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December 2009

Tuesday, 01 December 2009

Back at the BB - , Back at the BB - , Back at the BBC!

Not sure how long I can keep this up. Not sure I’m clever enough to continue for very long. Maybe I’ll even get bored with it. But when I thought of the title for this blog I also got another idea at the same time.

You see, my title refers to an old Beatles’ song, Back in the USSR. The chorus of the song is ‘Back in the US - , Back in the US- , Back in the USSR’. I thought of it because I was so delighted to be invited back to the BBC for a month to write to all my old friends around the world, and, I hope, to lots of new ones, too.

So it occurred to me that I could try to hide one Beatles’ song title in every blog I write in December (probably four or five blogs at most). I won’t change the song title in any way but I won’t type it with capital letters or in italics. It will just be part of the text and your job will be to find it. For example, I might write:
I’ve had a sore throat and a high temperature, but today I feel fine for the first time in a week.
I Feel Fine is the title of a Beatles’ song, and I’ve hidden it in the sentence I wrote.

Don’t worry if you know nothing about the Beatles or any of their songs, or if you hate silly games like this. You’ll still understand the blogs. And I’m afraid there won’t be any prizes, but it could be fun. I’ll give you the answers at the end of the month.

So -

How are you all? Where have you been and what have you been doing? Are you all still out there? Please post a blog and tell us your news.

Me? I’ve had a quiet year, although I did spend all last summer working in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. I was teaching at the British Council’s wonderful summer school there for a few months and I had a truly fantastic time. It was the first time I had taught children for over twenty years. My youngest students were only 9 years old. But their English was amazing and I have never had students who worked so hard or were such a pleasure to teach.

Ho Chi Minh City is hot. Sitting here in my cosy little house in west London, in December, with the central heating turned up high, and wearing a thick woolly sweater and socks, it is difficult to believe that there was no time of night or day there when I wasn’t uncomfortably hot – except at work, in my apartment or in large shops and cafes where there was air-conditioning.

I had so much fun there. I really enjoyed the work. I met lots of new people. I did the usual things tourists do, in my free time, and I soon got to love Vietnamese food – and their coffee is just perfect (I’m afraid I’m a total coffee addict!). I think I could easily have stayed longer. If it hadn’t been for my lovely daughter, I think I might have stayed for a couple of years.

But Lucy is still at university and needs a loving dad to come home to (and pay for everything!) during the holidays. She was twenty-one last month so I drove up to St Andrews, in Scotland, where she’s studying Art History, and we had a spectacular party. I’ll tell you more about it, and her – if you’re interested – later in the month.

I’ve visited northern France this year, and was in Paris for Bastille Day. I spent a couple of weeks in fabulous Barcelona, and I was in Geneva, briefly, to help Anglo-Russian friends celebrate their wedding (and the birth of their son). I’ve spent lots of time in Scotland – and I almost bought a house there in October. I’m going to be in the UK throughout December (so that I can blog with you) but will leave for Amsterdam on 30th so that I can spend New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam (we could meet up for a glass of champagne and burst a few balloons together, if you happen to be there then: details later in the month).

Right now I should stop (this is probably far too long). Here’s a little bit of help with some of the vocabulary I’ve used. Talk to you again soon. Looking forward to hearing from you. Bye for now!

Your old friend,

Some useful words and expressions

keep this up
continue doing this

The Beatles
a very famous British rock band from the 1960s (the members of the band were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr)

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Russia and satellite republics from 1917-1989)

part of a song which is repeated after each verse

it occurred to me
I thought

had a quiet year
not done anything very exciting this year


a couple of

very impressive; dramatic; exciting

Bastille Day
a national public holiday in France (14 July)

for the whole of

happen to be
are, by chance or coincidence

Wednesday, 02 December 2009

Good to be back!

Hi everyone from a very rainy Bath.

It feels like it hasn't stopped raining since I lasted posted at the end of August - but perhaps that's my fault! I remember writing about Britain had a 'Goldilocks' climate - neither too hot nor too cold. Doesn't quite feel that way at the moment!

I can’t resist the temptation to continue Stephen’s Beatles challenge. I’ve been a Beatles fan since my early teens and have spent far too much time reading about their every move. Did you know that they once bought a Greek island? Or that John and Yoko decided on the spur of the moment to marry at sea – but didn’t have their passports on them? That’s why the wedding ended up in Gibraltar – as John sings in ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’

Frankly, you could probably live your lives quite happily without this information! But we British love trivia – that’s why pub quizzes are so popular. So I will also place at least three Beatles song titles in all my posts – see if you can spot them.

One last thing about the Fab Four. A new film ‘Nowhere Boy’ is released this month. It tells of John’s early life living with his Aunt Mimi and covers the tragic death of his mother, Julia. Apparently many of the local places mentioned in the songs, like Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, are loving recreated.

I’ll finish with a confession. I’ve never in my life been to Liverpool. Isn’t that ridiculous? I intend to go next year – but then again I always intend to go ‘next year’!

What I can promise is that the song title answers will be in my next post.

Best wishes

Kieran McGovern

Goldilocks - character in children's story who wants porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold.
Temptation – attracted to doing something you may regret
Frankly honestly/truthfully
Trivia – information that is (perhaps!) interesting but not particularly useful
Pub Quiz – a pub quiz usually tests general or cultural knowledge (e.g. about television shows). Teams made up of regular customers compete for small prizes.
Fab Four popular nickname for The Beatles. ‘Fab’ is short for fabulous or brilliant.

Friday, 04 December 2009

Hello again!

Hello everyone!

It’s great to see so many familiar names here and I’m looking forward to hearing more about more of you throughout this month.

I last blogged in April and May this year and have been pretty busy since then. I’ve got a new (and very nice) group of students on the MA TESOL at York St John University where I work and have said goodbye (sadly) to most of the 08/09 students. Here's a very short video I made on graduation day.

A small group of students worked with me to create an online tutorial in English as a lingua franca. We want to raise (especially) UK students’ awareness of how international English is not necessarily exactly the same as the English they speak at home. You can see me talking about the tutorial here. Unfortunately I am looking at the interviewer, who is standing above the camera. I should have ignored her and looked straight into the camera, but it’s really difficult not to look at someone when you’re talking to them! So, apologies for the slightly strange expression on my face…….

We’ve had a visitor at home this week, Danica Salazar. Danica came to York St John to give a talk on research she is doing at the University of Barcelona, in Spain, on Philippine English. We are interested in World Englishes at York St John, so it was great to hear about the Filipino variety. My favourite new word is imeldific - can you guess what that means??

My knowledge of The Beatles is rubbish, so if anyone can whisper the answers to Stephen and Keiran’s hidden song titles, I’m listening!

Rachel W.

lingua franca (n) = a language that is used for communication between speakers who have different first languages. English is our lingua franca on the BBC LE blog. I’m interested in how lingua franca English is different from other varieties, including British English (which of course is also made up of many different regional varieties).

raise awareness of (something or someone) (v) = become conscious of, or knowledgeable about (something or someone).

World Englishes (n) = the idea that there are many varieties of English in the world, some of which are independent of what used to be seen as the ‘centre’ varieties (British, American, Australian English etc.). Independence means that these new Englishes are in the process of generating new ways of speaking and writing (like the new word, imeldific)

imeldific (adj) = excessive, over the top. A Filipino English word based on the name of the wife of a previous President of the Phillipines.

Saturday, 05 December 2009


Hello everyone!

It's so nice to see and hear from so many familiar voices / faces / bloggers! I'm looking forward to meeting new ones as well.

Hmm… so what have I been doing since last year?!! Well first of all, I can't believe how quickly this year has gone by. Does anyone else think it has? It seems like only yesterday that we had New Year's Eve and it feels like I've only just stopped writing '2008' by mistake! Oh dear. Actually, the other day I wrote 2010 on a cheque and had to tear it up. There must be something wrong with my internal clock ☺

Anyway… back to looking back on the year. The best thing we did this year was, without a shadow of a doubt, buying a caravan. Those of you with photographic memories may remember me mentioning that we planned to buy one when I blogged in August 2008 – and we did! As far as I know caravanning is a very European phenomenon. I wonder whether any of you living outside of Europe have ever seen one in your countries? I'd be interested to hear. Basically, a caravan is a little house that gets pulled along by a car. You can stay in it on a campsite and it's just like a little home away from home.

We bought a 1970s one called a 'Safari'. Here is a picture of it:

Inside we have a little kitchen and a double bed and two single beds (bunk beds) at the other end for the boys. We've been to some absolutely beautiful places in it, including a couple of lovely trips to Wales. Here is a photo of one of the beaches we have visited:

Amazing, isn't it! Sometimes I think I should work for the Welsh tourism board ☺

My two little boys are growing up fast. It's going to be Oslo's 2nd birthday on Monday. At the moment he is obsessed with horses so most of his presents are horse-related. He does have a certain penchant for diggers and tractors as well. Louie is going to be four at the beginning of January. He's been enjoying going to nursery and loves bossing Oslo around. We're going to have a party to celebrate both of their birthdays on the 12th of December. We're doing a joint party with our neighbours' daughter and between us we've invited fifteen children… wish me luck! If you can think of any good party games for us to play let me know! I'll try and post some photos afterwards so you can see the chaos.

All right, better not give away all my news now or I'll have nothing to write in later posts ☺

Hope everyone is well and happy.

More soon,



to tear something up: to rip something into small(er) pieces, usually paper

without a shadow of a doubt: definitely

a photographic memory: the ability to remember things very clearly and precisely

bunk beds: two beds that are one on top of another. Usually slept in by children.

to be obsessed with something: to think or talk about something all the time

to have a penchant for something: to like something a lot, to be attracted to something

to boss someone around: to tell someone what to do without giving them a choice

G’day possums!!

Guess who? That’s right – it’s the Pom in Sydney! So how are you all? I’m really looking forward to catching up with you and hearing your news.

Well, seeing as it’s been 2 years since I last wrote to you, you might expect that I would have some news too. And I do! I now have not just one cheeky monkey to keep me busy, but two! Monkey number two is called Daniel, he’s 18 months old and very cute (and also very cheeky!). He’s just starting to work out what words are for, and as a result has a vocabulary that’s growing by the day. His first word (much to my disappointment) was “stairs” and his second was “car”; in fact I think he had about 20 words before he said “Mum”!! He and Owen generally get on very well together, which is super good (as Owen would say).

What else? We’re moving out of our beloved Hurlstone Park in January to Belmore, which is just a bit further out of the main CBD (it’ll take Chris 40 minutes to get to work instead of 30 - not much at all, really). I have to admit to a few mixed feelings; it’ll be sad to leave here but it’ll be nice to be somewhere with a bit of a garden (Owen keeps trying to play footy in the living room and it just doesn’t work!). Belmore is much busier than where we are now; more cafes, shops and a couple of restaurants, so it should be good.

It’s all gearing up for Christmas over here; I still can’t get used to Christmas in the heat, even after 10 years!! Chris is under instructions to put the tree up tonight so we can decorate it in the morning – we’ve actually had the tree for 2 years and it’s been living in a friend’s garage all that time, so it’s really quite exciting to finally open the box! The boys helped me choose some decorations at the shops and they’ll be very keyed up tomorrow about hanging them up - I’ll attach some pictures in my next post if we get any good ones. I’m also busy planning my Christmas menu (I’m sure you remember my deep affinity with all things food-related); I’ll keep you posted on that one and if I find any good recipes I’ll definitely share them with you. (And feel free to reciprocate – I’m always on the lookout for nice food!)

OK, it’s time for this Pom to make a cup of tea so I’ll say bye for now!

Looking forward to hearing from you soon!!

Rachel H

By the way, guys, my Beatles knowledge is also rubbish, so perhaps you can help both the Rachels out? It must be the name!! I have, however, been to Liverpool; I even took the ferry across the Mersey (you kind of have to do this when you’re a tourist in Liverpool – there was a film about Liverpool called “Ferry Cross the Mersey” in the 1960s and the soundtrack included a song also called “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, which was a huge hit. Can you guess what song is played as you embark and disembark from the ferry? I bet you can’t!)


To catch up with sb (phr. vb.) to meet someone you know after you haven’t seen or spoken to them for a while

To work sth out (phr.vb.) to think about something in order to find the answer to it.

CBD (n) – The Central Business District of a city (usually the city centre)

To have mixed feelings ( To feel both pleased and not pleased about something at the same time

Footy (n) – In Australia, this means “Rugby League”. Football is known as “Soccer”

To gear up for sth (phr. vb.) - to prepare / get ready for something

To be/get used to sth (adj) to be familiar with something or someone

To be/get keyed up (adj) to be very excited or nervous, usually before something important is due to happen

To have an affinity with sth (n) - to have a liking for something or someone

To reciprocate (vb) to behave in the same way as someone else

To embark (vb) to get onto a ship

To disembark (vb) to get off a ship after a journey

Monday, 07 December 2009

Something about what I've been up to and where I've been up to

Hi, everyone. I'm the one with the beard in the rogues' gallery at the top of the teacher blog page. My last appearance here was at the beginning of 2008, but I haven't changed much since then, so that photo's still a good likeness. The hair's a bit greyer, probably, and there's a bit less of it, I dare say. But let's not dwell on that!

It's good to see some familiar names among the replies to the December blogs that have appeared so far; there's obviously a hard core of loyal followers!

So, what have I been up to? Well, this and that, one thing and another. My wife, who teaches in our local primary school here in Poland, isn't working this year, which has given the two of us a lot more opportunity to travel than we usually have, and we've just got back from a three-month stay in Switzerland. I was teaching two days a week on a teacher-training course in Geneva, plus doing some on-line work, but we still had quite a bit of time to explore Geneva and its surroundings. We also went on some longer trips into the Alps.

You might remember that I'm a big railway fan, so you won't be surprised to hear that mountain railways were an important part of these trips. One was up to the Jungfraujoch, which is the highest railway station in Europe, at 3454 metres. The highest section of the route runs in a long, long, long tunnel, and when you come out at the top you're surrounded by mountain tops and you're looking down onto glaciers.

Another trip through equally amazing scenery was to Gornergrat. This is the highest line in the open - i.e. not in tunnel - and reaches 3089 metres.

The railways themselves are real feats of engineering, climbing up the mountainsides at hair-raising gradients - well, actually the gradients seem even more hair-raising on the way down!

Now we're back to horizontal living, at sea level, and with a railway that only operates during the summer.

That's all for now, folks. I'll be back next week. Best wishes to all readers, old and new.

Jonathan Marks

A rogues' gallery was originally a set of photos of criminals which were kept by the police, but nowadays it's used as a humorous expression for a group photo, e.g. a school class or a group of people who work together.

If a photo of someone really looks like the person (and they don't always, do they?) we say it's a good likeness.

The expression I dare say (some people write I daresay) is only remotely connected with the basic meaning of the word 'dare'. It simply means 'probably'.

The verb 'dwell' is a rather unusual, literary equivalent of 'live' (in the sense of 'live in a certain place') but dwell on (or dwell upon) is more common, and means to spend a lot of time - too much time, maybe - thinking or talking about something unpleasant.

The hard core is the sub-group of people within a group or organisation who are most enthusiastic or dedicated - the ones who are prepared to devote eight days a week to their profession or hobby, etc.

What have you been up to? is an informal way of asking someone what they've been doing - for example, when you haven't met them for a long time. There are also variations on the question, such as Have you been up to anything interesting lately? Been up to anything exciting recently?

The phrases this and that and one thing and another are both ways of saying 'various things' or often 'nothing in particular, nothing of great interest'.

If you're a big fan of something or someone, it means you're really, really keen. I'm a big jazz fan / a big fan of jazz.

Hair-raising means frightening, but maybe exciting as well.

Tuesday, 08 December 2009

Letter to Santa

My daughter is counting down the days to Christmas. 'Has Santa got my letter yet?' she asks impatiently.

‘He gets them all in the end,’ I tell her. ‘But he doesn’t always have everything children ask for.’

This is an important point as requests to the man in red come big and small. When she was four her letter began: ‘Dear Father Christmas. Can I please have a laptop and an orange?'

Sadly laptops were out of stock down at Santa’s Grotto. I think that there may be a similar problem with one of this year’s choices: a Nintendo DS!

I’m sure Father Christmas can provide another orange. But I suspect that fruit won't quite make up for the missing DS. It may be true that all you need is love but kids expect a bit more from the big guy when he comes down the chimney.

And what about your letter to Santa? Is there something that you would love as a present from the North Pole? Remember that Santa is on a tight budget. Ferraris are definitely out of stock!

I think my Beatles titles were a bit too hard last week – so well done to Anita, who got nearly all of them and to Adek and Adriana. The titles were Julia, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, In My Life and The Ballad of John and Yoko. The last one doesn’t sound like a Beatles’ song though, does it?

I also forgot to put my name on the end of the post. Doh! Thank you to James and Leila for rectifying this error in the comments.

I’ve only included one Beatles song this week –and it’s a tricky one. Don’t waste too much time looking for it, especially if you’ve still got Christmas shopping to do!

All best to you all


Impatiently – reluctantly, when you want something to happen quickly
Out of Stock – when an item is no longer available
Grotto – where Santa’s elves live and work. Please don’t try checking on Google Maps!
Nintendo DS – hand-held games consol loved by kids of all ages!
Make up for compensate
Chimney – children are told that Father Christmas delivers presents by coming down the chimney into the fireplace. In many modern homes he must make other arrangements!
Doh! – Expression of annoyance made famous by Homer Simpson
Tricky – difficult, not obvious

Wednesday, 09 December 2009

Stirred but not shaken

Me, taking part in a Santa Fun Run, to raise money for charity, last December."

Did I ever tell you that I’m a secret James Bond fantasist? Well, I guess it’s not much of a secret now that I’ve told you and half the world, is it?

I was an adolescent when Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels were first published during the 1960s (some people I know might suggest that I still am!). I devoured each one as it came out in paperback, and I could hardly wait for the next one. Then they started making the movies, and suddenly the glamour of the books was up there on the silver screen in glorious colour.

You see, Britain was a rather dull place in the early 1960s. To me it was not so much the dangerous situations or the thrilling adventures of James Bond which excited me, and certainly not the violence. It was more the exotic locations, the luxurious lifestyle, the glamorous women and the fast cars – especially the fast cars.

I really believe that my lifelong love of travel to exciting places grew out of my fascination with the foreign place-names I read in Fleming’s books: the Caribbean, Russia, Japan, the USA. I used to love it when Miss Moneypenny handed Bond his plane tickets, saying: “We’ve booked you on the next flight to Miami, James.”

I lived in a dark and drizzly northern town. I thought the sun was a myth, like fairies and Santa Claus, until I left home at 18 and discovered that there really was a golden ball in the sky which gave out glorious light and beautiful warmth. It just never shone on my hometown. The thought of taking the next flight anywhere excited me.

Bond’s suits were hand-made especially for him. He smoked his own personal brand of cigarettes. He knew about good food and wine. He wore knitted silk ties. Oh, how I envied him (hey! gimme a break, I was only 13).

I saw Goldfinger seven times in the week it was released. I started to smoke (idiot boy!) and found a brand of Russian cigarettes rolled in black paper with gold tips. At seventeen I managed to afford a hand-made suit by working in a shop on Saturdays and after school. I bought knitted ties (unfortunately, not pure silk). I once owned a pair of rhino-skin shoes. And I still never got the girl!!!

Of course, I would never be able to afford the Aston Martin – my dream car. But I have always had pretty powerful and pretty smart cars – cars I could never really afford or justify. Right now I still have my Mini Cooper ‘S’ Convertible, in gunmetal silver (a typical Ian Fleming colour for a car), and a small handful of speeding tickets of which I am not proud. I keep it spotless (I’m making myself sound like a total nerd, I know) and, in fact, I rarely drive it. Driving in London makes no sense. Keeping this car doesn’t really make much sense. Lucy is at university, and in any case she doesn’t have a driving licence. But even if she did I wouldn’t let her drive my car: it’s too powerful and not a sensible car to learn to drive on.

Why am I telling you all this embarrassing (and possibly quite boring) stuff? Well, it was my birthday a few weeks ago and someone who knows me quite well bought me a rather special present – a half-day at Silverstone, Britain’s motor racing Grand Prix track, driving – you’ve guessed, haven’t you – an Aston Martin DB9 Vantage!

After a half-hour briefing they let me see the car. The fire-proof balaclava felt rough. The helmet was heavy. Sitting in the car, I could see very little: it’s extremely low. An instructor gave me advice while I drove my first lap. Then I was allowed two laps at full speed – over 300 kilometres per hour on the straights.

It was all over much too quickly, and I was practically speechless with the exhilaration of the experience. I would happily have continued driving that magnificent car all day. Taking it home that evening would have been even better, of course. Was it dangerous? I don’t think so. I wasn’t shaken but I was certainly stirred. Now, how about a flute of Dom Pérignon to celebrate? Cheers!

PS: Some better photos next time, I promise!
PPS: Thanks SO MUCH to everyone who has posted comments. I will reply to some of them in my next blog on 17 December.

Mini Bond Quiz
1. Which of these was the first James Bond novel?
a. Goldfinger b. Casino Royale c. Thunderball
2. Which of these was the first James Bond movie?
a. Dr No b. From Russia With Love c. Goldfinger
3. Which Bond movie does this dialogue come from:
JB: Do you expect me to talk?
AG: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!
4. Which famous cabaret singer played Rosa Kleb, in From Russia With Love?
5. What was Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica called?
a. Palmyra b. Goldeneye c. Blades

Some useful words and expressions
Stirred but not shaken

James Bond’s preferred method for mixing a martini (cocktail) is to have it shaken (i.e. in a cocktail shaker), not stirred (with a spoon, for example). I have reversed that expression here, to illustrate how my drive in the Aston Martin stirred me (i.e. gave me an emotional thrill) but didn’t shake me (i.e. was not uncomfortable).

a young person who is no longer a child but not yet an adult

literally, ‘ate greedily’, but here it means read quickly and very enthusiastically

came out
were published

in paperback
a ‘paperback’ is a book with a paper cover. Books are published in paperback or in hardback.

attractive and exciting


a state of being extremely interested in something

Miss Moneypenny
‘M’ was the head of the British Secret Service, in the James Bond novels. Miss Moneypenny is his secretary.

drizzle is light, misty rain. A drizzly town is a place where it frequently drizzles.

an untrue belief or explanation

wished I could be like

gimme a break
a slang expression (‘Give me a break!’) meaning, ‘Give me a chance’, ‘Don’t be too critical’.

the third Bond movie

if you can afford something, you have enough money to be able to pay for it

Aston Martin
a hand-build, high-performance, luxurious and extremely expensive (British) sports car. In Goldfinger, James Bond drives an Aston Martin DB5 which is specially equipped with weapons and other hi-tech equipment.

rather; quite

give a good reason why it is sensible or necessary

speeding tickets
penalties given by the police for driving over the legal speed limit

extremely clean

an obsessive person with little charisma

Grand Prix
a race for powerful racing cars

lesson; a meeting where you are given instructions or information

a close-fitting hood which covers every part of your head except your face

a complete circuit of the course

unable to speak

extreme thrill; extreme excitement

frightened; shocked

affected by strong emotion

a wine glass designed especially for champagne

Dom Pérignon
James Bond’s preferred champagne

PS: Did you find the hidden Beatles’ song title in this blog? Answers in my final blog on 28 December.

Mini Bond Quiz ANSWERS:
1b, 2a, 3 Goldfinger, 4 Lotte Lenya, 5b

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Life in a Northern Town

Hello again!

Thanks for your comments Filippo, Bahij, Leila, James and Anita! Thanks also to Taru for the lovely photos of her 'little Christmas' in Finland.

In my last post I talked about the topic of World Englishes and reported an example of a new (for me) word from Filipino English, imeldific. James, you gave a good definition and explanation of that word in your comment, thanks!

I also talked in my last post about the idea of English as a lingua franca and Bahij asked whether English can be a lingua franca between two speakers of, for example, British varieties of English. This is a really good question! Studies of conversation have shown that we often change the way we speak depending on who we are talking to (this process is called accommodation). We either start to sound more like the person we’re talking to, or less, depending on what we think of the other person. Think of the way that people often talk to very old or very young people for example. So there isn’t really one ‘English’, just lots of (sometimes slightly, sometimes very) different ways of talking, some of which get labelled Filipino English, British English, Scottish English, Yorkshire English, Rachel’s family’s English, Youth English, Clara’s English and so on. The specific way we talk depends on the languages we know and what we know about them, who we’re talking to and when, why and where. OK, now you know not to ask me any questions ever again, if you don’t want an over-long answer!!!

Now then, Kieran and Stephen have got me thinking about the music (and films) I watched as a teenager. I’m too young (sorry Stephen!) to remember the heyday of the Beatles. My heyday in popular music was (take a deep breath) the 1980’s and Modern Romance: big hair, baggy clothes and that strange way of dancing that involved briefly clapping your hands above your head. So, for any of you for whom the 80s were also your heyday, or if you just want to see the strange clapping dance, here is one of my favourites:

Dream Academy: Life in a Northern Town

The video combines shots of a drizzly (see Stephen’s post for a definition)Northern town with a reference to the Beatles and the early 60s. It looks like it was shot in winter too, so it’s perfect for this time of year.

Hope the rest of the week goes well for you!

Rachel W.

World Englishes (n) = the idea that there are many varieties of English in the world, some of which are independent of what used to be seen as the ‘centre’ varieties (British, American, Australian English etc.). Independence means that these new Englishes are in the process of generating new ways of speaking and writing (like the new word, imeldific).

lingua franca (n) = a language that is used for communication between speakers who have different first languages.

imeldific (adj) = excessive, over the top. A Filipino English word based on the name of the wife of a previous President of the Phillipines.

accommodation (n) = changes in the way someone speaks which are related to the speaker’s ideas about the person or people (for example, their intelligence, their ability to understand, their ability to hear and so on) they are speaking to.

heyday (adj) = The period of greatest popularity, success, or power. Also, the period of the speaker/writer's greatest interest in something.

baggy (adj) = very loose fitting, not tight.

shoot (v) = record a film

Friday, 11 December 2009

Busy busy busy

Hello again,

Phewf I am exhausted. I've had such a busy week with deadlines flying all over the place, Oslo's birthday, a party to plan, Christmas presents to organise, cakes to decorate and forty four balloons to blow up! But it's all fine. I've met my deadlines, we had a lovely day on Oslo's birthday, the party is planned, the Christmas presents are (mostly) organised, the cakes look fab and the balloons are hanging up in our kitchen ready for the party tomorrow. And here I am :-)

In the middle of all this madness I managed to fit in a quick trip to the cinema last night to see the film Bright Star. Have any of you seen it or heard of it? I had been wanting to see it for ages and finally it came to the cinema in Frome, where I live. It's a very small cinema so it doesn't always show every film I want to see but it's pretty good. It's one of the last cinemas in England to have a licensed bar so you can enjoy a glass of wine while you watch a film. Very nice. It's family run and it has quite a retro feeling about it. After the advertisements the curtains on the screen close and a lady comes out selling ice creams before the main film begins. Frome is quite an odd town in some ways because it has a real mix of people and my neighbour and I were discussing how the cinema somehow manages to cater for everyone. For example, the other day they were showing an old classic film in the morning, a kids cartoon in the afternoon and one of the latest Hollywood blockbusters in the evening. Not bad.

Anyway. Back to Bright Star. It's by the same director who made The Piano many years ago, a beautiful film set in the gorgeous New Zealand. The actress who played the little girl won an Oscar (the biggest American film awards). I think she was only nine when she won it. Anyway, Bright Star is about the poet John Keats and his love affair with a girl called Fanny Brawne. I absolutely loved it, I loved the gorgeous period costumes and the fantastic cinematography. However, my two friends who I went to see it with didn't like it at all! One of them said she thought it was very boring. I was so surprised as I had been so absorbed in the whole thing it didn't even occur to me that anyone could possibly not like it! Anyway… I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has seen it and whether they liked it or not.

Have a look at John Keats' poem The Human Seasons… you'll be able to find it on Google I expect. What do you think it's about? I'll tell you what I think it's about in my next post.

Thanks for your comments, Monica (love the shoe game!), Adri, James, Leila, Filippo, Oscar and Pary. It's lovely to hear from you all. I'll write to you properly next time.

Okay, time to check everything's ready for the party!

More soon,



family run: owned and operated by the members of one family, a family business
retro: from the past, usually refers to the 1960s and 1970s
to cater for: to provide something for someone
period: usually referring to the 18th or 19th centuries
cinematography: the way a film is shot by the camera
to be absorbed in something: to be completely focused on something

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Hi everyone,

Well, I’ve just got home after having a catch-up with a friend in Newtown, and as I was walking down the hill (thinking about what to write tonight!) there were bats everywhere! Everywhere! I don’t know if that’s normal for Sydney at this time of year or whether there’s some special bat convention going on, but it was quite a sight; dusk falling and bats flying around in droves.

Anyway, how are you all? Thanks so much for all your responses to my last post – it was really great to hear from you. I’m looking forward to hearing a lot more, and I’ll get back to you properly next time.

I think this one’s going to be a bit of a ramble – Rachel’s post got me thinking about music from my youth (most of which I’m quite embarrassed to admit to – think cheesy songs from the 80s!) and Uni days (Oasis, Blur, Pulp – not quite as big as the Beatles but you may have heard of them nonetheless!) and all my favourite one-hit-wonders. I actually have a long-running argument with Chris about a group that he insists are a one-hit wonder – remember A-Ha? Anyone? Now, here in Oz they had one massive hit (which was, of course, “Take On Me”), whereas in the UK they released several albums. So to me, they’re not a one-hit wonder at all! To be honest, I think Chris just wants to wind me up...

So here’s a mini one-hit wonder quiz for you (possibly more for my fellow-rogues as these really were one-hit-wonders!).
The years 1995/1996 produced some classics. Can you remember who sang:
• Return of the Mack
• Spaceman
• Wake up Boo

You may be wondering why I’ve selected these three out of all the possibilities out there. The first two are for my two flatmates from Uni - it’s funny how you can associate a song with a time in your life, or a person. Whenever I hear these songs (not often, it’s true!) I go straight back to our flat in Leeds (a Northern Town!) and see them jumping around getting ready to go out. I won’t tell you their names as there’s a chance they might be reading this and I really don’t think they’d want anyone to know!

As for the last one, I mention it because I had a bit of a revelation last week. I’m on a campaign to read all those classic books that most people read at high school and for some reason (different syllabus, perhaps?) I didn’t. Funnily enough, mine all seem to be American and I’m quite ashamed to have left it this long to read them. Anyway, I finally read To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. And there’s a character in it called Boo Radley. And as soon as I read it, I remembered the song “Wake up Boo” by (you guessed it!) The Boo Radleys! Light dawned! I knew where they’d got their name from! It was amazing! So there you go. And if you’re wondering what else is on my “must-read” list, I’ve also just finished One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (and watched the movie – can’t believe I haven’t seen it until now!). So next on the list is The Catcher In the Rye, and then I’ll have to see where else my education is lacking – ideas, anyone? I’m always open to suggestions!

And a final note; as I’ve been writing this, I’ve had a little voice in my head going “That’s not proper music!” Thanks, Dad! And the scary thing is, I’ve started saying that myself now – must be getting old.

I’ll leave you with that cheery thought – the blanket over my knees is slipping and I really need to put my slippers on ...

More later!

Rachel H

(Answers: Return of the Mack – Mark Morrison: Spaceman – Babylon Zoo: Wake up Boo – The Boo Radleys)

Oh, I almost forgot: Christmas tree!! We had a lot of fun putting it up, although I couldn’t get any decent photos because the boys wouldn’t sit still. They were very funny: Owen kept singing “Happy birthday, Christmas tree” and Daniel was running around going “Balls! Lights! Tree!” Anyway, after they’d calmed down I managed to bribe them with some cherries and snuck a picture – here it is.


dusk (n) the time just before night falls, when it’s starting to get dark

(in) droves (n. pl) a large group of animals moving from one place to another

ramble (vb/n) to talk or write in an unclear way, often for a long time

cheesy (adj) not in very good style or quality

one-hit wonder (n) a performer who has one successful recording but then no others

massive (adj) huge, enormous

to wind sb up (phr vb – informal) to annoy someone

to sneak (snuck – past s / pp; also “sneaked”) (vb) to go somewhere secretly, or to do something secretly

Monday, 14 December 2009

One thing and another

Kirsti, your story about the bomb threat is pretty hair-raising, when you think about it. I do agree with you about Swiss trains. They're reliable, fast, comfortable and provide good connections - not just between trains but with buses and boats as well, so it's really easy to get here there and everywhere. Through ticketing means that even for complicated journeys you only need one ticket to ride. And it's getting better all the time - the 'Bahn 2000' project which, like all major decisions in Switzerland, was approved by referendum, wasn't just a railway revolution 9 years ago but is a massive ongoing project including the construction of new tunnels through the Alps, one of which, the Gotthard base tunnel, will be the longest tunnel in the world.

The French railways are justly proud of their TGV (high-speed train) network, but it's a different story on some of the secondary lines, which have irregular timetables - often different on different days of the week and during different periods of the year - and a lot of 'train' services are actually operated by buses!

Filippo, I've done the train journey from Munich to Verona quite a number of times (and on to Venice, or Florence, or Rome, or Naples .....) The long-distance trains follow the Inn valley via Kufstein to Innsbruck, but even better is the slower route over the Karwendelbahn, through spectacular Alpine scenery, with the railway clinging to vertical mountainsides, and a precipitous final descent into Innsbruck. I agree that Italian regional trains leave quite a lot to be desired - in fact they quite remind me of Polish trains.

I wonder if you're a train fan, Leila? I've got lots of good memories of train travel in Finland, sometimes in winter through frozen white landscapes, and sometimes in summer through green forests and along the shores of blue lakes - including the journey up to Rovaniemi, which is where Taru wrote from, and on to Kemijärvi, which is the end of the line, so from there on I had to rely on buses to take me further north.

To change the subject, I seem to be reading a lot recently about the state of the Polish language. A lot of people are expressing concern about the increasing tendency for English words to be used in Polish. In recent times, large numbers of Poles went to work in the UK and the Irish Republic, and many of them are now returning to Poland and bringing with them the habit of using English terminology related to business, technology and trades such as building. English and Polish are pretty different in terms of pronunciation, word formation and ways of expressing grammatical relationships, and so it isn't always easy to stir English words into Polish just like stirring an extra ingredient into a soup, but that doesn't seem to deter people from doing it. There's also evidence that English is influencing Polish grammar. One commentator wrote that in another fifty years the grammar will break down and Polish will die out, like Latin.

Well, for one thing, of course, Latin didn't 'die out'. It developed into a number of languages which are still very much alive, and spoken by large numbers of people. And for another, grammar doesn't 'break down', though it can certainly change. A thousand years ago, English was very similar to Polish in using inflections to express such grammatical features as gender, number and case, but now most of those inflections have gone; the ending -s is the most spectacular survivor, used to express plurality, possession and 3rd person singular in the present simple. So the nature of English grammar has changed radically, but some grammars of modern English nevertheless run to over a thousand pages, so there's obviously still quite a lot to say about it - which there wouldn't be, probably, if it had 'broken down'. Is it possible, though, that Polish could change in the same way? Well, yes, it's certainly possible, but the influence of English, at the moment, isn't enough to push it into such a change.

As regards vocabulary, it's also interesting to look at the history of English. Very little of the vocabulary of the Old English spoken a thousand years ago has survived, although the surviving words include the most common ones. At least 80% of modern English words are from other sources, starting with the huge influx of Norman French vocabulary after the Norman Conquest in 1066. So English provides a good example of how almost the whole vocabulary of a language can be replaced as a result of particular historical processes. I dare say the original versions of Norman French words such as air, colour, flower, journey, part or story must have seemed just as alien to English speakers in the 11th and 12th centuries as benefit, of (day off), holidej or siti (city) do to many Polish speakers today.


If you say that something is a different story, you mean that it's completely different from something that's already been mentioned.

If you say that something leaves a lot to be desired, you're criticising its quality, saying it isn't very good.

To deter someone from doing something is to make someone decide not to do something.

For one thing ..... and for another (thing) ..... is way of introducing two points, or arguments, or reasons.

..... and a little quiz for big vocabulary fans. Can you find words or expressions in today's blog with these meanings:

a system where you only need one ticket for a journey involving different types of transport and/or different transport companies

very steep

stop working, collapse, become useless

say/write that you're worried about something

strange, unfamiliar

become extinct

a vote by the population of a country to make a decision on one specific issue

completely, fundamentally


a growing trend

holding on very tightly

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Snow White at the Bristol Hippodrome - the musical theatre where film star Cary Grant began his career in the 1920s

The Christmas pantomime or panto is one of the most popular British institutions. Pantos are also a little peculiar as I was reminded when on family duty watching Snow White at the Bristol Hippodrome on Sunday afternoon. So here is my Beginners Guide to the Great British Panto

a) A panto is a musical comedy based on a traditional story: Aladdin, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are typical. It is always performed during the Christmas holiday season but rarely has a Christmas theme.

b) The stories are familiar and easy for children to follow. Sleepy adults who find their eyes closing can easily pick up the plot when they wake up!

c) There are jokes only the adults will understand. Often these are very rude.

d) There is a villain or ‘baddie’, like the Wicked Queen. We boo the baddie when he or she is on stage.

f) The lead roles are played by TV stars and/or comedians. The bigger the production the bigger the stars. We had two actors from Britain’s most popular show, the BBC’s ‘East Enders’.

g) There are lots of songs young people know but ancient people like me don’t recognise. These songs must be easy to sing (like Yellow Submarine or We are Family) in our case.

h) The actors talk to the audience and make jokes about local places.

Pantos are not everyone’s cup of tea. The music is loud and the jokes are terrible. But judging by the faces of the people leaving the theatre most people have a good time.

Well done to Anita for spotting ‘All You Need is Love’ as last week’s Beatles song. Only one this week, too – and not too difficult, I hope.

All best


institutions – traditions
peculiar strange, odd
family duty - A duty is an obligation, something people expect you to do. It is also used to describe when an official is working e.g. the policeman was on duty.
rude – pantos use a lot of what the French call double entendres. These are when an apparently innocent sentence phrase can have a second sexual meaning.
boo make a 'booing' sound to indicate disapproval
cup of tea (idiom) – your ‘cup of tea’ is what you normally like (e.g. 'Sci-Fi is not really my cup of tea').

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

and um...


I’m hoping to be able to write a quick post before midnight strikes…. Here goes!
I’ve just got back home from a one-day conference at Loughborough University (2 hours and 15 minutes drive from York). We had to leave York at six o’clock this morning, so it’s been a very long day. The conference was about Conversation Analysis (CA). CA is a way of trying to understand how talk between two people or in a group is organised. Including, for example, how we start a contribution to a conversation, how we know when to start, how we end conversations and so on.

CA tends to look at very small features of talk, features that you perhaps wouldn’t normally notice. Today, for example, there was a really good presentation about ‘and um…’ as a way of getting back to an earlier topic on which you still have something to say. The talk was called, ‘Trying again: resuscitating ‘lost’ talk in everyday conversation’*. Is there an equivalent of ‘and um…’ in other languages that you speak? Is it a direct translation of ‘and um…’ or do you use different words? Try listening for this seemingly unimportant feature of talk and notice the important work it does in getting topics talked about until everything that both (or all) speakers want to say has been said.

OK, here comes a topic change (so I need to write something like ‘on a different topic’), thanks for your comments on my last post. Hyoshil – my kids are fine thanks and looking forward to the Christmas holidays! I will ask Clara to do a little video of Christmas things next week. She is still my faithful assistant! Filippo – you’re right, in many parts of the world, French, Italian and Spanish are lingua franca languages. I’m sure that many of the BBC LE blog readers are using both one of these languages AND English as lingua francas (as well a using a local language or variety for local purposes) – multilingualism is, after all, the norm! Stephen – pop into to York St John University next time you’re in York and see how it has (and hasn’t!) changed since you were there!

See you again next week.

Rachel W.

resuscitate (v) = to bring back to life, revive. Usually used to talk about bringing a person back from apparent death or from unconsciousness. In this case, used to talk about re-introducing an 'old' topic (one that has previously been talked about and then dropped) into a conversation because the speaker still has something to say about it that she wants the person she is talking to to hear.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Christmas is coming!

Hello again, and thank you all so much for the warm and welcoming comments you’ve posted over the last couple of weeks. It felt like arriving at a reunion and meeting lots of friends I hadn’t seen for ages. It’s humbling to be remembered so well by so many. Thanks again. I really appreciate it.

Christmas is coming
And the goose is getting fat.
Will you please put a penny
In the old man’s hat?

If you haven’t got a penny,
A ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny,
God bless you!

This is a traditional folk rhyme which my great-grandmother used to sing to me when I was a small boy. Christmas was so exciting in those days. It still is, but for different reasons now. You see, Lucy is coming home from university tonight! Yay!!! So if this blog just ends suddenly and without warning, you know she’s arrived and I have jumped up from my desk to hug her and put the kettle on.

I bought a handsome Christmas tree last weekend. It stood for a week in my garden, in the pouring rain, before I brought it in yesterday and put it up in the living room. Because I’ve lived in and travelled to a great many countries, we have a lot of Christmas tree decorations from here, there and everywhere. My favourites are the wooden ones from Sweden, which my late wife and I bought when we lived there (over thirty years ago). We have a few lovely terra cotta decorations from eastern Europe (especially former Czechoslovakia), some beautiful glass ones from Germany and Austria, and even some lovely bamboo baubles from China.

The house is full of Christmas food: chocolate and marzipan, fruit cake, ginger biscuits and all the ingredients I need for Christmas dinner – a goose to stuff and roast, potatoes (also to roast, in goose fat), sprouts and parsnips and carrots. I’ve made some stuffings and on the day itself (25 December) I’ll make a gravy with some of the meat stock. There’ll be Christmas pudding with a sweet white sauce, and there’ll be chilled wines and cognac to drink. I like Scandinavian traditions, too, so we will have a little cured salmon with a sweet mustard and dill sauce, to start, with akvavit to drink. Then we’ll need to fast for a month to recover!

The house is decorated with branches of yew and pine, and there are white candles ready to be lit. The Christmas cards are scattered around the house on every flat surface, and underneath the tree there is a small mountain of presents wrapped in bright paper – and mostly for Lucy!

Looking around the house, I begin to understand why the old man in the folk rhyme was asking for a ‘penny’. Christmas costs a fortune. You can’t buy anything in Britain for a penny, nowadays. But if enough people dropped enough pennies into the hat maybe you could eventually afford a cup of coffee!

It’s something I can’t help thinking about – especially at this time of year – every time I pass someone begging in the street. There are not many people who sleep rough on the streets of London, but there are some, and it must be awful for them. Right now it is cold at night (it has been snowing all day today), it is windy and it rains quite often. Lucy and I are so fortunate. We have a nice little house, a caring family, lovely friends and more or less enough money (no one ever has enough money, but you know what I mean). We don’t have to rely on charities, the Church or Social Services for our food and warmth and comfort. Right now we are more or less healthy and we can earn enough to live on.

Christmas is coming
And I’m thrilled about that
And yes, I’ll put a ‘penny’
In the old man’s hat!

Hey, is that the sound of someone’s key in the front door lock? Yes! I can hear the taxi driving away. Here she is! Gotta go! I’ll talk to you again, on Christmas Eve, when Lu and I will be preparing to go to the theatre for a Christmas treat.

All the very best, and bye for now,

PS: Thank you, Hyoshil (UK), for your nice comments about Lucy and her twenty-first birthday. Yes, we did shed more than a few tears, but it was a happy and very successful day. Nice to hear from Kirsti (France) again – I wonder whether you’ve found the hidden Beatles’ title in today’s blog (by the way, it wasn’t Paperback Writer in the previous one, I’m afraid)? Remember, everyone, that all the answers will be at the end of my final blog on 28 December.

Kuldeep (India) wrote a long and impressive comment and asked about my favourite music. I like ALL kinds of music, but while I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been listening to one of my favourite Christmas albums, Christmas With My Friends II by Nils Landgren (ACT Music, 2008). Thanks to Guzin (Turkey) for his comment about favourite heroes, and to friends from Slovakia and Bulgaria and from the Middle and Far East for lovely comments and your good wishes. I’ll answer a few more in my next blog.

PPS: By the way, the goose is not the only one getting fat this Christmas. Lucy has clearly been enjoying her flatmates’ cooking since September! (But please don’t tell her I said so.)

PPPS: I will post an up-to-date photo-gallery either much later tonight or on Sunday 20 December. Look out for photos from Lucy’s 21st birthday and for pictures of our house decorated for Christmas.


a meeting or a party for people who have been separated from each other (for example, people who were at school or university together)

for ages
for a long time

a person who is ‘humble’ is not proud and does not believe they are better than other people. A humbling experience is one which makes you feel humble.

short for ‘half-penny’ and pronounced /haypni/

put the kettle on
a common expression meaning to prepare to make a cup of tea. Putting the kettle on means either switching on the electric kettle or putting a kettleful of water on the gas to boil.

terra cotta
a reddish-brown clay that has been baked but not glazed (often used for making flower pots)

a small, cheap ornament; a Christmas tree decoration

a paste made from almonds, sugar and egg

to stuff
to fill (in cooking, for example)

vegetables, like very small cabbages

long, thick, pale cream vegetables which grow under the ground

long, thin, orange vegetables which grow under the ground

fillings made from herbs, dried fruit, chestnuts, onions and/or minced meat (which are cooked inside the goose)

meat sauce

liquid made by boiling bones (meat stock) or small amounts of vegetable leftovers (vegetable stock) and used in cooking, e.g. to make sauces

Christmas pudding
a pudding, eaten at Christmas in Britain, made from dried fruit, spices and suet

dried, smoked or salted

a herb with yellow flowers and a strong sweet smell

a strong alcoholic spirit popular in Scandinavian countries

to fast
to eat no food for a period of time

an evergreen tree with sharp leaves and red berries (NB: not ‘holly’ – check in a dictionary)

a tall evergreen tree with cones

costs a fortune
costs a lot of money

asking for food or money because they are poor

sleep rough
are homeless, and therefore obliged to sleep in the streets or parks, for example

voluntary organisations which raise money to help people who are ill, disabled or poor

Social Services
official local government department responsible for taking care of people who are homeless, disabled or poor

Picture Gallery

I promised you a few more photos. Here they are:

My fantasy day driving an Aston Martin at Silverstone, in November.

We bought these dolls in Prague, in 1978. They're made of dried grasses. We place them at the base of our Christmas tree every year.

Lucy and I found this lovely carved figure in a street market in Moscow at Christmas, 2003.

Me and my 21 year-old daughter on her birthday, at Pittenweem, near St Andrews, in Scotland, where Lucy is now a third year undergraduate.

Lucy and her friends call this 'Extreme Gowning'. St Andrews's academic gown is, as you can see, bright scarlet (with a dark purple velvet yoke). Extreme Gowning involves being photographed in an 'extreme' location, wearing your gown. I think it's supposed to be fun!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Let it snow!


How's the weather where you are? It's absolutely freezing here. Parts of the country are under a foot of snow but we just have a very cold wind and clear skies here in Somerset. Although I'm sure it's not much fun for anyone who has to try to get to work and gets stuck on the roads, we'd love to have a bit of snow down here. We bought a new sledge last weekend and Louie is very keen to try it out. Hopefully we'll have snow sometime this winter. Last winter we had lots of snow in February. Here's a photo of my two boys on, funnily enough, a sledge that is exactly the same as the one we have just bought! I can't remember whose it was…

The party we had for the boys was loads of fun. We played lots of games, ate lots of food and had some delicious cakes. It was a big success. I was wondering before whether I'd ever do another one again, but I reckon I would. Here's a photo from the day. Ozzy's on the left and Louie's in the yellow police jacket (it was a fancy dress party.

And here are the cakes that my neighbour made and we both decorated – the party was for my two boys, aged 2 and 4, and her little girl, aged 3.

It's been so nice to read the other teacher and student bloggers' posts and so lovely to hear from those of you who have written comments. I remember you all from last time I blogged. I can't seem to see my first post to respond to the comments on that, but here are some replies from my second blog… Leila I agree that Keats is a bit difficult to read, you should definitely try and see Bright Star though, if you liked The Piano. Concetta I'm worried that our cinema might close one day as well, there are rumours that the family who run it are thinking of retiring :-( and you're right about the poem! Filippo hope you had a good week too and that you like the photos I'm posting of the party Hyoshil yes I'd say we're in the Christmas mood… our tree is up, we have lots of decorations and cards everywhere. I've seen one of those dancing santa bands you mentioned – pretty strange! :-) Kuldeep thanks for telling me about that poet, I hadn't heard of him before. I'll have a look for some of his poems. Thank you!

Just a bit more Christmas shopping to do this week and then it's off to my parents on the 23rd… can't wait! By the way, anyone got any ideas for what I can buy for the men in my life, i.e. my husband and my dad? Is it just me or are men much harder to buy presents for than women? Any suggestions gratefully received… :-)

Okay, time to put the kids to bed.

More soon!



sledge: a thing, usually wooden, that is used to pull people through the snow. They can be big or small.

to reckon: to think

a fancy dress party: a party where the guests are asked to come in a costume rather than just normal clothes

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Old Macdonald had a ...

Hello from sunny Queensland!

Yes, we're having a little pre-Christmas break, and have come to Queensland to visit some of Chris' relos. At the moment we're at his Dad's place in Dayboro, which is about an hour's drive to the north-west of Brisbane. It's beautiful up here in the countryside - I've taken a couple of photos for you but they'll have to wait til next time as it's proving a bit tricky to hook my camera up to his computer. We're heading back to Sydney tomorrow afternoon, but the morning will be lots of fun as Chris's sister and brother and their partners are coming for "Christmas" lunch with their babies, who we haven't met yet, so it's all very exciting! Two new nephews for us (they're both about 5 months old) and cousins for Owen and Daniel. Owen has very sweetly promised that "When the babies come I'll play with them very gently" but I have a horrible suspicion that if we don't keep a close eye on Mr Daniel he'll be bashing them over the head with a toy car or something ... (It's also going to be a bit confusing, though, as Chris' brother is also called Daniel and his wife is Rachel, so lots of potential for misunderstanding! "Come on Daniel, let's look at your nappy - no, not you, the other one!")

Yesterday we went down into Brisbane to visit Chris' cousin and his family. Crikey! We flew up so have hired a car, but rather unfortunately forgot to pack any CDs. Daniel does NOT like being in the car for long periods of time but he'll settle down if there's some music. You can guess what happened, can't you! That's right - Chris and I had to sing to him. All the way. For 2 hours. !!!!!!! It was actually quite funny - we'd start singing a song, realise we didn't know all the words, start another one - same problem. To his credit, Chris managed a complete version of "Born in the USA" with me doing back-up vocals in the chorus, and we got a couple of Christmas carols OK, but ended up singing endless variations of "Old Macdonald Had a Farm". We got a bit carried away - Old Macdonald not only had farm animals but also a fire engine (Nee-Naa), a chainsaw (vreeew), a lion (raaah) and (our personal favourite) a politician with "a lie lie here, an untruth there, here a fib, there a lie and a non-core election promise". By the time we got there we were heartily sick of Old Macdonald and his farm, and had very sore throats to boot! But Daniel liked it - every time we paused for breath he started yelling (Owen was sitting there going "Sing another one, quick!"), so he must have been having a good time!

Anyway, in case it happens again, do any of you have any suggestions about what else we could put on Old Macdonald's farm? Our inventiveness is starting to wear a bit thin, and we'll take any ideas you can come up with ...

In my last post I promised to write back to you all, so let me do that straightaway! Thanks so much for all your replies - I remember all of you very well and it's been great to hear from so many of you.

Naheed - so nice to hear from you! How's things? I can only remember the chorus too (but perhaps there wasn't much more than that anyway!)

Pary - congratulations on your second cheeky monkey! It's a bit of a juggling act, isn't it? I know exactly what you mean about electrical items - Daniel's favourite thing is switching lights on and off; he'll stand under the switch and say "Up! Light! Up! Light!" until someone lifts him up to turn the light on. He does love pulling all the baubles off the tree - we've put the non-breakable ones near the bottom so he can take them off - he thinks they're balls and throws them around the room, then Owen picks them up and puts them back on again. They're very different (like yours) - Owen's quite serious and thinks about things for a while until he's figured them out, whereas Daniel is very active and into everything. They both love helping in the kitchen, though, so I'm going to get them involved in making the Christmas cake on Monday. I'm sure we'll make an appalling mess and have lots of fun at the same time. Oh - reading books? On the train on the way to work!! (Haven't missed my stop yet but am sure it's only a matter of time!)

Filippo - How did the tree-decorating go? (I'm trying not to think about moving - as you say, the unpacking will be awful, I think!) And you are probably the only person ever to say I have good taste in music, and for that I thank you!! Was Spaceman a big hit in Italy? - it was huge in the UK.

Hyoshil - lovely to hear from you again! Are you still in Lincoln? I will freely admit that, like your librarian, I also find it difficult to read the classics - it seems to take much more concentration, doesn't it? If you're really keen, you could perhaps try getting a study guide to the book before you read it - a lot of the books I'm keen to read are set texts for English in high school, and I'm pretty sure there are study guides available to help high school students get the most out of the book. You could also "cheat" (only a little, and it's not really cheating) by reading a synopsis of the story (or watching the movie, if one exists) before you read the book; it can be helpful to have an idea of what the story is about before you start reading. What does everyone else think? Any suggestions?

Tom - ahoj! Thanks for your comments - your point about the radio stations is very true, I think. I also find it interesting that sometimes I'm sure I know who sang a song (and have been sure for years) and then find out that I've been wrong all along. Does that happen to anyone else? The most embarrassing example was a few years ago when we were going with some friends to see Mental As Anything (an Aussie band from the 80s). We were listening to their greatest hits album to get us in the mood for the concert when a song came on that made me say "But why is this on here? This was a Duran Duran song!" Ooops. Do you think Chris has ever let me forget it? Of course not! Whenever we hear a Mentals song now, the first thing he says is "Listen, it's Duran Duran". (For those who are interested, the song is called "Live it up")

Taru - thanks for your comments! Glad you're enjoying reading the posts!

Leila - my bosom possum! How are you and your family? Is Katri still riding? Great to hear from you (and what a wonderful photo)! I'll do my best to send some sunshine your way if you could kindly arrange with Santa to get some cooler weather over here. Wow, you've done it! It has just this second started to rain - it's absolutely pouring! Keep me posted on the arrival of the sunshine ...

Kirsti - monkey business is absolutely the right description! And thanks for your help with the Beatles lyrics!

Adriana - I'm so glad I'm not the only one!! Owen's first word was "cat", so I've missed out twice. Perhaps I'll have to keep having children until one of them says "mum" ... Or maybe not ...

James - thanks for your comments! Nice to hear from you again!

Well, the rain has brought my big boys in from their game of cricket, so I'll say bye for now and join them for some afternoon tea!

I'll be back next week with some photos of the Hunt family Christmas - hope you all have a great week,

Rachel H

PS Aplogies for any horrible errors in this; we've had two power-cuts since the rain started and Daniel has woken up and been very demanding!! Thought it best just to cut my losses and post it quickly before anything else happened!

relos (n - inf.) - relatives

to hook sth up (phr. vb.) - to connect

to keep an eye on sb (expr) - to watch someone closely

to get carried away (phr vb) - to be so excited you can't control yourself

to boot (conj.) - in addition

to wear thin (expr) - to be less effective because of overuse

a juggling act (expr) - trying to do a lot of things at the same time

baubles (n) - decorations

Monday, 21 December 2009

The long and winding road .....

..... from Poland to England - except of course that in our case it's a railroad!

We're now on our way to England for Christmas. We stopped off first in Berlin and then in Wuppertal. Why Wuppertal? Because there's a temporary exhibition of work by Monet, who's one of my favourite artists. They've managed to gather paintings from lots of different galleries around the world, and the result is a real feast for the eye.

Apart from that, Wuppertal is a significant place for me because it was the destination of my first-ever trip abroad. I went there on a school exchange visit when I was twelve. I'd only been learning German for a year, but I found that I could understand at least some things that people said, and they seemed to understand at least some things I said. So it was a key experience for me, and the start of a whole series of connections with Germany, still continuing today. Wuppertal is famed - if it's famed for anything at all - for its Schwebebahn, which is an overhead suspension railway dating from the early 20th century. I used to be able to recite the names of all the stations by heart (and in the correct order!) but not any more - it's ages since I've travelled on it and I was looking forward to doing it again. Unfortunately, though, it's closed for renovation work.

Now we're in Brussels, and we're supposed to be catching the train to London tomorrow. Well, trains through the Channel Tunnel have been cancelled for the past three days, since a number of trains got stuck in it on Friday, causing all kinds of chaos and, worst of all, trapping some passengers in the tunnel for hours. It seems that somehow the high technology that runs the trains broke down because it couldn't handle the temperature difference between the cold weather on the French side and the relatively warm conditions in the tunnel. It seems incredible that such a thing's possible or, if it is possible, that it hadn't been foreseen and provided for. No doubt more detailed explanations will gradually emerge. Meanwhile, the lastest news is that they intend to start running a limited service tomorrow, so maybe we'll be able to catch a train, maybe not. I'll tell you next time!

Thanks for all your comments about trains, languages and so on.

Kirsti, I've read 'The Adventure of English' - and lots of other books about this topic! As you say, if you speak both Germanic and Romance languages, you've got a pretty good basis for making connections with English. With Polish, it's not so easy, though there are connections if you dig down below the surface of the languages. I speak Polish but I don't think it influences my English - I could be wrong, though!

Taru, I know a bit of Finnish - you could say I started learning it but didn't 'finnish' - and I've always been very impressed by how it uses so many home-grown words instead of international ones, e.g. puhelin (telephone). So I was very interested by your examples.

Pary, yes I do remember you. I've never been to Iran but I've got a good friend from Iran and I know from her accounts what a huge and varied and interesting country it is.


Answers to the vocabulary quiz in my last blog:

a system where you only need one ticket for a journey involving different types of transport and/or different transport companies - through ticketing

very steep - precipitous

stop working, collapse, become useless - break down

say/write that you're worried about something - express concern

strange, unfamiliar - alien

become extinct - die out

a vote by the population of a country to make a decision on one specific issue - a referendum

completely, fundamentally - radically

frightening - hair-raising

a growing trend - an increasing tendency

holding on very tightly - clinging

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Carols in the snow

Hi everyone from a freezing Bath. I know from Jonathan’s post and the news that I’m lucky not to be trying to cross the Channel, and so far the traffic chaos hasn’t affected my tiny commute. Still the snow and ice seem set and I’m wondering – is the UK going to get its first 'white Christmas' in over a decade?

Bath Santa hoping for a white Christmas!
Bath Santa hoping for a white Christmas!

A white Christmas is one of the great symbols of the season. In previous posts I described two others: the letter to Santa and the pantomime. But it’s also important to remember that Christmas is above all a religious festival and there are many beautiful rituals and traditions to admire.

One of the best-loved of these is what is called the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This special candle-lit service of music and biblical readings is broadcast from Kings College, Cambridge by the BBC every Christmas Eve. There are also services across the UK, usually on the last Sunday evening before Christmas. I attended one at my local church last night and it was a very impressive and moving occasion.

The service always opens with Once in Royal David’s City. An unaccompanied boy chorister traditionally sings the first verse, but our alternative was an outstanding local soprano. She was joined in the second verse by the rest of the choir. Finally the whole congregation joins in to create a magnificent wall of sound.

I should declare an interest here. My wife sings in the choir and the soprano taught my daughter so I am not an unbiased observer. As a terrible singer, I am in awe of those whose talent and hard work can produce such a wonderful performance.

Anyway I’d better get back to my last minute Christmas shopping. Before I do an apology to Kirsti – I didn’t see your titles, which is a shame because you did exceptionally well. Two of them – I Will and Something – I hadn’t even intended!

You also correctly identify Yellow Submarine (a song as well as an album and a feature-length cartoon film). For this week there is only one song – and I’ll make it easier for you. Try looking in the previous paragraph.

Finally, I confess that my name was missing for a few hours last week. I’m not used to signing-off when blogging and I didn’t notice the omission until after I posted.

I won’t make the same mistake today because first words I wrote were the following

Wishing you all the happiest Christmas!


PS: Filippo – I sympathise with your father but I think I’d have preferred a Disney film!


Set – likely to stay
White Christmas – when snow falls on the 25th December. Also the name of the biggest selling song of all time. When quoting the song both words are capitalised but here I am using the word 'white' as a simple adjective.
Carol – Christmas song with a Christian theme
Services – religious events
Chorister – member of choir (group of singers)
Candle-lit – where the only light comes from the candles. This has a religious significance for Christians (the candle represents the idea that the birth of Jesus ‘lights up the world’).
Awe - religious word which now also has a secular meaning. The original meaning was to be in the presence of God – now used to mean ‘greatly admire’. Young Americans frequently use the term ‘awesome’
Soprano – sings the highest notes
Outstanding/magnificent - of exceptional quality
Confess – to admit doing something. Another religious word now part of standard secular vocabulary
Feature-length – long enough to show in cinema i.e. 80 minutes or more.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Fortune telling fish

Hello everyone!

It’s just turned Christmas Eve, it’s snowing heavily in York and the temperature outside is about minus six degrees centigrade – I’m so excited!

Earlier today I went into York to buy stocking fillers for Rian (15) and Clara (12). Some of you might remember Clara from the videos she made for the BBC LE blog earlier this year. On Christmas Eve, they put a stocking (it’s actually just an ordinary knee-high sock) out at the end of their bed. When they wake up, the sock has magically been filled by Father Christmas. ‘Stocking filler’ presents are usually small, fairly cheap (and often silly).

My favourite stocking filler present is a ‘fortune teller fish’ (cost: 20 pence); a piece of thin red plastic in the shape of a fish that curls up when you put it in the palm of your hand. Depending on which part of the fish’s body curls, you are predicted to be either: jealous, indifferent, in love, fickle, false or passionate. I have bought a fortune teller fish each for Rian and Clara (don’t tell them!).

Before I left to buy the stocking fillers, I asked Rian and Clara to make a short video of the snow, so that I could use it for this blog. When I got back, they’d both forgotten to do it, but Clara rushed outside with a torch and made this very boring (sorry Clara!) film of the snow on our rubbish bins:

Clara talking about the snow

If you’re celebrating Christmas, I hope you enjoy it! I’ve certainly enjoyed reading your blogs and comments, and seeing your photos. Thank you!

Happy Christmas!

Rachel W.

jealous (adj) = (in the context of feelings for another person) worried that the person you like might like someone else more than they like you

indifferent (adj) = not caring, not interested (in another person)

fickle (adj) = likely to change, not stable

passionate (adj) = having strong (usually positive) feelings or intense emotions

A Very Swenglish Christmas

My turn again, and this time I want to tell you about our Swedish Christmas breakfast. You know all about my Swedish connections, I think. I lived and worked there for several years in the 1970s and then I commuted between here and Sweden more or less monthly for about 15 years during the eighties and early nineties. I’ve worked in many other countries, too: a couple of years in China and lots of short contracts in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and some western European countries (such as Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland), too. I worked in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) last summer, and have spent short periods in numerous other countries. But Sweden long ago became my spiritual home. I don’t really know why I don’t live there now.

Our Swedish Christmas breakfast table. We even put a little string of Swedish flags on the Christmas tree, just as they do in Sweden.

This year I didn’t even manage to get there for a short holiday. Maybe that’s why I decided to invite lots of friends to a Swedish Christmas breakfast party. My partner and I went shopping for authentic Swedish food, which is very easy to find in London because there is a rather large ex-pat community of Swedes here and there are Swedish food shops and restaurants, mostly in the Marylebone area of central London.

We bought crispbreads and rusks and rye bread; herring in different sauces, Swedish cheeses, ham, meatballs and pickles. We bought sweet cinnamon buns which had been home-baked by a Swede, here in London. We made open sandwiches with cheese and sweet peppers, and others with prawns, boiled egg and mayonnaise with dill. We stuffed dates with marzipan and we put out a large plate of gravad lax with mustard and dill sauce. There were fresh bread rolls, butter, marmalade and spiced Christmas jam. We made tea and several pots of strong coffee, and we made a pan of glögg – spiced red wine, served hot. And, of course, we decorated my partner’s house with Swedish and British Christmas decorations, and outside we put six large flares on the garden path up to the house. It looked very Swedish and very Christmassy.

Authentic Swedish food including crispbreads, rusks, cinnamon buns, herring, cured salmon and open sandwiches with Swedish cheeses, meatballs and pickles.

We had about forty guests but because it was early (we started at eight o’clock in the morning – well, it was breakfast!) and because my partner’s house is rather small we asked people to arrive at different times. So from eight till about ten we had a houseful of friends, coming and going, meeting each other – some for the first time – enjoying a Swedish breakfast and talking about Christmas, the year that’s just passed and the awful weather we’ve been having recently. It was especially good for me to have Lucy there, being hospitable and sociable and lovely as always.

It seems to have been a great success and it certainly made it feel like Christmas. It was dark and cold outside. We even had a little snow. We’d played Swedish Christmas music, we’d burned orange-and-clove-scented candles and my partner’s Christmas tree looked splendid sitting in the corner of the room with her presents piled up underneath it. After the last guest had left I crashed out. “I’m so tired,” I mumbled as I sat on the sofa and fell asleep – and it was only half past ten in the morning!

That evening, a good friend took me to see Ray Davies in concert at The Apollo. If you loved the sixties – and I was a teenager in the sixties – then you’ll probably have loved the music of The Kinks, Ray Davies’s band. He’s still performing like a teenager himself even though he must be in his mid-sixties now. A great evening. And we had another great evening on Tuesday when I took Lucy to The Roundhouse – another wonderful London venue – to see La Clique, a kind of cabaret-cum-circus-cum-variety show (but definitely not for children!). I haven’t had so much fun since…well, since last Christmas, actually. But it’s hard work enjoying yourself all the time. I had to have a sleep in the middle of the afternoon yesterday so that I would be awake for our neighbours’ Christmas drinks’ party that evening!

No sleeping now because Lu and I are off to the theatre. We’ve got matinee tickets for The Misanthrope, staring Keira Knightley. It’s freezing outside but we’ll wrap up in thick coats and scarves and gloves and it’ll be just like when Lucy was a small girl, going off to the pantomime for a special Christmas treat. Later, we’ll have roast chestnuts in the street, stop for a while to sing Christmas carols in Covent Garden or Trafalgar Square, and then we’ll head home for drinks with friends before sitting down just before midnight to open our Christmas presents – something we have done – just the two of us – each year since Lucy’s mum died.

It’s traditional in Britain to open Christmas presents on Christmas Day (25th December) so we always keep our Christmas stockings unopened until then.

So, we’ll get up tomorrow morning, make a Buck’s Fizz and have a small plate of gravad lax. We’ll open our Christmas stockings and have fun with the contents (balloons, jokes, party blowers, chocolate coins, tangerines, nuts and small, silly presents), and then I’ll have to get into the kitchen and start cooking the turkey and the stuffings and the vegetables…it’s exhausting me just thinking about it. It’ll be great fun, though, and the more champagne I drink the easier it will all get!

And I hope you all have great fun, too, wherever you are and however you celebrate Christmas. And to those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas, Lu and I wish you, too, all the very best of the season and for the coming year.


Stephen Keeler

Some useful words and expressions

travelled between my home and my place of work

more or less

my spiritual home
the place where I feel most comfortable; the place where I feel I belong

‘Ex-pat’ is short for expatriate. An expatriate is someone who lives in a country which is not their own.

kinds of savoury (non-sweet) biscuit

hard, dry biscuits

rye bread
dark brown bread made with rye flour (rye is a type of cereal grass which is grown in cold countries and is used for animal feed, to make bread, and in distilling certain kinds of whisky)

a long, silver-coloured saltwater fish

vegetables or fruit which have been kept in vinegar or salt water for a long time to give them a strong, sharp taste

a spice used for flavouring sweet food and curries

gravad lax
cured salmon

red wine which has been flavoured with spices and served hot

large candles for burning outdoors

perfumed (scented) with oranges and cloves (small, dried flower buds used as a spice)

crashed out
fell asleep involuntarily

place where an event (performance, for example) takes place

You put - cum - between two words to form a compound noun referring to something or someone that is partly one thing and partly another.

afternoon performance of a film or play

nuts from the chestnut tree, which are roasted and eaten in the winter and especially at Christmas

Christmas stockings
socks or sock-shaped pockets which are traditionally filled with small, inexpensive presents at Christmas

Buck’s Fizz
champagne and orange juice

party blowers
rolled-up tubes of paper with a mouthpiece which you blow into to unroll the tube and make a loud noise, at parties (or if you’re really unlucky at four o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day when your children can’t wait a moment longer to find out what presents Santa Claus has brought them: a good way to waken sleepy parents, then!)

small, sweet oranges

Guiseppina (Italy), what a nice story, and so well told (well done!). Anita (Slovakia), very clever – you found the Beatles’ title in my second blog (answers on 28 December). Have you spotted the Beatles’ title in this blog? And Kristin (China), what a lovely little life story. Thank you so much. I enjoyed all your comments and I really do appreciate it when you post them.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Snow and coal

So, today I want to tell you what happened next. On Monday I was still hoping that we might manage to stick to our schedule, but of course I should have known better. I looked at the Eurostar website on Monday night - it said that passengers with tickets for Tuesday would be able to travel on Wednesday, because there was a backlog of people who should have been travelling over the weekend, and they wanted to give them priority on the limited service they were intending to run on Tuesday.

I went to the Eurostar terminal on Tuesday morning, though, to see what was happening, and they told me a different story from the one I'd read the night before - they said we could turn up in the afternoon and they might be able to give us seats on a train (one of only two trains that day), or we could go across on a ferry the same day, or we could wait till Wednesday and get on a train.

We were in Brussels to meet up with some friends of ours and we wouldn't have minded spending an extra night there, actually, but we were just a bit worried that we might get stuck there over Christmas, and thought it would be better to try and get out as soon as we could. So we decided to go for the ferry option, which involved a coach to Calais, then the ferry crossing to Dover, and then a train to London. And as it turned out, we eventually* arrived in London at exactly the same time as if we'd gone by train - the difference was, though, that it took nine hours instead of two!

(* re. Kirsti's comment about false friends - It's interesting that there are quite a number of words, including 'eventual(ly)', that have one meaning generally shared across European languages, and a different meaning in English.)

I always used to use the cross-channel ferries before the Channel Tunnel opened, and I actually quite like ferries, as long as the sea isn't too rough. I seem to travel with more luggage than ever these days, though, and the worst bit was having to carry that weight along walkways and up ramps and steps to board the ship.

From London we took the train up to Leeds as planned, and that's where we are now. We've had a proper white Christmas this year, and we went for a long walk through the snow in the nearby countryside yesterday. There used to be a lot of coal mining round here, but the mines are long gone and the land has been smoothed over and reverted to nature, or has had housing and roads built over it, in some places. You can still find industrial remains, though, especially remains of small mines and trackways dating back to the early days of the industrial revolution. People still burn coal fires in their houses (you can't do that in the city of Leeds, which is a smoke-free zone, but the surrounding region isn't) and retired miners are still entitled to free coal. These days, though, instead of being delivered from a nearby pit, it's imported from ..... who knows where?

It was very quiet - I daresay most people were at home, sat in front of the telly - and as we headed back home in the fading light, a solitary blackbird high in a treetop sang its Christmas song.


If you stick to something, you continue to do it.
A backlog is a quantity of work that you should already have done.
To turn up is to arrive in some place - in the context of travel, it often means to go to a port or station, etc. without a ticket or reservation.
People often say meet up with instead of just 'meet'.
If you get stuck somewhere, it means that you're delayed and can't leave - e.g. because of the weather.
To go for something, in this context, is to choose it.
The industrial revolution was the period in the 18th and 19th centuries when there was a huge expansion of industrial activity, and lots of new types of machinery and manufacturing processes were invented.
A pit is, in this context, a coal mine.
Telly is television.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

A very un-snowy Christmas!

Hello again everyone, and a very merry Christmas to you all!

Wow, it sounds like everyone has been having a very eventful Christmas – I do have to admit, though, I’m quite jealous of those of you who’ve been lucky enough to have some snow! My dad emailed some photos from the river near our home in Doncaster (if you’ve never heard of it, which wouldn’t be surprising, it’s a town in South Yorkshire, about 2½ hours north of London) for Owen, who immediately demanded that Grandad should organise snow for us when we visit him next Christmas! You might be fed up with snow pictures, but I’m not, so I’ve included one for you at the end of this post, along with some from our trip to Queensland.

We had a lovely Christmas, starting on Christmas Eve when we were invited to a friend’s place for a barbecue, which is a very Aussie thing to do at Christmas. The street they live on has a special tradition, which is that the residents decorate their houses and gardens with lights, and on Christmas Eve they get permission to close the road for a few hours in the evening so they can sing carols on the street and walk up and down looking at all the different lights. We really enjoyed it – the decorations ranged from the religious (with Nativity scenes) to the ridiculous (with the entire house covered in flashing lights, Santas, reindeer and all sorts of other things). Owen loved the carols and the lights, but hid from Santa (of course Santa made an appearance!) and Daniel was very funny – he just ran up and down the road talking to all the dogs (there were a LOT of dogs out with their owners). He’d chase after a dog, saying “woof woof”, the dog (and owner) would turn round to say hello, and then he’d get all scared and run away, leaving me to apologise to the owner!

We had a fairly quiet Christmas – Chris’ mum came to us this year, as it’s our last year in Hurlstone Park. I cooked up a storm, she did dessert, and we’ve been eating the leftovers ever since! Despite having friends over both yesterday and today, the fridge doesn’t look any emptier than it did three days ago! The boys enjoyed themselves immensely, and so did Chris (especially when he found the chocolates hidden at the back of the fridge!).

We’re looking forward to a relaxing week next week; we’ve both got some time off work, so the plan is to catch up with friends and maybe one day take the boys to the zoo (if it stops raining ...). One of the TV channels is showing lots of one-hit wonders videos tonight, so I’m planning to watch that and see how many songs I recognise!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some photos for you as promised.

Rachel H

Flame trees; these were in bloom all over the areas we visited, and were absolutely stunning.

Flame trees: these were in bloom all over the areas we visited, and were absolutely stunning

View of the hills near Chris

View of the hills near Chris' dad's house

More views ...

More views ...

View from the garden - if you look into the distance, you can just see the Glasshouse Mountains

View from the garden - if you look into the distance, you can just see the Glasshouse Mountains

Birds on the River Don (thanks Dad!)

Birds on the (very frozen) River Don (thanks Dad!)

House decorations on Christmas Eve - the wheels on Santa

House decorations on Christmas Eve - you can't see on the photo, but the wheels on Santa's bike move round and the bells flash.

Our Christmas cake - decorated by the boys (and what fun they had!)

Our Christmas cake - made and decorated by the boys (with a bit of help!) (and what fun they had!)

And a bit of vocab ...

eventful (adj) – full of interesting or important events

to be fed up with (phr. vb) – to be bored or annoyed with something/someone

to cook up a storm (expr) – to cook with a lot of energy

leftovers (n. pl) – food remaining after a meal is finished

to have friends/people over (phr. vb) – to invite people to your house

to get/take time off work – to have a holiday from work

without further ado – without wasting more time

Monday, 28 December 2009

Time flies!

Christmas has come and gone, again, and we have had such fun. There were a couple of lovely evenings with friends whose grown-up children were, like Lucy, home for the holidays. There were well-chosen presents, received with appreciation. And there was possibly the most successful Christmas dinner I have ever made (everything cooked; nothing burned!).

Christmas dinner, 2009
On Christmas Eve Lucy and I went to the theatre – a superb matinee production of The Misanthrope, by Molière – and on the way home we joined the carol singers in Trafalgar Square for a while and then walked down Whitehall to look at the Prime Minister’s Christmas Tree, in Downing Street – a little family tradition which goes all the way back to when Lucy was four or five.

Christmas Day was lovely: maybe we ate a little too much and maybe we drank a little too much, but in the afternoon we went for a long walk by the river Thames near Hampton Court Palace (which is quite near where we live) in the cold winter sunshine, and we saw a kingfisher. And now we have these few precious days, between Christmas and New Year, when there’s time to sit and read, to write ‘thank-you’ notes, to listen to the radio (I can’t imagine life without BBC Radio 4) and to make my daily trip to my partner’s house to feed her eccentric cat while she’s away for a few days in the frozen north (it’s really very mild and sunny right now in west London).

Talking of ‘thank-you’ notes, there are a few people I want to thank before I go:
Firstly, I want to thank the BBC World Service for inviting me back. Secondly, an equally huge thank-you to every single one of you who has posted comments on my blogs. I look forward to them and always take great care to read them thoroughly and carefully. Thank-you, again. Thirdly, I want to thank Lucy for a great Christmas and for helping me with the technology when my computer crashed while posting the last blog. Fourthly, I would like to say ‘Thank-you’ to my fellow-teacher-bloggers for their fascinating blogs (and especially to Amy for getting us all organised at the start). Fifthly, well, this is beginning to sound like one of those speeches at the Oscar ceremony – “I want to thank my parents and my teachers and all my old school friends and my pet goldfish..!” And if I don’t thank my partner she’ll sulk for a month. Oh, dear. I shouldn’t have started this thank-you business!

But before I disappear into cyber-space altogether, let me invite you to a (sort of) party. Lucy is off to Glasgow tomorrow to celebrate the New Year (Hogmanay, as they call it in Scotland) with friends, and my partner and I will be setting off for Amsterdam (so long as Eurostar is operating smoothly again). If you happen to be in central Amsterdam around midnight on New Year’s Eve why not join us in Dam Square, by the National Monument, for an impromptu glass of champagne (please bring your own – I am not a rich man!) and a chorus of Auld Lang Syne? It would be such fun to meet you (you’ll recognise me from the photo on this website). We’re staying in The Netherlands for a few days but I have to get back by 6th January because that’s when I am starting a short teaching contract (one month) here in west London.

I have no other firm plans for 2010 but I hope to spend some time in Sweden and in Norway; to write a little more and spend a little less, and to do more exercise and eat less food!

I will miss you all, but I will still keep reading the blogs from time to time. Leila (Finland), your Christmas description was delightful, and so well-written. Thank-you. Yes, Rajesh (Germany) – just do it! Kirsti (France) it is always nice to hear from such a loyal ‘fan’. Many thanks, and all the best for the New Year. Guiseppina (Italy), you’ve been trying VERY hard with the Beatles’ song titles: finally, the answers, including the answer from this blog, are posted below. A lovely warm message from Carme (Spain): many thanks.

And Felicitas, what can I say? How very kind you are. Thank you so much. I’m guessing you’re from the eastern part of Germany. Back in 1978 my late wife and I spent Christmas and New Year in what was then East Germany. We visited Magdeburg and Dresden and East Berlin, of course, and we spent New Year’s Eve in what was then called Karl-Marx Stadt. I remember it so well. There was thick, thick snow and the temperature must have been minus fifteen or so. We were staying at a large international hotel with a huge number of other foreign visitors, and there was an enormous New Year’s Eve party. I remember being grabbed by a colossal Russian woman, who spoke no English (and my Russian is limited to ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you very much’, which, in the circumstances was quite useful) but who ‘carried’ me on to the dance floor and insisted I dance with her all night. The band played lots of old 1960s songs, and I remember that after I had had rather a lot to drink and was getting very bruised from dancing with my new 'friend', I asked the drummer if he would mind if I joined the band for a while. He was very friendly and allowed me to sit at his drums and play while the band did some old Kinks’ and Rolling Stones’ songs. I am sure I was dreadful (I used to be a drummer in a band with some school friends, back in 1969), but nobody seemed to mind. It was a strange evening: hundreds of people who didn’t know each other and couldn’t speak each other’s language, yet we were all having such a good time together. At midnight we went outside (I was only wearing a shirt and trousers) into the snowstorm to watch fireworks. When I got back to England I had flu’ for a month!

Well, I can’t put this off any longer. It’s time to go. Thank you so much for having me.

Have a truly outrageous New Years’ Eve and a healthy, happy, comfortable and successful 2010.

All the very best from
and Lucy, of course!

Some useful words and expressions

very good indeed

a small, brightly-coloured bird (turquoise and orange) which lives near rivers and catches fish (fairly rare and very shy)

very much appreciated; valuable

a little bit crazy

unplanned; spontaneous

extremely large

If you insist on something, you say very firmly that it must be done, and refuse to change your mind.

covered in blue marks from being held too tightly

really bad

put this off
postpone this; delay this

Hidden Beatles’ song titles
The ANSWERS, at last!

In my first blog (1st December) I said I would hide one Beatles’ song title in the text of each of my following blogs. Here are the answers, but you’ll have to go back to the individual blogs to find exactly where the titles were hidden. Read carefully!
Blog 2: 9 December
Drive My Car from the album Rubber Soul, released in the UK in 1965.
Blog 3: 17 December
Here, There and Everywhere from the album Revolver, released in the UK in 1966.
Blog: 4: 24 December
I’m so tired, from the Beatles’ so-called ‘white album’, released in the UK in 1968.
Blog: 5: 28 December
Get Back, from the album Let It Be, released in the UK in 1970.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

'January' Sales

I am writing this on a packed train approaching London. Most of my fellow passengers are heading for the January Sales – which these days mysteriously begin on December 26. They are hoping to save money - by spending lots of it! Most will return by sunset, weighed down by shopping bags full of ‘bargains’.

The Sales always attract large crowds and this year promises to be especially busy because a rise in VAT comes in on January 1. Again I suspect the best way to save money would be to stay at home – but what do I know? (You can see that the ghosts that visited Scrooge missed me out again this year!)

January Sales HQ is London’s Oxford Street – one of the busiest shopping areas in the world. Not my idea of a fun place; more like what Edward Munch was trying to express in his painting The Scream.

Fortunately I’m not a Sales day-tripper and when we reach London I’ll be heading in the opposite direction. I’m visiting family in Shepherds Bush, the area where I was brought up. At that time it was the main centre of BBC Television and there was a lot of location filming in our neighbourhood. Once I was watching a comedy show set in Liverpool when I was amazed to see the main characters walking into a house on our street. As readers of a previous post may remember, I still haven’t visited that great city – perhaps that’s why the BBC brought it to my living room!

I’m starting to get excited about visiting the old familiar places of my childhood. That’s a Beatles reference (In My Life) but not the song title in this post. For those of you looking, you’ll find it at the end of the vocabulary section. Last week’s was ‘Get Back’ – well done again, Kirsti!

Looking forward to the immediate future seems a good note on which to end my part in this open blog. It’s been a lot of fun.

So with especial thanks to Leila for her kind words and to you all for reading my ramblings I’ll say goodbye for now.

Wishing you the very best for the coming year and hoping we meet again soon.

Happy New Year!



– when many goods in a shop are discounted
VAT – Value Added Tax paid on many goods and services
Scrooge – from ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. Scrooge hates Christmas until he is visited by three ghosts. I’ve always preferred the ‘before the ghosts’ Scrooge!
Heading - going
Location filming – when real places are used rather than a studio

The Beatles song is Day Tripper

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Last Post of 2009!

Hi everyone!

Well it’s 11pm and we’re just waiting for the fireworks, so I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a very happy New Year! The theme for the Sydney celebrations this year is “Blue” – lots of the people down at Circular Quay (on the harbour) are wearing blue, and it’ll be interesting to see if the theme carries across to the fireworks as well. Our eldest cheeky monkey is very excited because for the first time ever we said he could stay up to watch the fireworks (on TV), but he’s fading fast. He’s insisting that he’s not tired, though!!

Anyway, I just wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed catching up with you all again, and thanks for all the comments on the posts – it’s been really great to hear from you all!

And once again, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Best wishes to you all for 2010 (scary to think we’re in a new decade, isn’t it?!)

Take care, and all the best,

Rachel, Chris, and the two cheeky monkeys

All the best for 2010!

Hello! I've waiting for today to say hello (and goodbye) because I am now back in my little house in Somerset. We went to my parents' for Christmas and of course I forgot to take the login details for the blogging page so I couldn't blog while I was down there… silly me. Never mind, I was still able to read all your lovely posts and keep up with how everyone's Christmases were going.

We had a great day, at lots of yummy food and had some nice walks up on the cliffs overlooking the sea. We had some beautiful sunny days and nice crisp wintry air… just what I needed.

Back hard at work now though! Well, except for tomorrow that is. I'm planning a day off to celebrate the New Year and the new decade. I really can't believe we have a whole new decade to get to know but here we are… I hope everyone has something nice planned for this evening, even if it's just being tucked up in bed with the knowledge that tomorrow brings new beginnings.

Wishing everyone all the best for 2010 and I'll hope to catch up with you all again next year.



p.s. in the end I bought my Dad a gift subscription from a DVD rental place along with a list of movies I think he should watch. Hope he liked it! Thanks for all your suggestions. In fact it was funny, because almost all of them I had given to him in previous years, or I was giving the same thing to Ed!


Happy New Year!

Like Rachel H., we’ll be at home watching the fireworks on TV at midnight tonight, only a few hours to go….. Firework displays from around the world are usually shown, so we’ll be looking out for Sydney’s ‘blue’ theme!

We have some friends visiting for the next few days: here are Clara and Rian playing chess with (and being beaten by) Zen (who lives in the Netherlands but is originally from Indonesia).

Our very small and lop-sided Christmas tree is in the background, behind the chess players. The fairy lights on the tree worked well when Clara first did the decorating, but seem to have given up now that Christmas has passed.

Shirley (over on the students’ blog) is thinking about her New Year’s resolutions. I read somewhere that, to be successful, resolutions should be very carefully planned, not made at the last minute. Also, that we should focus on the positive effects of achieving our goals and not the negative effects of failing. My resolutions are always the same, and sadly always fail: lose weight, get fitter, work more efficiently etc. etc. If you are making New Year’s resolutions, I hope that yours are more successful than mine!

OK, I’m going to mix some drinks and then cook some dinner. One more evening of over-eating in front of the TV before the new, strict regime begins.

I’ve really enjoyed reading your blogs and your comments. Thank you for all of them! I have another, new, New Year’s resolution and that’s to be more active on the BBC LE Facebook site. I hope to see you all there!

All the best,

Rachel W.

fairy lights (n) = a string of small (sometimes coloured) lights
lop-sided (adj) = leaning to one side, not balanced, not straight
resolution (n) = a statement of determination to do something, a resolve
regime (n) = period of time, (also, system of rule or government)

Is it really?

Is it really New Year's Eve again? Yes it is! I'm sure it didn't use to happen as often as this, did it? It won't be long before the clock strikes twelve and we embark on another new year.

It's been a great pleasure to take part in this blog again, and to read contributions from fellow-bloggers old and new. The experience has reminded me just what a marvellous resource this is - I really wish I was learning English, so that I could make full use of it!

Anyway, very best wishes to all of you - for your English, and for all your other ventures in the coming year.


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