
If yes – Use no article + plural noun
If no - Use the + singular noun

Now I’m not saying that these are the only things you need to know to use articles in English correctly, but these are the main uses. If you can use this, you’ll get it right more often than not.

I thought I’d give you a bit of practice, so here are some errors to correct. I feel a bit mean picking on Leila all the time, so some of these are hers, but some are from your comments (I won’t name names!). In some of the sentences the article is wrong (remember no article is sometimes correct) and in some the article is missing, so I’ve put an (X) to show you where. You might also need to change singular to plural or plural to singular. Good luck! (Answers next time!)

1. Tomatoes and cucumber are grown in a glasshouse.
2. Regarding (X) subject matters you have wished for.
3. We could hear (X) rattling while sitting.
4. (X) Finnish tango is a close relative to (X) Argentinean tango.
5. To wish my parents (X) happy wedding anniversary.
6. The movie would give me (X) bad taste of the book. (But well done for getting “the” right!!)
7. The plot of the film is set in the history.
8. The building has a false ceiling to make it look nice. (X) false ceiling is made of plywood.

And here are the other points I wanted to look at (Leila, these are yours – I’m so glad you used these structures as I think they’re really useful ones to know!)

Here’s the first one, from your post on 11th Nov (I’ve been saving it until we talked about articles!).

more freedom one has, more responsibility one has to take

Firstly, with this kind of structure, we always need to use the in both parts of the sentence, so it should look like this:
The more freedom one has, the more responsibility one has to take.

Can you see the structure?
The + comparative form + first clause, and the + comparative form + second clause.

We use this to show that two things are related, or that two things change together. Here are some more sentences for you – can you complete the second part? You can put anything you like, as long as it’s grammatically correct!

1. The longer I spend looking at the BBC Learning English site …
2. The more I read about Australia …

And here’s the second one, from your post on 15th Nov – again, I’ve been saving it for articles!

Most definitely one must not dive under water, too big shock for your head.

I’m focussing on the adjective/noun at the end of the sentence; it should say:

It’s too big a shock for your head.

Did you notice that I’ve used “a”? Let’s see what happens if we rewrite the sentence …

It’s a big shock / The shock is too big.

When we use too, the word order changes: too + adj + a + noun.

Notice that we use a, not the, and it’s singular. If the noun was plural, we couldn’t use this structure; we’d have to say “the shocks are too big”. Interesting, isn’t it? (I bet you’re all sitting at your computers with your heads in your hands! I hope not …)

So let’s have a little practice of this one as well. Can you rewrite the sentences using the structure: too + adj + a + noun? I’ll do the first one as an example …

1. (e.g.) The day was too hot to go to the park = it was too hot a day to go to the park.
2. The curry was too spicy for Owen to eat.
3. The pile of laundry is too big to do at once.

As I’ve given you so much homework on articles, I won’t look too hard at vocab tonight – I’ll just give you the definitions for the 8th & 12th, and some answers to the last homework. (I might steal the answers from your comments, actually, as they were all great – well done!)

1. What cracks you up?
• funny ring tones
• children (Hyoshil, I loved your story about your son!!)
• comics

2. What sort of things might you do or say if you were showing off?
• saying male drivers have more accidents than women (nice one, Adriana!)
• boasting about how much money you have
• buying a pair of Prada shoes

3. Can you tell us about someone you take your hat off to?
• Dr Zilda Arns (thank you, Ana Paula)
• Paulo César Vinha (thank you as well, Adriana)
• Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Ghandi, Mother Teresa (thanks, Leila)

4. Can you tell us something that works a treat if you have a headache? Lots of suggestions for this one – let’s share some advice:
• a cup of coffee without sugar and a dark room
• have a rest
• have a cup of tea
• personally, I lie down with an ice pack on my head (looks very strange, but it works!)

5. Do you ever nag anyone? Who? What about? (Or does someone nag you?)
• Most of you were talking about a family member, and it is of course possible to nag yourself!
• Depending on who you ask, I never / always nag Chris (delete as appropriate!)

6. If you could settle down anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
• the seaside
• Dubai (why, Naheed?)
• the place where I live now (good answer, Adriana!)
• Natal (after your description, Ana Paula, me too!)
• I asked Chris, and he said he would settle down either in Sydney or the little village just outside Durham where he lived when we were at Uni there.

7. What was the last thing you chucked out? Why?
• Chris’s shoes!!!!!!! (no, no, only joking!)
• Our coffee plunger (it broke into pieces when Chris dropped a cup on it – strangely, the cup didn’t break)

OK – here are the definitions for the previous vocab lists …

8th Nov – Springtime in Sydney
off and on (expr) = occasionally
(one of Sydney’s) gems (n) = a very beautiful part of a city or country
knocking off time (expr) = time to finish work
sweepstake (n) = a type of gambling where you put a small amount of money on one horse.The person who picks the winning horse wins all the money.
be into sth (phr vb) = enjoy doing sth, like sth
epidemic (n) = a disease that affects a lot of people at the same time
quarantine (n / vb) = to keep an animal or person away from others in order not to spread a disease

12th Nov – Waltzing Matilda
to do sth (or sb) good (expr) = improve your health or lifestyle
to take advantage of (expr) = to use the good aspects of a situation
it’s bad enough … let alone (expr) = we use let alone to add emphasis, usually after a negative statement. e.g. I can’t believe you’ve swum in a frozen river once, let alone every winter!
to do sth justice (expr) = to treat or explain sth in a way that shows what it’s really like
crikey! (Aus. exclamation) = this is very informal; it’s used to show surprise

And I think that’s it for today!

Goodnight from Oz,


Today’s vocab …
spring to mind (expr)
outlaw (n)
bushranger (n)
strung out (adj)
I’m hard pressed (expr)
Don’t get me wrong (expr)

Sunday, 25 November 2007


G’day all!

Well, things are happening Down Under – there was a general election yesterday and for the first time in 12 years there’s a new government! How exciting! The Liberals are out (I always think that’s a bit of a misnomer, as the Liberals are anything but liberal and in my opinion could better be described as right wing conservatives) and the Labour Party are in. Hopefully this means that Australia will now take a more responsible attitude towards climate change, among other things – I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

What I really wanted to tell you about today (and show you some pictures) is the visitors we’ve been getting to the gum tree which grows just outside our apartment. As it’s spring, the gums are in flower (not flowers, exactly, more like fluffy seeds) and the lorikeets just love eating the seeds. So we’ve had heaps of them squawking outside our windows for the last few days; Owen is fascinated and watches them for hours, telling me whenever one flies away or another one arrives (it gets a bit tedious after a while, but he enjoys it!). So, I thought you might like to see some pictures …

We’ve also had lots of magpies (there are always lots of magpies, but I think these guys are keeping an eye on the lorikeets to make sure they behave themselves!), which brought to mind a little rhyme from my childhood – more of a superstition, really. Magpies are thought to be unlucky (I’m not sure why), unless you see them in groups of two or more. According to how many you see, your luck will be different. The rhyme goes like this: One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy. Five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. Have you heard this before? Chris hadn’t, when I mentioned it. I’m not sure what happens if you see a group of eight or more magpies – maybe that’s so unusual it wasn’t worth putting in a rhyme …

Thank you all for telling us some legends from your countries – I really enjoyed reading them. Habooba, what a mysterious story! Ana Paula, the story about Naia was lovely – I did a quick search for the Vitoria Regia flower so I could see it for myself. (The story is a little bit similar to the Ancient Greek story of Narcissus – do you know that one?) Leila, what a great T-Shirt! Do you have any legends from Finland that you could tell us about? (Only if you have time – I know our month is nearly over!!) Kirsti, I wonder if anyone has ever managed to steal the stone from the Vouivre successfully? Ana, I thought the story about Oleg was very sad; it put me in mind of a story from Wales that I loved when I was younger. The story goes like this …

Prince Llewellyn had a favourite hunting hound named Gellert, which had been given to him by the King. Gellert was a very gentle dog, except when out hunting with the Prince. One day the Prince was preparing to go out hunting, and whistled for his dog, but Gellert never came. Angrily, the Prince went out hunting without Gellert, and returned home empty-handed. He was still angry when he returned, so he went to find the dog. As he entered the castle, Gellert came running to meet him and as he drew closer the Prince saw blood around his mouth and jaws. At once, the Prince’s mind turned to his one-year-old son, who loved playing with Gellert. He rushed to the child’s bedroom, and the closer he got, the more blood he saw. He searched frantically for his son, but couldn’t find him anywhere. At last he reached the conclusion that the dog had destroyed the boy, and so he drew his sword and struck the dog. As Gellert lay dying, Llewellyn heard a sound from under the cot – when he looked underneath he discovered his son, alive and unharmed, and the body of a huge grey wolf, torn to pieces. Too late, Llewellyn realised what had really happened: Gellert had saved the life of his son and killed the wolf. Llewellyn’s grief was so great that he buried his faithful dog outside the palace, within sight of the great mountain Snowdon, and covered the grave with a cairn (a mound of stones). To this day, the place is known as Beddgelert (The Grave of Gellert).

What do you think? I’ve visited the village of Beddgelert (on holiday once) and you can see the tomb of Gellert there with an inscription which tells the story. Who knows if it’s the real tomb (or even if it’s a true story)? But it’s quite moving to go there, all the same.

Godonyazall (well done everyone) for having a go at the articles, and especially well done for getting them right! Great stuff!

Here are the answers, just so you can check:

1. Tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in a glasshouse. (or glasshouses)
2. Regarding the subject matters you have wished for.
3. We could hear a rattling while sitting.
4. The Finnish tango is a close relative to the Argentinean tango.
5. To wish my parents a happy wedding anniversary.
6. The movie would give me a bad taste of the book.
7. The plot of the film is set in history (or in historical times).
8. The building has a false ceiling to make it look nice. The false ceiling is made of plywood.

I’m copying your answers for the next couple – good work!

1. The longer I spend looking at the BBC Learning English site …
• the more convinced I become of its purpose (well done, Leila)
• the more I learn (thanks, Waqar Ali Roghani!)
• the more familiar I will be with its contents (note the word order here)
• the shorter my difficulties in learning English are (word order again)

2. The more I read about Australia …
• the more I want to go there (I feel the same about Finland, Leila!)
• the more I am impressed.
• the more I learn about it. (well done, Silwal Kishor)
• the more I want to visit this country (yes, Ana Paula!)

A quick note about word order with this construction – the second half of the sentence has the same word order as in a normal statement (subject -verb-object).
With the more familiar I will be with its contents familiar goes with more because it’s part of the comparative structure.
And with the shorter my difficulties in learning English are are needs to come at the end to keep the word order the same as that of a statement.

OK, and the last ones – I know these probably sound a little strange, but they are correct, honestly!
1. It was too spicy a curry for Owen to eat.
2. It’s too big a pile of laundry to do at once.

Here are some vocab definitions from my earlier posts for you, and a little bit of homework …

15th Nov – Drama, Drama, Drama
to put sb to shame (expr) – to embarrass someone by doing more than they do
to get sth up and running (expr) – to start sth operating
to dig (sth) out (phr vb) – to find sth you haven’t used for a long time
to catch up with sb (phr vb) – to meet someone you know after not seeing them for a while.
old haunts (collocation) – places you used to spend time
to make up for sth (phr vb) – to improve a bad situation

18th Nov – Music & Movies
get my act together (expr) – organise myself
adapted (adj) – changed (e.g. a book is changed to become a film)
shortlist (n) – final list of people who are considered for a job or a prize.
prolific (adj) – producing a lot of something
bookworm (n) – someone who reads a lot
to be taken into care (expr) – (of children) to be removed from home and looked after by government social services because they are in danger.
not for the faint hearted (expr) - not suitable for someone who is easily upset.
cheesy (adj – informal) – in bad taste or bad style
a hopeless case (expr) – (you could also say a lost cause) – someone who has no chance of succeeding or improving; this is often used jokingly
be stuck in a time warp (expr) – old-fashioned
to gang up on sb (phr vb) – to unite as a group against someone
remiss (adj) – not doing a job well enough
get round to (phr vb) – to do sth that you’ve intended to do for a long time

And some homework –
1. What was the last thing you needed to dig out?
2. When are you next planning to catch up with friends?
3. Can you describe one of your old haunts?
4. Can you think of a book that has been adapted into a movie?
5. Who is a prolific writer (or singer/musician) from your country?
6. What’s the next thing you plan to get round to doing?

OK people, that’s all for now! Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and I’ll be back soon!


Today’s vocab …
a misnomer (n)
squawk (vb)
keep an eye on sb (expr)
empty-handed (adj)
frantically (adv)

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Sydney Landmarks

G’day all!

I suddenly realised I haven’t really told you about the two most iconic landmarks in Sydney, so I thought I should make up for that immediately! Can you guess which landmarks I’m talking about? That’s right – the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

The Bridge was built in the 1930s to join the north and south sides of the Harbour. It’s probably most recognised nowadays for the New Year’s Eve celebrations and fireworks, which are really spectacular. They seem to get more elaborate every year! The bridge also hosted fireworks for the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. There are a few facts you might not know …
• The bridge was (is?) built from Middlesbrough steel (Middlesbrough is a town in the north-east of England)
• It is affectionately known as the coat hanger (no prizes for guessing why!)
• You can now climb the bridge – many famous people have done so, including Matt Damon, Kylie Minogue and Sarah Ferguson (remember her? Used to be married to Prince Andrew, the brother of Prince Charles)
• A very well-known Australian artwork is The Bridge in Curve, painted in 1926 by the artist Grace Cossington Smith; it shows the two curves of the bridge rising to meet each other as it nears completion.
• The official opening of the bridge became a political protest; just as the Premier of NSW was about to cut the ribbon, a protester slashed it with a sword. He was making the point that the bridge should only be opened by a member of the Royal Family (despite the fact that they were all on the other side of the world …)
• It is still legal (I think – but don’t try this without checking first!!) to drive sheep across the bridge (as in guiding a flock on foot) between 3am and 4am.
• Whales occasionally come into Sydney Harbour and have been known to swim under the bridge (this causes huge excitement, as I’m sure you can imagine!)

Here’s a photo of me & Owen at this historic landmark … as you can see, it was raining and he was not particularly impressed!

The Opera House was opened in 1973, and is situated on the harbour right across from the Harbour Bridge (Owen & I were standing at the Opera House when the photo was taken). I think the best views are from the water, which is easy to do if you take a ferry. Here are some more facts for you:
• The architect, Jorn Utzon, who designed the Opera House is actually Danish.
• He never saw the completed building, as he resigned from the project; as a result, his plans for the interior were never realised, and the project was completed by others.
• There are a few versions of what inspired Utzon’s design; some people say the design represents sails, whereas others claim his inspiration came from an orange cut into segments. What do you think?
• During the Sydney Festival, which is held every January, the Opera House and other significant buildings in Sydney are illuminated with different colours.
• An open-air cinema is held in Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens every year as part of the Festival, which has views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as the backdrop to the movie screen.
• They originally intended to demolish the Botanical Gardens to provide a car park for the Opera House, but fortunately a better solution was found (they built an underground car park instead. Thank goodness for that!)

Maybe you could tell us about some of the important buildings in your town or capital city?

Leila, thanks for your references for Kalevala – it was very interesting to read about! Sorry, I did remember that you mentioned it, but somehow I hadn’t realised what it was!!

The Finnish Christmas dinner sounds wonderful (especially the ham, the mushroom salad and the different fish dishes – yum!!). Ham is also a big feature of Christmas dinner both here and in the UK. I guess the really traditional English Christmas dish is a roast turkey with cranberry sauce, and lots of roast vegetables (especially potatoes – my favourite!). I really don’t like turkey; I once saw a TV programme describing exactly how turkeys are fattened up for Christmas, and I’ve never eaten turkey since! A common alternative to turkey is roast pork, which is served with apple sauce (and, of course, roast veggies!).

Many people celebrate Christmas with these dishes here in Oz, although it’s the middle of summer and, really, too hot for a roast dinner. A lot of people prefer to have seafood, with prawns and other cold seafood and a variety of salads, which is much more sensible given the heat! I have to admit, the one thing I still can’t get used to out here is having a really hot Christmas; I always feel that Christmas should be cold! (Maybe I should come to Finland, Leila, I’m sure it’s cold enough for me there, and I might even get to meet Santa!) Another idea that’s catching on is to have “Christmas in July”, which is winter here – people gather together for a traditional Christmas dinner with their friends and families, and then have the seafood on December 25th when it’s really hot.

Dessert is, of course, Christmas pudding! There are a lot of traditions involved in the making of Christmas pudding; one is that as the pudding is being prepared (before cooking), every member of the family should stir the pudding and make a wish. A coin is added to the pudding before cooking, and if you get the coin in your piece of pudding you will be rich.

All this talk of food is making me hungry, so I think I’ll stop!!

Let’s have a look at some vocab instead (do you think that will distract me from wanting food? I don’t think so, somehow!)

As always, well done to all of you for having a go at the last homework; you gave some really interesting answers, and I now have a long list of international authors and musicians to find out about! My answers are:

1. The last thing I dug out (note – dig is irregular!) was the photo of me & Owen at the Harbour Bridge
2. I’m catching up with an old work-colleague next week; we’re going out for lunch.
3. One of my old haunts (and I go back there whenever I can) is the river near my parents’ house in England. I’ve been going there ever since I was little and have many happy memories of the times I’ve spent there.
4. As you all correctly said, many many books have been adapted into movies. I’m always a bit wary of going to see a movie if it’s been adapted from a book I particularly like in case it’s not as good as I imagined. However, there are some instances where I’ve both loved the book and enjoyed the movie; you might enjoy them too, so I’ll list them for you:
Charlotte Gray (book by Sebastian Faulks, movie starring Cate Blanchett) (If you like the book, I should warn you that they changed the ending when they made the movie!)
The English Patient (book by Michael Ondaatje, movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas)
Cold Mountain (book by Charles Frasier, movie starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law)
Chocolat (book by Joanne Harris, movie starring Juliet Binoche and Johnny Depp)
5. A prolific writer from the UK would be someone like Charles Dickens (to take a classic), or Agatha Christie (as a prolific crime writer).
6. The next thing I plan to get round to doing is making a Christmas cake using my grandmother’s recipe – it’s the first time I’ve done one, so I need to do it soon in case it’s a disaster and I have to make another one!

And some definitions for you from previous posts …

21st Nov – The Three Sisters
spring to mind (expr) – to come quickly into your mind
outlaw (n) – in the past, someone who has broken the law and lives in hiding
bushranger (n) – similar to outlaw; this is an Aussie expression for a criminal who lives in the bush (in the countryside)
strung out (adj) – people or groups in a long line, with a lot of space between them
I’m hard pressed (expr) – having a lot of difficulties doing sth
Don’t get me wrong (expr) – don’t misunderstand me

25th Nov – Lorikeets
a misnomer – an unsuitable or inappropriate name for something
squawk – make a loud, harsh noise
to keep an eye on sb – to watch sb carefully
empty-handed – without bringing or taking anything
frantically – done in a hurry

Well, I think that brings us up-to-date! As I’ve asked you to describe some significant buildings in your town, I won’t give you any vocab questions for homework. I’ll be back on Friday for my last post (I can’t believe how quickly the last two months have gone!), and I’ll give you today’s definitions then; I’ll also have a message for all of you individually, so it’ll probably be a very long one!!

Hope you all have a good few days until we meet again,


Today’s vocab …
iconic (adj)
spectacular (adj)
demolish (vb)
fatten up (phr vb)
given the heat (expr – I’m focussing on the use of “given”, here)
wary (adj)

Friday, 30 November 2007

Goodbye from Sydney

G’day Leila and all you fantastic people!

I can’t believe it – it’s the end of November and it’s time to say goodbye! Can you believe this is the first time I’ve sat down to write a post and had no idea what to say? Crikey!

Leila, my possum bosom friend – thank you so much for taking the time to make such an effort to write your blog so regularly! It’s been a pleasure to work with you and find out so much about your life and your country. Thank you also for all the amazing photos; we’ve loved looking at them! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your family and I wish you all the best for 2008.

Everyone else – keep reading and there’ll be a message for you somewhere!

Marian from China – thanks for the dumpling recipes! I think it’s interesting that dumplings are a common food across several cultures (I loved the Czech ones when I was living in Prague), and I’m on a mission to try as many different kinds as possible!

Pary from Iran – Owen says hello to Hooman from one cheeky monkey to another! Thank you so much for saying that it was his own fault that Chris lost his shoes – it really made me feel better! (And Chris wasn’t offended at all, so don’t worry!) Your description of charshanbeh soory was fascinating; I really enjoyed reading it and wasn’t bored at all. How cold does it get in your area in winter? It must be pretty chilly if you live in the mountains. And a huge thank you for those two delicious recipes – I’ve printed them out and stuck them in my book (I have a big notebook that I use for pasting recipes that I find in magazines, on the web etc); I am keen to have a go at both of them. The story of my emigration is the most basic of all – I came over to be with Prince Chris! As I think I’ve mentioned, we met at university in Durham where we were studying for a year. It was hard for him to find work in the UK so he came back to Sydney and I went to Prague for a year to get some teaching experience in preparation for coming here. I originally came over on a working holiday visa as I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, or how easy it would be to find work, but as you know I ended up staying! And that’s about it, really! You have absolutely no reason to feel bad about only just having read The Thorn Birds – it’s hard enough to manage working and bringing up a family without keeping up-to-date with the latest books! I’ve found that I’ve done a lot less reading since having Owen, although I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences to replace those I’ve read in books! Yes, I think lorikeets are related to parrots, although they’re a lot smaller. The ones in the photos are Rainbow Lorikeets (I think there are a few varieties). Persepolis sounds like an amazing place – I’d love to see it for myself one day. As for expressing sympathy to your teacher, you could say “I’m sorry to hear about your uncle”, or something similar.

Ares from Vietnam – Thanks for your comments! Please keep participating; it’s great to hear from you.

Sara from Bahrain – What a great idea to learn vocab from the news! And also to listen whilst you’re driving to work; thank you for sharing that with us.

Mansour from Casablanca – Thank you for your all comments; I was especially interested to read about the Green March, as I’d never heard of it before. Your corrections (5th Nov) were good; let me draw your attention to one little point. “It hasn’t reached nearly the popularity …” We can use not …nearly or nowhere near to emphasise the gap between two things in a comparative sentence, usually with as. e.g. Sydney isn’t nearly as cold as Oulu. (= Oulu is much colder than Sydney)

James from Taiwan – Learning English from songs and music is also a great idea; what sort of music do you like listening to?

Antonio from Belguim – Glad you found the pavlova recipe interesting! Let us know how you go when you try to make it (you’re absolutely right, it tastes great with fresh strawberries). And well done for having a go at all the homework!

Hyoshil from Lincoln – I’d guessed you might be Korean, but I wasn’t 100% sure; thanks for satisfying my curiosity! Your son sounds like a real scallywag (this is Owen’s favourite word – it means the same as cheeky monkey!); he must really make you laugh (your stories about him make me laugh, anyway!). Thank you for sharing your story about the silver trophy – it made me feel a lot better to know that I’m not the only one who chucks away prized possessions! (We do have a lot in common, don’t we?! When was your wedding? Ours was a spring wedding – held in October.) I saw Girl With A Pearl Earring (after reading the book) and wasn’t disappointed at all; if you enjoyed the book, try some of the others she’s written – I especially liked The Virgin Blue. After your comment about magpies in Korea, I intend to spend the whole of New Year’s Day looking out for one! Or do I have to go to Korea? (!)

Doug from Brazil – Welcome to the blog! Hope you keep coming back for more! Glad you liked the story of Waltzing Matilda: I’ve just realised I didn’t talk properly about the end of the story, which is that if you pass by the billabong you can still hear the swagman singing “Who’ll come a’Waltzing Matilda with me?”

Praveen Raj from India – What a fascinating story about the Murugan temple; thank you for sharing that with us. It was also good to hear your experiences of the Gold Coast – I’ve been once, to Seaworld, and had a great time there. Hampi sounds like just the kind of place I would enjoy visiting; I love historical and archaeological sites (that’s one downside to living in Sydney – there aren’t as many as in other places!) Thanks for your comments about the blog – I hope you keep coming back to practise your English and share your experiences with us.

Nazakat Hussein from Pakistan – Welcome to the blog! How’s it going?

Silwal Kishor from Nepal – It was interesting to hear how many celebrations and rituals are held in Nepal, and thank you for describing some of them for us. Also, well done on being so diligent with the homework - great work! Does your brother-in-law like living in Oz? As far as the Vegemite and the true Aussie goes, I think if you mix Vegemite and cricket in equal proportions, you’re pretty much there! (I have a long way to go yet, if that really is the case, as I don’t really like either!)

Ana Paula from Brazil – Thank you for making such an effort to check in with us so regularly! I love your descriptions of celebrations and places; you really make them come alive. I can just picture you as a small girl pestering your neighbourhood grocers for sweets (for example)! Itapety mountain sounds beautiful – maybe one day I might even be able to see it for myself! As you correctly noticed, the flowers in my parents’ garden are indeed tulips; my mum has very green fingers (which I didn’t inherit, unfortunately!) and their garden is lovely (my dad always complains about the amount of time it takes to make it look so nice, though!) Thanks for telling me about the Brazilian musicians – I’m going to try and get hold of some of their music (can you recommend a particular song or album?). And have you read Mark Haddon’s second book, A Spot of Bother? If not, you should definitely try it! I really enjoyed it. Like you, I also like ancient myths and legends. (On a completely different subject – a purple wig???????? Crikey!) The open air cinema is fantastic, as long as it doesn’t rain!!

Adriana from Brazil – I’d never heard of the film Vendetta that you mentioned; as soon as I get chance (which will probably be when I’m 80!) I’m going to try and rent it. I love the sound of the chocolate factory - I think that would be a very dangerous place for me to visit!! Actually, I was out last night with a friend in Glebe and we stopped for a drink at the Spanish chocolateria – fantastic!! (Actually, I’d intended to have a hot chocolate but when I saw all the cakes at the counter I ended up with a steamed chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce – hurray!) The bedtime rhyme is very cute – I said it to Owen a couple of nights ago and he really liked it. Aren’t name meanings interesting? Did you just choose Iago’s name because you liked it? That was how we chose Owen’s name, and I’ve since done some Googling myself and found out that it’s a Welsh name (which I knew) and it means “well-born”.

Naheed from Pakistan – Big thanks to you as well for all your contributions! Yes, Owen takes ice-cream very seriously! I’m not as tall as I look in the picture with Owen – I just have a great pair of jeans!! Seriously!! I hope your parents had a lovely wedding anniversary, and I think pineapple will work well with the Pavlova recipe. Doesn’t your name have a lovely meaning? I’m quite jealous actually; Venus is so much more romantic than “like a sheep!” The mango recipe worked well, and was very easy (actually, I made it again tonight). It’s a wrap, so you need some flat bread, then the filling is cooked chicken (the recipe says to use a barbecue for the flavour, but we don’t have one so I just stir-fried it), sliced fresh mango and grated cheese (the recipe says Mozzarella is best, but I think you could use any mild cheese). Put the chicken pieces, mango slices and grated cheese in the middle of the bread, then roll it up to make a wrap and bake in the oven (moderate temperature) for 10 minutes. Easy! I’m actually wondering about adding something; maybe a bit of chilli or black pepper or something, but it tastes fine as it is. Anyway, have a go and let me know what you think! What you said about owls was interesting; I think in some places they do have a reputation for bringing bad luck. When we took Owen to the wildlife park there were lots of owls there and he really liked them. The Mohatta Palace sounds wonderful; you have described it really clearly (I can almost picture it).

Carolina from Argentina – It’s nice to know someone besides me throws away important possessions! Your sentence about the beggar (5th Nov) was absolutely fine, except I would use “it” rather than “that”. How’s the weather doing now? Has it stopped raining? It’s still raining on and off here, but unfortunately it’s also really humid, which is very uncomfortable (and the mosquitos love it!). How great that you listen to the radio as you’re writing your comments, and even better that you could understand it (even if the content was a bit depressing).

Gaetano from Italy – I’m glad you found the tragedy of my poor husband’s shoes amusing!! You’re right, I am a bit of a cleaning addict, which very often drives him mad, poor bloke!

Aniko from Hungary - I was interested in what you said about Hungarian not having articles, as it’s not a language I’m very familiar with (I did spend a fantastic weekend in Budapest several years ago, though!). Thank you for your explanation about the relationship between Hungarian and Finnish – I was very interested to find out the answer to my question! I’m glad you found the work on articles helpful.

Filippo from Italy – Chris bought the shoes in Rome (I had to ask him specially as I didn’t know, and I think it brought all the memories back!!), but fortunately not in the Via Condotti! I’ve never heard of Banana Yoshimoto, but now that you’ve mentioned her I’m on the lookout! Wouldn’t it be great if Pulp did reunite? Common People was such a fantastic song (and so was Disco 2000 for that matter). Here’s a bit of trivia for you – Pulp are actually from Sheffield, which is the nearest city to where I’m from. Glad you like the lorikeets! Prate delle Valle sounds very imposing – the market must be fantastic if it’s held in such a huge space. Wow!

Paulraj from India – Thanks also to you for making such an effort to contribute regularly; I’ve enjoyed reading your comments! It was interesting to hear about Pongal and what the festival signifies; I don’t think we celebrate anything like it over here. You might be interested to know that because of the large Indian population in Sydney, Deevali is quite well-known over here; I remember seeing posters advertising special events that were held during the festival. You asked about marriage venues; well, as I mentioned, you can get married anywhere, but you usually have to pay a fee and obviously some places are more expensive than others. A very popular wedding venue is the Royal Botanical Gardens on the Harbour, and I imagine that costs quite a lot of money. Our park was relatively cheap, I seem to remember. Do you do a lot of walking? Chris goes for a walk every lunchtime if he can, just to stretch his legs and get a bit of fresh air, and often has another one later at night too. Although I enjoy walking as well, it’s something I really have to make myself do at the moment! Something else you both have in common – there’s sometimes quite a lot of nagging (and maybe a war or words too!) for certain things to get done. I must be fair, though, Chris does help a lot around the house. To answer your question about the elections, voting here in Oz is compulsory and if you don’t vote you get fined. For this reason the turnout is usually very high (I can’t tell you exactly what it was for this election – they might not even have the figures yet.). Of course, if you don’t like any of the candidates you just don’t fill in the form, or write something else and these votes don’t count, but you still have to turn up. I’ve just reread your post on Chettiar houses – 1000 windows! Crikey!
And a BIG thank you for your summary of all my posts – I’m really pleased that you’ve been able to learn such a lot! Fantastic!

Tuong Van from Vietnam – Your description of the 5th May festival was really interesting; does the herb mixture work? Well done on having a go at the homework questions, and goodonya for returning to the blog!

Tiasha from Sri Lanka – Thank you for all your comments, and well done on having a go at writing sentences using the vocab; great work! Does your daughter like curry? Owen still finds it a bit spicy, although I keep trying the milder ones with him so he gets used to it. I’m really glad you were interested enough to do a bit more research on Waltzing Matilda, and thank you very much for sharing it with us – I didn’t know what the origins of the words were.

Niaz Ali from Aryana – Glad you enjoyed the stories of Chris’ shoes and Bonfire Night; please keep coming back and posting comments!

Adek from Poland – A message from Chris; thanks for your sympathy about the shoes! Actually, he did go crazy, but fortunately he went out for a long walk so he could be crazy by himself until he’d calmed down! As for the monster in the kitchen, it was definitely a monster and not a fairy – if it had been a fairy we would have rescued it! (Actually, I suspect it was a moth – we get some pretty big ones in Sydney at this time of year, although I still can’t figure out how it got into the bin …) Your comment about fairies reminded me of the movie Finding Neverland, about the author of Peter Pan – have any of you seen it? Talking of movies, I agree with you about Schindler’s List being a good movie that made a lot of money (well put!). Did you know that when the movie was released the title of the book was changed to Schindler’s List to match (presumably to make more money, I guess!). In fact, Thomas Keneally has just had a new book published called “Searching for Schindler”, which is about all the people he talked to and the research he did whilst writing Schindler’s List. I liked your legend about the witches and the rocks – it’s really very similar to the Aboriginal one, isn’t it? How interesting! I totally agree with you about the Botanical Gardens – it would really have been terrible if they’d been turned into a car park.

Habooba from Ahwaz – Thank you for your comments! As well as marvellous or cool, you can say fantastic, brilliant, great, tops (Aussie slang) or magic (also informal). I can give you a quick overview of schooling in England (I don’t think it’s changed too much since I was a student, although it was a long time ago!) Basically, we start school at the age of five and it’s compulsory to stay at school until you’re 16. We have exams in year 11 (age 16) called GCSEs (General Certificate in Secondary Education), and it’s common to do 9 or 10 subjects. Some of these are compulsory (such as Maths, English, Science) and some are optional; I did history, Latin and home economics (cooking) as three of my optional ones. After that, some people leave school to study at college or to find work, and some continue to do A levels (these are required to go to university). It’s usual to do 3 or 4 A levels, and you can choose which subjects you want to do; I did English language, Latin and history. Depending on what grades you get, you will be offered a place at Uni – when I was at high school, we chose 8 universities, and then after visiting them and looking round, we chose 2, a first choice and a back-up option. That’s a pretty brief overview, but that’s how it works (unless it’s changed, which it may well have!). What was your speciality when you worked as a teacher? You don’t need to apologise for your story – I quite liked your version! Your description of the Karun river and its bridges was absolutely magical; I’d love to see it for myself.

Kakafung from Hong Kong – Owen says hello! Well done on those gerund/participle sentences – you’ve got them all correct! Great stuff!

Marianna from Slovakia – I can’t believe you missed your concert! What sort of concert was it? Your father sounds like mine in his attitude to walking and the countryside – we always used to go camping for our family holidays and we’d do a lot of hiking, visiting ancient monuments, and of course a day at the beach complete with fish and chips (with vinegar!!). I still enjoy going out for a walk in the countryside; in fact when we were in the UK earlier in the year I managed to go for some of my favourite walks. We used to spend a lot of time in the North York Moors – if you do a search for that on the net I’m sure there’ll be lots of great sites that will give you an idea of the kind of countryside I like. How often do you paint and draw? It sounds like you’re talented in this area, unlike me! Great idea to look everyone up in an atlas – I should do that as well. Isn’t it wonderful to have such a global “classroom”? I haven’t read the book you mentioned about Scotland, but I think I’d enjoy it. I’m glad you liked the pictures of our trip to the mountains; it was a lovely day out. Owen really did love that stick! (by the end of the day he was dragging entire trees around – it was hilarious!) I loved your description of the castle – you must have been very fit after working there as a tour guide! I had a similar job once when I was sixteen in a castle close to where my parents live, only as I was there on work experience I didn’t get paid!

Lam Tran from Vietnam – Chao em! (Is that right? Vietnamese sounds like a very complicated language!) Congratulations on getting the job; how’s it going? It was very interesting to read about Kitchen God Day and the milk flower (it sounds beautiful!); I’d never heard of them before (I’m learning so much from this blog – it’s great!). About the grammar you asked me to check; your sentence was fine and I could understand what you were saying, it was just a bit long with a couple of articles missing. I’d rewrite it like this: Because it's the end of the Lunar Year, it's always dark and very cool. We go together to the riverside with a flash-light to breed fish in the water and wish everything that was unlucky in the old year will pass and propitious things will come in the New Year.

Benka from Serbia – How’s your computer? I think computer problems and unreliable service are pretty much international, not just limited to Serbia! (What do the rest of you think?) Anyway, I hope it’s sorted out now! A lot of English beaches are pebbly rather than sandy; I used to love collecting interesting pebbles when I was little (my second career ambition was to be an archaeologist!) (The first? I wanted to be a ballerina!). Yes, sharks are a problem around Australia’s beaches, although lots of the beaches around Sydney are protected by shark nets. You asked a very interesting question about get; there are several verbs in English (such as make, do, have, get, take) that can take their meaning from the noun or adverb that they are used with. (These are known as delexicalised verbs – isn’t that a great word!) I think a good way to deal with verbs like this is to have a section in your vocab books where you can note down different uses and common collocations as you come across them; that way you have a record that you can come back to. There’s no easy solution, unfortunately! By the way, I’ve never come across Adamstown, and couldn’t find it in my atlas! I guess a web search might be a better idea! Yes, I do know how to cook Yorkshire pudding (the real star in my family was my grandma, who made the best Yorkshire puds ever!) – I like the sound of the Serbian version too – yum!

Hualan from Melbourne – So you had a good Melbourne Cup Day, even if you didn’t get to go shopping! A walk on the beach and dinner in a Japanese restaurant sound perfect! I’m keen to introduce Owen to Japanese food; he loves fish and chicken, so I think he’ll really like teriyaki salmon and chicken katsu (which also happen to be two of my favourites!!) Like you, I think that Nicole Kidman has made some good movies – I think one of my favourite is Cold Mountain, although it makes me cry! (So does the book – have you read it?)

Kirsti from France – Thanks for recommending the book by Linda Olssen; it sounds great, and I’m trying to find out if it’s available here. And one final word on publish vs appear; I guess a book could be made available without being officially published – for example if I wrote a novel, printed it out myself and handed out copies to my friends (who would of course be so amazed at its brilliance they would send it off to publishing companies and insist it be published officially for sale in bookshops worldwide!! Isn’t dreaming fun??!!) You’ve correctly noticed the similarities between Marmite and Vegemite, and I have to admit I don’t like Marmite either! Also, thanks for doing a bit of extra research on the Vouivre – it really sounds like there’s no escape, doesn’t it?

Rocio from Mexico – How’s work going? Still busy? Thanks for telling us about the origins of Mazatlán – it was very interesting to read. It’s a shame the deer are all gone, though.

Anastasia from Russia – Welcome, and well done on making the resolution to start posting comments; I hope you’re enjoying it! I know exactly how you feel about your grandparents’ village – the combination of fond memories and lovely countryside is the same for me. My sister & I went back there a few months ago, but as you say, things change and people move on – it’s just not the same, is it? As you say, English wildlife is wonderful – Chris & I used to go for walks really late at night when we were at Durham and often saw badgers, which he thought were fantastic. Did you happen to see any while you were in the UK? There are lots and lots of gumtrees here in Oz; I’m not sure what I’d do to find Owen perched in one chomping on seeds – probably take a photo and post it on the web!!! Watch this space!!!! I can’t quite believe that someone is actually planning to create the hotel that you describe – it sounds too strange to be true (and if it’s as bad as you say it is, I hope it doesn’t happen!)

Noora from Iran – Well done for having a go at the homework (I have to say I’m a bit curious about watching horror movies with a cup of tea or coffee – does the drink make it any less scary? If so, maybe I should try it!). I have a small confession to make; I’ve never actually read the Thorn Birds, so goodonya for reading it, even if you didn’t like it! And I hope you enjoy some of the other authors we’ve talked about.

Laila from Saudi Arabia – Thank you for telling us about the lullaby (the warm song for sleeping – what a lovely way to describe it); it sounds very soothing and restful. I don’t know why people create legends, or why so many are the same – I suspect a lot of research has been done into it, and I’d be very interested to know the answer! Thank you for your wonderful description of the Holy Mosque; you mentioned lots of things that I wasn’t aware of.

Myen from Vietnam – Yes, Owen loved the hedgehog; unfortunately so did my parents’ cat, so we had to make sure that he didn’t catch it! When my sister and I were little there was a whole family of hedgehogs living at the bottom of the garden and we used to leave saucers of milk out for them; they’re such lovely creatures! Mum and Dad also have a squirrel (maybe more than one, actually), but Dad gets cranky with them because they eat all the food that my parents leave out for the birds. I think it would be different if they were red squirrels, which are native to Britain, but these are grey ones. What colour was your neighbourhood squirrel? And are they native to Vietnam? Thank you very much for your Happy Teacher’s Day wishes! What a wonderful story you told us about the brother/sister – what’s the name of the mountain? In our pictures of the mountains, Owen was doing what he loves best – moving sticks (the bigger the better!). Lorikeets is pronounced pretty much as it’s written, and the stress is on the last syllable.

David from Peru – Welcome! The answer to your question is that after “help sb” we can use an infinitive with or without to, so either of your sentences would be correct.

Waqar Ali Roghani from Dubai – Yes, your homework answers were correct! Well done! If you want to enter the competition, click on “The Blog Competition” at the top right of the page for details. I would use “catch up with sb” to talk about a planned meeting – perhaps you bumped into an old friend in the street but didn’t have time to talk, so you arrange to catch up properly another day. With “listen”, you need to use “to” – listen to music. I’m sorry I couldn’t post a photo of the opera house – I don’t have one! If you do a search for Sydney Opera House, I’m sure you’ll get lots of results with some great pictures. Thank you for giving us such a detailed description of the Faisal Mosque – it sounds wonderful.

Beatriz from Montevideo – I had no idea jacarandas were Spanish! You learn something new everyday, don’t you! I also had no idea that the Uruguayan flag had once flown from the Harbour Bridge! Did they raise a lot of money? Although I did know that there’s a Uruguayan population here, I haven’t met anyone from your country yet. In the area where I live, the main nationalities are Greek, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Anastasia Rakow – Problem noted; I’m on it!

Sayaka from Japan – Thank you!! Please keep coming back to the site and posting comments – it’s great to hear from you. I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed the experience.

Shirly from Sydney – So magpies are lucky in China? I didn’t know that! You’re right – what a cultural gap!

Eric from Taiwan – Welcome! Hope you keep coming back!

Tanya from Ireland – Hello, and well done on writing such a long post for your first comment; it was great to read it! I wish you all the best with the FCE – check out the flo-joe website I mentioned if you want some extra practice. I enjoyed your story about your parrots and the cat – very funny! Poor cat!

Arianna from Italy – Thanks for you comments! And yes, I think you can feel homesick for a country that isn’t your own.

Kate from China – Welcome to the blog, and well done on the homework (the hotpot restaurant sounds great!) I’m sorry to hear you’re thinking of sending your dog away. I don’t know whether your doctors’ warnings are true or not, so I’m sorry I can’t really help you with that.

Rosa from Merida – Welcome to you too! Merida sounds wonderful – have you ever been to see one of the plays? And do they perform ancient plays or more modern ones?

Kakarym from South Korea – Thank you very much! I hope you come back to the site again!

Elena – Wow! What a question! Keep reading and I’ll answer it below.

For those of you who haven’t read Elena’s comments, she asked me how this experience has influenced my personal development and what my most valuable online teaching experience was. I think those are the hardest questions I’ve been asked since I started blogging in October!

Well, in terms of my personal development, you have all taught me things not only about your countries and you lives but also that the world is full of fantastic people who I would never have had the chance to meet otherwise. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories, opinions and experiences, and an equally big thanks to the BBC for letting me have a go at being the teacher blogger! (Crikey, this is starting to sound like an Oscars acceptance speech! Do you think music will start playing in a minute to tell me to shut up?!)

Teaching-wise, I’ve never done anything like this (remember how two months ago I said I was a technophobe?) so it’s been a huge learning experience for me! I think having such a global classroom has been really valuable – wouldn’t it be great if we could all get together and turn our virtual classroom into a real one?

Well, it’s nearly midnight, and I promised myself I’d get this posted before the end of the month, so I’ll stop now before the computer turns into a pumpkin!!

Thanks again for all you’ve done to make the last two months such a great experience – I’ve had a ball! And here are some more expressions (informal ones) you can use to say you’ve had a great time – feel free to add any that I’ve forgotten!
• I’ve had a ball
• I’ve had a blast
• I’ve had a whale of a time

For those of you about to celebrate Christmas or other festivities, I hope you have a wonderful time, and I wish you all the very best for 2008.

Rachel (and Chris and Owen!)

Did you think I’d forgotten? Here are the vocab definitions from my last post …
iconic (adj) very famous, representing a way of life
spectacular (adj) very exciting or beautiful to look at
demolish (vb) to completely destroy
fatten up (phr vb) to give an animal lots of food to make it fatter
given the heat (expr) given here means considering, or taking into account
wary (adj) not totally certain or trusting sb or sth

By the way - apologies if I've misspelt anyone's name; my spell check was going mad, so I'm sure there are a couplt of typos in there somewhere!

From the team

Thank you Rachel for all the language help and very entertaining stories. I bet I'm not the only one who will always remember the tragic fate of Chris' best shoes!

From tomorrow this blog will be hosted by Jonathan Marks. Welcome Jonathan!

BBC Learning English team

November 2007

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