This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
 
You are in: Home > Community
 THE STEPHEN KEELER COLUMN

Another Day in the Glorious Madhouse

America is a country no one should go to for the first time. JAWAHARLAL NEHRU



Most of the people I know live in cities. I have friends who live in Paris, friends in Stockholm, in Beijing and, of course, in New York. That's why I'm here. I'm apartment-sitting (it's like baby-sitting but without the screaming) in Upper Manhattan while my American friends (well, actually she's English but he's American) are having a very wet summer vacation in Britain. I've only read about the floods in the British newspapers here, but every now and then I phone home to ask my girlfriend (remember her? I think I do) whether my house is still where it was when I left it a month ago - or whether it is floating gently down the Thames to meet me.


Times Square

Cities. I love them. I'm a city boy through-and-through. You can tell me about the wide open spaces and the lavender-scented air of the countryside; you can talk to me all day about the beauty of the mountains or the serenity of the sea; you can paint me a delightful word-picture of cottages and gardens, of farms and fields and picnics on the riverbank, but you'll never persuade me that the countryside is for me. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy visiting the countryside. I like long-distance walking, for example. I love wild flowers and I know a lot about trees and animals. I just don't want to live with them.


From time-to-time I make new acquaintances. When you meet someone for the first time and tell them you're from London one common response is, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Well don't be! Don't patronise me. I love it in the city. I love London and I sure as hell love New York. Where else could you meet so many wonderful crazies?


The iconic 'walk' and 'don't walk' signs have disappeared from New York City's pedestrain crossings. We found this on our recent visit upstate, to Poughkeepsie.

I get on a Subway train at 176th Street - it's the A train (if you've got a map of Manhattan look at the top left-hand corner) - and I sit down opposite seven people. Four of them are of Spanish origin (no ones speaks English here in Washington Heights, really!), the other three are Afro-Caribbean. One of the black guys is dancing in his seat. I don't mean tapping his fingers or tapping his toes. I mean dancing: moving every part of his body (while still managing to remain in his seat). There is no music (no i-pod or personal stereo) - only the sounds in his head. And he is very, very good. Next to him a woman who I think has probably slept in the park for much of her life is reading a free newspaper - aloud! Then there's a smart young Spanish guy whose hair looks painted on with black gloss paint. His clothes are immaculate and he clearly spends a lot of time in a gym. I watch as every couple of minutes he runs a hand over his hair while checking his appearance in the dark window behind me. Then he straightens his jeans, flips open his state-of-the-art mobile phone and then starts all over again with the hair. He does this for the entire 25-minute ride downtown. I hope his girlfriend appreciates the care he has taken.


Next to him there are two guys in full New York Yankees kit (T-shirts, shorts, socks, shoes, the lot) - one of them is carrying a very expensive-looking baseball bat. The other is wearing a huge, stained, leather mitt. They are talking. No, they're not. They're bellowing at each other and rolling around their seats, laughing, screaming, hooting and generally having a very good time indeed.


Sunday morning baseball practice in Central Park

An old man is reading the Bible. It is a while before I notice the silent tears rolling softly down his cheeks and splashing onto the backs of his hands. A student is sitting next to him. He opens his school bag and all his books (and his lunch) spill out across the Subway car floor. He blushes and gets down on his knees to pick them all up. Every time he tries to shove them back into his schoolbag they all spill out again. A couple of people smile, trying not to laugh, but no one reacts. No one reacts to the guy dancing or to the woman reciting from the newspaper. No one reacts to the nervous, smartly-dressed young man fidgeting, to the baseball fans shouting or to the old man crying. The Subway train stops at the next station and a few 'riders' get off. A few more get on and the whole process starts all over again. A giant of a man comes round the Subway car with a box asking for money to help the homeless. When he reaches the end of the car he starts preaching Christianity in a deep and powerful voice and slamming the side of the Subway car with his enormous fists. I fully expect to see his hand disappear right through the metal. Is no one sane in New York?


Even dogs have their own exclusive fashion stores, like this one in Greenwich Village, downtown Manhattan.

It is Sunday. I have been for my early morning run, which has now become compulsory (you'll see why in a minute). I have showered and shaved and set off for the Subway station. I'm having breakfast downtown with a couple of friends who are visiting New York for a few days and they don't yet know how good it is to eat breakfast under the trees in Bryant Park (42nd Street and 6th Avenue). I have just missed a train and the Subway station is gloomily empty, charmless, soulless. It smells strongly of urine, and I spot a fat rat scampering along the tracks despite the signs telling me that the station has been treated this week with rodent repellent. It is silent and, even at this time of the morning, very humid. There is nowhere to sit. There is nothing to look at except the dirty walls of the Subway station. The train could be at least 15 minutes yet. And then, from far, far away, comes the sound of a single, beautiful, deep, deep voice. A man's voice. A black man's deep and beautiful voice, echoing along this filthy corridor of cracked white wall tiles. It is an operatic voice, perfectly in tune and effortlessly commanding. It takes a while before I can even see him; he is at the far end of the platform, walking towards me. The singing is enchanting. It is plainsong, mediaeval religious music, and it is getting gradually louder as the man gets nearer. He is, maybe, fifty or so. He is dressed in a green T-shirt and the white plastic overtrousers of those who do maintenance work on the New York City Subway. As he walks he gently swings two buckets of cement, each with a broad brush in it. He gets closer and his singing is like an angel. As he passes I smile with gratitude but he doesn't see me. He isn't looking at me. He is in the great baroque cathedral in his head, perhaps with eyes lifted to the stained glass windows, I don't know. But I am very grateful indeed to whoever equipped 176th Street station with such fabulous acoustics.


Do you think that Greenwich Village dogs can read?

OK, a couple of quickies. I'm off to Atlantic City in the morning to go gambling. I have never gambled in my life before so I will either lose Lucy's inheritance or, maybe, with beginner's luck I might break the bank. If I win a million I'll buy you a drink.


Much more frightening than that, I've just had one of those 'oh-my-god-what-have-I-done' moments, so I have come into a nice French café on Madison Avenue for a glass of iced pomegranate tea and a fruit tart to calm down. I think I might have just done something really foolish (not like me at all!). You see, I found out the other day that there is now a New York Half-Marathon and that it will be held next Sunday. I thought you might like to read about my experiences of the race - as a runner - so I contacted the race's press office and, after a bit of a discussion, I managed to get myself into the race. I'm running it so you don't have to. Be grateful! You can just sit at your computer, a couple of weeks from now, and read all about the pain and humiliation, my pain and humiliation. The things I do for you. Please wish me luck. Keep your fingers crossed. Say a prayer if you think it will help - believe me, I need all the help I can get.


If I survive the race, and if I don't lose all my money at the roulette tables in Atlantic City, I'll be with you again in a fortnight. Take care (I will!)












PS. Thank you for continuing to write to me. It is great to get such varied comments, opinions and ideas from all over the world. Please keep writing. Tell me about your summer (or winter, depending on where you live); more of your favourite words in English, too, please. And it would be interesting to hear what you think about New York. What do you think the quotation I have used at the beginning of this column actually means? Am I crazy to run a half-marathon at my age (don't ask - it's my secret), and what do you think about gambling? Would you go to Atlantic City to gamble, if you had the chance?


Lucy has returned to the UK now so she can't stop me publishing this photo. I can't understand why she would be so embarrassed by it, can you?



Lucy as the Lady Liberty, in Battery Park, just opposite the Statue of Liberty itself.

Sorry, Ana Paula (Brazil) that you won't be having a holiday. I like your description of learning to pronounce the word 'reward', like an athlete training. Er, training, what's that? Perhaps I'd better put on my running shoes and do a bit more!


Quite a lot of you have chosen favourite words because you like the way they feel in your mouth. Nozomi, from Japan, likes to say 'hypothesis'. Good luck with your studies, Nozomi. I hope you do well in your exams. Yes, Sanja (Serbia) it's absolutely fine to call me by my first name. It's nice to know you feel I'm your pal. Thank you. River, from China, I meant to say, last time, that I think you have a really lovely name.


Alexandra (Russia) have I answered some of your questions about the US? I was fascinated by your assessment of the Russian mentality. I travelled quite widely in Russia when it was The Soviet Union, and have been back to Moscow a couple of times since, and I have to say that I tend to agree with most of what you say. I especially liked what you wrote about being optimistic and 'decorating' yourself (very poetic - but I think a lot of Russians are very poetic). Yes, like you, I like the English word 'splendid': it sounds rather grand and full of optimism and achievement. Maybe I'll be able to write a little more about the American mentality (if there is such a thing) in my next column from New York.


Evgeniy (also from Russia) wants me to write a little more about the 'no-go' areas of New York. Well, Evgeniy, I'm not sure there are many no-go areas in Manhattan (I can't really speak for Queens or The Bronx, which I don't know so well). I'm staying in an apartment north of Harlem. Over 90% of the people who live here are Hispanic (Spanish-speaking; many of them from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking South and Central American countries). It is never quiet here. There seems to be a continuous party on every street corner. Young men in noisy cars with loud music playing cruise the streets until maybe five o'clock in the morning. It is not a rich part of New York. Yes, there are signs of crime - lots of cars seem to get broken into overnight - and yes, there are many people who seem to live on the street and sleep in the nearby Riverside Park. Occasionally, I see drug addicts begging for money (but that, I am sorry to say, happens everywhere). But this is by no means a no-go area. A policeman was shot dead in Brooklyn on the day I arrived here, at the beginning of July. But, sadly, policemen and women are shot in many cities around the world. My approach to so-called 'dangerous' places is to believe that most people are mostly good; most people want to live decent, peaceful lives. Most people are not interested in robbing you or harming you. I travel back to Harlem and Washington Heights, alone, on the Subway, sometimes as late as three in the morning (I like late night movies - or latenite movies, as they are called here), and I can honestly say that I am never afraid on the streets. In my experience, if you expect trouble it will find you. There are no guarantees, however, and I hope I can call you, Evgeniy, for help with my hospital bill if I get mugged! Thank you for your question.


Finally, if you want more information about the New York Half-Marathon, including a map of the route, visit the New York Road Runners' website at nyrr.org.



SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS

apartment [US]
flat [GB]

vacation [US]
holiday [GB]

through-and-through
completely; in every way

scented
perfumed. NB: 'scent' is another word for 'perfume'

countryside
Everything that is not a city or town (urban) is the countryside. NB: In English you cannot use 'nature' here. Nature, in English, is a rather more abstract concept. We talk about 'mother nature', or 'nature study', for example, but the word is more often used as an adjective in expressions such as 'natural environment', 'natural resources' and 'the natural world'. It is never correct to use the expression 'the nature', in English, if you are talking about the countryside

Don't get me wrong.
Don't misunderstand me.

acquaintances
new friends; friends you don't know very well

patronise
If you patronise someone you speak down to them, in a superior way, as though you were sorry for them because they are somehow at a disadvantage to you

sure as hell [US]
definitely

tapping repeatedly knocking your fingers or feet against a surface in a certain rhythm

immaculate
perfect; spotlessly clean

mobile phone [GB]
cell phone [US]

ride [US]
journey [GB] NB: In US English you 'take a ride on the Subway' ( make a journey on the Underground [GB]) and people who use the Subway are called 'riders' (passengers [GB]). In British English the verb 'to ride' is most frequently used (a little bit like the verb 'to drive') for activities where the rider controls an animal or machine which he or she sits astride, such as a horse, a bicycle or a motorbike. There are other uses of 'ride' in British English (you can take a ride on a carousel at a fairground, for example), but this is the most common

New York Yankees
a baseball team

mitt
glove worn by the person who catches the ball in baseball. I know that's a feeble definition but I know nothing about baseball. I'm British, what do you expect? I can tell you all you want to know about David Beckham's arrival, here in the States. Watch The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen: he wears one of these mitts and repeatedly slams a baseball ball into it every time he's put in the 'cooler' (a kind of prison cell)

bellowing
shouting very loudly

blushes
becomes red in the face. The verb 'to blush' means to become red in the face because you are nervous, shy or embarrassed

fidgeting
making repeated nervous or impatient movements

sane
opposite of crazy

rodent
category of animal to which rats belong

repellent
substance used to repel or discourage (for example unwanted or dangerous animals or insects)

filthy
very dirty

A 'TRANSLATION' ACTIVITY

US and British English are often very different, as I keep discovering every day. It isn't only vocabulary and spelling which are sometimes very different; the grammar can be different, too. Read the following dialogue (telephone call) then try 'translating' it into British English. To help you I've underlined parts of the dialogue which would be different in British English. A suggested 'translation' is printed below.



BUD: Hey guy! Did you see the new Simpsons movie yet?
RANDY: No, but there's a French girl just moved into the apartment across the hall and I think I'm going invite her to see it with me.
BUD: Is she cute?
RANDY: She's a nice-looking girl, yeah, and I need to practice my French…
BUD: OK. Listen. Why don't we meet up tomorrow and go see another movie?
RANDY: I should be studying. I've got exams this fall and I don't want to flunk. The trunk of my car is full of books which I haven't opened since last semester
BUD: OK, OK, I get it. The French girl and school are more important than your old buddy

 


Suggested 'translation'
[remember that some words, like 'apartment' and 'movie' are becoming more common in British English]:

BUD: Hi there! Have you seen the new Simpsons movie (film) yet?
RANDY: No, but there's a French girl just moved into the flat down the corridor and I think I'm going to invite her to see it with me.
BUD: Is she attractive?
RANDY: She's a nice-looking girl, yeah, and I need to practise my French…
BUD: OK. Listen. Why don't we meet tomorrow and go to see another film (movie)?
RANDY: I should be studying. I've got exams this autumn and I don't want to fail. The boot of my car is full of books which I haven't opened since last term…
BUD: OK, OK, I get it. The French girl and college (university) are more important than your old friend (mate)…

Acknowledgement: I learned this activity from Mario Rinvolucri.




WRITE TO STEPHEN

Thank you for sending your comments, this topic is now closed.

Iryna, Ukraine
Hello, Stephen!It is always a pleasure to read your columns! I diligently follow every piece of your writing but I have not commented them. Have you ever had such a feeling that you cannot write a single line even to your dearests because you just do not feel like writing? Your description of New York is so captivating and alive! My image of the USA is based mostly on movies, books, my friends´ impressions who spent there some time and is very controversial. Is this really a country of freedom, democracy where everyone has equal opportunities as is being claimed? Looking forward so much to your next column! Take care

Behnam, Iran
Just perfect - like always...Keep it up

Ana, Poland
Hi Stephen, I’m late with my comments but hope you will read these few lines. It was really amazing, I mean the way you wrote about that ordinary man walking along the platform and singing … I can still hear that mediaeval religious music and see him while gently swinging two buckets of cement … Perhaps he’s a member of a church choir, perhaps not, but he definitely feels what actually singing is. He’s really lucky to be able to sing that exceptionally beautiful kind of music and you are lucky to have a good musical ear. How was New York Half-Marathon? I crossed my fingers for your survival (at least!) in that exhaustive running especially that I've never dared to challenge myself in such a way (I used to be quite good at rather short distances, I mean 60 m. My time was around 8 sec.). Your decision to take part in the marathon made me think that perhaps the most beautiful thing about your running is that this is ‘clean’: there are no shortcuts just hard training, perhaps challenge of competition and real joy of running. Stephen, do you believe that professional sport can be ‘clean’, is there any chance to change what seems to be irreversible? As regards motto of your post I think that Nehru just cared about those who could not survive the confrontation with the Amercian civilisation and culture which is so different, even shocking for some of us, so in order to have a ‘soft decending’ you should just feel like one of regulars while entering America for the first time in your life. Best,

Rock, China
Happy to meet you here.I can make sense of the beautiful pictures in my mindfrom your vivid discriptions. You lead a happy life from your article, but I am very gloomy, because I am gay. It can not be accepted commonly here.

Rocío, Guanajuato Mexico.
Hello from Mexico...Dear Stephen, this is the first time I am reading your article and I find it very interesting, I am in the process of learning english as a second language and sometimes for me it is really hard to save and keep in my mind all those words I hear and read. My main problem is the pronunciation, but I keep practicing and I am really enjoying my learning. Thank you for everything you share with us in your article...Good luck!Rocío

Kim, Norway
It is a very interesting article. Would it be a good idea if we could listen to the article too? (Just like we can listen to the news and the flatmates ect. on this site.). On that way we can also learn the pronunciation of the new words. Thanks for your article!
BBC Learning English replies
We've received a couple of comments requesting audio. Unfortunately we're not able to provide audio for the column at present, but we've noted your requests. Thanks.

Kirsti, France
Hi again. I wrote 'you did it'; I thought of 'just do it!' as you did it. But I could have written 'you made it!' meaning you achieved your goal, couldn't I?

Kirsti, France
Congratulations, Stephen. I can see that you did it!

Irma, Indonesia
Hey Steven, I had just known about your article. It's good for me as a new English learner. Thanks, I'm looking for your other articles.

Ryan ,Shanghai, China
Hello Stephen
I am from China-shanghai. This is my first time to write to you,do you know I am very exciting now that no becasue any others the reason just fisrt time surf-BBC, fist time write to you.
Shanghai is a large city in china.I no mind whether you know it. Also shanghai is very flourish and prosperity both in economy and development. Also more much problems that mentioned by you would being existed in our city such as robbing, begging, stealing, vagabond, criminal. But I also very gratitude I can live in this metropolis.
Stephen if you have opportunity to come China you must be coming to shangha for tourism, I will so glad to guide for you. Hahaha, thank you for your read my poor english leaving. I think more practise will make perfect. Ok , that's all .

Gary, China
America is a country no one should go to for the first time. If you have time, Mr. Stephen, please explain to me this sentence, I feel difficult to understand it, my guess is America is an acctractive or beautiful place that everybody wants to go there many times, or maybe my understanding is completely wrong, what is the meaning of this sentence which looks so simple and short but hard to understand?

Sílvia, Barcelona.
Hello Stephen and everybody, I can’t avoid to comment this blog. I think it hooked me. I CAN understand why Lucy would be so embarrassed by the photo. I think it’s very funny but if I was your daughter, I wouldn’t forgive you to publish it!!!! :-) Don’t worry about the half-marathon. Whether you run every day, it won’t be a problem to you (I wonder, because I never have done it). And about your gambling, don’t forget to stop when you win. No later. Best wishes,

Adlan, Malaysia
Hey Stephen. I just wonder why people said "Oh, I'm so sorry." when you told them you're from London? I don't know about it. All the best for the marathon..

Victoria, Colombia
Dear Stephen,I did like your column. It was very interesting and I could remember those years when I was a student of English language in New York.Good luck and enjoy your holidays in the big and expensive apple.By the way, have you visited Queens? you should! it's the most multicultural and multiethnic part of New York, I am sure you'll like it.My best regards,

Bijaya Malla, Nepal, Kathmandu
Your column is down to earth. It really helps me to learn different things in easy way. I aspire to write articles to my local english newspaper, but you know english is not my first language. But I hope I will increase english potency as I got your column to boost me up.

Jaan, Korea
Hi..! Stephen, This is the first time to say hello to you. Couple of weeks agao I met your colummn coincidently and read all your colummn at once. Now I love your writting "very very" much. Your writting is very easy to read for me but can feel enough what huaman's love. Everyday I drop here and read your colummn loudly as if I am talking with you. I wish good luck to your Half-Marathon race. Thanks to your beautiful writting. take care till meet again. from Jaan korea

Gulnara, Russia
Hello, Stephen. I share your opinion about crazies in NY. I was there last summer for the 1st time. Me & my friend were actually shoked by the way people behave there. It seemed all the people have gone crazy (they would talk to themselves, shout all of a sudden at you as if you did something wrong, actually we could hardly make out anything they were saying). I started to think that may be it's something wrong with us, I thought may be it was OK to behave in such a relaxed way, without caring that much what other people would think of you. We stayed in NY only for one day. Once as we were just sitting on the grass in the park relaxing there came a man & started practicing karate. It would be OK if he was just doing his morning exercise but he was wearing a business suit and had a briefcase with. He looked quite serious, just like a usual office worker. It was a real fun for us to watch him. In Russia no one would ever do that. By the way I like very much reading your columnes, it's interesting the way you describe everything.

Safwan, Iraq
Hello Stephen, first of all I enjoyed reading your coloum it was very sarcstic and also full of information about people and places of NY. I laughed alot when you described the people in the subway train specially the young smart Spanish guy. I think there is no sane people in NY do you agree????

Felix, China
I was wandering on this website for learning english, find your article all by chance. I like your article very much. It is helpful to me. From it I learned a lot. As if I have travelled to those places that you word-painted in your article. Once again, I will say "thank you so much!"

Konrad, New Jersey, USA
I am anxious to read the column about the Half-Marathon. It was nice meeting you. Enjoy your remaining days in New York.

Monica Gutierrez, Mexico City
Hello Steve!I hope you are well enjoying your time in NYC. I also hope you get a good timing in the marathon (Is this grammar structure correct?). I usually read your column and I am a real fan of it (I am an Echo and the Bunnymen fan also so for me you and Ian McCulluch are the best English writers nowadays). However, I haven't written you before I am so sorry about that! Your last column was really interesting; especially for the explanation between the British and the American English that I have to admit it is a nightmare for me since I have been studying at the British Council in Mexico City. I think it is very complicated to learn British English when we are bombarded by American TV shows and movies, all the time. Please continue with the explanation in future articles. It is so good for learners.Thanks and have a nice NY holiday!
Mony
PS. Out of record, I prefer London holidays rather NY ones in summer. But, please keep my secret!

BARTHOLOMEW, NIGERIA,GOMBE
Excelents I like courage and I would want to be in touch with you.

Nandita,India
Hey Stephen,This is the first time i am writing to you. I find your colummn witty and intersting.Its really a coincidence that i came across this column.I read the column first when i was at work one day,and BBC was the only website we have free access to(lucky me).I aspire to become a writer and your choice of words and style of writing is commendable. Hope to learn a lot from you.

Jane, China
Hello,Stephen:Could you tell me what's "no i-pod or personal stereo", also the difference of "spot a fat rat" and see a fat rat. Many thanks

Truc Ly, Vietnam
Hi..! nice to see your column again and glad to hear you have been good summer in NY. I wish, I could go there away. The NY is great! there are a lot of people come from different country with their special cultural. In Vietnam is the end the summer now so that it's getting cool also. Don't worry about the marathon race, you will servive for this. Everythings is good for you. I'm going to pray for you strike lucky as from now.By the way, Lucy's a nice looking-girl.Convey my good wishes to her. Good luck with your the marathon race and tell me How about the race! Best wishes! Truc Ly

Tracych, HongKong
Your article is quite interesting,i can image a picture of NewYork from your vivid description.I've been traveling so many countries, but I don't know why I don't have the interest, the desire to go to US. Maybe I've got a lot of negative reviews from mass media, I knew it's unfair. I heared some words about NewYork,if you love a person, send her(him) to NewYork, it's a heaven, if you hate a person, send her(him)to NewYork, it's a hell. Do you agree that? in fact, NewYork has many features just like other big cities, there are the rich, the poor,modern skycrapers, slum, multi-cultural,drugs, alcohol and so on.this's life, isn't it? anyway, USA must be my one of destination. Explore it and get my opinion.

Kirsti, France
Hello, Stephen. Happy to get your impressions of NY. When I read about your planned half-marathon I remembered my first visit to London. It was a chilly Sunday, the last day of my three-day stay. I had been to Hyde Park in the morning and running around the Serpentine, discovering a place where one can hire boats. I returned to my hostel, counted my money and decided to go at first to the Speaker's Corner, then spend up my money with the paddling. But when I wanted to go to the boats there was an ongoing race. I think it was called Flora. Only girls or women were running. There were barriers on each side of the running track, and I couldn't cross it. A never ceasing undulating flow of runners blocked my way. It was funny to see how they sometimes had to run on the spot, without progressing, because there was a bottleneck further on. I hope that at any moment of your race you will not be forced to run at a snail's pace!

Hanan, Egypt
Dear Stephen I really enjoyed yuor story about NY it was amazing, although it was the first time I read your blogs it's amazing and good luck bye. Hanan

Addeax
I read in a book that the broadcasters of NY like people with British accent.

Silvia, Italy
Hi Stephen, I have found my favourite word. It is NOWHERE. Oh no, it is NOW HERE: "nowhere"! Funny, isn't it? I'm sure that it is trite for English speaking people. By the way, I think that if you take a "ride" on a carousel, it's because originally there were horses on it, so you could really ride. But I know that you won't take a ride on a carousel, at your age...I don't know if "good luck" works, so I wish you "In bocca al lupo" (= in the mouth of the wolf) that really succeeds.

Grand, Indonesia
Hii, Stephen. This is my second letter for you and I am now being addicted to all these stuff. I don’t know whether it is allowed or not, but I ( please don’t be angry ) copied your columns to my flash disc. I create a special folder for these titled THE STEPHEN KEELER COLUMN and keep reading them over and over to improve my English. I even read “confessions of a questionnaire addict“ many times since this is my favourite edition. They make me laugh and pleased. Who says JK Rowling is the best author today? YOU are my best author, Stephen ( unless I am reading anything else, I guess ). Thought you should publish your own book and I’ll be the first in queue to buy ( I hope there’ll be the next). If I’m not allowed to copy your writings, just tell me. I don’t mind. I’ll delete the lot with heavy heart (owh, I get this vocab from reading your “fingers crossed”). It will reduce me to tears anyway ( I also learn this expression from you.thanks. I’m being a copycat now! ). God bless you, Stephen. ( Btw, can you explain why after “God” word we don’t put -es/s into verb? There was a friend of mine asked about this and I just replied emm,,ergh,,emm ) Always wait for your next writing ... See you.

Maria, Russia
Hi, Stephen!I`ve just come across your blog and I find it great. New York, city that never sleeps... Quite a few people, actually, are fond of cities with their noise, crowds and lack of pure air. You are one of city-admirers, so am I.I`ve been to USA visiting my cousin. I stayed in Chicago for a few days and that was that I liked the most in my trip. Unfortunately I didn`t manage to go to NY. It is still my dream to go there :-) But reading your blog is like being there! All your feelings and thoughts, all the sounds and smells - it seems that you really enjoy your staying here. But I was a little bit shocked finding out there are rats (!) in the NY subway. Here in Russia I`ve never seen any rodents in subway (hope I never will). But people are not so gentle here as in the States, esp. under the ground. Speaking about your participation in the NY Half-Marathon, I`d like to wish you good luck. You are really brave person! By the way, here in Russia we say "neither down, nor feather" - to wish someone good luck. It`s similar to serbian "break the leg" and you should answer "go to hell" - to really have good luck. Looking forward to hearing from you again, Maria, Russia

Benka, Serbia
Hello, Stephen! I don't know what NB stands for, the letters you used when explaning the meanings of the words. Wouldn't Lucy be a little bit cross with you when she sees her picture on the Internet, the picture of her which she hasn't permitted you to publish, or does she love you so much that she tolerates everything you do? It is for sure that all of the readers of your column will be supporting you every kilometre of your running track. We, the readers, will be the force that drives you forward and further in the race. The quotation you used at the beginning, in my opinion, means that so much is known about America, through movies, songs, news, that we all think we know everything there is to know about it, so we can't visit it for the first time because we feel as though we have already been there. Nevertheless, when the lucky ones amongst us finally get there, they are surprised at how much it actually differs from their preconceptions concerning it. Because of America's omnipresence in the media, the lifestyle of its well-known and not-so well-known celebrities and even ordinary people,its daily politics and culture are so familiar to the world. I, for one,(would you explain what this phrase actually means, please) in order to learn English, read comments from the ordinary people on the blogs on some American websites. I noticed that you are using plenty of compound words, two or more words joined together by a hyphen so that they make a new word, for example, freshly-squeezed, which I have not found in the dictionary, which, again, means that you have created it yourself. When I use a word like that, my teacher says I can't do that because it does not sound right. Would you explain, please, who and how and why creates these words and how and when to use them? Do not "overrun" yourself and have fun running your Half-Marathon!

Marianna, Slovakia
Hello a boy of big cities! What to do? When you took a duty to write a column you might have known by all your enchanting wit and personality that you get win acquiatances, poor pupils, from around small towns and vilages across this wonderful world. And I am here, as usual, doing my compulsory exercise from the pure delight of reading about your cyberfriends. Do you let me having this joy with you, don´t you? I broke my promisse to learn a dictionary, even work everyday for hot July nights and third weak lasting cure of bad cough spoilt the rest. So grammar notes are always useful for those who don´t work methodically enough. NY sems to be fascinating, its occasions, amusement, haste and freedom. A place of overconsumption of everything. The amount of inhabitants of all my country is smaller than the half of that there. And dreams, hurry and eagerness from more crowds desire to bath in that exaltation. Men, is there any Steve McQueen anymore? Sitting by under our castle, eating tasty piza and putting down this thoughts is the same excitement as Tiffany´s breakfast. Who knows if people are all common or crazy here? "In the art there is nothing old, only people grew old. To the child who begins getting to know the world everything what is beauty is new, and when we realize how many things we have not seen yet, what we have not known yet, we don´t distinguish much from them." Not good to translate but the words said an artist, born in Hungary but lived in and loved the place here. I´ve just read he died. Despite all bad threats of life conditions he stayed ever an optimist. Good health to you, Lucy and girlfriend!

Diema, Bulgaria
Hello Stephen,Thanks for informing us about your stayng in USA! I have never gone to that country so everithing is interesting for me. Despite I have not written comments here for a long time, I keep a close eye on your writings. Frankly speaking, you have never failed to surprise me. I know very well you are an adventurous person. I couldn’t forget your ‘feat’- Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. A Half-Marathon is now a new challenge for you. Some years ago I would ask:”Are you crazy?” Don’t get me wrong, please! I have started to understand people with such passions recently. I can even admit something; I nobly envy such people for their bravery and spirit. These people are richer than those, who try to live safely and according to other’s opinion. I did my feat for this summer. I went to a mountain with a group of nine people just for walking /not climbing in the full meaning of that word/. It was exhausting for me to walk 10 to 13 hours per day under sunrays and temperatures above 30 centigrade Celsius. But I feel great after such vacation and from this moment on I’ll prefer mountain instead of seaside. At high altitude one can appreciate everything that in normal life takes for granted. I had a lot of fears but I got over them. It was not as frightening as I expected to be. My husband’s piece of advice was just to walk without thinking what might happen. Actually nothing wrong happened-everything went on plan. That is why I can totally agree with you that if one expects trouble it will find him/her. It is my husband’s point of view (and started to become mine too). I am not the right person who can encourage you, but I’ll say: Courage! You can manage!I am looking forward for your writing in a fortnight.Diema

Hualan, Melbourne
Hi Stephen, My name is Hualan. I’ve been reading your columns for a couple of months. I have printed out most of them. Among all the columns you wrote, I like this one most, especially what you wrote about the people on the train. It’s so delicate and subtle (Am I using the right word?), both your observation and your writing. They look like ordinary people, but each has their distinct characters. I’ve actually got one question for you. Why you use present tense instead of past tense when you talk about the things happened in the past? Thanks. I guess you might have answered something like that before. I am looking forward to seeing your next experience.Cheers,Hualan

Maria, Hungary
Hello Stephen, I've been a fan of BBC Learning English since I started reading your blogs. I'm fascinated by this column,too. Your experiences in NYC are so different from my first impresssions. When I spent a few weeks there 12 years ago,I went through a period of culture shock. I was amazed to discover what a multicultural society is really like.The hectic life of the city sometimes made me feel uncomfortable.However,I loved browsing the shelves of the bookshops,and I admired the architecture.I think if I had the opportunity to go back to NYC, I'd enjoy it much more than before. Does this feeling have anything to do with the quotation?
By the way, my favourite English word is 'serendipity'. Sounds lovely and often makes me wonder what it actually means.
Good luck with the race, can't wait to read about it!

Iza, Poland
Hello Stephen,I am writing to you for the first time, although I am a staunch reader of your columns. I read every new one as soon as it appears on the BBC website.Every time I am looking forward to reading it with anticipation.I just like your style and sense of humour.You have a natural aptitude for making people to get interested in what you write.Ok, now it is time to get to the point. I think I decided to write to you after reading your column because I share your feelings about countryside.It is good for a couple of hours but definitely not as a place to live. I love living in the city with all its advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes I joke calling myself 'an urban creature'.That's why I understand exactly what you mean saying you are 'a city boy'. As for your holiday in the USA I must admit I envy you. Visiting America was always my dream and I really believe it will come true some day.I think as for the first letter it's enough.I just hope my English will not seem to be as terrible to you as I think it is.I wish you luck in New York marathon.I'm convinced that you will manage. All the best, Iza.

Sarah, Cairo, Egypt
Hello Steve, Admired your article alot, and I was hoping if you could come to Fgypt and write about it too. Thanks alot...

Monica, Brazil
Hello Mr Keeler,
It is so refreshing reading your column. It really puts me in such a good mood!Many are the times I find myself laughing out loud picturing the scenes of your vivid descriptions! Don´t get me wrong but I really liked the image of your house floating towards you (at least you won´t be homeless in case you are not that lucky in your gambling adventure in Atlantic city).As for the half marathon, I trust you! After pernetrating the impenetrable Kilimanjaro jungle to reach its top, you became my British hero! Humble is nothing compared to you! Just to cheer you up, I once took part in a half-marathon in Rio and like you I´m almost half a century (sorry to remid you of that!)!! Just be prepared to loose some feet nails, I lost two! But man, that was a really fascinating experience. We ran along the beach from São Conrado to Flamengo and when I thought I could not cope any longer, I was really at my last legs, neck to neck with my sister, I heard the sound of a beautiful melody. A flute. The Pied Piper of Rio was there, under a bridge, quite close to our track playing his tribute to the runners. His melody touched us so deeply from that moment on we forgot about our started running with our spirits! It was amazing really! I hope you come across piper to cheer you up!Here goes a prayer from the Ironman runners to give you the strength and faith you need, my dearest friend!I´m sure you will survive! My fingers are crossed!You are surroundedYet so alone. Alone to plan and dream. To hope and pray. The day to come. Will have it all. The highest highs. And lowest lows. The fact that It´s hard. Is what makes it special.It´s also whatt makes it the Half-Marathon.

Lucía, Paraguay
Lovely article!!! I spent 4 months in NYC last year and it´s as crazy as you have described it! I went to study English and it was like visiting the whole world in one trip! There are so many people from all over the world and a wonderful mix of so many different cultures! I had a great time there but I dind´t improved my English that much! I think that there are more spanish speakers in NY than in Paraguay!

Svetlana, Moscow, Russia,
Great notes, is was fun to read it. i love new york too. half a year ago i studied chemical technology at minnesota. people at minnesota were very kindly, tried to understand my "english" ( because of my bad pronunciation it was not easy for them). by the end of the training they presented to me a book " How to speak Minnesotan" and said is was the real fun for them to hear me day by day during a month. I was upset and went to NY. Great city! Everyone could understand me. But i'm not sure i had met native speakers there...
Do you like yoga? may be you shall write about yoga too?

Sanja, Serbia
Hi Stephen,I see that you are having a whale of a time in New York. What can I say about New York? Well, I have never been there but hope sometimes I will. I would not like to live in America (I am fond of an old and good Europe) but for a tour round America, it's okay :-) I wish you all the best in your race (take care of yourself) and be the winner :-))) We, Serbs think that if we say 'good luck' you will get the opposite wish so we usually say 'break the leg or something like that'. When student goes to an exam we say each other 'break the leg' beacuse we want the best result ever but if we say 'good luck' we think we won't get a good mark. Hope, you will understand what I am talking about :-)See ya round ;)Sanja

Ana Paula, Brazil
Hi Stephen!!!
It´s so nice to hear from you again! Wait for your columns is just like wait for my friends letters. They live in Japan now, and when I receive news from them I feel so overjoyed, as I feel overjoyed when I receive news from you as well :-).
Here in Sao Paulo, in trains and subways there are all kind of people too. In one side of the seats you can see people singing gospel music and preaching the gospel to other passegers, and in the same side, but just a bit ahead, you hear teens singing a rap loudly(we can see this more in train than subway). However, trains and subways, specially the subways here are very clean, and moreover people interact with each other. People talk to each other, even though they have never met before. People even read with you the book or magazine you´re reading at the moment and s/he asks you to turn the page because s/he has finished to read that page yet. Can you imagine that? It´s really funny indeed. But sometimes I can tell you it´s also quite frightened.Well Stephen, I don´t think I would go to Atlantic City to gamble if I had the chance. Hmmm... I don´t know, this thing is not for me. The only thing that I won in something similar to gamble(if I can compare a bingo at the church with Atantlic City :-) ) was a roasted chicken in a bingo five years ago! So, do you think I would have any chance in Atlantic City, hmm? Maybe if there were a big roasted chicken as a prize I could have a go :-).Now wait a minute. No, I don´t think you are crazy in run the half-marathon. No, no, I think you´re great and you´ll survive the marathon( you must, if you won´t survive who will tell us how the race was?)I have no doubt about it. Besides that, I bet you that none of the runners will have such loyal supporters from all over the world saying prayers and wishing good luck, like you´ll have.PS- Lucy was really cute dressed like the Statue of Liberty :-).All the best and good luck with the half-marathon, Ana Paula.


 
Stephen Keeler
Stephen Keeler

 Downloads
pdf download logo PDF version (140k)

 Stephen's Columns

 Other Links
blue arrow Learning English blogs