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December 2007

Saturday, 01 December 2007

Not quite such a beautiful day here

Hi, Silvia, and hi, everyone.

Not quite such a beautiful day here in the north of Poland, unfortunately - it's cold, wet, overcast and generally pretty miserable, in fact. Mind you, I suppose we should be grateful that it's still so mild for the time of year.

I've just made myself some tea, put some good music on and settled into my blogger's chair. Well, perhaps I shouldn't really say "settled" ..... it doesn't quite feel comfortable yet, because this is all new to me - I'm a bit of a fossil when comes to making use of modern technology. (I'm probably a bit of a fossil in other ways as well, but that's enough for now!)

Thanks for telling us about yourself and where you live. I know Alicante, and I think Elche is the place with the underground railway station between Alicante and Murcia. Is that right?

I like the expression “el quinto pino” for “the back of beyond”. I think it's literally "the fifth pine tree" - right? The place where I live is a bit like that, or perhaps more like "the end of the road". It's a place called Łeba on the Polish coast. You can't go any further north without ending up in the Baltic Sea, and there's no road directly along the coast to the east or west, either. Like you, we've got miles and miles of beaches; in fact, most of the Polish coast consists of beaches of very fine white sand, with sand dunes behind in lots of places. And Łeba is renowned for its dunes, which rise to about 45 metres above sea level. They move, too, about 10 metres per year. And on the lower slopes, as well as elsewhere on the sandy soil of the area, there are plenty of pine trees. (No palms, though!) So I think we could probably import the expression 'the fifth pine tree'. You can see from this introduction to Łeba that it's got quite a lot in common with Elche. But of course there are significant differences, too. Łeba's population is only about 4000, except during July and August, when it swells to 70,000. (So I've been told - I haven't tried to count them all.) And the climate's rather different, as you'd expect. I've lived here for about 12 years, with my wife, who's Polish. Oh, I suppose I should have said that I'm English, shouldn't I?

Turning to more strictly language-related matters .....

Don't say "sorry" for your mistakes - especially not before you've made them! Mistakes are an essential part of the process of learning and improving, so make them, have fun with them and learn from them! Anyway, you don't seem to make many, and I think you're being extremely modest when you say that you're a non-English speaker and that writing skills are your weak point.

There are just a couple of things that might be worth looking at.

You wrote: "At first I thought I’d never been able to achieve it" - I think that's probably just a typo, isn't it? Can you see what's wrong there?

"..... a brief introduction about my hometown" What should the preposition after 'introduction' be? (You can find the answer in this blog!)

You wrote: "I appreciate that anyone correct me if I’m wrong." The verb appreciate has various meanings and various different structures associated with it.

You can use appreciate that ..... to mean that you understand the significance or importance of something:

You don't seem to appreciate that we're running out of time.
We all appreciate that this has been a difficult time for you.

You can use appreciate + object + -ing to say that you're grateful for something that has happened, or something that happens generally:

I don't think there's anything you can do to help, but I appreciate you asking, all the same.
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down / And I do appreciate you being round (The Beatles: Help!)

So you could say 'I appreciate people correcting me if I'm wrong'. (Or you could use a passive: 'I appreciate being corrected when I'm wrong.')

If you're thinking of the future, and saying that you'd be grateful for something, you can use
would appreciate it if + subject + would/could + infinitive, or appreciate it if + subject + past tense:

We'd really appreciate it if you could stay a bit longer.
I'd appreciate it if you didn't leave your books lying all over the place.

So you could say: I'd appreciate it if somebody would/could correct me if I'm wrong,

If you wanted to ask someone to help you with your research, you could of course say something like 'Could you help me with my research, please'. How could you ask using these expressions:

I'd appreciate .....
I'd like .....
I hope .....
I wish you
I'd be grateful .....

Lastly, for today, instead of "my project’s research", it would be better to write:

my project research

or: the research for my project.

'Project research' is a compound noun like project manager, project appraisal project development, etc.

And now, my next project involves heading for the kitchen for something to eat .....

Bye for now, everyone.

Monday, 03 December 2007

Fast approaching?

Thanks very much for giving us such a vivid impression of the run-up to Christmas in Elche, Silvia - the traditional and the not-so-traditional aspects! There's just one thing I don't understand: "At that right night" - I'd appreciate it if you could explain this.

Your answers to the questions I set are absolutely right. (Is it right now? is more usual than 'Is it now right'? And instead of 'the good one', use the correct version.)

I've been thinking about something you wrote about Elche in your first blog ..... The most familiar collocation of world heritage is world heritage site - the Palm Grove is a world heritage site, but the Elche Mystery Play obviously isn't a site, as such. So you could say that there are two attractions in Elche that have achieved world heritage status, or maybe that Elche has achieved two world heritage listings.

I didn't know that Elche produces nearly half of Spain's footwear. I wonder if that fact is also exploited in promoting the town? (Is it a town or a city??) There's a town in England called Northampton which was traditionally a major centre of shoemaking, and it has a "Life and Sole" (!) museum which documents the history of the industry and which houses, as you'd expect, a huge collection of boots and shoes of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Sounds pretty 'pedestrian', doesn't it? But when I went there I was really surprised how interesting it was.

I only need to cast a glance at the calendar to realise that Christmas is fast approaching, but I can't really feel it yet, perhaps because of the weather - it's pouring with rain and the wind's howling. There's a bit more of a Christmassy atmosphere - although a very synthetic one - in bigger towns with shopping malls.

The plural of Santa Claus is Santa Clauses, just like 'houses', 'sizes', etc. Of course we all know that there's really only one Santa Claus, who lives in Lapland, but there are so many good imitators that we need the plural form. And you can find them, more and more of them, in Poland just as in so many other countries, in the shopping centres that are increasingly dominating the retail scene. Full of shoppers with more bags than fingers, and a lot of them with more money than sense, it seems. Or, as you say: "Some people have no sense of moderation when it comes to spending money." Perfect - it really hits the nail on the head!

(A phonetic joke: When you've seen one shopping centre, you've seen 'em all. Get it? The explanation is at the end of this blog.)

The sentence: "Kids are dying for the Christmas Day to come and find their desired presents under the Christmas tree or into the stocking" is interesting. It's a good attempt to combine two ideas in an economical way:

1 Kids are dying for Christmas Day to come


2 Kids are dying to find the presents they've asked for under the Christmas tree or in their stocking

- but unfortunately it doesn't quite work because there are two different structures:

1 They're dying for something to happen


2 They're dying to do something

So how can you combine these two? The best solution is probably to be less economical - something like this:

Kids are dying for Christmas Day to come, and they can't wait to find the presents they've asked for under the Christmas tree or in their stocking.

Later this month I'll tell you a bit more about what a traditional Polish Christmas is like.

If you ask a question that you think might a bit be too inquisitive, you can say:

I don't want to pry, but .....
I don't want to be nosy, but .....

But don't worry, your question about my connection with Alicante is fine! And the answer is simply that a friend of mine lives there. He's been there for ages, and he works as an English teacher.

The explanation of the 'phonetic joke' is that When you've seen one shopping centre, you've seen 'em all sounds the same as When you've seen one shopping centre, you've seen a mall.
(mall = a large building with lots of shops, restaurants, maybe a cinema, etc.)

A couple of questions for everybody:

1 How many ways can you re-arrange these components to make a correct sentence:

that evening
in every city
takes place
a “cabalgata”

2 Everybody wants to have the best car = Everybody wants to be .....

3 What were the expressions in this blog that mean:
- the period of time just before an important event such as Christmas?
- to have a quick look at something
- to say something that is exactly right or appropriate

(Of course, it's advisable to try to recall them first, before you read through to find them.)

4 Life and sole is also a phonetic joke - can you explain it?

5 How can you introduce a question that you think may be a bit too personal or inquisitive?

That's all for now.


Wednesday, 05 December 2007

Fishing and flooding

Thanks for telling us about the colourful history of Elche, Silvia. I'd be grateful if you could also throw some light on the local dialect which you mentioned a few days ago. For example, is it in competition with the standard language? Is the use of it increasing or declining? What are some of its characteristic features? Do people use it for particular purposes, or in particular situations? Do they regard as a dialect or a language? And so on.

I'd also very much appreciate a recipe for a typical Spanish dish, such as paella. I've got very good memories of eating paella in Spain, though I'm afraid it wouldn't taste as good here, even if I could make it properly.

When you wrote "I’ve been working as an eventual in a shoe factory" did you mean you've been a temporary worker, or something like that?

I'm afraid my answers to your two questions will disappoint you. There's no particular quote that I live by, and I can't single out one film as my favourite. But I'm especially fond of films by Bergman and Tarkovsky. What about you? And maybe other readers have got a quote, or motto, that they live by?

Throughout most of its history, the mainstay of Łeba's economy has been fishing. It still is a fishing port, and that's how a sector of the population make a living. But nowadays tourism is the major source of income for the majority of the inhabitants. During the short summer season they run shops, bars, souvenir stalls and so on, but most of all they offer accommodation - in their own houses, in hotels, holiday homes, chalets, camp sites ..... The demand is insatiable, because Łeba is one of the most popular summer holiday resorts. The weather is rather unpredictable, but in July and August you can generally rely on having quite a lot of hot, sunny days.

Winter, on the other hand, brings storms. The first mention of Łeba in historical documents dates from the year 1286, and from then on there are numerous references to storms and floods. The worst disaster came in the 16th century, when a storm caused so much damage that the inhabitants were forced to abandon their homes and rebuild the town on a new site. All that remains of the original settlement is the ruins of the old church. Even so, the new town was at the mercy of elements until the 19th century, when breakwaters were constructed at the harbour entrance, and trees were planted on the lower slopes of the dunes to stabilise them.

Somebody asked if I could provide a photo of the dunes. Well, I do actually take quite a lot of photos, but using rather fossilised techniques and equipment, and the photos are usually in the form of slides, but I've found a print of the dunes, so I'll scan it and see how it looks.


There you are. This view is taken looking along the dunes, with the sea on one side and a lake on the other. The dunes move and change shape noticeably from year to year. There are various possible ways of translating the name that expresses this - you can say moving dunes, or mobile dunes, but the one I prefer is 'wandering dunes'.

By the way, some of you probably don't know that the Ł at the beginning of Łeba is pronounced like an English W.

Thanks a lot, everyone, for your comments, good wishes, questions and suggestions. I'm afraid I won't be able to answer all of them - there wouldn't be enough hours in the day. To deal with a few very briefly: I come from Leeds, I'm just over half a century old, and yes I do drink tea with milk. I first came to Poland in 1981, just to have a look, found that I liked it, visited again a few times during the 1980s, and came to live here in 1991. It's funny to hear Polish spoken everywhere in Britain now - who would have thought?

Ana says she'd like to see a photo of me as a baby taken outside our family house. That's rather a tough assignment, I'm afraid. But in any case, you wouldn't know whether or not the baby was me, would you?

Lina, you can find out more about the blogs by clicking on 'Welcome to our blogs' and 'How the blogs work'.

If you're still not sure about the answers to any of my questions, check with Silvia's previous blogs - her answers were almost all right, so I won't repeat them here. Some of you had some good alternative suggestions, though:

a) I'd appreciate it if you help me .....
b) I'd like to ask for your help with .....
c) I hope you will extend your efforts for the completion of my research project.
(possible, though very formal)
d) I'd be grateful if you help me .....
e) I'd be grateful to you for helping me .....

In a) and d), though, it's more common to add a modal in front of 'help'. I don't think there's any real difference between could and would in this case. In speaking, the choice is actually between could and 'd - it's more usual to use a contracted form unless you want to emphasise the word, or to sound especially formal.

Other tentative ways of asking delicate questions:
I don't want to seem inquisitive, but...
I don't want to probe, but...
This / It might seem nosy, but...
You don't have to answer if you don't want to, but...
Don't feel obliged to answer, but ...
(not 'wouldn't') you mind if I ask/ asked you...
I hope you won't be offended if I ask you ...

Possible word orders for the 'cabalgata' sentence:
(If you don't know what 'cabalgata' is, you'll find the explanation in Silvia's blog.)

A “cabalgata” takes place that evening in every city.
A “cabalgata” takes place in every city that evening.
That evening, a “cabalgata” takes place in every city.
In every city, a “cabalgata” takes place that evening.
In every city, that evening, a “cabalgata” takes place.
That evening, in every city, a “cabalgata” takes place.

In every case, as you can see, the subject 'cabalgata' comes before the verb 'takes place'. Spanish word order is more flexible than English in this respect.

Here's something similar:

"..... the city was granted the title of Colonia Julia Ilice Augusta, a high status that just had the cities of Ilice (Elche) and Valentia (Valencia) ....."

To an English reader, this looks as if 'a high status' is the subject and 'the cities .....' is the object:

a high status - had - the cities

But of course it's the opposite:

the cities - had - a high status

So the sentence should read:

..... the city was granted the title of Colonia Julia Ilice Augusta, a high status that only the cities of Ilice (Elche) and Valentia (Valencia) had .....

More answers from last time:

Everybody wants to be the one who has the best car.
Everybody wants to be the one with the best car.

To say something that is exactly right or appropriate = to hit the nail on the head.

Life and sole….Yes, sole (the bottom part of a shoe) and soul (as in 'body and soul') are homophones (i.e. they have the same pronunciation) and if someone is the life and soul of the party, it means they're the one who makes a party or other gathering fun, lively, entertaining, successful etc.

We usually think of homophones being single words, e.g.:
sea / see
check / cheque / Czech

But there are loads of homphone phrases, too, e.g.:
a mall / 'em all
Where's the waiter? / Is this the way to the beach? / Just wait a minute.

Weather report (from a weathery port):
Improving, occasional glimpses of sunshine through the clouds.


Thursday, 06 December 2007

Talking about walking

I haven't heard about the grape seed tradition before, Silvia - it sounds pretty tricky! I used to like turrón, but it's too sweet for me now. I remember walking in the hills above Alicante in February, and the amazing sight of groves of almond trees in blossom!

Talking about walking, I went for a walk along the beach today. I said before that the shape of the dunes is constantly changing, and the same thing applies to the beach. You can never be quite sure how wide it's going to be, and sometimes there are miniature sand 'cliffs' about half a metre or a metre high, that appear for a few weeks and then disappear again. Today, after a few days of pretty stormy weather, the beach was quite narrow in places, and there were heaps of sand blown onto the wooden steps that lead down to the beach.

Sometimes, after a storm, if you're lucky, you can find pieces of amber, which is solidified resin (the sticky substance produced by pine trees). If you're not so lucky, on the other hand, you only find plastic cartons and bits of wood. Amber is used in making jewellery. It can be any shade of yellow or orange, or even green, or sometimes even black. Very often it's translucent (it lets light through) and occasionally you can see insects trapped inside.

Did I find any amber today? No. I didn't bother looking, actually - it was already getting dark.

Here's a photo of the beach - not today, though ..... it must have been taken in the spring or autumn. The rather grand building on the right is a hotel.

Moving to the city ..... Do you know what's wrong with the phrase "the today's city"? Well, the answer is that you don't say "the today", so you don't say "the today's". There are two better versions:

today's city
the city of today

Another example of the same thing is "the Spain’s footwear industry". You don't say 'the Spain', so you should say:

Spain’s footwear industry
the Spanish footwear industry

Similarly, Ana Paula wrote "the shoes history". If you were talking about some particular shoes, such as a pair of shoes that had taken you on a lot of adventures, you could in fact say 'the shoes' history', but if you're talking about shoes in general, you should say:

the history of shoes

Chinalucy wrote: "Without shoes, we cannot take even one step forward." Although it isn't literally true (after all, people can walk barefoot) I like it very much and I think that as a metaphor it would quite a good 'quote to live by', don't you? (I suppose it would also be quite a good slogan for the footwear industry!)

Towns and cities: People generally think of cities as being really big places, but in Britain the official, bureaucratic definition of a city is a place with either a cathedral or a university. So Wells, in England, with its magnificent cathedral and its population of 10,000, is officially a city, and so is St. Andrews, in Scotland, with its university dating back to the early 15th century - the third oldest university in the United Kingdom, in fact; I suppose you can all guess which the first two were? The population of St. Andrews is 16,000 ..... plus 8000 students!

Here are some more good suggestions that readers have made for asking delicate questions:

I don't mean to be personal, but .....
Sorry if I'm being too personal, but .....
Don't take it the wrong way, but .....

For those of you who'd like a bit of practice .....

Can you correct these sentences from various blog participants:

Is evident its Arabic cultural heritage.
What does it mean the expression "irse de tapas"?
It's also traditional the chocolate yule log.

And .....

See if you can fill the gaps in these sentences. You can find all the answers in the blogs by Silvia and me.

Łeba is ______ for its dunes.
It's got a lot in common ______ Elche.
Mistakes are an ______ part of the process of learning.
The "Life and Sole" museum ______ a huge collection of boots and shoes of all sorts, shapes and sizes.
It's pouring ______ rain.
At midnight every clock ______ 12.
Some people have no sense of ______ when it comes ______ spending money.
I can't single ____ one film as my favourite.
Tourism is the major ______ of income.
Climate change is a direct ______ of the way human beings act.
Thanks for pointing ______ that Spanish Christmas traditions are different.

Good luck!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Trip to Warsaw

Thanks very much, Silvia, for your detailed account of the relationship between Valencian, Catalan and Spanish.

You use lots of really good phraseology, such as "there's still a lot of controversy over the origins of .....", "the most widespread theory in this field", "What I learned at school is .....", "despite the efforts of the regional government to promote it" .....

Can I suggest a few small improvements?

You missed out 'was' in the question 'Which one was born first?' (But I'm sure you'll realise that when you look at the question again.)

Use 'open' as an adjective, not 'opened':

The door's open - you can go in.
The door's opened at 8.00 every day (i.e. someone opens it at that time).

Later, you refer to two accents in Valencian: one open and one closed. And similarly, a few days ago you wrote "I'm opened to suggestions", and that should be 'I'm open to suggestions.'

People who study languages are linguists, and linguistics is the name of their field of study.

The way you use 'stem from' isn't quite right, for two reasons. One is that it should be in the active form:

Valencian is a language which stems from Catalan.

But apart from that, 'stem from' really means 'be caused by' - e.g.:

The problems with operating the device stem from a fault in the design.

In talking about the histories of words and languages, we often use 'derive from', which can be either passive or active:

Valencian is a language which is derived from Catalan.
Valencian is a language derived from Catalan.
Valencian is a language which derives from Catalan.

A couple more things:

The Valencian language has always existed as a Romance language born after the split of Latin, and the roots of its own linguistic standards date from 1121.

Elche is traditionally a Spanish-speaking city.

Don't put a definite article in front of the names of languages:

Catalan is the most widely-spoken language .....

(Of course you could also talk about the Catalan language.)

Probably some of our blog-readers don't know that the so-called Romance languages are the ones that evolved from Latin. The best-known ones are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Rumanian, but there are others too, as Silvia makes clear. The word 'Romance' is ultimately derived from 'Rome' - it was used as name for a certain type of mediaeval literature, and that was the origin of the modern meanings of 'romance' and 'romantic'.

I'm afraid I don't know any of the famous classical writers you mention - you were quite right about that! In fact, when it comes to Spanish literature, I'm rich in ignorance. In a word, I'm completely in the dark about it. By the way, I'll write more about books and films another time.

I had to go to Warsaw at the weekend, which is why you haven't heard from me for a while. Warsaw's the capital of Poland, as you all probably know, and the contrast with Łeba is immense, as you can no doubt imagine. The city was in the grip of shopping fever in the run-up to Christmas, and it seemed strange to see all the Christmas decorations in the shops because the weather is extraordinarily mild for the time of year, so it's hard to believe that Christmas is only a couple of weeks away.

By the end of the second world war, Warsaw had been mostly reduced to rubble, though here and there you can find buildings, courtyards, or streets that survived the destruction and stand as reminders of what the city must have been like in a previous age. After the war, people got to work and started rebuilding the old town and the Royal Palace, brick by brick. It's an amazing achievement, and nowadays, as you sit in the old town square on a hot summer's day, with a nice cool beer in front of you (lots of tourists do!) you could easily think that the houses around you were several centuries old.

Until recently, Warsaw wasn't a particularly welcoming destination for tourists. But that's changed, and there's now a wide range of hotels, bars, restaurants and so on. And there's a lot to see, although it certainly isn't one of the most attractive of cities at first sight. I like it for the range of shops, the opportunities to go to films and concerts, and to walk around the parks when they turn green in spring.

As I said, folks, you can find the answers to the 'fill the gap' sentences in previous blogs, some by me and some by Silvia. But in case you couldn't locate them, here they are:

Łeba is renowned for its dunes.
It's got a lot in common with Elche.
Mistakes are an essential part of the process of learning.
The "Life and Sole" museum houses a huge collection of boots and shoes of all sorts, shapes and sizes.
It's pouring with rain.
At midnight every clock strikes 12.
Some people have no sense of moderation when it comes to spending money.
I can't single out one film as my favourite.
Tourism is the major source of income.
Climate change is a direct consequence of the way human beings act.
Thanks for pointing out that Spanish Christmas traditions are different.

From reading some of the things you've written, I thought you might find it interesting to do a bit of practice with as and like. So, if you feel like it, just put either as or like into these sentences:

1 For them, Spanish is a second language, ______ English.
2 ______ Silvia, I live near a beach.
3 Languages such ______ Spanish and French derive from Latin.
4 Have you ever worked ______ a shop assistant?
5 It looks ______ an old building, but it isn't.
6 I don't know as much ______ you about Spanish literature.
7 The train was late, ______ usual.

More tomorrow.
Bye for now.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A Polish Christmas

First of all, your paella receipe is fantastic, Silvia! A real cookery lesson, complete with mouth-watering illustrations. When I first read your comment "Probably your first paella won’t be a resounding success…." I thought it was a bit discouraging, but then I read the rest of the sentence: "but I assure you that after having cooked ten paellas you’ll become an expert Paella cook" and I think that's a very nice encouraging way to end the recipe.

There's a more economical way of saying "Depending on one's liking, add a pinch of salt if necessary." In recipes, the usual way of expressing this is "Add salt to taste".

Today I'll tell you something about how Christmas is celebrated in Poland. Of course, you should bear in mind that not everybody observes all these traditions strictly.

On December 24th, the whole family gathers for the Christmas meal, which starts when the first star appears in the sky in the late afternoon. Before they sit down to eat, everyone takes a thin wafer made of flour and water, and they break off a piece of each others' wafers in turn, and exchange good wishes. There should be an empty chair at the table, in case an unexpected guest turns up, or a person in need, and there should be twelve dishes on the table (no meat!) There are also lots of regional variations, but the most typical dishes include carp (a type of fish), herring (e.g. in oil with onion, or in cream with apple and onion), 'pierogi' (small boiled pastries filled with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms), 'barszcz' (beetroot soup), kutia (a sweet dish made from wheat, poppy seeds, honey, nuts and raisins) and compote made from dried fruit. But bread can also be counted as one of the twelve 'dishes', and so can potatoes, for example. You're supposed to taste all twelve dishes to ensure good luck during the coming year. The table is covered with a white tablecloth with some hay spread underneath it.

After the Christmas dinner people exchange presents, or children find their presents under the Christmas tree, and later on a lot of people go to church for midnight mass.

However, my wife and me won't be having a Polish Christmas, because we're going to England to spend Christmas and the New Year with my mother.

You asked whether I miss any English traditions or anything special from the UK. Well, not much really. For one thing, I don't find Poland so enormously different. And for another thing, I visit England pretty often - about five times a year, usually. But I must say I do miss English pubs, because of the beer and the atmosphere, and because a lot of them are buildings of historical interest.

A few points that various people raised:

Anastasia - You asked if I've ever seen insects in amber - only in shops and museums, I'm afraid!
Ernesto - It seems that amber occurs particularly around the Baltic Sea, for some reason. I don't know whether you can also find it in other parts of the world. And thanks for reminding me about Jurassic Park!
Silwal Kishor - You asked how travel agents arrange visits to the dunes. But they don't - people just go there by themselves. The dunes form part of a national park, and there's no motor traffic allowed, but you can walk, cycle or go in a horse-drawn carriage or a little sort of electric taxi. You can also travel part of the way by boat across a lake. It's about 8 km. from Łeba. I'll see if I can dig out some more dune photos.
Christine Yes, it's about 400 km. to Warsaw. I always go by train - I can't drive, anyway. The train isn't very fast, but it's a good opportunity to read, listen to music, catch up with work and so on. You also asked about Polish. It's pretty difficult, yes, but not impossible.
Tiasha - You talked about a place where the Indian Ocean and a river blend together. We use the word 'estuary' or simply 'mouth' of a river for the place where a river flows into the sea. But maybe the place you mean is somehow different?

The English title of the book 'Schiffbruch mit Tiger', which Christine mentions, is 'Life of Pi'.

Now, here are the answers to yesterday's 'as & like' quiz:

1 For them, Spanish is a second language, like English.
2 Like Silvia, I live near a beach.
3 Languages such as Spanish and French derive from Latin.
4 Have you ever worked as a shop assistant?
5 It looks like an old building, but it isn't.
6 I don't know as much as you about Spanish literature.
7 The train was late, as usual.

I seem to be getting forgetful as my brain becomes more and more fossilised. I realised that I forgot to give you the correct versions of these sentences from December 6th:
Is evident its Arabic cultural heritage.
What does it mean the expression "irse de tapas"?
It's also traditional the chocolate yule log.

They should be:
Its Arabic cultural heritage is evident.
What does the expression "irse de tapas" mean?
The chocolate yule log is also traditional.

Next, I've collected some sentences written by different blog-readers. Can you spot the mistakes, and correct them?

1 I always mix up when I have to write a sentence like that.
2 Thank you for the informations about Warsaw, I know very less about it.
3 In this day [January 6th] folk groups use to drop in the houses.
4 The smell (or odour) by night of the orange blossom .....
5 In Italy there are already festive air....Christmas is coming!
6 It is impossible for us to intervene the trend.
7 Their factories sell quality shoes at a price that cannot be competed.
8 Do you like jogging? also I !
9 Cut of job in footwear industries are compensated by growing in construction and other industries may be a great relief for local inhabitants and new ray of hope for better future.
10 People are happy and thats above all.
11 There’re typical regional cakes.
12 It was very interesting your explanation about the Valentian language.
13 For Christmas I often cook a soup [.....] that is more than tasteful.
14 I’m in completely in dark side about Christian culture.
15 Even, there were people sunbathing
16 It recalls me other books.

And here's a mystery for you, if you like linguistic detective work: When I looked through my 10th December blog 'Trip to Warsaw', I noticed that I'd missed a word out of one sentence - can you spot where there's a word missing?

Next time, something about books and films

To end with for today, a photo of me in the woods near the beach.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

A bit about books and films

There's an old joke that goes like this: A woman's talking to her neighbour, and says "I've no idea what to buy my husband for Christmas." The neighbour suggests "Why don't you buy him a book?" and the first woman replies "No, he's already got one."

Of course, most people need more than one. Silvia, you wrote, a few days ago: "This Christmas I’ll give me a pair of books as a self-gift!" Do you mean "I'll give myself a couple of books as a present?" 'A pair of books' would suggest two books that belong together like a pair of shoes. Of course, 'a couple' doesn't necessarily mean just two - it could be three, or perhaps even more, if you get carried away in the bookshop and lose your sense of moderation, which is quite an easy thing to do.

I try to read a lot, although I don't always have enough time to devote to it, and I couldn't possibly single out one favourite author or one favourite book. But there are some authors I've been reading quite recently who spring to mind when I start thinking about books that have really impressed me:

Paul Auster (American) - compulsive reading, stories with labyrinthine twists and turns.
Kazuo Ishiguro (born in Japan but has lived in Britain since early childhood) with his characters who drift through the world without entirely making contact with it.
Olga Tokarczuk (Polish) - imaginative inventor of half-real, half-unreal worlds.
W. G. Sebald (German, but lived in England a large part of his life) - especially 'Austerlitz', which meanders imaginatively through the history and geography of modern Europe.

These are all recent writers. As regards older ones, I'd have to mention Kafka as being an all-time favourite. In fact, Ishiguro's 'The Unconsoled' is rather reminiscent of Kafka in a way.

What about Spanish-language writers? I really don't know many, but I'm very fond of Borges (Argentinian) who wrote short 'fictions' set in a fantastic variety of possible and impossible worlds.

Nowadays, for most people in Poland, 'going to the cinema' probably means going to a huge multiplex cinema in a shopping mall (when you've seen one, you've seen 'em all) showing the same films as all the other cinemas, predominantly the latest Hollywood blockbusters. It used to be different, but most of the older, smaller cinemas that used to show a more interesting, less commercial range of films have closed down.

Silvia, you wrote: "I’m a staunch supporter of Woody Allen, Tarantino and Hitchcock, among others." 'Staunch supporter' is a good collocation, but it doesn't really fit here, because Woody Allen and Tarantino don't really need your support to ensure their success, and Hitchcock certainly doesn't! You can be a staunch supporter of a football team, for example, or a politician.

Apart from Bergman and Tarkovsky, who I mentioned before, I could list dozens of other directors and films that have made a deep impression on me. Just a few that spring to mind are Fellini, Truffaut, Sergio Leone (especially 'Once upon a Time in America') and, among Polish directors, Wajda, Kieślowski, Zanussi .....

I also like Hitchcock, and Woody Allen (and he's a great admirer of Bergman, of course), though I think the quality of Allen's work varies quite a lot.

I like some of Almodóvar's films, especially the more recent ones. Apart from that, one Spanish film that really stands out in my memory is 'El Espíritu de la Colmena' ('The Spirit of the Beehive').

One recent and quite popular film that I thought was really good was 'Das Leben der Anderen' ('The Lives of Others'), and it's always a pleasure to discover cinematic gems from the past, such 'It's a Wonderful Life' (Frank Capra, 1946) which was on TV a few days ago.

I've also been very impressed by the few Iranian films I've seen, though I'm not very good at remembering the titles or the directors' names.

Anna Paula asked if there's any similarity between Tarkovsky's films and Bergman's. I suppose that for me the most fundamental similarity is that they're both true artists, not just film-makers. (Tarkovsky described making films as "sculpting in time".) Tarkovsky must have felt an affinity with Bergman - Tarkovsky's last film 'The Sacrifice' (original title, in Swedish, 'Offret') was made on the Swedish island of Gotland, where Bergman shot a lot of his films, and Tarkovsky enlisted the services of Sven Nykvist, Bergman's cinematographer, and Erland Josephson, one of Bergman's regular actors.

Mariela asked: "I don't know much about films but I believe Poland has a quite rich film history,(or quite a rich film history; [what is the difference]) is that so?" Well, it's certainly true, but what about the word order? When 'quite' means 'fairly, but not very' it usually comes in front of an indefinite article:

These are quite good shoes.
These shoes are quite good.
This is quite a good pair of shoes.

We also - though less commonly - use 'quite' to mean 'extremely, totally', but only with adjectives that have an extreme meaning; in this case, 'quite' comes after the indefinite article:

The cathedral is quite magnificent.
The cathedral is a quite magnificent building.

So "Poland has quite a rich film history" is both true and correct.

Silvia and Christine asked about Polish Christmas traditions. I'm not sure why there are 12 dishes - some people say it's because there were 12 apostles. And fasting (not eating at all) or not eating meat on important days is quite a widespread custom in Christianity and other religions. In Poland, which is 95% Catholic, people generally don't eat meat on Fridays. (And yes, I read and enjoyed 'Life of Pi'.)

Pary - I was interested to read that the Persian name for Poland is Lahestan. Is it connected with Lech, the legendary founder of Poland? Our dunes really are like a desert, as you say, but a very small one, of course! In fact, before and during the second world war, this area belonged to Germany, and the dunes were used as a training ground for soldiers preparing to fight in north Africa.

Mariela - You can say:

I don't know as much as you about Spanish literature.
I don't know as much as you do about Spanish literature.
I don't know as much about Spanish literature as you.
I don't know as much about Spanish literature as you do.

Anastasia - There are various types of pierogi in Poland as well - they can be filled with meat, or cheese and onion, and they can be boiled or fried. And you can say either of these:

..... but there are others too, as Silvia makes clear.
..... but Silvia makes it clear that there are others, too.

Marianna asked about the difference between 'the time of year' and 'this time of the year'. You use 'this time of (the) year' to mean the time when you're speaking or writing:

I'm always tired at this time of the year.
I'm always tired at this time of year.

You can use 'the time of year' to mean any time you're talking or writing about:

It's the middle of December, and it's unusually mild for the time of year.
It was the middle of June, and it was unusually cold for the time of year.

You also wrote, Marianna: "If there is any difference in meaning you don´t need bothering to answer my question." This should be:

If there is no difference in meaning you don't need to bother answering my question.


If there isn't any difference in meaning you don't need to bother answering my question.

You concluded that "your language is easy and complicated at the same time", and I suppose that's true!

That seems like a cue to turn to the sentences from last time. Here are some possible correct versions. I'm sure there are some other possibilities, too.

1 I always get mixed up when I have to write a sentence like that.
2 Thank you for the information [not 'informations'] about Warsaw; I know very little about it.
3 On this day [January 6th] folk groups drop in to the houses. ['used to' in the past, but not 'use to' in the present]
4 The scent (smell) of the orange blossom by/at night ..... [An 'odour' is an unpleasant smell.]
5 In Italy there is already a festive atmosphere....Christmas is coming!
6 It is impossible for us to stop/reverse the trend. / It is impossible for us to intervene in this matter.
7 Their factories sell quality shoes at a price that other producers cannot compete with.
8 Do you like jogging? So do I! / I do, too! / Me too!
9 Job cuts in the footwear industry are offset by [or: compensated for by] growth in construction and other industries, which may (will?) be a great relief for local inhabitants and a new ray of hope for a better future.
10 People are happy and that's what matters / that's what's important. / Above all, people are happy.
11 There are typical regional cakes. [We write 'there are', not 'there're'.]
12 Your explanation about the Valentian language was very interesting.
13 For Christmas I often cook a soup [.....] that is more than tasty. [better: that is really tasty]
14 I’m in completely in the dark about Christian culture.
15 There were even people sunbathing
16 It reminds me of other books.

I wrote: "And here's a mystery for you, if you like linguistic detective work: When I looked through my 10th December blog 'Trip to Warsaw', I noticed that I'd missed a word out of one sentence - can you spot where there's a word missing?"

The sentence is: "The word 'Romance' is ultimately derived from 'Rome' - it was used as name for a certain type of mediaeval literature, and that was the origin of the modern meanings of 'romance' and 'romantic'." And the missing word is 'a':

The word 'Romance' is ultimately derived from 'Rome' - it was used as a name for a certain type of mediaeval literature, and that was the origin of the modern meanings of 'romance' and 'romantic'. Rather difficult to spot - even for me!

You're so prolific, Silvia, it's hard to keep up with you. Tomorrow I'll write in reply to your last two postings.


Finally, a couple of pairs:

Friday, 14 December 2007

Just a few comments

You used lots of very nice expressions again, Silvia, in your last two postings, such as:
make up for lost time
he tried to capture his dreams and obsessions
in the limelight

A few comments and improvements:

A seminar that lasts for two days is a two-day seminar. So what's:
a journey that takes three hours?
a holiday that lasts one week?
a course that lasts four years?

I think Juana la Loca means 'crazy Juana', doesn't it? Why was she called that? (I think she finally united the kingdoms of her parents, Castilla and Aragón - i.e. joined them together in one kingdom - right?)

Colón is known in English as Christopher Columbus. When I first went to Spain and came across the name Colón, I didn't realise it was the same person at first!

The cartographer that had to draw the map of the new world credited Americo with the discovery - i.e. said that Americo was responsible for the achievement. 'Grant' means to allow someone to have or do what they want - e.g grant permission, grant a request.

Miguel de Cervantes was a novelist, poet and dramatist who is still considered to be one of the most outstanding figures of [not 'the'] Spanish literature. His novel, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, has been described as the first modern novel and one of the greatest works of [not 'the'] world literature. It has also been translated into nearly every language.

“ En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…..” (In a certain village in La Mancha, which I do not wish to remember…..) Isn't it really "whose name I do not wish to remember"? Remembering the village is a different thing from remembering its name. Anyway, the opening seems quite easy to read in Spanish, but I suppose it gets more difficult after that.

Picasso is known worldwide or world-famous. He was the most important painter of the twenty century.

One of his masterpieces is, without a doubt, the Meninas, which isn’t nearly as impressive [in a book? in a reproduction?] as it is when you’re in front of it.

I have to admit that I’m very fond of reading

I'm a tea british I am!

I’m always waiting for a new book by him to be published.

And another example where you need to change the word order: That’s why turrón and almond cake are so traditional.

In Poland we also get really good Spanish oranges at this time of the year - and lettuce from Murcia!

And I agree that Barcelona is a fantastic place, with loads of history, and loads to see and do.

Myen - You should really just eat small amounts of each of the 12 Christmas dishes, although it can be hard to resist the temptation. You did some good detective work, and you reported it very entertainingly! I think your suspicions are justified. It could be:

"The word 'Romance' is ultimately derived from 'Rome' - it was used as "THE" name for a certain type of mediaeval literature."

..... but perhaps 'a name for' is more likely, or 'the name of'.

That's all for today, folks!

Monday, 17 December 2007

A mystery and a bargain

Reading what you wrote about nightlife in Spain, Silvia, I was reminded of something that's always been a mystery to me - how do people manage to get up and go to work in the morning after a whole night of eating, drinking and nightclubbing? Maybe the siesta helps, but you can only really have a siesta if you've been awake and active in the morning, I suppose. I find that after a few days in Spain my biological clock breaks down completely and I end up wandering round in a state of permanent tiredness!

One of the pairs of shoes in the photos is indeed a bit worn-out. It's an old photo and when it was taken those shoes had walked many, many miles.

I'm a loyal customer of one particular shoe manufacturer - can't tell you which one, 'cos that would be advertising! Their shoes are particularly well-made and durable, and quite expensive, but they have a lot of sales where you can pick up real bargains if you search through to find the right size and the right design. When I'm in England I always have a look. I got the best bargain ever last year when I found a pair of suitable-looking shoes priced at £5. The full price would be about £60 or £70, so I thought there must be some mistake. But no, it turned out that the reason these shoes were so cheap was ...... Can you guess? ..... because they weren't really a pair. They were two different sizes. But they didn't look different, except for the obvious fact that one was left and the other was right. I tried them on and walked around the shop a bit and they seemed OK, so I bought them. And I've been happily wearing them ever since. Maybe my feet are two different sizes, who knows? And maybe the two shoes will find their partners one day, when I meet somebody who bought the other non-matching pair?

Answers to questions from last time:

A journey that takes three hours is a three-hour journey.
A holiday that lasts one week is a one-week holiday (or a week's holiday).
A course that lasts four years is a four-year course.

This time, something about contractions. Look at these sentences and decide whether you can contract the subject and verb or not:

0 (example) I have never been there. > I've never been there.
0 (example) But I have. - (You can't contract 'I have' in this case')
1 Sorry, I have to go now.
2 You must not tell anyone.
3 I have dinner when I get home in the evening.
4 The programme will be starting soon.
5 There are no tickets left.
6 No, it is not.
7 One is all right but the other is rubbish.
8 If I could help you, I would.
9 I had had three coffees by the time she arrived.
10 Here is one idea.
11 This is something that has always confused me.
12 I have a look whenever I go to England.
13 What is the difference?

Ana Paula asks: "Could you give us some tips to brush up our English speech please?" Hmm ..... a big question. Here's one idea: If you like watching films in English, choose one character you can identify with in a film that you've got on DVD or video, and choose one scene where that character has an important role. Imagine that you have to stand in for them, so you have to imitate their accent, tone of voice, words, pausing, rhythm, emphasis, intonation, gestures, facial expression, movements - everything, in fact. Practise being their double while you're watching a short extract from the film, and playing and speaking the role in parallel with them. Then, when you've learned the scene, you can practise it whenever you like, wherever you are. (You might get some funny looks from other people, of course!) As a next step, try improvising other scenes, other situations you might imagine yourself in, as if you were that same character.

Maybe other readers have other suggestions about how to practise English speech?

Monika: I went to the exhibition of old Flanders masters at the National Museum in Warsaw. It isn't my kind of art, but it's always educational to see so many eminent paintings from one period gathered together. You asked: "What is difference between these phrases:'a pair of socks' and 'a couple of socks?" A pair of socks means two matching socks, two socks that belong together, one for each foot, but a couple of socks just means any two socks that don't make a matching pair.

Pary: I've seem Iranian films in cinemas in Poland and Britain, and on TV in Poland. Yes, the name Makhmalbaf definitely rings a bell.

Christine: 'Information' isn't really the same as in German, because in German, and in European languages generally, it can be plural. But not in English. Not yet, anyway.

Lewis: When I wrote "when you’re in front of it" I meant when you're standing in front of it in a gallery.

Tomorrow, a bit more about Poland.


Tuesday, 18 December 2007


You may well have heard of the Polish city of Kraków - nowadays it's one of the most popular destinations in the country. Throughout history, there's been a lot of rivalry between Warsaw and Kraków. Kraków was actually the capital of Poland for several hundred years, and later continued to be a centre of religion and intellectual life. Unlike Warsaw, it didn't suffer destruction during the second world war, and it's full of architectural monuments dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The communist regime that came to power after the second world war built one of the largest steelworks in Europe, Nowa Huta, just outside Kraków. Normally, location of industry is determined by factors such as availability of raw materials, labour force, transport infrastructure and so on. But in this case none of those factors were taken into account - rail and road links had to be built, raw materials had to be brought in from huge distances, the workforce had to be moved in from other parts of Poland ..... The motivation was purely political - the idea was to introduce a working-class element as a counterweight to the traditionally conservative, Catholic, and therefore oppositional population of the city. No thought was given to pollution control, and the result was an ecological disaster, affecting the stability of the historic buildings and the health of the population. When I first went to Kraków in 1981, the old city was still impressive but terribly dilapidated, and the Swedish guide book I had with me advised visitors not to stay longer than 12 hours!

Things have changed a lot since then. The air and river have been cleaned up, and many of the buildings have been beautifully restored.

From Kraków, you can travel south to the Tatra mountains along the border with Slovakia, with their fantastic scenery and abundant opportunities for walking, climbing, skiing, etc.

This photo shows part of the Cloth Hall in Kraków's huge main town square:

And this one was taken looking through one of the archways of the Cloth Hall:

The next photo shows the 14th century church at one corner of the square. According to legend, during a raid on the city by a Tartar army, the watchman at the top of the church tower saw the invaders approaching, and picked up his trumpet and started to play a melody to raise the alarm, but he was interrupted by an arrow in the neck. And today, a trumpeter plays the same melody every hour on the hour, stopping suddenly at exactly the point where the original trumpeter is supposed to have been hit by the arrow.

The next one is just a street scene in the old town in Kraków, but I quite like it:

Please bear in mind that all these photos are pretty old, and Kraków is a lot more colourful and international-looking nowadays.

Anastasia: You're right - you could actually say:

...poet and dramatist who is still considered one of the most outstanding figures...

as well as:

...poet and dramatist who is still considered to be one of the most outstanding figures...

Here are the solutions to yesterday's question about contractions:

1 Sorry, I have to go now. Don't contract subject + 'have to'.
2 You must not tell anyone. This can be 'You mustn't .....'
3 I have dinner when I get home in the evening. Don't contract subject + 'have' as a main verb.
4 The programme will be starting soon. This can be 'The programme'll be .....'
5 There are no tickets left. Don't contract 'There are'. (Probably some people do, but it isn't considered correct.)
6 No, it is not. This is usually 'No, it isn't'.
7 One is all right but the other is rubbish. This can be 'One's all right but the other's rubbish'.
8 If I could help you, I would. Don't contract 'would' (or other auxiliary verbs) if there's no other verb following.
9 I had had three coffees by the time she arrived. This can be 'I'd had .....'
10 Here is one idea. This can be 'Here's .....'
11 This is something that has always confused me. This can be '..... that's always confused me.' (You can't contract 'This is'.)
12 I have a look whenever I go to England. This is similar to number 3.
13 What is the difference? This can be 'What's the difference?'

Sometimes the decision whether to write a contracted form or not depends on stylistic considerations. For example, in number 4, the contraction of 'will' to ''ll' is normal in speech, but in formal kinds of writing the uncontracted form is preferred.

Here's a little challenge for today. Look through Sylvia's blogs from the 13th and 15th December, and mine from the 14th and 17th, and find phrases that mean the same as the phrases in bold:

1 I was totally exhausted.
2 something that I've never been able to understand
3 It's crazy.
4 It's hard to stop yourself doing something.
5 I always buy from the same supplier.
6 finding books by chance
7 you have to deputise for someone
8 It depends on how I feel.

Good luck!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

A short note

Only a short note today, to say two things.

Firstly, welcome back, Silvia. I was getting worried about you. I'm pleased to hear that you're feeling all right again.

Secondly, I probably won't be able to post anything until Sunday, because I'll be travelling and I probably won't have internet access.

So, till then. Keep well!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Our journey

We're at my mother's house in England now. Some people probably think our journey was a bit strange, so I'll tell you about it. The first thing to say is that we never fly. I always say I haven't got wings, so how can I fly? In fact I did fly a few times, a long time ago, but I didn't like it much. On the other hand, I've always been a great train enthusiast, and fortunately my wife shares this enthusiasm, so we travel by train wherever possible. Our regular route from Poland to England takes us through Germany and Belgium, and through the Channel Tunnel. If we're short of time we can do the whole journey in about 20 hours, but otherwise we like to take our time and stop off at places on the way - it's all part of the holiday.

This time we set off from home at about 14.00 on Thursday, got a lift to our nearest station, which is about 30 kilometres away, and caught our first train as far as Szczecin, near the German border. The next train took us to Berlin, and was a kind of historic journey in a way, because it was the last day of routine passport checks between Poland and Germany. From midnight that night, Poland became part of the so-called Schengen area, and you can now travel, for example, all the way from Poland to Portugal without having to show your passport at any of the borders.

We stayed Thursday night at a hotel we know in Berlin. There's a very cosy and welcoming bar downstairs, and every time we go there we see a man with his dog, usually at the same table every time. His main interest in life seems to be smoking - he's got a set of about eight different pipes, and apart from that he also rolls his own cigarettes. The tide of legislation has turned against smoking so fast in so many countries - in Britain, for instance, smoking is now banned in pubs, which would have seemed completely unthinkable to me just a few years ago - that it comes as quite a surprise to find such a smoker's haven. (Perhaps I should make it clear that I don't sympathise with smoking at all!)

The next stage of our journey, on Friday, was from Berlin to Cologne, where we wandered around the old town and some of the Christmas markets which are such a great pre-Christmas attraction in German towns. The temporary, but quite substantial wooden stalls are occupied by traders selling all sorts of Christmas decorations, jewellery, handicrafts, scarves, gloves, hats, toys, artwork, food specialities and, not least, spicy mulled wine to warm you up as you wander around looking at the stalls. It's all very friendly and good-natured, and although there are plenty of things you can't buy there, it's a good opportunity to buy bits and pieces to give as presents, or to keep for yourself. But there's no compulsion to buy anything, of course, and it's also just a nice atmospheric way to spend a bit of time and perhaps get into a Christmas mood.

Looking out from our hotel room the next morning, Saturday, we saw blue sky and bright sunlight glinting on the river Rhine as huge barges passed up and down. But for us, it was back on the train, this time to Brussels, and then after a short break to London, and for the first time to the new Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras. This station was first opened in the 1860s and is a monument of the Victorian era, and the great age of railway-building. The huge arched platform area was the largest enclosed space in the world at the time, and the hotel that was built adjoining the station and facing on to the main road outside is a sumptuous and intricate design with towers and turrets that wouldn't look out of place on a Gothic castle or cathedral. In the 1960s the station was threatened with demolition and redevelopment. It was saved, but over the years became more and more dilapidated and covered in grime. So it's great to see that the rebuilding process, as well as adding new dimensions, has preserved and enhanced the original structure, and revealed it in all its magnificence, with the ironwork newly painted and the brickwork cleaned to reveal all the detail.

They don't build stations like that any more - and I couldn't help comparing it with the new main station in Berlin, which is a completely new station built from scratch, and which I've used quite a lot on my travels. Both stations are full of 'retail outlets', as they call them these days - shops, cafes and other services - but the one in Berlin has, obviously, no history and seems to me like a shopping centre with platforms added, whereas St. Pancras retains something of the atmosphere of the Railway Age.

Anyway, the final leg of our train journey was to Leeds, where we arrived late last night, just in time to catch the last bus to where my mother lives. Leeds station was also substantially rebuilt a few years ago, but unfortunately it's a disaster, a real mess.

Tomorrow I'll write in reply to what Silvia's written, as well as something more about Christmas. In the meantime, here are the answers to the questions from Dec 18:

1 I was completely drained.
2 something that's always been a mystery to me
3 It's insane.
4 It's hard to resist the temptation to do something.
5 I'm a loyal customer.
6 coming across books
7 You have to stand in for someone.
8 It depends on the mood I’m in.

And here's one of the traditional seasonal symbols used on Christmas cards here - a robin. When I was a child I remember seeing them quite often in our garden in winter, along with various other species of birds - but not now, unfortunately.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007


Silvia told us something about her job a few days ago, and it occurred to me that Spain, with its dry climate, has quite a tradition of water management. I remember how amazed I was when I visited the Alhambra - not just by the architecture and the decoration but because, although it's on a hilltop surrounded by a bare, dry, rocky landscape, there's water everywhere, in pools, fountains and channels, and supporting incredibly varied and luxuriant vegetation.

Britain has a much wetter climate, but it's affected more and more often by water shortages as well as flooding - no doubt because of a combination of factors, including climate change and the ever-increasing water consumption of a densely-populated country with less and less countryside. But I was shocked to read a couple of years ago that in West Yorkshire, which is the county where Leeds is, about a quarter of all the water collected in reservoirs never reaches the consumers, but is lost by leakages from worn-out pipes. And I don't suppose the infrastructure is much better in other parts of the country.

I think the custom of sending traditional Christmas cards is on the decline, as more and more people send email cards or text messages. This year seems to be the year that we've finally more or less given up sending cards, except to a handful of relatives. It's partly just a question of laziness - it's easier to send emails. We haven't progressed to the sophistication of sending animated cards with falling snowflakes and talking reindeer, though!

Thanks for telling us about your local fire traditions, Silvia. It's interesting how a pagan tradition was taken over by Christianity, then outlawed, and finally promoted as a tourist attraction! Have there ever been any serious accidents caused by the bonfires, I wonder?

Yesterday was Christmas Eve, and we went into the city centre to do a bit of last-minute shopping and have a look at the Christmas street lights, which Leeds is very proud of. (Apparently, there's a team of 80 people employed year-round working on them and trying to make them bigger and better every year!) As usual, the city was full of all sorts of people, including some pretty odd characters - there was even one man wearing pyjamas, and talking to himself as he did his shopping.

Later on, we had a semi-traditional Polish-style Christmas Eve dinner, with dishes that my wife prepared - not twelve of them, but quite a few.

And today's Christmas Day. We've been out for one of our usual local walks, to a nearby village and around the estate of a sixteenth-century manor, with extensive gardens, farmland and woods - a good way of working up an appetite for today's traditional English-style Christmas dinner.

I'd like to suggest a few improvements to things you've written recently, Silvia. But I'm sure you don't want to be bothered with things like that at the moment, so I'll leave it till after Christmas.

Best wishes to everyone - and if you're celebrating Christmas, have a good one!

Friday, 28 December 2007


Like a lot of people, we also tend to fall into the trap of buying too much food for Christmas. You need to plan ahead and stock up a bit, because you know the shops are going to be closed for a couple of days, but it's all too easy to go over the top. So we're also gradually eating leftovers now.

I think there are lots of similarities between Spain and Poland. Poland is still intensely Catholic. The country was subject to a repressive regime for half a century, but in Poland's case the Catholic church was a focus for opposition, and was only tolerated by the Communist government. Poland's now also benefiting greatly from EU funds. For example the road network is being modernised and extended, and - of greater interest to me - there are lots of long-overdue improvements being made to the railway infrastructure, and more and more new and rebuilt trains running on some lines at least.

Ernesto asked whether anything of Poland's communist past is still visible. Well, it depends very much where you go and what you're looking for. The statues and other monuments to communist heroes have gone. Street names commemorating outstanding (= notorious!) communist personalities and events have been changed. City centres look increasingly like city centres everywhere in Europe - the same flashy-looking buildings with glass and steel facades, the same shops, the same advertising, the same bright lights, the same cars. But if you wander off round the suburbs, or through parts of the countryside, you soon find a different picture, the results of decades of neglect and lack of investment: dilapidated, crumbling buildings, roads and pavements full of holes, and real poverty.

Monika from Warsaw wrote about the historical difference between towns with a large town square, such as Kraków, and those with a long, broad main street, like Gdańsk.

Gdańsk (also known in English by its German name, Danzig) was one of the members of the group of northern European trading ports known as the Hanseatic League, and the style of the buildings in the old town is very reminiscent of cities in the Netherlands, north Germany and Denmark, with characteristic tall narrow houses with elaborate roofs. The panorama of the town is dominated by the church of St. Mary, which is reputedly the largest brick building in the world.

Like Warsaw, Gdańsk was destroyed in the second world war, and the old town was meticulously reconstructed on the basis of old plans, drawings and photographs. Nowadays Gdańsk is known as the birthplace of the Solidarity movement and the 1980 shipyard strikes, which eventually led to the collapse of communism.

Now for a few language points:

1 "We wait for till a few days before Christmas Eve to do all the Christmas shopping"

Of course 'wait for a few days' is fine, but 'a few days before Christmas Eve' is a point in time, just like 'tomorrow', so in the same way that you say 'wait till tomorrow', you should say 'wait till a few days before Christmas Eve.'

2 "It wasn’t after his [Franco's] death that Church and State were separated."

This is similar. It should be 'It wasn’t until after his death that Church and State were separated' - in other words, it was only after his death that Church and State were separated.

3 "It wasn’t till 1928 when an association was created to promote the city tourism."

Similar again - use 'It wasn't until ..... that .....': 'It wasn’t till 1928 that an association was created to promote city tourism.'

In nos. 1 to 3, you could use either 'till' or 'until' interchangeably.

4 "As most of you, I spent all day long with my family."

Here, the use of 'as' and 'like' is causing confusion again. In a clause, i.e. if there's a verb included, you could use either 'as' or 'like':
'I spent all day with my family, as most of you did.'
'I spent all day with my family, like most of you did.'
'As most of you did, I spent all day with my family.'
'Like most of you did, I spent all day with my family.'

But if there's only a pronoun or noun phrase with no verb, use 'like', not 'as':
'I spent all day with my family, like most of you.'
'Like most of you, I spent all day with my family.'

5 "There have been accidents caused by the bonfires, but any too serious."

Here, 'any' needs a verb in the negative:
'There haven't been any very serious accidents.'
Otherwise, use 'none', which has an intrinsically negative meaning:
'..... but none of them have been very serious.'

6 "The bonfires are constantly controlled by firemen."

This could be either:
'The bonfires are constantly monitored by firemen' (i.e. The firemen keep an eye on the bonfires) or:
'The bonfires are kept under control by firemen' (i.e. The firemen continuously intervene to stop the bonfires spreading and becoming dangerous, to stop them getting out of control.) To control something, such as a machine, generally means to make it behave in the way you want it to behave.

7 "The bonfires, despite their big dimensions ....."

The word 'dimensions' is most often used with things that have been designed and constructed: ships, bridges and so on. Here it would be better to say something like:
'..... despite their huge size .....'

7 "write a desire in a piece of paper"

Here we use the word 'wish':
'Write a wish on a piece of paper'
(And, for example: 'Make a wish as you throw a coin in the fountain.')

8 "taking a night bath"

People 'take a bath' or 'have a bath', normally in the bathroom, in order to get clean. What they do in the sea, or in a lake or river, is 'swimming' or 'bathing'.

9 "a competition in which takes part the best pyrotechnics companies"

This should be:

'a competition in which the best firework companies take part'

Here are a couple of sentence transformations for practice:

1 The rescue operation lasted until 4.30 a.m.
> It wasn't until .....

2 Lots of other people bought too much food, and so did we.
> Like .....

3 Representatives from every region take part in the meeting.
> It's a meeting in which .....

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Yorkshire Dales

When we're in Leeds we like to go walking in the Yorkshire Dales, which is an easily-accessible and extensive area of hills and valleys in the north of England. The first picture shows one of the routes up to one of the highest points in the Dales, called Ingleborough - one of the so-called 'Three Peaks'. It isn't a real mountain-shaped 'peak', as you can see, the summit's only about 700 metres above sea level, and it's easily walkable with a good pair of shoes, but it can be quite threatening in poor weather, and you should certainly make sure you've got proper clothing to keep you warm and dry.

Visitors from other countries often comment on the lack of trees in the landscape, and such comments used to surprise me, because it was a landscape familiar to me from a very early age, and it didn't strike me as at all unusual. But later, after I'd got to know other upland areas in Europe, I started to notice the lack of trees for myself.

Perhaps the most characteristic feature - the defining feature, in fact - of the Yorkshire Dales landscape is limestone, which underlies a large part of the region. Limestone is the light-coloured rock that you can see protruding onto the surface on the left of the photo, and on the track in the foreground. It's a permeable rock - i.e it lets water through. Water runs down through cracks in the rock, and at the same time gradually dissolves the rock and widens those cracks, so that there's very little surface water, and large parts of the area are very dry, rocky and barren-looking. There are dry valleys, dry waterfalls and all sorts of other interesting geological features. The next photo is one that I took ages ago but it's still one of my favourites - and it shows that there are some trees, after all!

The third photo shows a real curiosity - and there are lots of examples like this in the area. You can see a huge block of dark rock resting on a small limestone pedestal, and the darker rock is much, much older than the limestone. So how did it get there? Was it carried by giants? Probably people used to have such theories to explain this odd phenomenon. In fact these boulders were carried by glaciers from somewhere further north during the Ice Age. When the ice melted, they settled on the limestone surface, and since then water has eroded away the upper layers of limestone, but the bits under the boulders were protected and haven't eroded to the same extent, so they remain as pedestals supporting the boulders. There are some boulders that you can rock from side to side because they aren't very secure on their limestone supports!

There's another very significant feature of the area that you can't see from the surface. Because of the continual erosion of the rock by underground water, there's a huge network of underground caves and passages, which attract cavers in large numbers. Of course caving can be quite a dangerous activity, and in the past few days one of big local news items has been about two cavers who died underground when water levels rose quickly after heavy rain. They were experienced and properly equipped, but still, they were taken by surprise. Unfortunately these accidents happen from time to time. The cave systems are like a huge sponge, and they soak up all the rainfall. I've been in some of the big caves that are open to the general public, but apart from that I prefer to stay on the surface!

It's New Year's Eve today, so on a more cheerful note, I'd like to wish you all a very Happy New Year.


December 2007

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