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On 1st March we moved to a new blogging system.

The archives of all the student, teacher and staff blogs are still available here to read but commenting has closed.

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August 2009

Saturday, 01 August 2009

Morning from rainy Bristol

Hi everyone

I'm delighted to be the teacher blogger for this month and really looking forward to reading Asha’s blog and your comments. As well as teaching, I write graded readers and edit websites for English language learners.

I live in Bristol and teach in Bath. Bristol is far bigger but Bath is more internationally famous. That's not really fair as Bristol has been home to some very influential people like the great engineer, Brunel, the cricketer, W.G Grace and the film star Cary Grant.

Okay, so maybe you haven't heard of any of these people but what about Wallace and Gromit? The triple Oscar-winning film studio Aardman Animations is in Bristol. Bristol is the 'plasticine Hollywood'! Who needs Roman Baths when you've got 'The Wrong Trousers'?

Another important Bristolian links sport shoes and the sea. Can you guess who it is? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

And I’ll end with a joke. How do you keep a fool in suspense?

I’ll tell you tomorrow!


Triple – three times
Plasticine – modelling clay, often used by children
Who needs … when you’ve got …? – rhetorical question often used ironically
Bristolian – person from Bristol/Bristol dialect/accent
Suspense – when you want to know what’s going to happen.

Sunday, 02 August 2009

Mystery person answer

Anyone work out the quiz question in my last post? The man from Bristol who links the sea with sports shoes is Samuel Plimsoll (1824-98).

<brThe 'Plimsoll line' was an important reform which helped to improve sea safety. It forced ship-owners to paint a line on the hull of a ship, indicating how high it was in the water. This prevented the overloading cargo, a major cause of fatal accidents. The Plimsoll line was internationally adopted and is still in use today.

The connection with sports shoes? In British English a certain type of gym shoe is called a plimsoll


reform - change in the law
cargo - goods carried by ships

Monday, 03 August 2009

Thank you all

Just a note to thank you all for the wonderful welcome I have received. I shall try to respond to all your comments tomorrow.

And what a great start to Asha's blog. I think reading it is going to be a lot of fun.

Anyway, I must rush as I have cricket highlights to watch on the TV. England are trying to wrestle back the Ashes from our old rival Australia.

I'll stop there as non-cricket lovers are falling asleep already ....

Ashes - series of cricket matches between England and Australia

Highlights - selection of the best moments from a longer event

Tuesday, 04 August 2009

Well done, Asha/mincemeat(!)

Hi all

The cricket mentioned in my previous post ended in a draw, as it often does. This is one reason why the game has never been popular in the USA – a five-day contest without a winner can be a hard sell!

Thank you for such an interesting first post, Asha. Looks like you’re going to have a very busy August with your blog and your banking exams. And it can’t be easy having to use an Internet cafĂ© to go online. Are they expensive by local standards?

Do most people in Kerala have home computers and Internet access? We know that India is now a major centre for IT but are computers widely available to the general public?

A few small corrections to a generally fluent post:

For my whole life – needs personal pronoun rather than direct article. You could perhaps rephrase as follows ‘I realized that I was not born to be a software engineer. I don’t want to just do coding for the rest of my life.

More than a year – use 'a' rather than 'one' here

By the end of the month – ‘at’ here refers to a single action e.g. ‘they will pay me at the end of the month’. Here you are referring to a process.

After just – reversal of these two words changes meaning. ‘Just after’ is a direct time reference: ‘just after eight.

I’ll reply to comments in a separate post. In the meantime here’s a fun clip from a BBC science programme. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything – some of the technical stuff was over my head.

At one point (1.31) the presenter uses the idiom ‘to make mincemeat’ in describing what happens to the wall. Funnily enough the same phrase appears in the song ‘That’s Entertainment’, which featured in the BBC Prom last Saturday night:

‘A king and a prince meet/And everyone ends up mincemeat’.

The line describes the plot of one of Shakespeare’s plays. Do you know which play?


Hard sell – something which does not sound attractive to the buyer/customer
Over my head – to complex to understand
Make mincemeat – literally grind meat into particles. To make mincemeat of something/somebody is to violently destroy them/it.
Prom - summer series of classical concerts held at the Albert Hall in London and broadcast by the BBC


Many thanks to Mohammed, Israel, Vitaliy, Pilar, Abdisamad, Olya, Tanuja and Hyoshil for your much appreciated messages of welcome.

Hyoshil - I was very impressed that you used ‘hogwash’ – what a great word that is! It dates back to 1400 and literally means the leftover food you give to a pig. Today it means nonsense.

Tanuja – I wasn’t aware of Tagore’s Bristol connection – but I had unforgivably forgotten to mention the tomb of Raja Rammohan Roy, the great Indian social reformer. He is buried in the cemetery which my house backs on to. The Indian government pays for the upkeep of the tomb and there is a regular stream of visitors to it

I commute by train (16 minutes) using Brunel’s great station Temple Meads, his railway line (Great Western) and his historic Box Tunnel. A very pleasant journey but an expensive season ticket!

How does the animation film’ The Wrong Trousers' connect with Roman Baths? It doesn’t really – a poor attempt at comic irony on my part. The Roman Baths are usually considered very grand and historical while The Wrong Trousers is a fun film from the 1990s. But it did win an Oscar!

BOSKA – I was a little confused, though you accidentally reminded me of another Bristol claim to fame – we used to have the Elizabeth Shaw chocolate factory. Sadly that’s now closed but there is a Cadbury’s factory down the road. And Cadbury can give those Belgians a run for their money! (strong competition)

Jiae – First of all congratulations for your terrific blog last month. You set a high standard for us to try and meet!

Your experience of Bristol & Bath typifies the point I was making. Bath is fabulous but Bristol has some lovely architecture, too. Hope you come again some time to check it out.

Wednesday, 05 August 2009

Teacher makes mistake! Official!

It sounds impossible but it's true! The lines from 'That's Entertainment' describing a Shakespeare play should have read:

Where a ghost and a prince meet
And everyone ends in mincemeat.

The ghost was in fact a king but that's little help. Amazing then that Mohammed somehow got the right answer - well done to him!

The name of the play is contained in his comment on my last post. You can have another guess before checking.

Now I guess you want to make mincemeat of me! Especially after the terrible joke I'm going to leave you with:

Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes?
A: No idea

You have to say it aloud to get the pun in the punchline (No-eye deer)

pun - word play
punchline - the line that gets a laugh in a joke

Saturday, 08 August 2009

Balloon Fiesta

This weekend is the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. I went to my local park to watch the balloon lift this morning.

It's always a great spectacle and this photo doesn't really do it justice. I'll try and get something better when they go up again this evening. You can also watch a BBC produced video here.

There's also going to be a fly-past by the amazing Red Arrows. They do what you might call aerial acrobatics at incredible speed. I'm really looking forward to it.


balloon lift
- technical term to describe mass ascent of hot-air balloons

spectacle - something to see, impressive or remarkable

do justice - give a fair representation
fly-past - when military aircraft fly low in a display

Monday, 10 August 2009

Fiesta/Hi Asha!

The balloons and the Red Arrow planes have finally disappeared from the Bristol skyline - it was fun while it lasted!

The Red Arrows were very special. They swooped, twisted and swerved at incredible speed. They even managed to create a heart-shape in smoke - I captured this brilliantly with my digital camera (!)

Or maybe not!

Asha, we miss you! We'd love to hear more about the exciting things going on in your life - the job change, the banking exams. Your first post created a lot of interest and we'd like to read more.

I read something interesting about India yesterday. Apparently its online population is currently around 50-80 million - less than 10% of the population. But this figure is growing fast and India's Internet usage is expected to be third behind China and the US by 2013. I'm guessing that most computers are currently found in the urban centres rather than the rural hinterland.

Here's a teaser to finish. We have an expression in English 'my/his name is mud'. Does know anyone know what this means? And for those of you who like really hard questions - where does it come from?


swooped - dive low like a bird
swerved - suddenly change direction
hinterland - undeveloped area
teaser - a playful challenge

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

My name is Mudd!

Many of you managed to find the source I had for the 'name is mud' phrase - Dr Samuel Mudd. Naheed (see comments) has cleverly discovered that we may all be mistaken but it's a good story so I'll tell it anyway.

In making his escape from the Ford Theatre after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln John Wilkes Booth broke his leg. Later that night he called at the home of a local doctor, Samuel Mudd. Dr Mudd treated his injury.

Mudd was later arrested and brought to trial. His first words to the court were 'My name is Mudd'. He then claimed that his role in the affair was entirely innocent. The court didn't believe him and sentenced Mudd to life in prison - with hard labour.

More than a hundred years later historians still dispute Mudd's role in the Lincoln assassination. The evidence suggests that he probably was a conspirator. We now use the phrase 'his/my name is mud' about someone who is blamed for something bad happening.

Anyway, that's the story and enough for now - it's my daughter's 7th birthday today and we're off to the Zoo.

You must visit Asha's latest post - she has some very exciting news!


hard labour with extra heavy manual work.
evidence - information presented in court
conspirator - someone who is part of a plot

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Asha & Arranged Marriage

What a fascinating post, Asha! The term ‘e numbers’ is usually used to describe the chemicals added to food products. I’m also reminded of the catchphrase of an old UK television show called ‘The Prisoner’: ‘I’m not a number! I’m a free man!’

Seriously this is a delicate area, as the many comments on this post suggest. It comes down to two different approaches to marriage. One is the idea that it must be the expression of romantic love in the western sense. The other is that it is essentially a contract – an arrangement for mutual support, child rearing etc.

My understanding of your point of view is that you wish to combine elements of both approaches. Though you believe that ‘it's time to get out of this conventional arranged marriage system’ you have not completely rejected this way of doing things. You’re happy with the basic idea of an arranged marriage but you want one which is based on love.

So while your parents present you with potential suitors, you will ultimately make the decision as to your ‘perfect match’. Is that a fair summation? Or have I misunderstood you?

A few technical points:

1. Something I advise all my students to do is to make more use of space on the page. Text is much easier to read when there is a double space between paragraphs and single one at the end of sentences.
2. you don't laugh – should be ‘won’t laugh’.
3. In my place - This is not quite right here. You could use 'in my culture' or 'my country'.
4. Find out – should be ‘find’. You use ‘find out’ for new information e.g. I found out how difficult it was ...
5. My parents very well believe in horoscopes – should be either ‘are strong believers in’ or ‘strongly believe in’.


Delicate – sensitive, needs to be handled carefully
Suitors - someone looking for a marriage partner
Ultimately – finally, in the end

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Comments/Verb Question

Comments – Many thanks to Henrique, Boska, Sara, Ivan, Soroush, Vitaliy, and Maione for a fantastic response to my balloon fiesta and Mudd posts.

I listened to the Primus song - not really my cup of tea though very distinctive in its way. And well done, again, to Naheed for pointing the earlier origin of the phrase.

Cheikh Vall – Let me have a go at pronouncing your name. Is it similar to Sheik (as in the Arabic honorific term) and Vall like ball? Or like cal?

Mud is not used to describe pronunciation but it can be used when something is unclear – to muddy the facts, for example.

Vitalily -A very interesting point you make about the importance of ‘virtual communities’. I think we are all benefitting from the opportunity to share our interests with people across the world, though there can, of course, be a downside – see here

James Wu– James, you’re quite right. I hadn’t noticed I’d written ‘Does know anyone?’ when I meant ‘Does anyone know?’ These 'weird' mistakes happen sometimes - the keyboard equivalent of a ‘slip of the tongue’.

Ang – delighted you enjoyed the joke. I try to put a new joke or a teaser in each post. In the case of the jokes ‘new’ usually means ‘very old’!

Today I’ll finish with a two-part question to think about:
a) What are the ten most used verbs in English?
b) What do they have in common?

No googling this one please – see if you can work it out without going to a source.


not really my cup of tea
- not the kind of thing I normally like

Monday, 17 August 2009

Verb Answer/Joke/Comments

Did you guess any of the top ten most used verbs in English? Here they are: be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, get.

And the thing they have in common? They are all irregular verbs. There are only 180 irregular verbs amongst the thousands of regular ones in English – yet they make up over 70% of the verbs we use.

So that’s why children and language students are forced to learn their illogical endings!

Does the thought of irregular verbs depress you? Sorry about that! Here's a joke to cheer up you up.

A man is driving with a car full of penguins. The penguins are hanging out of all the windows and making a lot of noise.
A policeman stops the car. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Sorry officer,’ says the man. ‘I’m taking them to the Zoo.’
The policeman lets the car go. But the next day the same car appears on the same road. Again the penguins are hanging out of the windows. This time they are all wearing sunglasses.
The policeman stops the car again. "I thought you were taking these penguins to the zoo!"
"I was,” says the man. "Today I'm taking them to the beach!"


Paulraj - children’s birthdays are big events here – much bigger than when I was a child. My daughter prefers things on a smaller scale so it was our family and that of her best friend. We had a great time
Kuldeep – there’s an excellent sea world at Bristol Zoo. My daughter particularly enjoyed the penguins – your little girl might like a slideshow I did about Macaroni penguins here:
Boska – yes, the cake was excellent. None left now though, sadly.

Friday, 21 August 2009


In my (short!) round-up of famous Bristolians I didn't mention somebody who has been drawing crowds here all summer. This was partly because I wasn't sure how internationally well-known this anonymous graffiti artist was.

Well, the 'Banksy Homecoming' exhibition at Bristol Museum has settled that question. It has been an incredible success with over 250,000 people visiting it since June. People have been queuing for up to four hours – you can see from this photo I took early on a weekday morning here.

Who is Banksy? Nobody knows his real identity and that’s part of his appeal. He has become famous for creating strange images in odd (and often illegal) places. Here is an example from a wall in Bristol near the exhibition.

According to his Wikipedia entry Banksy creates ‘satirical pieces of art on topics such as politics, culture, and ethics’. Local councils – on whose property he often creates these ‘artworks’ - see this differently. They describe his work as vandalism.

I have big reservations about the Banksy phenomenon. Some of his work is imaginative and amusing but he also inspires thousands of kids to go out with a spray cans and paint ugly tags on public space. Perhaps they dream of one day becoming a favourite of Hollywood stars as Banksy has become.

What do you think?


drawing - attracting
vandalism - destruction of property for pleasure
tag - (in this context) identifying visual symbol or logo used by the graffiti artist
amusing - mildly funny

Sunday, 23 August 2009


Belated thanks for all your interesting comments on my irregular verbs post. We teacher bloggers love to read your reactions - hopefully we learn and improve, too. You came up with some very clever angles, including the number of vowels or syllables (Jia, Soroush), verbs of action (Paulraj), the topic (Maione). Well done to Tanuja for the correct answer and to all of you for thinking about the question.

And I'm really please that so many of you enjoyed the penguin joke. Thank you to Boska and Paulraj for your own gags.

Machado_Assis - there isn't really a connection between the verbs and the penguins, though the policeman was investigating 'irregularities'.

That's what we call in English a terrible pun!


angles - perspectives, approaches
gag - quick joke
pun - play on words

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Hurricane Bill/British Climate

This is the scene I'm looking out on. It's a wet, windy afternoon, not unfamiliar to those who have experienced an English summer. I'm going out soon so it's mildly annoying - even more so for those who have packed the English seaside this summer. Yet in a way this shows just how lucky we are in (most) of the UK when it comes to climate.

Now some of you enjoying traditional images of summer might find this a little strange. So do many people here longing to be in the world's sunspots. But having a mild climate has a major upside. In return for dull skies (most of the year) and over-use of raincoats we avoid most of the extreme weather that really does damage.

This rain is comes from Hurricane Bill, which has limped across the Atlantic. Obviously we'd be happy if it avoided us completely but our inconvenience can't compare with the terrible destruction it has caused elsewhere.

So does England have the ideal climate? I'm not sure that many of you would agree. And there are plenty of places I'd prefer to be right now. But, in the broader scheme of things, there's no real justification for what we British love to do when it comes to our weather - complain!


upside - advantage, benefit
limp - move slowly and with difficulty
broader scheme of things - in terms of the overall situation

Friday, 28 August 2009


A bumper catch-up comment review for you all. Hope I cover everything - apologies in advance for anything I miss.

Thanks for all your fascinating comments regarding Banksy. The general feeling was that whatever the quality of his ‘works’ we ought not to encourage more graffiti in our cities. Naheed – thank you for the link to the German 3 D artist Edgar Mueller. He was new to me, too. Maione – I guess the question is whether Banksy is making meaningful protest statements or just attracting attention to himself. He has become an anonymous celebrity

Ana Paula – there’s no doubt that properly organised ‘street art’ can have value. I only wonder sometimes whether we don’t help legitimize gang activity by glamorising things like ‘tags. Difficult, isn’t it?

I got the feeling that my photo of the rain didn’t make many of you want to rush to book a beach holiday in the UK. And Henrique, Pilar, Dougie have stronger arguments to make for Spain and Brazil. Boska, I’m probably the wrong gender to comment about the skin benefits of rain – I do know that the sun can do damage even if it doesn’t feel that way.

Umair I knew about some of the hill stations in India but not the one you mention. Very interesting. Murray is a very Scottish name, incidentally.

Leila – yes it's nice to have four distinct seasons. That was something I missed when I lived in Madrid. And apparently it’s why Rod Stewart doesn’t live in LA full-time – so we’re in good company (or not, depending on your taste!)

And that was a terrible jab pun, by the way! Even worse than mine! Now whom can I tell this joke to....?

Felippo – Massive Attack were Bristol’s biggest export of the 1990s. Portishead are named after their hometown, which is only a few miles away from Bristol.

The rapper Tricky also comes from an area of Bristol that is quite close to where I live

Paulraj - I assume you are talking about graded readers rather than ‘bridging’ texts in the original language? My general position is that depends on what you would like reading in your first language. I also have to be a bit careful about self-promotion here as I written a lot in this area. But talking generally I might suggest by genre:

Comedy – Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Goldsmith
Ghost/horror – Dickens ‘The Signalman Robert Louis Stevenson ‘The Body Snatcher’
Thriller: Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson (I did a version for Longman) Donna Tart's 'The Secret History'
Psych drama – Washington Square by Henry James, Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (very long in the original but a fascinating portrait of the modern world.
Sci Fi – Do Androids Dream by Phillip Dick

For unsimplified authentic materials I'd look at North American short stories: people like: John Updike, Richard Ford, Alice Monroe, Tobias Wolfe.

Olya – I sympathise regarding Virginia Woolf. I struggled through ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and To The Lighthouse for my first degree. She relies on interior monologue – a technique that is supposed to replicate the randomness of our every day thought patterns. Unfortunately, this makes the prose hard to follow as there’s no conventional narrative structure.

Generally, I prefer traditional narrative to modernist experimentation – though I’m a huge fan of James Joyce (I wrote my masters dissertation on him). And even with Joyce I think the technical trickery went too far. I still can’t make head nor tail of Finnegan’s Wake.


- unusually large or long

rush - hurry
Make head nor tail of – can’t understand at all

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Tooth Fairy/Bye for now/Comment update

The tooth fairy visited my daughter this week. This conversation followed:

‘How did she know where to find my tooth? This time it was in a box on the bedside table. Before it was under my pillow.’

‘I don’t know much about tooth fairies,’ I confessed truthfully. ‘Perhaps she had a light?’

My daughter was not buying that. ‘A light?’ she said disbelievingly. ‘Fairies don’t have lights!’

The tooth fairy will survive for the time being. And Santa will probably get one more Christmas. But time waits for no one – not even teacher bloggers – and it’s almost the end of he month.

The good news is that I’m passing the baton to Nuala O’Sullivan. Like me, Nuala has an Irish name and Irish family (parents in my case and grandparents in Nuala’s) but she was born and brought up in Scotland. I’m sure you’ll want to join me in giving Nuala a big welcome.

You’ve also got a new student blogger to look forward to. And you’re very welcome to follow me on Twitter (my username is eslreading).

That’s all for now. It’s been terrific fun and I hope to do it again some time. In the meantime, I’ll end with a huge thank you to you all.


tooth fairy – comes at night to take away the baby teeth lost by young children. Replaces them with something nice – usually a coin.

It’s true! Honestly!

pass the baton – as in a relay race
brought up – spent childhood

Comment update

Umair I knew about some of the hill stations in India but not the one you mention. Very interesting. Murray is a very Scottish name, incidentally.

Leila – yes it's nice to have four distinct seasons. That was something I missed when I lived in Madrid. And apparently it’s why Rod Stewart doesn’t live in LA full-time – so we’re in good company (or not, depending on your taste!)

And that was a terrible jab pun, by the way! Even worse than mine! Now whom can I tell this joke to....?

August 2009

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