Category Archives: Beliefs

459. Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon

Rambling on about so-called “facts” I found on the internet, while sitting in direct sunshine wishing I had beer.



In this episode I’m just sitting in the sunshine and I just want to ramble with absolutely no preparation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of fairly serious episodes about language, and politics and there’s more to come. But in this one I don’t want to feel obliged to make any serious points at all. Instead I’d much rather just be light hearted and talk about whatever comes into my head in an effort to just relax and have fun.

Nothing is written down. I have literally no idea what I’m going to talk about. I’ve got loads of episodes in the pipeline but for this one, it’s just turn on the microphone and let’s go. It might be pretty inane and stupid. Don’t take too much of it seriously. But who knows what kind of vocab or idioms will pop up, and maybe some other bits.

So – expectations should be a full on ramble with no particular language aim than to just follow the English as it accompanies my stream of consciousness.

Let’s go through I have no idea if they are actually facts, but it’ll give me a springboard to just ramble about whatever I come across.

Images and “facts” from


The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on the topics that came up doing this episode?
Leave your comments below.

370. In Conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool (PART 1: Life in Liverpool / Interest in Film Analysis)

Today on the podcast I’m talking to Rob Ager from Liverpool, who is probably best known for his film analysis videos on YouTube in which he discusses classic Hollywood thrillers, sci-fi and action movies in quite astonishing levels of detail, often focusing on deep psychological and political themes and hidden messages that most viewers probably wouldn’t even notice. His videos are carefully constructed documentaries, made for educational purposes and all of them feature a voice-over commentary by Rob in which he analyses the film and gives his observations.

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Click here to visit Rob Ager’s website

I think I first came across Rob’s work on YouTube about 5 or 6 years ago. Sometimes I start watching YouTube and I get sucked into a kind of YouTube worm hole. That’s where you start watching one video, and that leads you to watch another one and then another one and eventually you find yourself watching something really fascinating and unexpected and that you wouldn’t normally have come across. I think that’s what happened with Rob’s videos. I think I first came across a short documentary he made about a horror movie called The Thing by John Carpenter, which is one of my favourite films. It’s really scary, tense and well directed, and it has a terrifying monster in it. Also it has a complicated story line which creates an eerie sense of paranoia that invites the viewer to speculate on who is or who isn’t a monster. It was really interesting to listen to Rob talking about The Thing in so much detail and it made me think about the movie in ways that I hadn’t considered before.

Then after that I kept noticing other videos by Rob and I would always watch them with interest. He has videos about The Matrix, Star Wars, The Shining, Alien and more.

Sometimes I find his comments to be a bit too specific, like he is perhaps over-analysing the films, but then again I think this is what’s great about movies – that everyone can interpret them in any way they want – and that a film might mean one thing to you, but mean a completely different thing to someone else. Even the director of the film might have a very specific message in the movie, that most of us don’t even notice. I think most modern film makers understand these ideas and they often leave their movies open to interpretation. Think, for example about the ending of Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio – what does it really mean? We’re supposed to imagine and discuss our own interpretations of it, and I think it’s one of the strengths of the film and one of the reasons it is so popular. Everyone can leave the movie with their own theory on what it was about and what had happened at the end. Rob Ager takes this principle – that there are multiple readings of a movie – and really runs with it in his documentaries, suggesting that many of these great films that we love could in fact be about political events in the real world, our deep desires and psychological motivations or even about hidden power structures.

Another interesting thing for me is that Rob comes from Liverpool. He’s a scouser (that’s the word for people who come from Liverpool) and he speaks with a scouse accent, which really reminds me of the people I used to meet, talk to and work with when I lived in Liverpool years ago. The Liverpool accent is really distinctive, and I always want to feature different British accents on this podcast, so on this one you’ve got the chance to get used to listening to a scouse accent, or Liverpool accent.

Also, I think Liverpool is a fascinating city and not enough people know about it. Most people know The Beatles or Liverpool and Everton football clubs, but there’s more to Liverpool than that. I’m hoping that Rob will tell me a few things about what it’s really like to live and grow up in this important English city.

His website – reveals all sorts of interesting things – like that fact that Rob is a filmmaker himself and he is very prolific with his analysis videos. He has loads of documentaries which you can download from the website. What becomes clear after reading and watching his work is that Rob is a very observant and articulate person with a great interest in film, but he is also knowledgeable about a wide range of academic theories and he incorporates ideas from psychology, sociology and philosophy in his film analysis. All of that reminds me a lot of the things I read and wrote about while doing my Media & Cultural Studies degree at university in Liverpool. What’s also notable about Rob though is that he has received no formal academic education or training in all of these subjects – he’s completely self-educated.

I’ve never spoken to Rob before, and I’m recording this introduction before our interview, which is due to start in just a few moments. I’ve got no idea how the conversation will go or what directions our conversation will take but I really hope it’s an insightful and engaging listening experience and that Rob and I get on with each other. I suggest that you listen out for differences between my standard Southern British RP accent and Rob’s accent, and let’s see what kind of vocabulary emerges from our talk.

Alright, it’s time to speak to Rob now. So, here we go.

*Conversations starts (after I remembered to press ‘record’ on my device)*

Links & Videos

Rob’s website

Some interesting videos from Rob’s YouTube channel


337. MURDER MILE WALKS: Stories of London’s Most Infamous & Shocking Murders [Some Explicit Content + Swearing]

Hello, and welcome back to to the podcast, this episode is called “Murder Mile Walks: Stories of London’s Most Infamous & Shocking Murders”, and in this one we’re going to hear about some true crimes that happened in  parts of central London. Yes, all the stories that you will hear in this episode are true, and you should know in advance that this episode does contain some graphic descriptions of horror and extreme violence. And on top of that, there is some swearing at the end of the episode too.


explicit contentAttention: Explicit Content

So, this is an adult episode of the podcast, recorded by adults, featuring adult conversation between two adults about adults doing adult things to other adults and it’s presented here by an adult for other adults to listen to OK? So, the point I’m making is that it’s not for kids, this episode. So, if you don’t mind a bit of horror and some strong language – then, great! But if you’re easily shocked then please be cautious. To be honest though it’s no worse than some of the stuff you see in the average horror film, an episode CSI or Grey’s Anatomy or a true crime documentary or something. But anyway, now that I’ve warned you about that let’s continue…


Welcome to the podcast. This is a conversation with my mate Moz, who has been on the podcast before. You might remember Moz from previous episodes such as the Brighton Fringe Festival series, the drunk episode, and the drunk episode 2, which was recorded on Moz’s boat. So, Moz has been living in London for ages but a couple of years ago he decided to buy a canal barge – a narrow boat, and live in it at various locations in the London canal system. It sounds like a pretty nice life. Instead of just living in one location the whole time he moors the boat at different locations in the canal and river system in London, enjoys a more peaceful side of London life, with all the ducks and geese, and fishing, and pubs, and knife crime. Well, maybe not the knife crime. Let’s hope not anyway.

Anyway, Moz used to work as a producer of comedy TV shows at the BBC. He also produced, wrote and performed in a few of his own comedy theatre shows at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe festivals over the years, and all his shows featured slightly dark subject matter but in a comedic way. They were basically horror stories that in the end turn out to be quite funny and sweet.

Murder Mile Tours

Fairly recently Moz launched a small tour company. It’s a company that offers walking tours in the Soho area. You know those tours that you can join, where there’s a tour guide who shows you round some interesting spots in the city, and you follow the guide around as he or she holds an umbrella in the air or something (that’s always a bit weird in my opinion – walking around holding an umbrella followed by loads of disciples – worshipping the holy umbrella!) and the tour guide stops and talks to you at various points, and you’d rather be in a pub or something. They’re nice, but a little boring sometimes, right?

Well, Moz’s tours are quite different, and they’re proving to be very successful already, with some great reviews on the travel website TripAdvisor. The thing about Moz’s tours is that they’re original, because not only are they presented by Moz himself, the tours are all about murder. A lot of murder, in fact, they’re all about real murders that took place on the streets of London, in Soho to be specific.

I’m not going to tell you more, I’ll let Moz do that. You can just listen to find out all the grisly details as they come up in the conversation.

We’re almost ready to start listening to the conversation. But I would like to just give you another warning now before you listen to this episode.

ANOTHER WARNING: Explicit Content

Most of you won’t think this is necessary but I would like to just ask you again to please be aware that this episode contains some descriptions of explicit violence and horror. It we deal with the subject in a grown-up and responsible way but if you are playing this to young listeners, please use the maximum amount of discretion – it’s supposed to be for adults.


There is loads of great vocabulary in this, not to mention some really good stories all based on proper historical research, and everyone knows that listening to stories is a great way to learn English.

So, as you listen – just try to follow the conversation. I’m not teaching you specific things in this one, I’m just inviting you to listen to some natural conversation between native speakers, but try to notice language as it comes up. Would you like it if I produced a follow-up episode in which I explain all the vocab, like I did with the Craig Wealand interview? Let me know.

Before we get to the murder stories we talk about swearing on TV and on Luke’s English Podcast, and we discuss the question of whether I should bleep out swear words on the podcast. “To bleep or not to bleep?” As a former producer of BBC comedy shows, Moz has some wise words to say about that.

So, a bit of conversation about swearing, and then we get onto the subject of Moz’s new project: Murder Mile Tours.

So, let’s get started.

*Conversation with Moz begins*

Talking talking talking talking bleep talking talking talking talking murder murder talking talking talking.

*Conversation Ends*

So that was the chat with Moz. How do you feel? Alright? Personally, I don’t feel too upset or disturbed by those stories, I just find them intriguing. It’s amazing what has happened in the past, what people do and their motivations. People are fascinating and mysterious aren’t they? And isn’t it weird that the woman sensed the site of that plague pit? It’s all very interesting indeed and I can’t wait to go on one of those walks on a Sunday next time I’m in London.

You can check out Murder Mile Tours by visiting If you’re going to be in London I think this could be a really cool tour for you to join. You’ll get to see some cool spots in Soho like Denmark Street with its guitar shops, and you can hang out and have a cup of tea and a chat with Moz, and maybe hang out for a bit and go to a pub and drink beer and talk nonsense for a while. Buy him a pint, he might like that.

That’s it from this episode then. Thanks for listening! I look forward to reading your comments on the page for this episode.

Now, wait a moment that’s not the end, because I’m now going to play you an outtake.

Out-take: Some bonus swearing

Earlier in episode the were talking about swearing, and I bleeped out pretty much all those words (partly for comedy purposes) but after we finished our conversation Moz and I kept talking and we came back to the subject of swear words and we decided to let rip a little bit – to let rip – that means just express your emotions or thoughts without holding yourself back. In this case we decided to let rip with some swearing. So here is a mini outtake, sort of like a sequel to the swearing podcast I did a couple of years ago with my brother. So, here is a super-duper x-rated outtake which I recorded with Moz after having finished the interview.


You’re about to hear loads of swearing now. If you’re offended by the rudest words, stop listening now. Got it? If you’re not offended by swearing, then keep listening! It’s pretty simple isn’t it. Do you take the blue pill or the red pill? Your choice.

OK OK that’s enough explaining and justifying – Let the swearing commence…

*Swearing outtake starts*

Swearing swearing swearing swearing swearing swearing swearing HELICOPTER swearing swearing swearing HELICOPTER swearing swearing swearing swearing swearing! (Moz gets arrested)

*Swearing out-take ends*

By the way… Did you know that the Royal Family use swear words too?

Thanks for listening! I’m looking forward to reading your comments…

322. With The Thompsons

Hello again, how are you? Welcome back to the podcast. Here’s a new episode for your listening pleasure. This one is a rambling conversation with my parents and my brother about everything and nothing.

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Some News & Stuff

Just before we get started – here are just three announcements or bits of news.

First: I’ve received loads of emails recently, especially over the Christmas holiday period. I managed to write back to quite a few of them, but unfortunately some of them go unanswered – so I would just like to say sorry if I didn’t get back to you. Even if I don’t reply, I love getting messages from listeners, and please know that I read everything that is sent to me.

Second: The LEP photo competition. I’ve received loads of photos and the competition ends soon. Then I’ll post all the pics and you can vote for your favourites, and the one that gets the most votes will get an LEP mug plus a t-shirt or bag. The runners up will get a mug each. Personally I love seeing the contexts in which you are listening to this podcast. It is really cool! I’m looking forward to sharing them on the site for all to see.

Since we’re talking about competitions, this is usually the time of year that I ask you to vote for me in the Macmillan Love Dictionary Awards, but it seems that they’re not running it this year. Perhaps they got fed up with me winning it every time! I don’t know. But anyway, that’s not happening, but I’d like to ask you a favour – if you know of any other awards at all for learning English websites or online services, please do consider nominating me and my podcast. Awards are a great way of bringing exposure to the podcast. The Macmillan Awards were really helpful for bringing new audience members to the show every year, and for giving the website a bit of kudos too. So, please do nominate LEP for any awards that you’re aware of, if you think I deserve it of course – I would really appreciate it.

Third: Disappearing Comments. *Actually, this is now resolved! I found a way to fix it and you can read comments on the homepage again :) * You might have noticed that comments have disappeared from the front page of my website. Normally I have a load of comments that show up under the text on the front page of my site. It’s important for me because new visitors to the site can see the positive comments and it’s a great endorsement of my podcast, but the comments are gone and I don’t know why. I find that quite annoying. I run my website myself and I’m no expert, as you may be able to tell. The site looks pretty basic but it does the job. I use WordPress to manage the site – so if any of you out there can explain to me why the comments on my front page have disappeared, I’d really appreciate it. The comments box is still there, and the comments are still visible in my admin dashboard, but they’re just not showing up on the front page. Comments are visible on all other pages and posts on my site. I think it may be something to do with the template, and .php files and stuff – but it all gives me a headache and I’m a bit cautious about messing with the template files of my website. So, if you know about this stuff then let me know if you have a solution to my missing comments section.

OK, that’s enough technical stuff – I don’t want to bore you! Let me hurry up and introduce this episode.


As you know I was back at home in England this Christmas and while I was there I managed to record a few rambling conversations with various members of my family. You already heard the geeky conversation with James about Star Wars, but in this episode I’m speaking to my Mum and Dad too.

At Christmas time, or in fact whenever we’re together as a family, we like to sit around and talk rubbish for a while, often over a glass of wine or a meal or something. It’s sort of a family tradition – I’m sure it’s the same thing for many of you. I like talking rubbish with my parents, and as a family I think we’re quite good at wittering on about whatever comes into our heads. Usually there’s some disagreement, arguing and bickering involved, like you heard a few years ago in an episode of LEP called Family Arguments and Debates, in which I recorded arguments and discussions with my Mum, Dad and brother about various things. Well, here’s another one.

For this episode I decided I’d like to give you the chance to listen in on one of our family rambling sessions. You can imagine that for an hour you’ve joined us at my family’s home in Warwick, you’ve had a glass of wine or three, and now we’re all sitting around enjoying each others company and generally setting the world to rights.

In terms of language learning – there’s no target language which I’m teaching you in this episode. Instead I’m just letting you hear some natural conversation between native speakers. As usual I recommend that you just follow the conversation, try to understand it all, get carried away with it, think about your own responses to the questions I’m asking, try to notice certain bits of language and grammatical usage as it comes up naturally. My parents are both educated and well-spoken people. They have standard British accents – they speak RP, which is like BBC English. In fact, my Dad worked for the BBC as a news broadcaster for many years. My Mum works in a charity bookshop and also likes to study subjects like art and history in her free time. You’ll also hear my brother James who you already know. He’s a freelance designer who still likes skateboarding in his free time even though he’s getting on a bit now, and last year he fell of his board and dislocated his shoulder. You can hear all about that story in episode 180 “Dislocated Shoulder”.

In this episode I wanted to get my family talking a bit, so I prepared some random questions and posed them to the group. If you like you can write your answers to any of the questions in this episode as comments on the page for this episode. It’s a good way to interact and practise your English at the same time.

So now, just sit back, relax and enjoy this rambling conversation about everything and nothing, recorded in the company of the Thompsons at Christmas time.

317. The Lying Game 2: The Rematch (Part 1) with Amber & Paul

Welcome to LEP. I hope you’re well, I hope you’re fine. This episode of the podcast is a rematch of the lying game with Amber, Paul and me. Check below for show notes and other links.

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A couple of announcements before we go further.
Thanks for your photos for the LEP photo competition. This is a chance for you to send in your photos for a chance to win some LEP merchandise including mugs, t-shirts and bags. You can still send your photos to, until 15 January 2016. Your photo should show the environment in which you listen to LEP. Feel free to get creative. The only rule is that there has to be some evidence that you’re listening. E.g. a headphone in the photo somewhere. The idea is for us all to see the different situations that people are in while they listen. Once all the photos have been sent in I’ll display them in a mural on the website and you can pick the one you like the most.

Please do take my business English survey.
Just go to the menu and you’ll find it under the contacts button.

A note on subscribing by email.
On the right under the logo you’ll see a field that says SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL. Put your email address in and click subscribe. Then check your inbox to confirm the subscription. Then you’ll receive an email every time I publish a new episode, and you’ll get direct access to the page for the episode, with all the show notes, videos, transcripts and other stuff.

Thanks also for different comments I’ve had recently. It’s awesome to hear from you all. You now have the option to send me voice messages. There’s a button on the side. Click it, get your mic ready and send me a message. It could be a comment or a question. I’ll receive it in my inbox and I might play it in an episode of the podcast, especially if you ask a good question.

OK, so now let’s get down to business.

This episode is called “The Rematch”.

It’s one of those episodes that involves a competitive game between Amber, Paul and me. In the last one of these, called The Lying Game, this happened:
The scores were level between Luke and Paul.
Even stevens.
They then played a tie-breaker.
Luke told a story about the tooth fairy.
Paul talked about burning down his house.
Luke identified it.

Since then, it has come to light that I may have cheated. I swear that I didn’t, but some clever listeners noted that a story Paul told in The Lying Game was one he’d already told on the podcast before. So, I admit that a rematch is necessary, and here it is. This is The Lying Game 2: The Rematch.

Do you remember the rules of The Lying Game? They go like this:
One person says a statement, it can be true or a lie. Then the others ask lots of questions to investigate the story. Then they decide if they think it’s a lie or the truth, justifying their responses. Then the truth is revealed. If a competitor gets it right, they get a point. If a competitor gets it wrong a point is awarded to the storyteller.

So, this is the rematch. We’re going to play another round of The Lying Game. Listen carefully to the stories and the questions and try to predict if they are lies or the truth.

Also, listen all the way to the end of the second episode to hear about a new interactive version of the lying game that we plan to play next time, and that will involve your input. We’ll tell you about that at the end of part 2.

At the beginning of this episode you’ll hear us chatting a bit about our recent news including a couple of stories about doing comedy shows, Amber shares something about an interesting podcast she listened to, and Paul tells a story about how a girl lost one of her teeth on stage during a comedy performance recently. After our little ramble chat we then get properly into the lying game, which will continue in part 2 of this episode.

So, yes I am glad to say that Amber and Paul are on another episode of the podcast, so let’s get started, here we go.


Round 1: Statements
Luke: I once hit a teacher when I was at school.
Paul: I nearly died in a car accident.
Amber: (story in part 2)

Scores at the end of part 1:

Luke – 1 / 0 /
Paul – 0 / 2 /
Amber – 1 / 0 /

Paul is winning as we end the episode.

Listen to part 2 to find out what happens next.

294. California Road Trip (Part 7)

Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.

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If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.

In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.

A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at Look for episode 294.

*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*

Let’s get straight into it.

August 16
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.

Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.

Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.

I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.

That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.

August 17
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
Tectonic plates.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).

It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.

Earthquake Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts about earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Society website.

San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.

Acai bowls
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.

My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!

Haight Ashbury
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.

History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?

There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.

This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.

We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.

The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.

Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).

The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.

The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark

The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.

The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.

How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.

George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968

What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.

Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.

I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.

I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?

Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.

What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…

I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.

I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.

In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.

Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.

More Audiobook Recommendations –
Let’s continue to look at a few recommendations for California-related audiobooks you could download free by going to

The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.

“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.

Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.

“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.

End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Haight Ashbury

292. California Road Trip (Part 5)

Hi listeners, I hope all’s well. Here’s part 5 in this series which I’m doing about my California road trip. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about these things: The Church of Scientology, Yosemite National Park and our slightly dramatic adventure there, more British and American English, and if time I’ll talk to you about San Francisco, where among other things I met and interviewed AJ Hoge. So let’s get started. [In fact I only managed to talk about Scientology and the Yosemite experience – British & American English, and AJ Hoge will be in the next episode].

Small Donate ButtonPeriscope Live Broadcast
While recording this I’m also doing a live-stream on Periscope. You might be thinking – oh, I wish I’d known about that, I would have watched it! You can watch the videos of the live feed here: (and there’s about 45 minutes of extra stuff in the videos that you don’t hear on the podcast)

The Road Trip Continues… 11 August
Prepare to drive to Yosemite – we go to CVS and stock up on water and other supplies, program the SatNav (GPS) to take us via Bakersfield and Fresno, then up Highway 41 into Yosemite, where we have managed to book a spot in a camping ground. We’re both really looking forward to being in the fresh air in the mountains.

Before leaving we stop for breakfast in a recommended cafe where they do awesome pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and free refills of coffee. We park the car and walk up the street and then suddenly come across a huge imposing blue building. It’s massive and weirdly painted bright blue. It’s the headquarters of the Church of Scientology. At this point I’d like to talk a little bit about Scientology, which I consider to be a fascinating and (here’s that word again) mysterious aspect of California life.

What’s the Church of Scientology?
Here’s a recording I made at that moment.
Play the first recording.

It’s a religion, and quite a controversial one. Some people call it a cult. Some of its members are famous celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Apparently the church has a lot of influence in Hollywood, and lots of people think it’s really weird and secretive. There are even suggestions that the church has been involved in criminal activity, threats – again these are just allegations, but it’s pretty mysterious and fascinating, like something from a mystery novel.

I recently saw a really interesting documentary about Scientology, called “Going Clear” in which lots of ex-members (people who decided to leave) of the church explain what it’s really like, and they don’t say very positive things. In fact the documentary seems to suggest that it’s a power-hungry cult which takes money from its members and threatens them with retribution if they try to leave. There are also suggestions that the church committed crimes like burglary, theft and intimidation in order to avoid having to pay a huge tax bill to the US government. Bold claims indeed. What’s really going on in this blue building?

A brief history of Scientology
This time I’m going to paraphrase a summary of Scientology that I’ve found on the “For Dummies” website. “For Dummies” is a series of books that help to explain various complex subjects in simple terms. You might know the series – they have distinctive yellow covers. It’s a really good series and they have books on almost every subject. A quick look at the For Dummies series on Audible shows titles like… (read some titles).

Recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of “British History for Dummies”, and it’s really good and yes I got that from Audible. You can get it too if you want – just click an audible button on my site or go to and sign up for a trial and you can get a free audiobook. You could choose one of the “For Dummies…” books. Just search Audible for “For Dummies” and you can see all the books available.

Anyway, For Dummies also have a website with clear and fairly brief summaries. So, let’s check out the summary for Scientology. You can check the link here:
So, what I’m about to say is based on information in that summary, but also what I learned from the Scientology pamphlets I’ve read and what I learned from several documentaries I’ve seen.

The church was set up in 1953 by a writer called L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was already fairly successful as a writer of both science fiction stories, and then self-help books. His most successful self-help book explored the relationship between body and mind, and he called it Dianetics. This book became the basis of the religion he then set up called Scientology. Some critics say that Diabetics is just quackery (not proper science or psychiatry) he only set this up as a religion because it was a tax-dodge. In the USA religions don’t have to pay tax, so Hubbard is criticised for having a cynical reason for making his religion in the first place – so that he could make money, or worse – that he was just power-hungry. Whatever the reason, Scientology was set up as a religion in the USA.

Hubbard is loved by the Scientologists, but viewed with a lot more suspicion by many non-members of the church. For example, the French government, who considered him to be a fraudster and tried to convict him of customs violations in the 1970s. “Britain, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Venezuela all closed their ports to his fleet in the 70s. At one point, a court in Australia revoked the church’s status as a religion.” (Wikipedia page These are all reasons why he went into hiding in 1970. To go into hiding means to leave the place where you live and go to a place where nobody can find you. He was the leader of the church right up until he died in 1986.

What do Scientologists do?
You can walk into a Scientology centre in many cities in the world now, and have a counselling session. In fact you might be invited in for one. When I used to live in London I used to walk past the Scientology centre in central London and they would sometimes as me if I wanted a stress-test. I always said no because I felt it was just a way for them to get me into the centre. I imagined it would be like this:
“Hi, are you feeling a bit stressed today? Would you like a free stress test?”
and then you go in and they check you out and tell you that you’re feeling all stressed out and that stress is really harmful and that they have all the solutions to how to combat stress and live a more effective life – and it’s Scientology. “Here’s a leaflet” or “Would you like to sign up to a course?” and then you’re in.

Sounds okay doesn’t it? I expect it is helpful at the beginning, for many people. It’s just not for me.

A counselling session at the church is called an audit. Essentially, this is a bit like a psychotherapy session. You’re invited to share deeply personal things in order to free yourself from emotional burdens. It sounds a bit like Freudian psychoanalysis doesn’t it? In fact Scientology completely rejects psychoanalysis. Apparently, Scientology is the only way. During these auditing sessions you are hooked up to a machine which is called an E-meter. According to scientology this can measure your thoughts, well – it’s not just as simple as ‘thoughts’ – apparently it’s related to immortal spirits from space which inhabit our bodies and prevent us from living a healthy and happy life. Auditing allows us to set these spirits free, which makes us feel better. Critics say the e-meter just measures electromagnetic energy in your hands and is no more revealing about your mind than a crude lie detector test. But, according to Scientology if an e-meter is used by a Scientology minster then it really works. Freeing yourself from levels of emotional burden in these auditing sessions is called going clear, and there are different stages of clarity. In order to achieve those levels of clarity you need to do more and more audits, share more and more personal problems, and also contribute more and more things to the church. This costs quite a lot of money as courses of auditing are not cheap, and all of this goes to the church, and also all the private and personal things you’ve said in auditing sessions are recorded and kept by the church. The aim is to free yourself of all your emotional burdens and achieve a state of perfect clarity. Apparently the church of Scientology is very rich as they have purchased some incredible pieces of real estate around the world, such as this massive building in Los Angeles. It’s not clear exactly how much power they have. Some say they exert some influence in Hollywood’s entertainment industry.

What do Scientologists believe?
Scientologists believe that people are in fact just receptacles for immortal spirits which came down to earth many years ago. The church doesn’t like it if these spirits are called aliens. Because, it sounds bad if you believe in aliens. It sounds a bit mad doesn’t it. So let’s not call them aliens. Apparently, these immortal ‘spirits’ live within us. They’re trapped inside us, and they can only be freed by going through auditing sessions, until you get to the top of level of clarity when I guess the aliens, sorry spirits go somewhere else. I’m not sure of the details of what happens to the spirits, or if we are the spirits, or what they look like.

OK, fair enough I suppose! We’re all entitled to our beliefs. What’s so controversial about them?
Here’s what’s written on the page from Scientology for Dummies, by Scott Barnes:

Scientology is one of the most controversial religious movements of our time. Many people reduce their world view to nothing more than a cult that brainwashes its members and then fleeces (cons) them by charging outrageous fees for some auditing classes. Critics lambast the church for its rejection of established psychiatry, and many people take issue with the church’s “Celebrity Centres,” which are facilities that are technically open to the public but primarily serve the most famous Scientologists in the arts, sports, and government (think Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, and Nancy Cartwright).

Reports from some who have left the Church of Scientology are even more incriminating and include stories of church members being held for years against their wills at “rehabilitation camps” for violating certain policies, or sending members to go through the trash of the church’s critics and former members to find material to blackmail them into silence. In 1979, several Scientology members were convicted for participating in the largest theft of government documents in U.S. history. Scientologists have also been accused of tampering with witnesses in court cases and even murder.

In response to these claims, Scientologists state that their religion is genuine and that the movement has been distorted, and that they are being persecuted.

Among the criticisms are: Scientology preys upon people who want to make it in Hollywood by suggesting that they can help, then they force them to stay in the church with the suggestion that they can harm their careers due to their extensive connections in the business, they illegally resisted an investigation into their accounts by the IRS (the US tax office), they bully their members and they blackmail high-profile members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta into staying in the church – remember the church has recordings of all those extensive and deeply personal auditing sessions. These are all allegations and criticisms which have been made against the church – not necessarily my thoughts. I haven’t decided what I think of them yet and I’m just curious.

Is it possible that all of this sinister stuff is going in within these imposing blue buildings that we saw? I wonder…

Play the second recording.

I decided I’d try and talk to someone. I felt a bit excited and a bit nervous because I know the church can be a bit touchy about people doing recordings or making documentaries about them, which I guess is understandable. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to talk to someone so I went over to some of the people in uniform who were walking around the building. I spoke to a woman who was very nice and normal, of course. I told her I was making a holiday diary, and that I had just come across the building and wanted to interview someone about it. She took me into the building and I spoke to someone in reception. I made a recording afterwards.

Play the third recording.

What do you think about Scientology?
The woman I spoke to seemed very happy and proud to be working at the organisation. The place looked very smart and clean. Many members of the church say that it has helped them a lot. But what about all these allegations? Tell me what you think? Is the church a cult? Is it a force for good? Is there a church of Scientology in your country? What do you think?

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a huge national park, and probably one of the most stunning parks in the world. Most of the tourism there is centred on Yosemite Valley, which is full of meadows, a river and pine trees, and some accommodation and camping grounds. Around the valley you have incredible granite rock formations including stunning mountains. There are granite rock faces like El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome and so on, also some of the highest waterfalls in the world. The whole thing combines to be a stunning place to spend time camping, cycling, hiking or rock climbing and it is visited by about 5 million people per year. There are a few roads that go round the central part of the park surrounding the valley. 95% of the park is wilderness and hardly any people go there except experienced hikers, climbers and campers. You might know Yosemite from the Apple Mac operating system. At the time I’m recording this podcast, the most recent OS for mac is Yosemite (I believe the next one is called El Capitan – also a rock face in Yosemite National Park). So if you have a Mac with Yosemite, you’ve probably seem desktop images of the place. It’s absolutely stunning. Being there is a bit like being inside your own Apple Mac, but obviously much much better than that because nothing can compare to seeing it with your own eyes.

We drove out of LA and the through back end of the Hollywood hills. Handsome countryside with a highway which is great for driving. But the land soon becomes flat boring farmland. The driving is fun in the Camaro, which comes into its own on the open highway (which is rarely open because of all the cars). I realise that I’ve hardly put my for down the whole time. Most of the driving in LA has been slow cruising or edging forwards in traffic.
I floor the Camaro with some space ahead and it reveals masses of hidden power, roaring and leaping forwards with yet more revs all the time. It seems to have about 9 gears and they’re all RAAAAA!
We eat up the highway and eventually arrive in Fresno after about 4 hours. Fresno, aka Mall-land. It seems to be one giant shopping mall. I guess we’re in the commercial district but there is just open mall after open mall. We pick one with a Wholefoods and get sushi, which is not that great. Wholefoods is like Mecca to us. London has a few, Paris none.
What’s great about Wholefoods?
They’re normal in USA but this one isn’t that great, or maybe the expectation was too high.
It’s freezing inside and boiling outside.
We wander around mall-land looking for supplies.
Then the drive to Yosemite in the mid/late afternoon. A couple of hours.
The landscape gets more and more interesting as we climb up and up the winding highway. Wonderful driving and lovely smell of pine cones and pine trees. We drive with the windows open and the sun on our faces through the trees.
Eventually we’re in Yosemite and we glimpse views of stunning granite formations but keep going. We go into a tunnel and on the other side (tunnel view) the whole valley opens out on the left side. It’s my Mac desktop but we’re actually there. Can’t see properly from the Camaro. Terrible visibility.
After an hour of driving in a daze we arrive at our campsite.
Describe the tents.
Friendly atmosphere. Our tent is situated pretty well.
There are strict regulations about bears.

Black Bears in Yosemite
This is bear country and they are all around the park. They come out at night to go on missions into the valley to get food.
Apparently they have over 2x the sense of smell of a bloodhound, are very intelligent and more curious and confident than dogs, they have huge claws and padded hairy feet which make them silent. You must not keep any food or scented products in the tent or car. Everything has to be in the bear boxes which are very sturdy, made of metal and bolted to the ground. Apparently if you leave food out and then turn your back, they can appear and start feeding. Apparently at night, all the black bears head down into the valley under the cover of darkness. Slightly scary.
Naturally it’s pretty exciting to be sleeping in a basic hut with just a curtain separating us in bed and the bears which I imagine to be wandering around our tents at night.
I don’t have to imagine much because that night a bear has a go at the bear box just next to our tent. I hear it trying to open the box before moving on to try another one and another one. I later hear two people walking past talking about the bear they’ve seen. I was frozen solid in bed the whole time.
Apparently if you come across one you should shout at it angrily to try and scare it away.
I wonder what I would shout at it.
What should you say to a bear? What’s the appropriate thing?
I wouldn’t want to be too rude but at the same time it would be necessary to talk in rather strong terms.
I suppose indirect language wouldn’t work.
You have to be direct and clear, yet reasonable.
I’m joking of course. I think I would just scream at it and swear and say any old nonsense.
I imagine some of you would be a bit cooler.
Not me – I’m from the UK. We killed all our bears years ago, and made them fight dogs and other cruel things.
I imagine that any bear meeting me and hearing my London accent would not be that friendly.
So, no need to be cool. Freaking out and panicking is the order of the day here.
The place has a lovely summer camp, hippie Boy Scout feel to it, although it’s a bit crowded and there are lots of kids. It would be nice to have the place to ourselves of course but that’s impossible.
Dinner in the Yosemite Lodge down the road. Modest canteen food. Bought some tourist stuff like a cap and some playing cards.
Then bed after making sure all food and smelly stuff is in the reinforced box, then draw the canvas curtains – definitely not reinforced. Tie them with a good knot. Will it make a difference?
Of course bears won’t be interested in us, but apparently they’re really curious. We’re wearing mosquito repellent coil things. They’re quite interesting and smelly. Maybe a bear will find it interesting.
I would. “Oh what’s that on your wrist” – would the bear equivalent of that be “roar! Let me poke my head into your tent and bite your arm off, or just maul you a bit (because that’s what large dangerous animals do, they maul you).
Slept pretty well in the open air, despite these thoughts in my head and an actual bear or two outside the tent. Had to go to the loo in the night. I did so, noisily, checking the toilet quickly for any bears that might be in there hanging out or whatever. I did my business and had to look over the top of the door before leaving the cubicle, just to make sure there wasn’t a huge bear waiting for me. But it’s all fine.

12 August 
Breakfast in the canteen and then a day in the park.
Stayed on the valley floor on bikes. Packed lunches. Wanted to hike but closed. Apparently there was a fire up there.
Amazing seeing the granite up there. Gave me the desire to climb, but that’s not an option without climbing buddies, and my wife hasn’t really done it before. Bikes are a bit awkward – beach cruiser type things. Mountain bikes would have been better. Still, it’s very peaceful and incredibly fresh. Sunshine and cycling are quite tiring so we end up chilling by the river.
I’m a bit worried about tomorrow. What can we do that’s fun and takes advantage of the proper rugged landscape without being too challenging?

That night I drive us back up to Tunnel Point to see the sunset. We end up staying to look up at the stars, lying on our backs. It’s immensely beautiful as there is hardly any light pollution, so the stars are all revealed in their glory. Millions and millions of tiny points of light. Our galaxy the milky way is so rich that it appears to be like a mist across the sky, but in fact it’s a dense collection of many many stars. We see constellations like Orion’s belt and the plough. Driving back through the valley my wife sleeps in the passenger seat and I stop the car again to lie on the bonnet and look up at the stars some more, but I get totally freaked out by the total darkness around me! We sleep soundly that night, ready for a pretty early start in the morning.

13 August
Early start.
Big breakfast.
Coach trip up to Granite Point. Driver very amusing. 26 years and he has perfected his routine. Full of jokes and dry humour and the story of Yosemite. (What’s the story)
Native Americans.
Granite Point.
Panoramic views and start hike.
Some concern over the preparedness, but in fact we’re well prepared. Our shoes are not climbing shoes, but I think some of that is just marketing, and anyway some of the more recent climbing shoes don’t have ankle protection. 8 miles of hike, mostly downhill. Some uphill bits. Some tricky steps. Should take 4-6 hours.
We do the first 3-4 miles without problem except my wife rolls her heel slightly on a rock. As she’s walking she steps on a small rock, and her heel flexes a bit to the right as her foot slips slightly. I worry for a moment if she’s sprained it but she says she’s fine and carries on.
Amazing views.
Stop at Nevada falls, dip our feet in the pools of cold water, chill out and eat sandwiches.
Time to leave and my wife’s ankle has ceased up completely.
Very painful to walk on and we face 5 miles of downhill trekking. Should take a couple of hours normally but it takes us about half and hour to do about half a mile. She’s holding my hand and using me as a crutch. We have to stop. We’re stuck.
Lots of people stop to ask if we’re ok. People are amazingly nice.
Two women called Jenny and Susan stop. Apparently they’ve just done a training course in safety and first aid.

They take our situation seriously and give us water and food, and then call search and rescue for us. I feel bad for not having done this earlier. Anyway, search and rescue take a full description of the injury and say they’ve sent a ranger up to meet us. Suddenly we’re in a kind of emergency rescue situation with the authorities involved. My wife in particular is gutted and embarrassed. They tell us not to move. We wait for about an hour and then the ranger arrives. Apparently he was on the trail already but he made good time to get to us. I’ve bound my wife’s leg in a bandage given to us J and S. The ranger has crutches and more supplies of water and food. He also has material to give the foot support with a splint.

According to him we should climb back up and then down another way. We realise this is going to take us hours and hours of slow and painful movement for my wife. She’s really pissed off and sorry. So am I.

We walk back the way we’ve come, up to the waterfalls again and it’s slow going. Poor wife has to struggle with crutches or one crutch and my shoulder. Very slow. A 2-3 hour trek looks set to take 5-6 hours. That’s a long time for my wife to hobble along a rocky trail up and downhill on crutches with one ankle in pain and unable to take her weight.
But she’s brave and determined. Every time Josh or I asks if she wants to take a break she says “non!”
She’s determined to get down the trail to the bottom, as quickly as possible.

Describe the trail and the things we saw.
Peregrine Falcons nesting above us.
We talk to Josh and he tells us various things:
There are about 5 fatalities from accidents per year.
That sounds like a lot, as if it’s a really dangerous place, but when you consider that about 5 million people visit every year it’s only 1 in a million who die. Imagine London with its 7 million residents. How many deaths are there in London per year? A lot more. So which is the more dangerous – trekking in Yosemite or cycling to work in London?
Nevertheless, there have been some pretty gruesome accidents, usually as a result of stupid tourists who have no sense of safety or no respect for the nature of the park.
Apparently one of the most common forms of death by accident is from people falling over the waterfalls and falling hundreds of feet to their death on the rocks below.
Apparently they jump around on the huge boulders at the edge of the waterfalls with their cameras and selfie sticks, edging forward trying to get the perfect photo or selfie and they edge forward a little too far and suddenly they’re over the edge.

What happens when a tourist falls off one of the highest waterfalls in the world and lands on granite rocks?
Apparently the rangers have nicknamed it the human water balloon. You can imagine what that looks like to the other trekkers and tourists who witness it happening.

Josh tells us other tales of tourists who are unprepared for the wilderness of Yosemite, even though there are numerous warnings written all over the park.

People who attempt to scale the half dome – a huge granite dome thousands of feet above the valley floor with a sheer vertical drop on one side. It takes at least 12 hours to climb up. Most do it over several days. It’s a proper climb for experienced people and it ends with a long ascent up the dome at a 45 degree angle. To get up there you have to hold onto steel cables which have been bolted into the rock, and use crude wooden blocks also bolted to the granite. Some people lose their grip and down they go. Others lose their cool and panic, with the same result. They fall all the way down to the bottom.
The search and rescue Rangers are called up to the mountainside every day. Sometimes it’s necessary to do helicopter rescues.
According to Josh, this year a woman fell from the half dome but didn’t fall to her death. Instead her shirt got caught on a sharp bit of rock and she hung there for two hours before being rescued.

Earlier that day, Josh had to rescue a guy who had fallen out of a tree. Apparently he was climbing the tree, messing around and he fell out and landed badly on a rock. His ribs broke and pierced his lungs. Josh thinks he probably didn’t make it.

This puts things in perspective somewhat. But still, the crutches and the assisted descent are definitely necessary and we count our lucky stars that it’s not worse. Josh tells us that we’re well prepared with water, food and a torch. Yesterday he rescued a Chinese couple who had tried to climb the half dome without knowing what they were doing. It’s at least a 12 hour climb, often more. They’d started after lunch and were quite high up, coming back down when they realised they would never get to the bottom before sunset and then they’d be stranded in total darkness on the trail. Not fun spending a night out there without food or shelter, especially when you know there are bears around, even 9 foot long mountain lions, although they are rare.
Josh heard the couple screaming for help on the trail, and assisted them to the bottom.
Again, 5 million people enter the park every year. Not all of them know what they’re doing.

We continue to make very slow progress down the trail. My wife is in a lot of discomfort, but mainly she’s frustrated at not being able to go faster. Each step is a mini challenge because of the crutches – she has to place them carefully, and then place her foot carefully too, making sure she doesn’t have to put her weight on the bad ankle.
On the plus side, we get to walk with a ranger and we get the sunset on the trail, with magnificent views of the half dome and other domes in the valley. Again, this all seems so familiar to me because of a computer game – this time it’s Red Dead Redemption, which is set over 100 years ago, and you’re basically a cowboy gunslinger in the wild west. The landscape is very faithfully reproduced in the game, and there is a mountainous area with bears which is really similar to the landscape in Yosemite.

As the sun stretches through the trees onto the trail we are basically alone at this point as it gets to about 8pm. We should have been back 3 hours ago but we still have a long way to go. In this quiet I keep expecting to see a bear cross the path in front of us. Everything seems so still and peaceful that I’m sure any moment now we’re going to come across a bear.
Anyway, the main challenge is to get down the mountain, never mind bears and lions. It’s very rocky, there are lots of steps and boulders and so on. It goes on and on forever until eventually we’re walking in the total darkness with torches on our heads.
I carry my wife for some sections, and it’s a chance to go much faster.

Eventually, after ages and ages, we finally get to the end of the trail at a huge water tank, which is like some massive UFO looming out of the darkness. From there we’re all picked up by a local police officer in his 4×4, which is absolutely huge, like many of the cars. It’s giant, with massive tyres. My wife sits in the cab with the police officer. Between them there is a gun rack with several massive semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun and a few handguns. A typical American cop car! Not only is it a tremendous relief to be off the trail and back in civilisation, but we get a ride in what feels like a tank! The police officer drives us through the forests in the closed area of the park, back to where our car is parked at Yosemite Lodge. We stop at the police station and Josh goes in to get us some food. It’s 11 o’clock and we haven’t eaten since the sandwiches at the waterfall. Josh comes out with two US Army meal rations. These are field packs for soldiers and they contain everything for a full meal including macaroni cheese, tea, coffee, a fruit desert, bread, salt, pepper, butter and the whole things heats themselves up without needing fire. Bonus!

In the end, we are completely knackered and go straight to bed, exhausted after I carefully inspect my wife’s ankle. Thankfully it’s not too swollen or discoloured. In fact, I think she escaped bad injury and her ankle will be fine if she rests it. The next 36 hours will be pretty inactive, with a long sleep and then a fairly long car journey so she can rest it.

End of Part 5! Part 6 coming soon…
Granite Point View

284. Questions from (Part 2)

Hi listeners, in this episode I go through some more of the questions sent to me by readers of All the questions and most of my answers are added below, so you can read and listen at the same time if you want to. Enjoy the episode!

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Song snippets at the end from the amazing album “Trojan Presents: Roots”. Get it here on Amazon.
Just a few things to mention:
– Join the mailing list.
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– Check out the various features you can find on including – music mixes, some funny jokes & cartoons, ways to contact me, transcripts, a phrasal verb a day, and other stuff in the episode archive.

Questions & Answers

Babikov Gleb
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia” Moscow Region

Greetings, Luke! Nowadays almost every educator in Russia teaches English using textbooks and common school programs. Don’t you think that teachers should develop more effective ways of teaching students?

Hi Babikov,
I think teachers should always be looking for new ways to develop their teaching. We constantly have to come up with engaging and effective teaching methods and that means understanding how people think, the cultural reference points and so on. It’s often necessary to make your own materials which are adapted from authentic sources, and which are more specifically suited to that group of students. So, thinking outside the box, focusing specifically on the needs of the students, and coming up with new materials regularly are all important ways to develop our teaching skills. Thanks for the question.

Pikalenko Roman

Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hi, Luke!

To my mind, every man should be a gentleman. And I would like to know your opinion. Is it essential for a young man to be a gentleman?


Hi Roman,
If by being a gentleman you mean being polite, respectful and considerate then yes I think young men should be like gentlemen. They can act like gentlemen, but not necessarily look or sound like the classic image of the British gentleman. To be honest I hope everyone lived like gentlemen if it meant treating other people with respect. The cliche of the gentleman in a suit and hat is only something you see in movies these days. Thanks for the question. I did a podcast episode about this recently. You can listen to it here 260. Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Strebkov Sergey
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke.
I’d like to ask you a question: have you been scared when you started to make blogs? Were there any negative comments?


Hi Sergey,
Generally the feedback I get from my podcast is positive. I’m very aware that the internet is a place where people can be strongly criticised and you get aggressive users or trolls who might write very harsh comments about you online, but generally comments on my website are from really enthusiastic English learners so everything’s nice. I’m really conscious of the fact that I’m revealing a lot about myself in my episodes, so that is something I think about a lot. Thanks for the question.

Stepnova Alina
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
What attracted you to work in Japan?
Do the Japanese students wear school uniforms? How do you think whether Russian students wear school uniform?
School uniform lets students be equal. Without school uniforms complexes and envy may arise among students. Don’t you agree with it?
Thanks! I believe you will answer me.

Hi Alina,
You believed correctly, because I am answering you.
I did a podcast episode about living in Japan. You can listen to it here I talk about my reasons for going there and some of the experiences I had. About school uniforms, I don’t know about Russian students and school uniforms but in the UK I had to wear uniforms in all the schools I went to. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and it probably does give the students more equal status and may encourage a closer sense of community. Also, there’s a certain discipline in having to prepare specific clothes for your day every morning. I didn’t mind wearing a uniform most of the time, and I rarely thought of the idea of it being banned. I think you’re right, kids might find it more difficult if they are judged on their clothes, so uniforms help to let them blend in with everyone else. Thanks for the question.

Trusova Dasha
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello Luke!

I know, you are active in social networks. Is it difficult to combine tearcher’s and blogger’s activities?

Thank you.

Hi Dasha,
It’s not hard to combine my teaching and my online work. Generally, they don’t affect each other and I keep them separate. I don’t use my episodes in class, or extracts from them, and in fact I rarely tell my students about my website until the end of the course. This is because I don’t want them to feel pressured to listen to it, and also because I don’t necessarily want them to hear certain things (like the more crazy episodes or personal stories) at the beginning of the course because I am attempting to present a more serious and business like impression. Sometimes my students already know who I am. Others only realise who I am after a while. Once I was teaching in London and at the end of the course I told them about my podcast. One girl in my class gasped! She was a regular listener to my podcast and after 2 weeks in my class she hadn’t realised it was me. She nearly fell off her chair. It was hilarious.

So mainly, I’m concerned about the image my students will have of me if they listen to my podcast. Thanks for the question.

Badalyan Tsogik

Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke!

If you could live the same day over and over again, what would you prefer to do on this day?

Thank you.

Hi Badalyan,
You mean, like the film Groundhog Day? If I had to live the same day over and over again I would probably do lots of different things every day to make it feel like I was actually living a life. Then I would learn how to do things really well, like in the film. I’d learn how to be an amazing pianist or something. I’d try and enjoy myself. Thanks for the question!

Ludmila Guseva
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

To be or not to be… What does it mean for you???

Thanks a lot in advance for your answer.

Hi Ludmilla,
You mean, the existential questions that Hamlet asks himself when contemplating suicide? I guess we’re talking about the meaning of existence. What’s the meaning of life for me? I’m really not sure what this is all about. In fact, I have a feeling that the whole of the universe is not united in one single purpose and that in fact it’s pretty random. Either that, or we just have no ability to understand the complexity of existence. There may even be parallel worlds or just things we can’t even see. Physics and astrophysics are fascinating to me because they really could learn about what the universe is really doing and how it works. Does it mean anything though? I’m not sure. On a personal level I think we all have a choice to make life run how we want it. We can choose to be positive and take some control over our lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything more than just making yourself happy and trying to increase the happiness of those around you. Thanks for the question.

Andrey Kirianov
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hi, Luke!
What should be done to avoid racism in the world?
Thank you!

Hi Andrey,
I think travelling and meeting people is important. That tends to make you realise that people around the world are not that different and they’re all entitled to the same treatment as everyone else. It doesn’t help when racism is used by leaders to claim power over their own people. That’s a common way to get power. Blame all the problems on foreign people and use the fear of foreigners to whip up nationalist sentiment and support for the present government. To battle it we need to make sure we have a fully free press, and to educate children against racist attitudes. I think simply allowing people to know more about other cultures, means that they’re less likely to be racist against them. Also, we should have an open mind.
Thanks for your question.

Ludmila Guseva
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Which is better: to teach or to learn? Or to learn while teaching? Will you share your ideas & experience?
Thanks in advance.
Hi Ludmila,
I’ve certainly learned a lot from teaching. If I want to get to know a subject really well, I teach it. It forces you to really know the subject. As a learner I find it harder to get the motivation to do research. As a teacher I do it incredibly quickly and effectively.
Thanks for the question.

Badalyan Tsogik
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region
If you were given a book with the story of your life, would you read it to the end?
Thank you!

Hi Badalyan,
No, I wouldn’t read it! I don’t want to know yet. Everything at its right time. I prefer to discover my life story as it happens. I also don’t want to be constantly expecting the end scene to arrive. Innocence is bliss! Thanks for the question.

Ivanova Evgenia
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke!
I know that you are a teacher.
If you had a chance to return to the past, would you tell about the future to the people there?

Hi Evgenia,
If I could return to the past I think I wouldn’t tell them about the future. In the past people didn’t react very well to strange looking people babbling about visions of the future. They might catch me and burn me as a witch! Instead I would travel to the past and then tell the people of the present all about it. I think a good first-hand account of history would help us know the right thing to do now, so that our future is kept safe. The past is something to learn from.
Thanks for the question!

Bezborodova Anna
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke!
I’d like to ask you a question:
How much time does it take you to make your podcasts? Is it difficult?
Thank you.

Hi Anna,
Actually, it takes me a lot of time to make my podcasts. It depends on the episode, because I prepare some episodes more than others. But preparing and recording a podcast, completing all the notes on the website, uploading it and then sharing it via social networks can take from 3 to 10 hours. Some episodes are really easy because I don’t prepare them and they just flow out of my mouth, but others prove to be harder to manage, either because of the subject matter or because of the need to edit the content. It can take a lot of energy to do my podcast, but I like it a lot and I hope to eventually be rewarded for my work in some way.
Thanks for the question.

Gorbunov Nikita
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke!
How do you think, is music a necessary part of our life? Do you often listen to music? What musical styles do you prefer? Do you believe that music helps us to feel better?
Thank you for the answer!

Hi Nikita,
I think music is absolutely vital to my life. I constantly have music in my head or playing through speakers. I also need to play music myself. It’s a great way to de-stress while also achieving something. Music is really mysterious. It’s something innate that we all share. The language of music is written into us when we’re born and it’s all about the way humans are able to hear certain sounds in a particular scale. Why it causes such strong emotional responses in us is a total mystery and one of the wonders of the universe! Thanks for the question!

I’m Lera Kuvshinkina, Umyotskaya school,Tambov Region
You know that there are many kinds of subcultures. If you were a teenager, what subculture you would like to belong to?
Thank you!

Hi Lera,
I’m well aware of subcultures in the UK and it’s one of my favourite subjects. I did that at university in Liverpool. When I was a teenager I didn’t belong to a particular subculture but I was somewhere between: indie, casual, mod and retro 70s. Those are rather specific styles, but there are other more well-known subcultures in the UK like skinheads and punks. I used to know skin-heads and punks in Birmingham (I was in a punk band for a while when I was a teenager) and they were all really nice and funny blokes. I love the different subcultures in the UK and their clothing/musical associations. Thanks for the question!

Zhalialova Liliya
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke!

Is it possible to save warm relations being in different cities far away from your sweetheart? How to save this fragile spiritual link from your point of view?


Hi Liliya,
I think it is possible to keep love alive when you live in different cities but it requires communication and a long term plan to be together. You can use Skype and other networks to keep in touch easily, and if you know that you’re going to eventually be together it makes it easier. Also, make the most of the moments when you see each other. The airport greetings and so on. It can be madly romantic and exciting and a period that you will always treasure when you look back on it. Thanks for the question!

Tea4er part2

282. Questions from

In this episode you can listen to an article about LEP and some Q&A from readers of all read out by Luke. See below for the transcript. :)

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Hi listeners,

Earlier this year I was sent an email from one of the managers of a popular website in Russia for teachers of English. It’s called Basically, the editor of this website approached me because some of their readers had mentioned me. He emailed me and asked me to provide an article explaining my approach to teaching English and how my podcast is part of that. The idea was that after reading the article, readers from the website could send me their questions. After a few weeks I would then read all those questions and choose a few to answer, then send my answers. The plan was that I’d choose about 5 winning answers. In the end what happened was that there were so many questions that I found it almost impossible to just pick 5. There were over 20 pages of questions. I was totally blown away by the number of responses. is a hugely frequented site, and of course Russia is one of the biggest countries for LEP (in terms of website visits, Russia is #1 followed by Spain, UK, Poland, Italy, USA and Japan. For audio downloads my top country is by far the UK, followed by Russia, Spain, Poland and Japan) so that may explain why I got so many responses. I ended up responding to way more than 5 questions. I sent my responses to the website and they published them this week. With the permission of the website I have decided to turn the whole thing into an episode of LEP. I mean, I put so much time into writing the article and answering the questions that I thought it might be worth reading the whole thing out for my listeners to hear.

So that’s what you’re going to get in this episode. I’ll read you the article I wrote, which is basically the story of my career and of LEP, and then I’ll read out the questions I was sent and my answers. The questions cover various topics – mainly English teaching, but also a whole bunch of other stuff. I hope you enjoy it!

1) the news about contest
2) the interview
3) the forum thread—/64382

Dear Readers,

These days there is an emerging new kind of English teaching professional – the online teacher. They create their own content, break new ground with the use of social networking, and give learners an option outside of the traditional school structure. They’re on YouTube, blogs and podcasts, they gain a very significant following, and I suppose that I am now one of them.

Over five years ago I had settled into my career as a teacher of English as a foreign language. I had passed my DELTA course, had a permanent job teaching English and had just bought my very first property in London. I bought a new laptop and it gave me the option to record, produce and publish my own podcast on iTunes. I had always wanted to be a radio DJ. As a child I had produced numerous fake radio shows with my brother on our cassette recorder, and I had always loved listening to radio, podcasts and comedy CDs. It was my dream to make the same kind of content, and have an audience of people like me, who would lie on the sofa, listening to someone else’s words, being transported to different worlds of imagination.

For a while I tried my hand at making comedy videos on YouTube but they didn’t get many views. Why would anyone look at my comedy videos and short films anyway? I didn’t have an audience.

As an English teacher I’d been working for about 8 years. I’d met hundreds and hundreds of learners of English from all around the world, and had learned some key things. I knew that almost everybody wanted to learn English – the vast majority of the people in the world really. I’d learned how to engage the attention of a class full of people. I knew what subjects interested them, what language difficulties they had, and how to stand out as an English teacher. Also, as a recently diploma qualified professional I had some proper know-how when it came to helping other people learn my language.

What I realised was that there was a potentially huge audience in the world, I had something to offer to them, and I had the means to do it, so what could possibly stop me from launching my own podcast for learners of English? The idea sounded perfect really. I could do it all on my laptop. I could plan my episodes around engaging topics, I could make sure I included some fairly rigorous sequences about language and language learning and I could find ways of making the content funny too. I even had my own flat where I could record episodes of the podcast without being disturbed. Conditions were perfect.

I come from what I consider to be a BBC family. My Dad was a BBC man for about 30 years. We grew up in a BBC household. We never watched ITV, the commercial television station which was the BBC’s main rival. The BBC logo was everywhere in our house on pens, folders, notepads, and mugs. I would often hear my Dad talk about producing the news, what he thought of different presenters and how to deliver information as a broadcaster. It felt quite natural to do it myself on the podcast.

Also, I’d always loved stand-up comedy. When I lived in Japan at the start of my career as a teacher, I had no television so I used to listen to comedy CDs over and over again. My Mum used to send me recordings of Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey, Monty Python, Peter Cook, Bill Hicks and Steve Martin and I used to devour them, listening over and over again.

I came back to London after a couple of years in Japan, just as the podcasting boom took off for the first time. I continued what had now become a tradition of lying on my bed listening to someone talking through my speakers, usually a stand-up comedian.

I’d always harboured a desire to try stand-up myself, but it wasn’t until my girlfriend at the time suggested I do a stand-up comedy course (yes they exist in London) that I first picked up a mic, stood on stage and tried to make a room full of people laugh. The relationship with the girlfriend didn’t last, but the stand-up comedy did. I’m still doing stand-up now (in fact I have a gig in about one hour) and I’m glad to say that feeds into my podcast a lot as I attempt to use comedy, from time to time, to make my audience laugh, and to reduce the so-called “affective filter” which can really get in the way of language learning.

So that is what I brought to my new project, called Luke’s English Podcast, years of experience, qualifications, enthusiasm, a BBC background, and some skills as a stand-up comedian. I finally have my own radio programme.

Over the last five years I have managed to keep producing regular episodes of my show, and it brings in lots of listeners particularly in Russia, which is my number one country for downloads and website visits.

You may be wondering at this point what the website address is for Luke’s English Podcast, and I am very glad to tell you! It’s There you’ll find loads of content, including some very popular YouTube videos, but mainly it is a place to present episodes of my podcast, which is also available on iTunes.

The vast majority of my content is in audio form, and I upload podcast episodes about once a week. Each episode is one hour long on average, and the English level of my audience ranges from intermediate to proficiency.

Yes, that’s right, my episodes are usually about one hour long. Sometimes people are surprised at that length as the usual model for learning English podcasts is for them to be short, like the BBC’s “6 Minute English” podcast. The conventional wisdom here is that short episodes are easier to digest, they don’t overwhelm learners with too much content, they are convenient for listening at lunch time or during a quick break from work or studies, and they can be adapted by teachers for classroom use.

I decided quite quickly that I would take the conventional wisdom and chuck it out of the window. My episodes would be longer, like the podcasts that I loved to listen to. By 2009 I’d been listening to podcasts regularly, particularly one called “Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Review”. That is one of the most popular podcasts in the UK, and is produced by the BBC. In a nutshell it features two guys reviewing films, but it’s not really a film review show, it’s a lot more than that. Reviewing films gives their podcast a structure and a theme but the show is, sometimes quite profoundly, about life in general. It’s an intensely rewarding listening experience, especially if you’re a long-term listener. Listening to Mark and Simon wittering on about films is life-affirming, entertaining, touching, educational and more. It makes you feel like you’re part of a close community of people who share a certain outlook on life, and who all are aware of the little in-jokes and references from that show. I wanted Luke’s English Podcast to be like that.

Having longer episodes gave me much more freedom. I could go much deeper into subjects I wanted to talk about. I could achieve more in each episode. I have never really understood why learning-English podcast episodes should be short. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. Mp3 players and iPhone apps are programmed to remember where you stopped listening. So, if your journey to work is only 30 minutes – no problem. Listen to 30 minutes of an episode, and then press ‘stop’. When you come home from work your mp3 player will remember where you were in the episode, even if you listen to some music in the meantime. Also, longer episodes mean more content, and what is wrong with that? So, despite the fact that every now and then I read comments that say my episodes are a bit long, I maintain that they’re exactly the right length for what I want to achieve with my podcast.

The other thing I decided from the beginning was that my episodes would not be scripted. A lot of other podcast episodes for learners of English are scripted, and I know why. Writing the script beforehand means that you can easily add target language into a conversation, you can properly prepare grammar or vocabulary explanations and it means that a full transcript is available for listeners when the episodes are published. But, when I listen to these scripted episodes (such as the BBC’s 6 Minute English) they just sound fake, awkward and unengaging. Why should English learning materials be dull or patronising? Why make podcast episodes contrived, full of bad acting and unnatural speech patterns? Again, I can’t think of any really good reasons. Surely, it is better to present English in the most authentic way possible: by recording without a script.

Admittedly, some of my episodes are scripted, but for the most part I’ve kept them spontaneous, and I think that has really benefited the podcast. They sound more engaging, natural and they present language more authentically. I think it gives the programme a lot of personality. There are times when I have made mistakes, stumbled over my words or forgotten what I was talking about, and I left them all in the published episodes, for the sake of authenticity. In fact, this sort of thing is precisely what my listeners love about my podcast. They love the fact that it’s real and spontaneous. The fact that I have total creative control, and that I make sure that podcasting is fun for me, have made LEP (Luke’s English Podcast) unique and valuable.

I have found that the episodes my listeners love the most are the ones in which I take risks and am spontaneous. I can do things on LEP that I definitely wouldn’t do in schools where I work as an employee. If I want to devote a whole episode to Star Wars, or zombies, I can. If I want to talk about all the rudest words in the English language, I can. If I want to just talk and talk about nothing in particular, with no plan, I can! And it seems the more I do that, the more my listeners appreciate it.

The atmosphere of total freedom is really healthy for my podcast, I believe. For example, a couple of years ago I just decided to improvise a story on the podcast, based on an old joke I used to tell as a child. The joke normally takes about 2 minutes to tell, but I decided to try and stretch the story to about 30-40 minutes of podcasting time. I recorded the episode with the microphone in my hand, walking around the kitchen, improvising jokes, dialogues and scenarios. The story became an epic adventure, with me being chased around the world by a huge pink gorilla, using various modes of transport. I wasn’t sure if I should publish it, because I thought people would think I was crazy, and that they wouldn’t see the learning value in it. That episode (125. The Pink Gorilla Story) is one of the most popular ones I’ve ever done. My listeners love it, and now I try to do improvised stories as much as possible. It’s so fun, full of risks (I have no idea what I’m going to say next sometimes) but I think it’s truly rewarding for my listeners because it creates a listening experience which totally captures people’s attention. If they know it is being created there and then, in the moment, there’s so much more drama involved, and that makes people pay attention. Sometimes people tell me they are addicted to my episodes, and that when they listen, time just flies by. Apparently, the length of my episodes proves not to be such an issue.

All of my feelings about this are backed up by academic research. I am sure you are familiar with the work of Stephen Krashen. His idea is that language is effectively acquired by learners when they engage with language in a meaningful way, and that the more comprehensible input a learner is exposed to, the better. That pretty much sums up the thinking behind my approach to the podcast, however I realise that it’s not just as simple as that, and I try my best to vary my teaching method in my episodes. Sometimes I focus on grammar, providing colourful examples and sample sentences which I encourage my listeners to repeat to themselves. Sometimes I teach vocabulary in a fairly traditional way. Sometimes I devote episodes of the podcast to giving general advice on learning English, with a view to improving my listeners’ metacognitive strategies. The whole package, which includes over 280 episodes to date, covers a really wide range of content, language input, comprehensible input, interviews with native speakers, comedy, music and more. I’m really proud of it, and this year I have decided that I finally deserve to make some money from my endeavours, but this is the tricky part. So far I have focused mainly on producing good content, hoping that it would speak for itself. It has done that to an extent. I have a healthy following and a large audience, but I must find ways of monetising my online project. So, taking LEP to the next level is my new challenge, while also producing regular episodes of the podcast as normal.

As English teachers yourselves, I suggest that my podcast could be a great resource that you can recommend to your students for use outside the classroom. It could be just another option, other than the BBC’s podcasts. If your students like it, hopefully they will get hooked and then they’ll find themselves with a healthy new habit in their lives. If they don’t like the podcast, no problem. I’ve always known that you can’t please all the people all the time, but you can do your best!

There’s so much more for me to tell you about, like the transcript writing project I have set up, which has listeners collaborating on transcriptions of my episodes using Google documents, and the award my podcast has won three times, but I have already written nearly 2,500 words here, and as I said, I have to go out and perform some stand-up comedy soon.

Just to bring this writing to a close, I should say that since starting my podcast in 2009 it has steadily grown in popularity. In the last year LEP was downloaded over 3,000,000 times in total, which is much higher than I expected when I first started. I would really like to continue and build my work into something larger. I believe I have a lot to offer as an online teacher, and podcasting may just be the beginning. Online teaching has given me freedom, creative control, an audience, my own radio show and an outlet for my comedy. I also know from all the messages I receive every day, especially from listeners in Russia, that my podcast has made a difference to the English of people all around the world. I hope that in the future I will be able to make a living teaching like this, and I believe I can.

Thanks a lot for reading.


Dear readers of,

Earlier this year I was invited to write a post on this website describing my teaching career and my reasons for starting my own podcast for learners of English. I told you my personal story, and then you were invited to contribute questions as part of a competition. I could then choose some questions to respond to.

I was delighted to see over the weeks after posting my interview here that there were about 20 pages of questions from users of this website. It’s amazing to see how many responses there were, including interesting thoughts and ideas from so many bright minded people. I was asked to choose about 5 questions, but in the end I found it really hard to choose just 5 so I’ve written answers to many more than that! I hope that you enjoy reading my responses, and I’m sorry if your question was not included.

Would you like to listen to me answering your questions in a podcast episode? You could hear me give my answers orally. I may use your questions and my responses as the basis for a new episode of my podcast soon, so if you’d like to listen to that, check out my podcast over the next couple of weeks. I will probably upload the episode soon. Click here for more information

I hope you like reading my answers to your questions, and thanks for reading!

All the best,

Luke Thompson

Hello! I am very pleased to ask you a question.
I’m Spiridonova Tatiana Ivanovna, a teacher, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.

If you were on a desert island you would have the right to have only three things. What would they be?

Thank you.

Good luck! I wish you success.

Hi Tatiana,
Assuming I’m only allowed to have objects rather than abstract or intangible things (like hope, fortitude, good luck, knowledge of bushcraft) I would choose tools that could help me survive. The main thing would be a really good knife or machete. I’ve seen lots of survival shows on TV and the machete seems to be really important. I’d also want some really good rope. Can I have a boat, a helicopter or a laptop with remote internet access? No? Ok, for the third thing I’d like a drum kit, so I can just make loads of noise and beat out the rhythm of the universe on the beach at night under the stars alone. Music is almost as important to me as food and water. Thanks for your question!

I am Savisko Ksenia, a pupil, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.

Hello Luke!

I suppose you are keen on medicine. What do you think when any person is too ill. He sneezes very often. Can his eyes dash out during his sneezing?

Thank you!

Hi Savisko,
If a person sneezes a lot, will his eyes pop out? Is that your question?
I’ve heard people say that if you sneeze with your eyes open, that your eyes will pop out. I always assumed it was just a myth, and watching this video confirmed it to me But who knows, if you sneeze hard enough, maybe it’s possible! Thanks for your question Savisko!

I am Vlasova Marina, a pupil, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.

Hello Luke!

One day I was walking down the street. Suddenly a black cat jumped out in front of me. At first I did not pay attention to it. But after an hour or two, I lost my phone. And then I remembered about the superstition which is connected with black cat. I have never believed in omens, but after the accident I started to believe in them. Do you believe in superstitions?

Thank you!

Hi Vlasova,
Interesting question and I’ve been preparing a podcast episode about superstitions which I plan to publish soon. So, do I believe in superstitions like this? Not really, no. Let’s look at the example of your phone and the black cat. Do you really believe that the black cat caused you to lose your phone? What evidence is there that the cat is the direct cause of the loss of the phone. Surely it’s just a coincidence. What’s happened is something called ‘confirmation bias’, which basically means the tendency to interpret events in a way that supports beliefs or theories. I would hypothesise that there is no causal connection between the cat and the loss of your phone. I think you’re creating the connection between the cat and the phone. Can it really be true that cats possess magic powers? What form does this magic take? I believe what happened is that you saw a cat, then later you lost your phone. There’s no connection between the two events, but because superstitions offer us an answer to events we don’t really understand or have control over (like the unexpected loss of something valuable) you make a connection between the two things that isn’t there. So, unless you can provide me with reliable evidence of the power of cats over phones, I don’t believe it! Superstitions are our brain’s way of answering unanswered questions, like – why do bad things happen for no reason, or what happens after we die?
Thanks for your question!


I am Shibitov Artem, a pupil, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.

Hello Luke!

If you had a time machine where would you go?
Thank you.

Hi Shibitov,
I would stay in exactly the same position, but at a different time.
In fact, if I did travel through time, even by just a few minutes, I would probably end up floating in space because the time machine would simply deposit me at the same position in the universe but at a different time, and because the planets and stars in the universe are constantly moving, the earth would be in a different position and I would end up lost in space, dead. So, a time machine is no good. You need a machine that travels through both time and space simultaneously, like the TARDIS from the TV show DOCTOR WHO. That would allow you to travel into the past or future, but make sure you travelled to the right position in space so that you arrive safely on earth.
Thanks for your question!

I am Zimmer Edik, a pupil, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.

Hello Luke!

Have you watched the film “The Star Wars”? If yes, did you like it? What episode impressed you most of all?
Thank you!

Hi Zimmer,
I’m a massive Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the original film (episode 4) at least 100 times. I was mildly obsessed by it when I was a child. I did a podcast episode all about Star Wars not long ago, and I talked about the subject for about 90 minutes. You can listen to that episode here Thanks for the question!

I am Danil Mahno, a pupil, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.
Hello Luke!
Would you like to be a book which is opened by people every day?
Thank you.

Hi Danil,
If I was a book, I would like to be opened by people every day because that would probably mean I was an interesting book full of worthwhile things to read and think about. However, if I was opened every day that might mean my pages would start falling apart after some time! I’m not sure I’d like that. It’s also an interesting question for me because I would very much like to write a book one day and then I certainly hope it would be opened by people every day. Thanks for the question!

Hello Luke!
I’m teacher of English and Spanish and I’d like to ask for advice. The thing is that while teaching we teach our students to use web sites and English blogs, but some of them start just surfing the Net and forget the purpose of switching the computer on. How can I limit them in the Net and make them only study?
Hi! (I’m not sure who answered this question)
I totally understand the problem of our students surfing the web during classes, or being distracted by their phones, or Facebook. It’s a tricky area because these days young people live their lives in constant interaction with the internet. Some of my colleagues ban laptops, phones and tablets from their classrooms. I think that’s a fine choice as long as you’re prepared to act like a police officer in class, as well as a teacher. I personally attempt to capture the interest of my students in every class I teach, so that they choose not to go online. I’m not always successful – some students still end up going online during my classes, which frustrates me a lot. Firstly, it’s rude for them to not be listening or taking part, secondly it means that they might be finding my class boring (which is almost an unbearable thought, but is nevertheless a reality) and thirdly it means that the whole class slows down and becomes less effective because some people are just not following what you’re saying. Still, I think we have to accept a certain amount of multitasking in our classrooms these days. Using the internet while also performing other tasks is a normal part of daily life these days, so we should let it happen in our English classes, in order to make classroom interactions more realistic. Nevertheless, it’s totally unproductive and damaging if students are just being distracted by social networks, especially if it’s in their native language and not English. So, here are a few options: 1. Ban computers in class completely. 2. Allow computers but ban social networks and other stuff that is not related to the lesson. 3. Accept that a certain amount of internet browsing is a normal part of any student’s problem solving process and encourage them to use the internet to help them learn. In all cases, I think it helps if the students are really engaged and interested in what you’re doing in class. It’s also a question of constantly trying to involve them, and maintaining levels of respect. I’d imagine that if your classes are really great, the students won’t want to spend time on the internet. That’s our challenge as teachers today, in my opinion. Thanks for your question.

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I am Arthur Borisov, a pupil,Tavricheskaya school number 1

Hello, Luke!
If you had super abilities in what sphere would you use them?
Thank you.

Hi Arthur,
I suppose it depends on what kind of super abilities I have. If I was strong and able to fly or go really fast I’d probably end up fighting crime or rescuing people like Superman or Batman. If I was able to read people’s minds or affect their thoughts I’d be tempted to help people recover from mental illnesses or neuroses, or simply to make them feel confident enough to do anything they want. I think I’d probably use my powers to get rich too, but I’d try to help people. As we known from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility” so I think that if I had super abilities I think I would also be obliged to use them carefully and with some sense of social justice. Thanks for

I am Anastasia Gofman, a pupil, Tavricheskaya school № 1, Tavricheskoe, Omsk region.

Hello Luke!

They say that there are aliens between us and some of them are working in the government of some countries. If it is true would you like to fly on the UFO?

Thank you.

Hi Anastasia,
I love the way that your question focuses more on the possibility of a UFO ride than on the ramifications of aliens working in the government! Anyway, I’ve heard lots of conspiracy theories which state that the world is run by shapeshifting lizard aliens from another planet. I’m pretty sceptical about that to be honest. I think it’s quite mad, in fact, to believe it. There isn’t any good evidence for it, although I do believe it’s quite possible that the world is basically run by a few very powerful individuals – heads of corporations, leaders of influential societies, that kind of thing. But, aliens in the government? Hmm, I think there may be alien life in the universe, but I’m not convinced that they’re here on earth or in fact working for the government, although I sometimes wonder about David Cameron (joke). But, if there were aliens on earth, and I met them and they offered me a ride on the UFO of course I would love to try that. It would be absolutely fascinating to see their technology and to experience a totally new kind of travelling. The thing is, I’d be afraid that they’d abduct me and stick an uncomfortable probe into my body somehow. I hope that answers your question!

Hello Luke!
I know that you are a lecturer. And, just imagine, you have a choice to make: all your students will become responsible and begin always to listen to you attentively, or you will receive one million dollars. Which will you choose?
Thanks in advance.

Hello (sorry, I don’t know who wrote this)
Well, I think that the first option is perhaps impossible – I can’t imagine a situation in which absolutely 100% of the people in the room are listening to me 100% of the time. There’s always someone who is drifting off, thinking about something else, and I don’t mind that too much. If everyone was 100% attentive, that might not be so great. For example, if I made one mistake, everyone would notice it! Also, I quite like the feeling that my students have independent minds and I don’t necessarily want to rob them of their free thought. I’d like them to listen to me because they find me interesting, not because I’ve cast a spell on them to make them attentive. That sounds a bit like mind control. So, I’ll be glad to have the one million dollars please! Thanks for the question.

Marina Bulakhova
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello Luke! Don’t you find that the profession of a teacher is very deforming? I mean, it has a great influence on a personality, which will, certainly, show itself especially at old age. “He/she has been teaching for a long time”, – it sounds like a diagnosis, which presupposes moralizing, excessive strictness, and other negative manifestations. Isn’t it really so to your mind?

Hi Marina,
I think this is particularly true for people who teach children because it can be very demanding and forces you to be stricter than normal. I suppose this can take its toll. I think that doing any job will have an effect on you, so this kind of thing comes with the territory. As a teacher of adults mainly, I would say that it’s involves less strictness, but more openness, imagination, patience, creativity and the ability to listen. I hope that as I get older I will just have enough energy to keep up! Thanks for the question.

Roman Linskiy
Municipal Educational Institution “Ramenskaya Gymnasia”
Moscow Region

Hello, Luke!

What difficulties have you had with your students and colleges? If any at all? How have you tried to settle them since you became a famous teacher?

Thank you!

Hi Roman,
I’ve had plenty of difficulties with my students – mostly as part of the challenge of helping them improve their English. A lot of it is about motivation. It might be necessary to work with people’s individual problems and approaches to learning. That’s a normal part of the process. Sometimes you find trouble with students in that their personalities come into play. Normally this is really great because most people are interesting and basically good people. Every now and then you come across someone who likes to make life difficult for others, or who simply can’t operate within a group of others, with some level of intimacy as part of the learning process. Sometimes personalities flare up and you might find friction between students in a class or even with the teacher. I’ve had few problems with colleagues because for the most part English teachers get on with each other. We’re all sharing the same situation so there tends to be some camaraderie in the teachers’ room. I did a couple of podcasts about the challenges I’ve faced as a teacher. You can listen to them here Thanks for your message!