Category Archives: Native Speaker

451. Film Club: Alien Covenant

Another film club episode, this time about the Alien franchise and a review of the new film “Alien: Covenant”. The film is in the cinemas now and you could watch the other films at home (with or without subtitles) for some more English listening practice.

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Introduction

Here’s a film club episode about the Alien movies. I hope you’re a fan of those films. If you’re not a fan then this might not be for you I guess, but I hope you listen. In terms of language you’ll hear loads of descriptions of the events and themes of the Alien films and my opinion of “Alien: Covenant”. As ever I encourage you to listen out for language – you might notice some specific phrases. Check out the page for the episode where you’ll see a lot of the notes I made before recording. There are also a few YouTube vids there for you to see as well. OK, let’s get started.

I got a message the other day from a listener in South Korea called Ethan Lee. Ethan asked me if I was going to see the new Alien film “Alien: Covenant” and if I could talk about it on the podcast.

Well, I’m sort of a fan of the Alien movies and today I’m going to see Alien: Covenant, so here’s a film club episode all about the Alien franchise.

I’m going to describe the films, their stories, what makes them great or not so great, including Prometheus from a few years ago.

Then I’m going to go and see Alien: Covenant, the new movie and afterwards I’ll tell you what I think of it.

I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers throughout this episode while discussing these films, although I’m assuming that you’ve probably seen at least Alien and Aliens and you know some of the big moments – like probably the most famous scene in the original alien film where we first see the alien – when the alien comes to dinner, let’s say.

So I expect you know some stuff, but in any case I’ll try to avoid big plot spoilers.

I’m also going to give mini reviews of the films in the franchise, before focusing on Alien: Covenant

Episode notes

Why are you interested in the Alien films?

First time I heard about it.

First time I saw clips from Aliens in a sci-fi exhibition in America when I was about 14.

First time I saw Aliens when I was a kid.

The Alien franchise – Timeline

Alien
Plot
What type of film is it
Director
Alien
What makes it good
Mystery
Slasher film
The design by HR Geiger
Subtexts about sex, reproduction and motherhood
Limitations in filming
Ridley Scott

Aliens
James Cameron
Action movie
More aliens & explosions
New additions like The Queen
An amazing action sequence at the end where Ripley fights the Queen and then a few shocks at the end.
Annoying marines being macho, but great action sequences and Aliens on top form.

Alien 3
Disappointing
Poor storyline – killing off some of the characters from the last episode
Set on a prison colony
Bland set designs – all these characters with shaved heads
I’ve seen it a few times and even now I can’t remember what it’s all about
Poor CGI aliens

Alien: Resurrection
This was slightly better than Alien 3
It’s about a gang of mercenaries who find out that the military have cloned Ripley and used her to create aliens, which as ever they want to weaponise. The Aliens get loose in the ship and it all goes wrong while the ship heads towards earth.
There are some creepy bits about cloning including the times they’d failed to clone Ripley and also at some point a weird Ripley/Alien mix is created which is quite a horrific monster that just wants to kill everyone except Ripley who she considers to be her mother. The scene where the monster goes is both hideously disgusting but also terribly sad.
All in all it’s a weird, gross film which explored some of the themes of reproduction and motherhood.

Alien vs Predator and Alien vs Predator: Requiem
Never seen these films in full although I’ve caught some of them on TV and watched a bit but didn’t continue.
Quite horrible direction, in the dark, close up, so you can’t see anything. Generally it’s Aliens punching Predators. It could have been great but it’s not. There’s a predalien. Another weird name.
Neither of the Alien vs Predator films are considered ‘canon’.

Prometheus
Ridley Scott, back on board.
Let’s bring back the original world of Alien.
Excessive marketing with Ridley Scott really talking up the film in very high level terms – talking about ancient myths and big themes about humankind dabbling in too much power and the gods taking revenge and all this stuff, the legend of prometheus.
The film deals with humanity’s relationship with the gods—their creators—and the consequence of defying them.
I thought – this sounds amazing.
I binged on the publicity and the hype.
Went to see it expecting something huge.
What I got was cheesy dialogue, B-Movie level plot points and action sequences, pseudo-intellectualism, amazing visuals, some bizarre monsters and some extremely stupid decision making.
All in all I’m not sure what to think of Prometheus, but I am slightly obsessed with it.
There are some great things – the effects, the visuals, the performance of Michael Fassbender as the android David.
Some of the monster scenes are amazing.
It’s also mysterious and makes me wonder what it’s all about really.
It spawned numerous “fan theory” videos on YouTube with people going on at length about all the hidden meanings and real meanings – it all makes my head spin.
Here’s my take on it
Millions of years ago on earth an ‘engineer’ arrives and drinks weird black stuff that makes him disintegrate and spread DNA into the ecostystem on earth, seeding life on earth – probably human life. Alright. I wonder why he has to drink that stuff to do that. It looks cool though.
Then, cut to the present day or the near future or whatever. A couple of scientists have worked out from cave paintings where the engineers come from.
They go to find them, sponsored by the Wayland corporation.
They get there to find a seemingly deserted planet.
Find a spaceship. Apparetly this isn’t the engineers’ home planet. THere’s a ship there with loads of these kind of jars of black goo.
The ship also has some murals including one of a xenomorph. The black jars of goo look a bit like alien eggs, but not.
It looks like the engineers were loading the goo onto the ship and something went wrong. Maybe they got infected by the goo and had a bit of trouble. It looks like it. They’re dead anyway.
Apparently they were heading for earth with this load of black goo.
What’s the black goo? A kind of bioweapon.
David tests it. Doesn’t go well.
Shaw’s weird alien birth.
Two of the crew members are utterly stupid.
Apparently the black goo has infected some worms…
Find an engineer in hypersleep.
Wake him up and he’s angry.
Apparently the engineers were fed up with us and wanted to kill us. Maybe because they’ve been observing us and they’ve thought – no, start again! Humans are rubbish! Look, DOnald Trump, The Kardashians, Brexit – no, kill them all!
The remaining crew members stop the engineer sending all the goo to earth.
Engineer ends up getting impregnated
The ship crashes – stupid running away scene.
“Deacon” is born.

Alien Covenant
It’s been advertised in the same way as Prometheus.

A LOT of youtube videos. A LOT of footage released in trailers. LOADS of different versions of the trailers. LOTS of shots of the alien – as if to say “Look there are definitely aliens in this!”

But I have to say I don’t think it looks good.

Why?

First of all they appear to be repeating the same steps as the original Alien film. It looks like the same thing.

Then there are some clips of moments that look utterly cliched.

For example there’s a person who apparently has been infected by the black goo.

Black goo is rubbish by the way. It’s not as good as the Alien. It’s just goo and it’s really unspecific. If it touches you you become a monster with super strength. The alien with it’s weird reproduction cycle is far more interesting. Black goo just doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway, in the trailer one person apparently is mutating into a monster but it’s the most cliched thing of him standing under a bright light and kind of shaking while apparently possessed. We’ve seen it a million times before.

Then there’s a clip of two people in a shower and the Alien creeps up on them in the shower and you see the tail coming up between their legs while they’re in the shower. Basic sexual imagery – not like the inventive designs of Geiger, just old fashioned Freddie Kruger type stuff.

So, I don’t expect much from this but I feel like I should see it just to find out for sure. Who knows, it could be really great.

So now I’m off to see it so let’s see!


I then went to see Alien: Covenant in the cinema down the road. Listen to the episode to find out what I thought!


What do you think of the Alien films? Leave your comments below.

 

450. Comments & Questions

In this episode I’m going to go through some questions from the comment section and give a bit of news. There will be some grammar, some vocab, some reactions to recent episodes and some bits relating to how you can continue to push your English with this podcast.

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Episode notes

The comment section is buzzing with chat. Photos are being shared of people’s running routes and shots of gorgeous spring flowers and blossoms in full bloom. A listener called Sylvia is doing an illustration for every single episode and posting it in the comment section. Regular commenters are having some long and funny conversations – they’re very friendly and like a laugh so get stuck into the comment section and see what all the fuss is about.

The usual commenters are: Cat, Nick, Jack, Agnes, Marta, Antonio, Eri, Hiro, Euoamo, Sylvia, Jilmani, Mayumi, Ethan, Syntropy and more people I have probably forgotten about!

Cat is the top commenter with a total of 2795 COMMENTS
Nick is in 2nd place with 1851 COMMENTS
Jack is in 3rd place with 963 COMMENTS

David Crystal

Bit of news: I’ll be interviewing Prof. David Crystal on the podcast soon.

David Crystal is the foremost writer and lecturer on the English language, with a worldwide reputation and over 100 books to his name. He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and in 1995 was awarded the OBE for services to the English language.

I met him in 2012 when he gave me an award (with Andy Johnson). He’s really nice and I’ve always wanted to have him on the podcast.

And I am interviewing him soon, which is a serious treat.

This is the guy who knows everything there is to know about language and I’m going to interview him.

Honestly, I have millions of questions I could ask him, and I could easily fill up several episodes with him just asking all the questions in my head.

But I’d also like to give you a chance to ask a few questions. So leave your questions for David Crystal in the comment section. I can’t guarantee I’ll ask him all of them, but if there are some particularly good ones I’ll ask them.

Otherwise, I might be able to answer some of the questions myself.

Recent Comments on the Website

Here are some comments which arrived recently.

Cat – in reply to the British Humour episode
Hi Luke and Amber, thanks for your lovely chat! It was a most enjoyable and also educational episode.
I’ve got two questions:
1. You mentioned “NHS” (?) as something that each Brit is proud of. What is it exactly?
2. During the dissection of the Hugh Grant’s quote you said that he was “public school”. What does it mean?
Thanks for explanations!

IMG_4148Oil painting by Sasha Sokolova

Thanks for the oil painting!www.sashasokolova.com

 

JAPANESE LEPSTER GIFT VIDEO ~ I need to do this!

Paul
Congratulations, teacher Luke, for the podium! Great job and another great podcast, thanks!
“It’s time for me to leave Audioboom.com” = LUKEXIT!!!!!

Amber’s podcast – Paname – it’s not available yet, but soon!

Orion Transcription Team

Just a reminder about the Orion transcription team – they continue to produce transcripts, mainly under the management of Antonio from Spain, and they are always on the lookout for new recruits. Antonio regularly posts messages in the comment section saying “Episode blah blah is now available for transcription” and with a google link. E.g. the latest one is episode 444. The Rick Thompson Report.

Remember, it can be really good for your English so check it out! Transcribe just 3 or 5 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a massive commitment. If you do it regularly you’ll see that it allows you to focus your attention on what you’re hearing and you’ll be surprised at how much that focus allows you to examine the language up close. You could also try repeating out loud some of the things you’re hearing as you transcribe, that could be a good way to convert the process into a speaking exercise.

Turning Input into Intake

Here’s some vaguely academic stuff about Turning input into intake to increase your language acquisition. There’s language input, and there’s language acquisition. Between those two things, there’s intake. Intake is the stuff we really learn from.

This from the University of Austin Texas
The term “input” referred to all the exposure to a foreign language that is around us. However, as years went on, researchers realized that input was not enough. If the learners were not noticing or concentrating on the incoming flow of language, comprehension would be limited. So today, researchers in second language acquisition commonly make a distinction between input and intake. Simply put, input is all the written and spoken target language that a learner encounters, whether it is fully comprehended or not. Intake is limited to the comprehended input that impacts the learner’s developing linguistic system. For our purposes, we suggest that technology provides ways to increase the foreign language input that learners are exposed to and enhances the process of how input is converted into intake.

Without getting too fancy, let’s say that to really learn from the things you hear you need to convert what you’re hearing from input into intake.

This means listening to content which is comprehensible – i.e. basically understandable even though there may be some things you don’t get. A mix of things you already know (this is your foundation that allows you to work out the bits you don’t know) and some things you don’t know or don’t understand.

It also means sometimes really focusing and giving all your attention to certain bits of what you’re hearing. Some things might kind of pass you by a bit, but it’s important while you listen to be sort of emotionally involved in it and to interact with it while listening – to really think and feel in response to what you’re hearing. Apparently this helps turn input into intake.

Transcribing pushes this to the max. It forces you to turn everything from mere input into intake – which is the good stuff. I think it’s backed up by not just academic research but by the experiences of transcribers. It helps push your English, and remember you can just do a short chunk, you don’t have to do a whole episode, that’s crazy!

In summary – focusing all your attention on 3-5 minutes of an episode can really help turn input into intake and can maximise your learning potential with this podcast, or any audio resource.

Yuko – language question “shall”
Dear Luke, my name is Yuko. I have been a ninja listener of your pod cast for a long time, and I am originally from Japan, which makes my ninja status more authentic, doesn’t it? I am living in New York, but really fond of British English.
I have a question. When it comes to the usage of ‘shall’, it is rarely used here except for those two occasions: to suggest something, for example, “shall I do this for you?”, and to use following “Let’s”‘ for example, “let’s go, shall we”. Back in Japan, I learned that shall is also used interchangeably with will for describing the things or action in the future, but, here, all American friends said that shall is never used in daily life except for the examples above, and that if I used shall instead will, it would sound quite archaic.
However, I have a sense that sometimes I catch “shall” as description of future in bbc or British dramas even in modern setting. Would you mind telling the use of “shall” in today’s British English? Thank you very much. I always enjoy and admire your witty, and sophisticated subjects, not to mention it was quite honoring that you chose my country as the destination of your latest trip. I hope all is well and both of you and your wife have enjoyed it.

Yuko, all the right info is in your question.
You’re just not sure about it and you need confirmation.
OK then!
Shall – for suggestions (shall I? Shall we?) – after Let’s…
Shall for future (like ‘will’ – yes, old-fashioned and a bit posh, but some people still do it, like my Mum “I shan’t be coming to the cinema.” or “I expect I shall be exhausted by the end of the day!”
Also in contracts for obligations
That’s it!

Agnes – Sport
I’m just curious whether Luke is taking some exercise or not, he looks sporty and I suppose that he does some sport activities:-)) I usually jog before going work, early morning – the best time for burning calories.

Anna Mrozek
I had an English class today and my classmate asked me “how the hell do you know all these words?!”, so…
Thank you Luke, because you deserve the credit for that. :)

Leonid
Hi there everyone! Does someone know the accurate meaning of the phrase “to be on E”? Thanks in advance!

Great comment from Cat
Just keep listening to Luke’s English Podcast. And try to listen to episodes more than once. It is on the second listen that we start to notice the language consciously and start learning. After some time, you can listen to the episode for the third time. And there you will see how much you have learned in the meanwhile. Do it with your favourite episodes. And try to listen to OPPs as well. And use the same technique. It’s very effective. Also listening during a physical exercise speeds up the learning process. Because your brain is working at 5x of it’s performance capability. So use such shortcuts, especially if you are a bit lazy like I am! ;))

I would add that you can also do some transcribing, or check out previously written transcriptions – either the unproofread ones in google docs, or episodes with published scripts. That can help you notice language too.

Film Club: Touching the Void

Hope you enjoyed the “Touching the Void” episodes. I have had a few comments indicating that it moved a few people. but my stats show the episode hasn’t been listened to as much as normal episodes.

I often worry about uploading too much, but there’s always someone who says “we want more!”
I recorded an episode about Alien Covenant the other day. It’s about an hour of rambling about the Alien franchise. I’m a bit wary of uploading it straight away because it would be 3 film club episodes in a row and this isn’t strictly a film podcast. I probably shouldn’t think about it all that much.

But I’ve been quite productive lately and I have some episodes in the pipeline – Alien, 2 Amber & Paul episodes, one about music and culture with James.

Anyway, going back to Touching the Void, I’m glad to see those of you who have listened to it seemed to enjoy it.

Agnes
Have been listening to this story based on facts for the second time today I felt an incredible chill down my back and my hair stood up on both of my hands.
Luke, telling us this story, you made me be there, with them, I saw this horribly broken leg, I saw as Joe dropped down, I saw everything, even though I haven’t watched the documentary yet.
just thank you

Ethanwlee
One step at a time – this is my biggest takeaway from this episode. At the end of the day, that’s the mantra that keeps us going, staying focused. This story leaves me lots of food for thought. Thanks Luke!

Jilmani
Thank you so much Luke! It’s an amazing episode I can’t express how amazing it is. I want to tell you my personal story about climbing. My parents are both climbers and they had a club for climbers. They worked there a lot to train and coach also they took a lot of people in trips for camping. And I always went with them when I was a child. I liked climbing and adventurous trips more than anything else. I had always climbed and camped before I had an accident in 2014 in Lebanon. I was terribly injured and they expected that I’d die. Luckily I managed to survive. I needed a lot of eye surgeries because my cornea was damaged. Now I can’t climb at all not because I’m afraid of it, but my doctor prevented me. I got rid of all my pictures and anything that might remind me of climbing or my adventures. I haven’t climbed since that day, but I skydived a lot. Climbing always helped me to relax and forget about the troubles that we have in the Middle East. Also I’m a religious person it always made me feel happy and close to God. My doctor told me that I will be able to climb again when he removes the stitches. Thanks again Luke. I’ll watch the episode tonight luckily I have a Netflix subscription and I love documentaries a lot. Waiting for the next episode!

Luke: Be careful if you climb again! Be like me, just stay at home and watch other people do it on YouTube, it’s safer (except maybe I should do more exercise)

daav
Wow! Thank you, Luke! I really appreciate the topic you’ve chosen for a new episode. The film is pretty good and the book as well. I’ve got one in my bookcase. I have just little experience with high mountains because after my wedding I decided to bury my climbing gear to the very bottom of my wardrobe and since that day I’ve been “only” a hiker. But anyone, who has ever spent some time in the mountains without any support, just with a climbing mate on the other end of the rope, an ice axe in hands and a pair of crampons knows, that the fact Joe Simpson survived the Siula Grande ordeal is a …. real miracle, nothing else than a real miracle…
If someone wants to buy a book I recommend Bookdepository instead of Amazon. They offer free worldwide delivery which is a real bargain in my opinion. I buy books from them regularly (from The Czech Rep.) and it works well.

Cat
Daav, but why did you put away your climbing gear?! It’s like giving up on a part of your true self. Can you be happy with that for long?

daav
Hi Cat. At first I must admit I was never a climbing machine. I used to climb few times a year. Let’s say just few weekends and one or two trips to the Tatra Mountains or to the Alps. So it wasn’t so difficult to give up. In the Czech Rep. climbing is very popular and there are many people who spend every possible moment climbing a piece of rock in their surrounding area. So I can’t say I was a climber. I usually say that I have done some climbing :c) One day I considered that my wife meant a lot more to me than climbing. She had never asked me to stop climbing. She had even climbed with me once. But any time I had packed my climbing gear I had seen the same wish in her eyes – please, stay alive. During my last climbing trip I had a minor accident I have never told my wife about. Fortunately nothing comparable to Joe and Simon :c) But I realized that I was being very selfish. I enjoyed it, I liked it, but my parents and other people who truly love me were frightened to death every time I left them with a rope in my bag. Now I know that it wasn’t the climbing that I liked. It was mainly a peaceful and calm space around me. It was the fact I can leave all my daily routine behind me. Now i know it’s not adrenalin that I need. It’s just some kind of feeling I am alone, just on my own in some remote area. So today, long distance hiking is an activity that gives me everything I need. I just pack my rucksack, a tent, a fuel stove, some food, maps and a compass and I just walk. It’s different to climbing. It’s definitely not so dangerous. However it provides me the same pleasure. Unfortunately the Alps are full of people and there are so many huts. But some parts of the Pyrenees are amazing, the western part of Ukraine as well and the Andes are a dream for any hiker. I have many dreams, CDT in USA is one of them as well as many others around the world. The only disadvantage of long distance walking is that it’s very time-consuming compared to climbing. Are you a climber Cat?

Cat
Daav, if I were Luke, I would read your comment out in the next episode. It is deeply felt and full of love. :)

daav
Thank you Cat. But I’ve noticed that some people don’t like long episodes. And my comment is so long that Luke would have to record an extra episode just to read it out :c)

Success story from Erick in Brazil
Hello Luke,
This is Erick from Brazil.
Today when I was listening to your #429 podcast while running, I felt encouraged to share my listening experience with you.
I have been listening to you for about 1,5 years usually when I go running, so you have been my partner twice or three times a week. Strange, but I feel as if I have known you for a long time…
I actually think your podcast is more than just a teaching one, but it is more like a variety show with news, entertainment, fun stuff, etc. I really enjoy your ‘long talks’ which can be just some information, funny talk or more deep issues which are very good for getting immersed into the English language.
It is gratifying to hear other points of view of the various subjects on the media agenda especially when you bring guests to your show, like your Father, Amber and Paul, etc.
Sometimes it can be very hard for me to understand, but I took your advice, I keep going, listening to some episodes more than once, trying to get as much as I can.
Now I can say that I broke through the language barrier and I can really understand and talk in English because of you! So, I just have to thank you for all the material that you provide for free and especially for your success in making your podcast so popular and genuine!
Cheers from Brazil,
Erick Takada

I didn’t share that just to remind you of how wonderful I am, but also to just remind you that if you find it difficult to follow everything you hear on this podcast that you should keep going and battle through the moments of difficulty and you’ll find that bit by bit you build your understanding.
I can’t understand how anyone could expect to learn English properly without listening to a lot of it. I think it’s vital.

Do me a favour!

If you know someone who might like this podcast, share it with them! Recommend it to that person. It’s a good way to spread the word.

Another thing you could do is to write a nice review on iTunes – that’s really good for the podcast because it helps things like algorithms and getting my podcast featured in the ‘recommended’ section on iTunes. Also it looks good when new people check it on iTunes, and it would just make me feel good and put a smile on my face, which ultimately will feed back into the podcast.

Subscribe to the mailing list.

Watch this space for news of a potential LEP app for your phone or tablet which could include some bonus app-only content!

449. Film Club: Touching the Void (Part 2)

Part 2 of this Film Club episode looking at the award-winning documentary “Touching the Void” which tells the story of a mountain climbing expedition which goes wrong. Listen to this episode and then watch the film on Netflix or DVD for that extra bit of English input.

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Click here to get the book “Touching the Void”

Click here to get the film on DVD.

The Story Continues…

Their plan was to climb back down the North ridge and then abseil down a part of the north face.

Abseiling is when you use ropes to kind of lower yourself down. But the clouds started coming in again.

The walk along the north ridge was much harder than expected. It was vertical on one side (with overhangs) and steep flutings (like grooves going down) on the other side. You wouldn’t know if you were stepping on something safe or not.

As they were descending, with the weather setting in, things got a bit out of control.

They got lost and they were in a whiteout – unable to see anything.

Their plan was to get down that day. But, by the time the sun went down they were still very high up the mountain, still over 6,000m up.

That night while they were making a brew of water, their gas ran out.

Day 4

The next day they could see that they’d managed to get down the worst part of the ridge and Simon thought they’d get down the rest of the mountain that day. He thought the whole climb was “in the bag” (if something is ‘in the bag’ it means you’re certain to achieve it, you’re definitely going to get it.)

Simon thought it was in the bag. He was wrong.

Joe was climbing in the front, before Simon. He reached a vertical wall, a fall in front of him, so he started to lower himself off it.

The method of lowering yourself down an ice wall, using pick axes and spikes on your feet.
Joe swung his pick into the ice, and it made a strange sound, so he decided to take it out and place it in again.

He was about to swing again, and the whole piece of ice he was attached to with his left hand just came off like a pancake, so he fell through the air.

And he landed hard, on his leg.

It broke, really badly. Not just a fracture.

Pain flew up his thigh from his knee. Incredibly painful.

I’ve never broken my leg and I hope I never do because I’m sure it’s horrible.
I have injured myself before. Of course, I’ve cut my fingers on knives etc. When you do injure yourself there is a shock, especially a kind of shock where you think it could be serious. That kind of shock lasts a few moments, when you don’t just feel pain but you feel a kind of panic, thinking “I’ve seriously hurt myself”. Most of the time that feeling goes away when you realise it’s not bad.

But if it is serious, you get this dreadful feeling that comes on. A truly dreadful feeling that comes from the realisation of just how difficult and inconvenient things are going to get. Not just the pain, but the fact that you now have this injury which is going to make everything so damn hard for you.

Now imagine that feeling when you’re 6000 metres up the side of a freezing mountain in Peru with no water and no medical services anywhere near you.

I don’t know about you, but I would feel more than dread, I’d feel pretty hopeless. I imagine I would feel more than the pain and the inconvenience, there would also be all this emotion coming, like anger, tragedy, sadness.

Anyway, Joe at this point was mainly feeling the intense pain of a badly broken leg.

Here’s what happened, and this is really horrible, ok?

The impact of the fall caused his knee joint to actually split. The joint split and the bone from the lower leg went up through the knee joint, split the end of his femur (the thigh bone) and carried on up the leg.

Unimaginable really. All those ligaments completely ruined, the bone, cartilage, nerve endings, and of course the blood vessels broken by it.

The whole leg would have been unusable of course, and there was a lot of internal bleeding inside his leg.

Apparently he couldn’t cope with the pain at all at the beginning, but after breathing for a while he started to get a grip on it.

But he thought he was done for. He was still level with the peaks of some of the other mountains.

He tried to stand on the leg – impossible.
Simon eventually arrived, and he describes seeing Joe’s face – a complex mix of terror, pain and anguish.

Simon said “Are you ok” and Joe nearly said “I’m fine thanks” – because that’s what we say to that question, even if you’re not fine!

But he said “No I’ve broken my leg” and immediately Simon thought, “Oh god, we’re stuffed”
Now. What would you do if you were Simon and Joe here?

Let’s imagine you’re Joe.

You say, “mate, you’ve got to help me” or “Go ahead without me, I’m stuffed!” or “Don’t you dare leave me!”

Let’s say you’re Simon, what do you say here?
“Mate, don’t worry. We’ll get you down this mountain.”
“Look, you’re not going to make it. Do you have anything you want me to say to your parents?”
“Wait here, I’ll go and get help. I’ll come back for you I promise!”

Obviously, Joe is the one with the broken leg and the pain, but Simon also is in a difficult situation here because they’re partners.

According to Joe, Simon gave him some painkillers which did nothing, and they didn’t talk about it for a few moments because they both knew that Simon was going to have to leave Joe there, because they couldn’t get Joe down from the mountain without risking both their lives in the process.

Joe thought Simon would leave him there because there was no other choice.

Meanwhile, Richard, the third guy is sitting at base camp wondering what has happened to them, thinking that they both might be dead and that he’d find them at the bottom of the mountain because they’d just fall all the way to the bottom! There wasn’t really anything Richard could do because they were many many miles away from civilisation. There was no ambulance service to call. No mobile phones in the 80s. He just had to wait and see.

Back on the mountain, Simon pulled himself together to think about how he was going to get Joe down the mountain.

He decided to try and save him and had to come up with a practical solution.

The plan was, he’d just lower Joe down the mountain on a rope. Just slide him down.

He tied two 150ft ropes (there are about 3.3 feet per metre) together, with a knot in the middle and Simon was attached to one end, and Joe on the other.

Slide Joe down, letting the rope through the belay device. When the knot got to the belay device, stop letting Joe slide. Joe would stand up to take the weight off the rope. Simon would then unattach the rope from the device, let the knot through, then reattach the rope and then let it continue for the rest of the 150feet.

Then when Joe was at the end of the rope, Simon would downclimb to join him.

They continued like this for quite a long time, repeating the process. Letting Joe slide down, then letting the knot through the rope, letting Joe slide down further, then Simon climbing down.

Simon was letting Joe slide down quite quickly, conscious of the time running out and the fact they needed to get down to the bottom as quickly as possible.
It must have been excruciating for Joe.

But there were still these interpersonal things going on.

Apparently Joe kept wondering if Simon was pissed off.

These are the things you think about when you’re with a friend, doing something. Is he pissed off? Does he mind? Apparently Joe was wondering if Simon was annoyed by it all.
But I think Simon was also suffering from shock and panic too, and to an extent he held a lot of responsibility now for both of them, because Joe was out of action. It was basically a single-handed mountain rescue by Simon, in extremely difficult conditions.
It must have been a desperate desperate feeling for both of them.

What they didn’t know at the time though, was that this was just the start and that it would get a lot worse, and that something awful was approaching that they had no idea about.
They continued going down the mountain in this fashion – Joe badly injured, in shock and losing blood into his leg, both of them exhausted, both dehydrated at altitude and close to hypothermia.

A race against time.

The weather turned bad again, and within an hour or two they were descending in a full storm, with wind chill factor of something like -80 degrees.

They couldn’t dig a cave and rehydrate because they’d run out of gas. There was nothing they could do. Apparently at this point they lost control and started panicking, flying down this mountain in this desperate fashion.

As they made some good progress, albeit in such awful conditions, Simon started feeling a sense of hope because he could see that they were virtually down. Almost down at the bottom.

Things were looking up.

I say “reach the bottom” – in reality there were lots of different sections and terrains between the summit and the camp. From top to bottom it was like this:
Peak
Ridge
Face
Less-steep part of the face (approach to the face)
Glacier (like a huge river of ice that flows from the top of the mountain range down to the river bed at the foot of the mountain – slowly moving down, carving out the valley as it goes, crushing rock underneath it) – full of crevasses (massive cracks in the glacier with drops that went down all the way to the floor – to the river bed of the glacier)
The bottom of the glacier – full of huge boulders and stones, with water trickling deep underneath them.
A long section of this rocky terrain.
The base camp next to a glacial pool.

God knows how far from civilisation this base camp was.

Anyway, they were nearly down the mountain face, approaching the glacier. For Simon, he could see a glimmer of hope.

Until suddenly, Joe slipped off a cliff.

Neither of them realised it was coming, but Joe suddenly felt the ground under him get icier and more and more steep, and he started slipping faster and faster – going like a rollercoaster downwards, screaming at Simon to stop, but Simon couldn’t hear him and had no idea it was happening, just assuming that Joe was going faster over some steeper ground..
And then -whoosh, Joe slipped right off the edge of a cliff and was left dangling in the air, right above a massive crevasse – a huge crack in the mountain that went straight down into pure darkness. Joe was dangling over a huge abyss. About 80 feet between him and the opening of the crevasse.

Describe the problem from Joe’s point of view.

He gave up hope and would have died as hypothermia began to set in.

From Simon’s point of view.

Simon’s decision. What would you have done?

What Simon did.

Night fell – Simon dug a snow cave.

Meanwhile, Joe wasn’t dead. He survived the fall and had landed on a ledge in the crevasse, not far from the top.

Day 5

Follow Simon as he goes down.

He was suffering from shock and was also in a serious condition with dehydration, hypothermia and exhaustion. He was also seriously traumatised by what had happened. Apparently he said he was convinced that he was going to die too.

But what about Joe?

Attached himself to the ice wall of the glacier.

Called for Simon.

Pulled the rope.

Saw it had been cut.

Impossible to get out – broken leg, overhangs. Ice.

Joe lost it.

He came face to face with his own death.

He didn’t have a religious moment. He knew nobody was coming to save him. There was no god, just the abyss. It filled him with fear.

Imagine the worst darkness. Fear of the dark – it’s primal.

He was also extremely angry and felt like this was not the end of his life.

Joe’s bravery and refusal to give up.

One of the most impressive moments that has stuck with me.
“You’ve got to keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions, you know. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed.”

Joe could have stayed on the ledge. He could have given up.
He chose to keep making decisions. He chose to keep moving forwards.
It just shows that you must not let things happen to you. Don’t just let yourself be carried away by events. Don’t stop making decisions and let yourself be carried away.
Even if you feel hopeless, like all options are screwed and that you’ll fail no matter what happens. Don’t stop making decisions.
You have to continue and keep going.
Like the famous quote, often attributed to Churchill – “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
Don’t give up when things are hard and hellish. Keep going.
Don’t just stop and let things happen to you, especially when you’re in hell.
That’s no time to stop! You’re in hell. Keep moving! You’ll get out.
Joe decided he’d use the remaining rope he had to lower himself into the crevasse and possibly reach the bottom.

Bottom.
Crawled along.
Horrible sound – imagine the fear.
A spot of light. Hope.
The incredible joy of the light and emerging, born again.
But out of the frying pan into the fire.
This was still just the beginning of his challenge.
He started following Simon’s tracks.
Night fell. He crawled in the dark until he couldn’t go further and managed to create a snow cave.

Day 6

Simon’s tracks had gone.
He could see the massive challenge ahead of him. He nearly gave up when he realised how far he had to go. The challenge overwhelmed him almost completely.

He was presented with this massive maze near the bottom of the glacier, where it was full of crevasses, creating all these little pathways with huge holes down the sides. Joe had to shuffle through all of this.

He got to the rocks at the edge.
Much harder terrain.

Created a splint using his sleeping mat. Discarded his other gear.

Horrendous experience of trying to get through the boulders and through the rocks. Hopping, falling onto the rocks, getting up, continue. Falling virtually every hop, like breaking his leg again every time.

Just 25 yards but it took so long and with so much pain.

But he describes himself as insanely stubborn at times (spell it correctly this time!)
This worked to his advantage because he was determined not to be beaten. He wanted to have it his way.

This is where the second most impressive part came.

He broke up the challenge into bits. He said – right, I’ll get to that rock in 20 minutes. Everything became about getting to the next rock in 20 mins, then the next 20 minute challenge and so on.
He became obsessed with these targets. If he got to the rock in 18 minutes he’d be over the moon, ecstatic. If he made it in 22 minutes he’d be furious with himself.

This is another thing we can learn about achieving something big. It’s true – trying to achieve one huge thing can seem impossible. You might look at the whole challenge and think, “oh my god, there’s no way I can do that, it’s too big”. But the key to it is to set a series of small goals and just try to reach that, then another small goal. Break it down into little chunks and you will be able to do it. Looking at the whole challenge doesn’t help. It dwarfs you.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – it’s like something my Dad said to me about how to eat an elephant (that sounds weird because you might think – why are you trying to eat an elephant? But it’s just a metaphor that my Dad said to me once).

The thing about my Dad is that he often tends to be right about things. It’s quite annoying when you’re having a discussion or debate because he always somehow ends up being right, but it’s also great because I have learned some pearls of wisdom from him. I don’t know where he got this one from himself, maybe his Dad.

Anyway, when I was a child I think I was talking about how I was finding a school project difficult – I think we were even walking in the garden, but that sounds like it’s too good to be true – walking in the garden with my Dad and he gives me a piece of wisdom, like something out of a Hollywood movie or something. Tell me father, how can I train in the force and become a jedi? Etc.

Anyway, I said “I can’t do my history project Dad…” and he dropped some wisdom on me, saying “How do you eat an elephant?”

The point is this:
Seeing the challenge as one whole thing can destroy your motivation, but step by step, bit by bit – that’s how you get a big thing done. And don’t give up.
Also, you just have to have drive – you have to be stubborn, you have to be motivated. Listen to that army captain you have in your head and obey him!

Joe says that at times he felt like there were two voices in his head. One saying, “let’s rest here in the sun it’s nice” and another part of him which was completely unsympathetic, saying “No, you’ve got to get to that rock. Now get up and go!”

We all have that inside us. That cold, pragmatic voice, which seems frightening or something, but we just have to listen to it sometimes, just to get things done.

Obviously Joe was in seriously bad physical condition at this point. Exhaustion, the badly broken leg, internal bleeding, shock, frostbite, hunger, injuries from his falls.
But also he started falling apart mentally too.
That feeling of there being several voices in his head or several parts of his mind got stronger and stronger – with one part being this cold pragmatic feeling of just relentlessly getting to the next point and the next after that, and the other part of him was just almost disconnected as his mind wandered away from what was happening as if he was observing it all from a distance. It must have been seriously strange and disturbing.

Sound of water driving him mad.

Night fell and he lay on the rock staring up at the stars and his consciousness became quite unhinged, having psychedelic out-of-body experiences. He says he felt like he was becoming part of the rocks and part of the mountain itself, and he lost all sense of time, feeling that he had lain there for centuries.

Day 7 – Joe still isn’t dead!

Meanwhile, Simon and Richard are preparing to leave the next morning.

Joe finds water.
Peeing himself, enjoying the sensation.
Feeling totally robbed of his dignity.
Realises he could make it.
But hit hard by the realisation that Simon and Richard might have gone.

The delusions – thinking that Simon and Richard were, for some reason, following behind him but choosing not to come and help him because they didn’t want to embarrass him.
Then realising that they weren’t there and feeling utterly hopeless and alone and distraught.
Considered just getting in his sleeping bag. But felt it was too pathetic.

Sun went down and he completely lost it. He couldn’t hold his mind together any more.

Confusion and madness. He tried to look at his watch but couldn’t work out what time it was.
The worst thing – he got a song caught in his head. Boney M – Brown Girl in the Ring. It went on and on for hours.

You know when you can’t sleep and you get a song caught in your head, really vividly. Imagine that but 1000x worse.
Like being trapped in hell.
It really upset him because he really wanted to think of other things but he couldn’t because of the song.
“Bloody hell I’m going to die to Boney M”

He would drift off, then wake up thinking he was in a pub car park drunk, he kept losing it. Totally delirious.

He woke up (or became conscious) because of a strong smell – it acted like smelling salts.
He’d crawled into the toilet area of the camp site.
After all that – he ends up crawling through their own shit at the end.
But it gave him hope that Simon and Richard might still be there. He had reached the camp. He called out to Simon, but got no reply.
That was the end for Joe.
This is when he finally knew he was finished.
He described how he lost himself completely at that moment. Ego death.

Simon and Richard were still in their tents, ready to leave the next morning. Apparently, Richard woke up because he thought he heard something.
Imagine you’re in the tent. This is about 4 days after Simon got back. They both thought Joe was dead.

Imagine you’re in the tent, feeling terrible, ready to leave the next day. Darkness.
The wind, blowing across the fabric of the tent. The shadow of the mountains in the background, with the knowledge that the body of your friend is still up there.
You wake up and you freeze because you’re sure you’ve just heard something.

There it is again, but it can’t be true. It sounded like a voice on the wind.
Apparently Richard waited, listening, and heard it again, and it really scared him because he wasn’t sure if it was real, or he was imagining it, or if it was a ghost.
He decided to check on Simon and discovered that he was already up – Simon had heard it too and was convinced it was Joe.

They searched for him shouting his name and found him on the ground a few minutes from the camp site.

What they found was the body of Joe, like a ghost or some kind of monster.
Joe was in such bad condition, covered in earth, crap, frostbite and sunburned, thin, starving, dehydrated and nearly dead.

They carried him to the camp and began the process of trying to rebuild his strength.
That’s where the story ends. We know that eventually Joe was brought down to a nearby civilisation where he received medical attention.

The challenge was not over there of course. I understand that he received some poor medical help in the basic hospital he ended up in, had to be flown back to the UK and his leg had to be amputated.

About the decision to cut the rope.

Joe has always defended Simon’s decision, saying that he would have done the same thing.
I can’t really understand why anyone would have a problem with what Simon did. Why should they both have died? It doesn’t make sense.

In fact, when you think about it, by cutting the rope, Simon saved Joe’s life, or helped to save him.

If Simon hadn’t cut the rope, they both would have fallen and it’s likely that one of them would have died. Let’s say that Joe would have landed on the ledge like before. Simon would probably have died. It’s unlikely that he would have landed on a ledge too. He probably would have fallen into the crevasse, dragging Joe in too. They both would have died.

Anyway what do you think?

Again, I urge you to watch the documentary film on Netflix, on DVD or on what other platform you can find.

Also, consider reading the book, or Joe Simpson’s other books – because apparently he had even more near death experiences on mountains too!

Let me also leave you with this

  • If you’re going through hell, keep going.
  • How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time. How do you get down a mountain? One step at a time too! Or you slide, or you drag yourself, or you hop. But you break down the challenge into achievable steps.
  • Nobody even broke their leg learning English – so, enjoy your studies and seize the day!

Thanks for listening.

What happened next?

Returning to Siula Grande

 

448. Film Club: Touching the Void (Part 1)

A film club episode about the award-winning documentary film “Touching the Void” about a mountain climbing expedition which goes wrong. It’s an amazing true story and there are lots of things to learn from it, including lessons about motivation and attitude towards any challenge. The film is available on Netflix and DVD. Check it out and use this episode to help you understand it all.

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Introduction

This is a ‘Film Club’ episode of Luke’s English Podcast today because in this one I’m going to talk to you about a really great documentary film that you can watch on Netflix or on DVD. It’s about the true story of a mountain climbing adventure which goes horribly wrong and then turns into an epic battle for survival. It’s an incredible story and a fantastic documentary which won 6 awards including a BAFTA for best British film in 2004. The film is called “Touching the Void”.

It’s not a new one, it’s over 10 years old now, but it is a film which has stayed with me ever since I first watched it. I often remember it and I feel like there’s a lot to learn from it – in terms of language that you can hear in the film, but also life in general.

I’m going to talk about Touching the Void in some detail in order to use the film as a kind of case study for understanding the importance of motivation and attitude in achieving difficult challenges – in this case the challenge of learning English.

But it could apply to any challenge that you face in your life, especially ones that can feel overwhelming and insurmountable.

If you’re thinking – “oh, but I don’t like mountain climbing, so I’ll skip this episode”. I suggest you don’t skip it. The story in this film is amazing – it’s dramatic, it’s scary, it’s a bit funny at times and it’s really profound as well. It’s not just about going up a big piece of rock for no reason. So, stick with it ok. I think it’s worth it. I’ve put some work into this episode.

A lot of the text I’m reading is on the page for this episode, so check it out. Some of this is scripted, and some of it is improvised on the spot. But if you want to read the words I’m saying, or if you hear a particular phrase I say – you can see a lot of it written on this episode’s page.
Also, if you’re transcribing this one, don’t forget to copy+paste these words into your google document and then you can just add any extra bits I say.

You’ll also find links, some other youtube videos and more content you might want to look at because you’ll find it interesting and you can use it to help you learn English, like for example some of the specific vocabulary that you’ll hear me using in this episode.
I said before that in this episode I’d like us to consider the importance of motivation and attitude when dealing with a challenge.

Let’s start by considering the learning of English

Learning English can be tough. There’s no doubt that if you want to get to a really advanced level in adulthood it’s a challenge which must be met with effort and determination. But it can also be really enjoyable of course, and it should be. But if you’re really serious about learning English properly, it is quite a challenge that demands time and effort. You could compare it to climbing a mountain.

Learning English is like Climbing a Mountain

I’ve mentioned this mountain climbing metaphor before on the podcast, but let’s flesh it out a bit more here. When you look at the whole challenge of learning a language from the beginning, from the start point, it can seem really difficult.

It’s comparable to standing at the bottom of a mountain, looking up at the whole thing you are about to climb. Even getting to this point was a long journey, but there it is – the mountain is stretching up to the sky thousands of metres above you. The summit might even be invisible to you – you can’t even see it because it’s above the clouds.

Now, you might think – let’s go! Let’s do this! In fact, I’m sure that many of you relish that kind of challenge! That’s why you’re into learning English. Excellent!

But, I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes you look at the whole challenge – the whole mountain and think – there’s no way I can get up there, it’s so high and massive, it seems so remote. Certainly, when you compare yourself to the mountain – the relative sizes of you and the mountain, you can feel dwarfed by the challenge.

If you’ve ever climbed a mountain you’ll know what I mean.

Also, if you’ve ever had to learn a language from scratch, you’ll know what I mean.
Sometimes just getting up off your sofa to switch off a light seems like a massive effort. Just getting out of bed in the morning can seem like too much to achieve, especially on those bad days when you’re feeling depressed or something.

Now imagine standing at the bottom of a huge and ancient mountain and looking up to the top. It feels like it’s miles away. It doesn’t seem real. It feels almost unimaginable that you can get to the top of it.

For me, when I consider my French, I feel a bit like this. Every single day I am reminded of the challenge ahead of me, because I hear fluent French being spoken all around me, and even though I do understand a lot of it, it’s like each time I’m trying to play a computer game at an insanely high difficulty setting. I play the game but I rarely feel like I’m winning. So I open my French study books at home and I see the challenge ahead of me. Sometimes getting through just a page is difficult – each verb conjugation, each bit of syntax, it’s a mini challenge of its own, and then I think of all the thousands of other words and sentences I have to master in order to get the level of mastery I want and I get a bit demoralised. I get into a negative frame of mind. I know I shouldn’t, but truth be told – it happens.

I wonder if you ever feel the same about English.

Anyway, the point is, we can do it! We can achieve our goals in the language we’re learning. It’s definitely possible! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s just like any big challenge. Half the battle is in the way you approach the challenge, the way you look at it and the way you choose to deal with it. In fact, some would say it’s all in the mind.

It’s about attitude as much as it is about having the stamina and doing the leg-work. If you get the attitude and motivation right, the work doesn’t feel like work, the impossible challenge becomes possible. It’s mind over matter.

Tips for Mountain Climbing and Language Learning

Here are some tips on how to approach that challenge – the challenge of trying to climb up a mountain or to get to a high level in English, just to give you some motivation to make it up to the top: (in no particular order)

  1. Stop focusing on the top! Instead, aim for a point which is not too far ahead – somewhere attainable, just over there ahead of you and within reach and try to get there, then do that again. Each time, just place the target a few steps beyond you. Break the whole thing down into small chunks. Sometimes that means going one step at a time, just focusing on each single step you make. Sometimes you might even slip back a bit, but you keep going. With the mountain you’re trying to reach the peak of course, but with learning English the sky’s the limit – there’s always more you can learn and more ways you can become a better and better communicator. The end of the process is just the point at which you decide there is nothing left to learn, so really there shouldn’t be a top. (Tbh, this is where the metaphor breaks down a bit!) Instead it’s a repeated, systematic process which you do bit by bit every day. It’s like going to the gym. You don’t stop when you get fit, you just keep doing it, maintaining, improving, diversifying, consolidating, reviewing and covering more and more ground each time.
  2. Be positive! Accentuate the positives, rather than worrying about the challenge as a whole. Enjoy each step, take time to enjoy the view, breathe the air etc. In terms of language, enjoy the things you learn, remember to feel good about what you can do and what you’ve achieved, while also pushing yourself further. It might be difficult and even painful sometimes (for example when you make mistakes or fail to express yourself) but you are capable of great things, you just need to push yourself. When climbing a mountain, you’ll be surprised – you’ll feel exhausted, but if you ask your body to go further, it will. Similarly with learning a language – your brain can remember everything, you can string all these sentences together. It’s just a question of pushing yourself a little bit further and not accepting defeat.
  3. Remember, it’s about the journey not the destination.
  4. Enjoy the process! People climb large mountains all the time and they do it because it’s enjoyable. There’s no reason you can’t do it too as long as you take the right approach and enjoy the journey. Similarly in English, it’s vital that you enjoy it while it’s happening and that you consider it to be something you can enjoy – listening to or reading interesting and entertaining content, discovering a new way to think and express yourself, meeting interesting new people, finding out more about the world and finding your own unique voice and expressing yourself in a new language. It’s all part of the fun, like discovering a new place on your mountain climbing trip.
  5. Rhythm is important. Get a rhythm going and let that rhythm drive you forwards. Getting started is the first challenge, but keeping a habitual rhythm going is the next thing. Keep that up and you’ll make the progress you need! In climbing, it’s good to set a certain pace and keep it up. You don’t notice each step after a while because you’re beating out a rhythm. Similarly in English, set a rhythm of daily practice.
  6. Prepare yourself. Get the right equipment, food and check the weather and all that. For learning English this means – get the right attitude, make a learning plan, get some materials. Notepads, apps, grammar books, podcasts, and then using them!
    You might want to get a guide – on the mountain you need someone, maybe a local, who can help lead you along the correct path. In language learning you could find a teacher, italki or something like that, or a language partner, or someone who has already learned English and is a few steps ahead of you.
  7. Do it with other people – it’s fun to share the challenge with a group. It fun to climb with others and enjoy the camaraderie, similarly in English it’s good to have a peer group – e.g. in the comment section or with your conversation club.
  8. Train yourself with some controlled work. Go to the gym and do some intensive strength and fitness work to prepare you for the challenge of climbing the mountain, or for your English do some episode transcriptions with the transcription team here, do some shadowing – listen and repeat drills, or get a grammar self study book and work from that.

OK, I think that’s as far as I can stretch this metaphor!

What do you think? Can you think of any other similarities between climbing a mountain and learning English? What about differences?

Obviously the mountain metaphor is just that – a metaphor

Learning a language is in some ways easier than climbing a mountain. There’s a lot less risk involved for a start. I don’t think anyone has been seriously injured while trying to learn a language.

“Learning a language – be careful, you might break a leg!” “I know a guy who slipped on a phrasal verb and he’s now paralysed” said nobody, ever.
Nobody has ever broken their tongue learning a language, right?
“Oh my god, what happened to you???”
“Yeah, I’m learning French…”

Perhaps you might get a bruised ego. Your confidence might take a knock but there’s no need for emergency helicopters, helmets, ropes, first aid or dramatic documentaries about a fight for survival.

“Jose Gonzales was a student who decided to work on his English one summer. He chose to enrol on an English language course at his local college. Little did he know that this would be the start of an epic fight for survival, from which he would barely escape alive.”

It’s not the stuff of Hollywood action movies.

“Coming this summer – one man – one grammar book – no hope for survival.
DUM DUM DUM – It’s too confusing – there are too many verb forms – DUM DUM DUM – help – help! how do you pronounce this adjective? Where’s the word stress – too late motherfucker! Click, bang! – DUM DUM DUM – wait wait wait – it’s a 3rd conditional I’ve got this! – no goddamnit it’s a future prediction based on current evidence – get out of there! – she’s gonna blow! – DUM DUM DUM – in a world where the difference between present perfect and past simple – is the difference between life, and certain death – shoooooOOOO! – – – – DOOOOOOO – – DUM DUM DUM – …it’s a past perfect continuous passive verb form… nooooooo! – DUM DUM DUM – only one man has all the answers – DUM DUM DUM – Arnold Schwarzenegger – “You’ve been conjugated” – Robert DeNiro – “Are you talking to me? – DUM DUM DUM – Al Pacino – “Say hello to my little friend – the auxiliary fucking verb – hoowah! – Christopher Walken – “I like the way you constructed your sentence, but it doesn’t mean shit.” – DUM DUM DUM – Liam Neeson – “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want, because your English is awful…” – Clint Eastwood “Are you gonna conjugate that verb in the 3rd person or are you going to whisle dixie? – Michael Caine – “How many times do I have to tell you – It’s just an auxiliary verb, it’s not that important!” – Al Pacino again “Be – DO – HAVE – You’re breaking my fuckin balls here! – Barack Obama – “I don’t know, why I’m in – this – film” Sir Sean Connery – “If you can say this sentence it’ll save your life – she sells sea shells on the sea shore” – WHat did he say? I don’t know! – tick tick tick tick – BOOOOOM – Just when you thought it was safe to open your mouth – From writer director Raymond Murphy – ENGLISH EXAM 2: Language Feedback
Based on a true story.”

Obviously that movie would never get made. Learning English is not that dangerous or dramatic – thank god.

So going back to the mountain climbing analogy – of course, one big difference between learning a language and climbing a mountain is that learning the language is far far safer!

Also, you don’t need a mountain. You can do it anywhere, so it’s probably a lot easier!

Now, on this podcast I like to help you in your language learning process and I try to do that in a few ways, like telling you some stories to (hopefully) keep you engaged while you practise listening, or recommending some resources that you can use to learn English.

In this episode I’m going to try and do both of those things because I’m going to talk about an amazing documentary film that you can get on DVD or watch on Netflix. It’s an amazing true story and I think you can learn a lot of English from it.

Touching the Void

Director: Kevin McDonald (who also did “The Last King of Scotland” and “Marley” the doc about Bob Marley)

A documentary telling the true story of Joe Simpson, Simon Yates and Richard Hawking.

It features the 3 men telling the story in their own words, with some reconstructed scenes on the mountain using actors.

Released in 2003.

Won 6 awards in 2004 including a BAFTA for Best British film.

It is available on Netflix but also on DVD and I strongly recommend that you get a copy. Remember on both Netflix and DVD you can switch on the subtitles and watch like that, or just watch without, or a combination of the two.

Spoilers

So, you should be aware that I’m going to do spoilers for this film in this episode. I’m going to tell the whole story – so, spoiler alert.

That’s not going to ruin the film I think. It could even help you enjoy it more.

First of all, we already know when we watch the film that the characters survived. So, we know the outcome. How the hell they did it, is another question and that’s the interesting thing about the documentary. You get to follow this guy all the way through an unbelievable ordeal.
I think the story is strong enough for it to be engaging every time.

The purpose, ultimately, is to allow you to learn English from this film, and I’m recording this in order to make the film more accessible for you, opening up the story, hopefully creating more interest for you so you can explore the documentary and book in your own time and pick up language from them in your own way.

Suggestions for how to use this episode

You could do this:

  • Listen to this episode, listen to me telling the story and follow it all, then watch the documentary in English (you can turn on the subtitles if you like) and hopefully you’ll appreciate it more and be able to follow and understand it more.
  • Or you can stop right now, then watch the documentary and then come back to this episode later.
  • Or you just listen to this episode and never see the documentary – which I expect many of you will do because for one reason or another you just don’t get round to finding the DVD or getting it on Netflix. But I urge you to watch it because it will grip your attention and you won’t regret it. You get a proper feeling of the conditions, of the beauty of the mountain, and the harsh conditions and the nature of the environment – with the sounds of the ice and snow. It’s terrifically atmospheric. You’ll hear the characters describe it in their own words, which is fantastic. Plus, it will reinforce a lot of the English you’re picking up right now as you listen to this, and generally the English you’ll hear is clear, well-spoken and full of grammar in the form of narrative tenses, ways of talking about the past, descriptive vocabulary of the experience they had and also things like ways of expressing regrets and conditional, hypothetical language for talking about events in the past.

Touching the void on Amazon (DVD)

www.amazon.co.uk/Touching-Void-DVD-Brendan-Mackey/dp/B000S399II/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489753280&sr=8-1&keywords=touching+the+void+dvd
Touching the Void (book)

I also suggest that you get Joe Simpson’s book, which is also called “Touching the Void” It’s Joe’s full account of the story, so you get all the details in his own voice, and it’s written clearly in good English.

Book www.amazon.co.uk/Touching-Void-Joe-Simpson/dp/0099771012/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Simpson is a writer of a few books actually, all exploring the experiences of climbing and the mad adventures he’s had. Apparently there is a sequel to Touching the Void, which I haven’t read. He’s a successful writer, so you could check out his books.

Right, now let’s get stuck into the story of this film.

The STORY

I hope you’re feeling comfortable and that you’re somewhere warm and cosy, because things are going to get a little bit chilly in this story.

The main protagonists. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates.

Passionate young climbers from the UK. In their 20s. Quite experienced, in peak physical shape, but still a bit immature and probably reckless, like many young men are at that age.

Their reasons for climbing. They did it for fun.

The mountain – Siula Grande (6,344 meters) in the Andes in Peru.

They met Richard, travelling in Lima. He wasn’t a climber, but they convinced him to join them so that he could hang out at base camp.

He didn’t know what he was letting himself in for.

Siula Grande – it had been climbed on the North Face in the 1930s but nobody had ever climbed the west face, although lots of people had tried and failed.

The West face was the one they would attempt to climb.

They, perhaps arrogantly or maybe justifiably, assumed they were better than those others who had failed in the past.

They used ‘alpine style’ – you pack everything in a bag, then you just try and climb the whole mountain in one go (i.e. you don’t go up and pitch your route and then come back and do it again etc) you just go up on your own in one go. It’s risky. If something goes wrong, you’ll die.

No helicopter rescue. No facilities at base camp.

Also, no pre-set route. They just climbed up attached to each other by a rope, the first one attaching pins, devices, screws into the rock or ice and attaching the rope to it, the second one presumably unattaching as they go, so if one person falls they’re caught by the attachment to the rock or by the other guy.

If one fell, you both had to trust the few attachments that had been put into the rock, and the other one had to just hold on too. Absolutely nuts! Trusting your life to a spike of metal hammered into a crack, or screwed into the ice.

To be honest, this was a risky, even stupid thing to do.

But that’s what they lived for, and they were good at it.

The movement of climbing – it’s like ballet and gymnastics. How does it feel to climb? The joy of climbing. Getting away from all the clutter we have in our world.

The fact that they were attached to each other going up meant that they had to have an immense amount of trust in each other. There would have been moments where they thought “Do not fall here for goodness sake”. If your partner falls and his gear rips out – if it all comes out of the wall, you’re going to go to.

Trust is absolutely vital in this kind of climbing. You’re putting your trust in the other person completely. You have to rely on your partner completely.

My experiences of falling.

But for them, the risk was exactly what they were looking for.

We live in a world where there is not so much risk any more. In fact, there are whole industries around the reduction of risk. The world is relatively safe now, compared to before. It’s rare that you’re in great danger. Crossing the street is probably as dangerous as it gets, or driving.
So, some people go searching for risk because it makes them feel more alive.

Day 1

They did a lot of climbing and felt good.

To sleep/rest each night they created snow holes, ate supplies and drank water which they ‘brewed’ from snow by melting it using a gas cooker.

In any day, water is vital of course. Apparently we’re supposed to drink about 2 litres in a day, and that’s just a normal day. Now, imagine going to the gym and getting really hot and doing loads of exercise. You’d need more water, right? Imagine spending the day in the gym. Now imagine doing the whole thing at 4,000-5,000-6,000 metres up. You get a lot more dehydrated at altitude. Your body has less oxygen so it’s generally working a lot harder. I’m not sure of the science, but your body needs more water.

Apparently they needed about 4-5 litres per day, each.

Doing it with a gas stove – it takes about an hour to brew the water, again because of the altitude.

Up there the air is thin, there’s pressure, your heart beats faster and heavier (it goes like nobody’s business – meaning, a lot or fast), it makes you panic a little bit sometimes, you gasp for air, your body gets tired easily, a few steps and you need to rest. Everything takes ages. The air is actually thinner but it’s like somehow the air is thicker because you’re heavier and the air doesn’t satisfy you so much, it almost suffocates you a bit.

Water was essential, and so was the gas that they used to brew water at night in their snow caves.

They brought enough gas for what they expected was just about 3-4 days of climbing.
They also didn’t brew and drink as much as they should have done, because it took so much time and they were conserving their gas.

Little errors, which may have contributed to greater problems later.

Day 2

The started again at an altitude that they’d never climbed at before.

Much of it on day 2 involved ice-climbing. Using ice picks in both hands and spikes on your feet. Hammering in and spiking into the ice and rising bit by bit. I can only imagine that there must have been a lot of moments where they weren’t attached except for their spikes. It terrifies me, if I’m honest.

After a certain amount of time the higher they got the colder it got and the worse the conditions became.

Strong wind, heavy snow. Apparently the powder snow was coming down and across like avalanches. Imagine being on the beach with high wind, the sand gets whipped up into the air and you can’t see. It must have been like that, but at altitude and freezing cold.
The snow would stick to their clothing and then freeze and stick, and it was like wearing a suit of armour.

According to Joe, the last part of the face was some of the most nightmarish climbing he’d ever done. The snow was very unstable because it was made of powder and so he couldn’t get secure footing or anchors.

It took them 5-6 hours to climb 200 feet.

Remember, they were doing Alpine climbing, so while one climbed, the other waited. So, while waiting for Simon to climb, Joe was just motionless on the mountain, getting close to hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a condition caused by getting too cold, as the body loses more heat than it can generate and body temperature drops below 35C (95F).

Symptoms
– Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops.
– Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
– Slurred speech or mumbling.
– Confusion and poor decision-making, such as trying to remove warm clothes.
– Drowsiness or very low energy.

As the sun went down and everything went dark they decided they couldn’t go on so managed to dig a snow cave and rest.

Day 3

In the morning they saw what they’d tried to achieve the previous afternoon and evening.
Apparently the powder snow was all stuck to the side and top of the mountain in these extraordinary shapes – like big marshmallows, meringue and mushrooms, with large fluffy round lumps of snow overhanging from the top. It must have been an absolute nightmare to see. I can’t imagine how they climbed up and over it.

Apparently in the Alps, this kind of powder snow just falls off the mountain but for some reason in the Andes it stuck and formed these extraordinary shapes. For me, seeing the documentary (which contains reconstructions of the climb filmed on the same mountain) it looks like an alien planet or something, and it gives the impression of a strange unknown place with it’s own character, different to the mountains in Europe. Remember, that nobody had ever done it before. It must have been like going into outer space or something – scary but exciting, and otherworldly.

Imagine a massive mushroom made of white powder. It’s like a mushroom because of the overhanging snow.
Now imagine that mushroom 6 km up in the sky.
Now imagine trying to climb over it from the base.
How on earth did they manage it? I have no idea.

Apparently it was extremely precarious (something that could fall at any moment – literally, or figuratively e.g. the economy is in a precarious state) and unnerving (makes you nervous).

They were really scared that they might not make it.

When they got onto the north ridge, they promised never to climb an Andean mountain again. In fact, they considered stopping at that point because they were both exhausted, but they thought “we’ve come all this way, we might as well stand on the top”.

So they ascended the north ridge and made it to the top.

What a feeling. They did it – first people to climb the western face and reach the summit.
Extraordinary shots of the mountain and the feeling of epic space around – above the clouds and just sticking out into the sky.

But 80% of accidents happen on descent.

To be continued in part 2…

447. What is this, British Humour? (with Amber Minogue)

What is British Humour? Is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style and culture? In this episode I go through the main points of my British Council Teacher Talk about British Humour. Amber and I discuss the definition of British humour, the way it works, how it’s different or similar to other humour in other places, and some examples of typical humour in the UK.

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Introduction

Last week I did a Teacher Talk at the British Council in Paris. Teacher Talks are when the BC invites guests to an event involving a talk on a specific topic and then drinks afterwards. All teachers are invited to talk at these events and this time I thought I’d have a go. The topic was completely up to me, so I chose to talk about British humour because it’s always something I’m thinking about and I thought it might also be a way to promote English language comedy in Paris.

The talk was sold out and went well. I was hoping to upload the recording of the talk here but it’s not good enough. It just sounds very echoey and muffled. Next time I will mic myself up properly. So I’m not going to play the recording, which is a big pity because there were some moments of interaction with the audience and some funny things. But it’s just not clear enough on the recording so I’m not publishing it. The room at the BC where we do these talks is a big high ceiling place with mirrors on the back wall and high windows and walls so the sound bounces around a lot.

Anyway, I’ve still got all the ideas in my head so I’m going to put them into this episode, recorded in the normal way. So, I went to Amber’s place and decided I’d discuss all the points in my talk with her, since I think she’s probably got some interesting things to say on the subject. We both have experiences of living in other countries and we both do stand up so we think about humour quite a lot.

So you’re going to hear us attempting to answer questions like: what is British humour, what’s it like?, is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style? What does it say about us as a culture?

The main aim is just to describe and demystify humour in Britain. You’ll see that I don’t subscribe to the idea that British humour is somehow better than other forms of humour. In fact, in many ways it is very similar to humour in plenty of other places.

But as I describe it here, just think about whether this kind of behaviour is likely to be found in the culture or cultures that you know, and consider the role that humour plays in people’s daily lives where you are from. You might notice differences or similarities.

Let’s now go to Amber’s place and get to the bottom of this.


Main points covered:

British Humour doesn’t exist

OK, it does exist, but we don’t really use any different types of humour than anyone else. We don’t have a monopoly on humour or anything, but we do value it highly.

British Humour isn’t funny

It’s not always designed to make everyone laugh. Instead, humour is used in our interactions to avoid being too serious, keep things light and make you seem like a normal person.

Self-deprecation

This means making fun of yourself. It’s a bit of a crime to take yourself too seriously in the UK, so people make fun of themselves to show that they’re not above everyone else.

Understatement

This is where you make a strong statement sound less strong. E.g. “It’s raining outside is it?” “Yeah, just a bit”

Deadpan delivery

This is where humourous statements are delivered with a straight face, making it hard for some people to notice that a joke has happened.

Sarcasm/Irony

This is where you say one thing but you mean the opposite. It’s used for insults, for disappointments or to make fun of everything in general.

Innuendo

This is when one innocent statement can also mean something quite rude. Innuendo often happens by accident and other people say something to reveal the dirty second meaning.

E.g. “I like the taste of a cox” (apple)   … “I bet you do!”


Other things I didn’t cover

Puns

These are just word jokes. They work when one word means two things at the same time, connecting two previously unrelated ideas together in one statement. The brain explodes because one thing means two things at the same time.

They’re best when they are instant responses to something, rather than pre-planned jokes.

Here are some examples of pre-planned ones

How does Bob Marley like his donuts?
Wi’ jam in.

For more, check out my episodes about telling jokes in English.

Vocabulary
We have a wide variety of synonyms, homonyms which make it easy to say one thing that sounds like another, creating endless opportunities for word jokes (puns) and euphemisms.

Pisstaking
This means making fun of each other. We do this all the time.
Perhaps it’s because we’re incapable of expressing genuine emotions and we tend to avoid sincerity because it makes us feel uncomfortable, so we interact with our loved ones by teasing them, poking fun at them, mocking them and so on.

We’re emotionally crippled, basically.

E.g. I’ll always poke fun at my brother when I see him.
Like, oh my god what have you done to your hair?
Nice of you to have made an effort today.

Pisstaking has two functions:
To express affection
To knock someone down to size if they’re getting too big for their boots

You need to be able to take a joke in the UK. You’ve got to be able to both take a joke and dish it out when necessary.

If you can, you’re alright.

Surreal humour
Essentially surreal humour involves making fun of absolutely everything around you. It makes fun of existence itself. It means making absurd statements to highlight the absurdity in life. It’s about subverting boring reality. Maybe this is something to do with our weather (it’s dull, generally) or it’s a form of indirect anarchy or something.

Inappropriate humour
Although we use humour all the time, it’s worth noting that it can get you into trouble if you do it badly.
If you use self-deprecating humour, you have to be sure that everyone else gets it.
Be careful who/what is the target of your humour. It’s very politically incorrect to make jokes about certain groups in society – particularly groups that are lower status than you. So, these kinds of jokes are generally outlawed: ethnic jokes, sexist jokes. It’s very bad taste and old-fashioned and not cool at all.

Comedy

British comedy shows, the difference with American comedy, some recommended shows…

This is another episode for the future.

Thanks for listening to this episode. I look forward to reading your comments!

446. British TV: Top Gear

Talking about one of the UK’s most popular television programmes, Top Gear. This episode features lots of vocabulary related to cars, but a lot more too including your guide to how to speak like Jeremy Clarkson.

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LEPster meetup in Prague – 13 May – Click here for the Facebook page.

More British TV content. This time it’s all about cars. It’s not just a car show though. It’s kind of a comedy entertainment show with cars. And it’s perhaps the BBC’s most popular show for a long time, certainly one of their biggest exports. You’ve probably seen it. It travels well.

Overview of the Episode

  • The story of Top Gear
  • Descriptions of Top Gear and the way they speak on Top Gear
  • Some clips + language
  • The criticism of the show

The Story of Top Gear

What it used to be like…

“The Jeep Cherokee!”

How it came back in 2002.

3 things on Top Gear

  1. Car news and reviews (which are actually quite informative and inventive, even though they focus on unaffordable cars)
  2. Blokey banter between the presenters, where they share car news and take the piss out of each other.
  3. “And then we did THIS.” Ridiculous challenges in which they spend a LOT of money and create some mad entertainment all around cars.

It’s politically incorrect, wilfully irresponsible, male-centric, unapologetically macho and competitive, slightly offensive at times but very well-made television.

I must admit that I always watch it when it’s on, but I’m not completely convinced by the presenters and the general tone, but some of the special episodes were amazingly well made.

The show is popular but also controversial as it has been criticised for being slightly racist or inappropriate. The makers of the show claim they’re not to be taken seriously. Others don’t like it because it promotes irresponsible driving and that it doesn’t take into account any green issues.

The Presenters

James May, who used to live in the building over the road from me. A mischievous motoring journalist who’d never done TV before. He’s tall, scruffy, slow and sardonic. They call him Captain Slow and he’s probably the one you could stand having a drink the pub with. He seems like the nicer, milder one of the three.

Richard Hammond, who comes from the same town as me – Solihull in the West Midlands, the former local radio DJ who also had never done TV work before joining the show. Hammond famously had a big accident during a high-speed dragster race and was seriously injured, spending weeks in hospital recovering from head injuries. They call him Richard “The Hamster” Hammond, even though he’s definitely not a hamster. He’s a man.

Jeremy Clarkson, lives nowhere near me. Used to be a presenter in the early days, and had done talk shows and some other programmes before being part of the Top Gear reboot with his old school friend producer Andy Wilman. Clarkson was fired from the BBC for allegedly punching a producer of the show when he was drunk and hungry. This is what led to them leaving the show.

The BBC found new presenters and continued, but it didn’t pick up the same audience figures or ratings. Apparently the trio of May, Hammond and Clarkson is where the appeal is.
The three of them continue to make a big show about cars now on Amazon Prime in their show The Grand Tour, which as far as I can tell is pretty much the same as Top Gear but with a bigger budget.

A lot of Top Gear is on Netflix and YouTube.

How they speak (Learn how to speak like Jeremy Clarkson)

1. Pauses.
Almost – everything they say – is absolutely full – of pauses.
In fact, some of the pauses are so long – you don’t realise – that’s not even the end of the sentence – because this – is the kind of sentence – that has to end – like THIS.

2. “THIS”
It seems like all the sentences they say have to either begin or end with the word “THIS”
And then we did THIS.
THIS is the kind of car – that my Mum would drive
And THIS – is THIS.
If there’s one word which summarises everything that you need to know about Top Gear, it’s this.

3. Intonation – i.e. Going down heavily at the end of the sentence.

4. Hyperbole
“I think it’s quite possibly the best looking car in the world” I’m sure he’s said that about 5 times on the show, about 5 different cars.
“This is the most amazing feeling I have ever had… with my trousers on.”
“The level of torque is biblical.”
“It goes from 0 to 60 in negative 12 seconds. It is so fast that it actually goes back to the future.
If this car was a guitar player, it would be Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Noel Gallagher all rolled into one.”

5. Humour – some might call it “British humour”, but mainly it’s dry, sarcastic, opinionated hyperbole with loads of jokey banter and piss taking.

Car review

Porsche Carrera GT Car Review

Language

  • It isn’t styled with the verve or the passion of a Ferrari.
  • It’s form following function.
  • He was ready to take on the Mercedes.
  • Masses of wheel spin off the line.
  • He has got to tread carefully.
  • I’m surprised he’s playing his power ballads today
  • Bit of a wiggle, he’s ok coming up to the hammerhead
  • This is where he spun it before, cannot afford a mistake now.
  • This is maximum attack mode.
  • He’s really opening the taps now.
  • Really working that manual gearbox.
  • Wringing out any millisecond advantage.
  • This is the second to last bend.
  • Hard on the ceramic brake s.
  • Keep it steady.
  • He’s measuring out the power.
  • Gambon corner. Ooh he’s pushing it now, and there he is!

Blokey Banter

Cows or cars

Vocabulary

  • Can anyone see a flaw in my plan?
  • We’ll be out of a job!
  • Steer (top steer)
  • The only drawback I can see are cattle grids.

Challenge

Reliant Robin

The Criticisms of Top Gear

Excess
Decadence
Materialistic
misogyny
Casual racism
Climate change
Irresponsibility
Setting a bad example

Stewart Lee on Top Gear
“Clarkson. He’s outrageous, politically incorrect – but done just for money. He’s like The Sun.
“Hammond – a man who’s been able to carve out his own literary career off the back of his own inability to drive safely.”

Steve Coogan
It’s lazy comedy based on offensive comments. It’s not punching up.
It’s lazy, feckless and flatulent.

What do you think?

444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election 2017

Politics is back on LEP as I talk to my Dad about recent developments in the UK, specifically the General Election which is due to take place on 8 June.

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Introduction & Summary Transcript

Last week something surprising happened. The British PM Theresa May announced a “snap general election” – meaning, she called an election earlier than expected and with a short time between the announcement and the date of the election. That’s what a ‘snap’ general election is. In this case the general election is going to happen on 8 June this year.

So this is a general election, which means that all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons in Westminster, London could change. I don’t think they will all change but we will see a different arrangement for sure, with parties either losing or gaining seats, and the government could change as well. The House of Commons is where all the MPs sit. Each seat in commons represents a different part of the country – the different constituencies. People will go out to the polling stations, vote for an MP for their constituency and the one who wins the most votes in that constituency gets that seat. The party which gets the majority of seats in the House of Commons has the right to form a government. At the moment that’s the Conservatives since they won the majority of seats by a fairly small margin in the last general election we had, which was in 2015, i talked about it on this podcast. How is our parliament and our government going to change with this election? How’s that going to affect the direction the country goes in?

So, politics is in the news (as it always is) so I think it’s time to talk some more about this subject on this podcast, so let’s talk to my dad Rick Thompson again. My dad is a journalist who worked at the BBC for years and he’s also a visiting professor at the University of Central England. Generally he’s a well-informed and articulate person and certainly he’s the one I always ask when I want to know all about something that’s happening in the news. So, let’s talk to Rick Thompson about this snap election, what it all means, and how it relates to this ongoing story of Brexit and politics in the UK.

Before we do that I think it might be necessary to give you a bit of a summary of the story so far, in terms of British politics. This will take about 10 minutes but it’s important context.

I’ve been covering politics in the UK since the 2015 election, doing episodes every now and again about the political situation and events, attempting to talk about them in a balanced way while also giving my personal take on things. You can go back and listen to them – since summer 2015.

In any case, here’s a brief summary of British politics over the last couple of decades to just make it as clear as possible because context is everything. Without context it’s just a bunch of big sounding words and events that might not seem to have any significance. Also, it’s a good chance for you to hear some of the language of politics that you might have heard on this podcast before.

You can read this introduction and summary on the page for this episode. Watch out for certain terms and language relating to politics. There’s some nice vocabulary here and you can pick it up and use it when you discuss this subject too, because I’m sure many of you are discussing these things – politics in Europe but also politics in your countries. A lot of the language is basically the same.

A Summary of British Politics – The Main Parties

So we have two main parties in the UK and some other smaller ones which are still important, especially today.

The Conservatives – centre-right to right wing
They’re often described as the party of the rich. They tend to promote free market capitalism with the belief that allowing business to flourish benefits society as a whole because the money trickles down to everyone else through the creation of jobs etc. They believe in the private sector as the solution to society’s problems and that introducing competition in the marketplace between companies seeking profit will create the best conditions in all services, rather than the government stepping in and controlling things with regulation. So the Tories believe in small government. They’re the party that says they support hard work and dynamic entrepreneurialism – the idea that you can build a business yourself and if you work hard and have good ideas you can get rich and do great things and this benefits society in general. They’re criticised for not caring about ordinary working people, just supporting their friends at the top, being out of touch with ordinary life. They currently are the governing party.

Labour – centre-left to left wing.
Believe in supporting working people and creating conditions in which everyone can have a decent life. They believe that the government needs to support people in all areas by providing welfare, guidance and regulation to keep things balanced for all. The public sector has a responsibility to take part in many areas of life in order to constantly protect the interests of all people. More public spending, and re-distribution of wealth through higher taxation on the rich and higher public spending for services for the poor, equal opportunity programs etc. Criticised as being soft, idealistic, the ‘liberal left’, politically correct, tolerant of radical islam, incapable of managing the economy due to high levels of public spending and taxation which damages business. Being too controlling, too much influence in all areas of life like in people’s business concerns, the nanny state trying to control everything and stifling entrepreneurial instincts. They are the opposition party at the moment, struggling with their leader Jeremy Corbyn who is popular with Labour voters, but unpopular within the MPs themselves.

Liberal Democrats in the middle – they almost never get power and just sit in this kind of lukewarm water where they pick up voters who don’t really agree with the other two big parties. Considered a bit vague and untrustworthy considering they made U turns on many principles in their time in coalition govt with the tories and lost loads of seats in the last election. These days they are one of the the only major parties in England which is anti-Brexit.

Green party to the left of Labour – don’t get a lot of votes because they’re just too left wing even though their policies are about fairness and environmental protection. The left is criticised for being idealistic because they believe in high public spending, and “where’s the money going to come from?” Essentially they are a bit anti-capitalist because they’d make businesses pay for their programmes.

UKIP on the right of the tories – always focused on getting out of the EU and cutting immigration. Many members deny climate change, blame immigrants and the EU for all our problems and like to think they are the party for people who are sick of the political class.

SNP – the party for Scotland. Focused on protecting Scottish interests. Generally left wing policy for Scotland. They want independence.

Smaller parties include Plaid Cymru for Wales and several parties in Northern Ireland.

British Politics Since WW2

Over the years our country has generally swung between The Conservatives and Labour.
Following WW2 a Labour government set up the Welfare State – the state took control of the big institutions and utilities like the National Health Service, the railways, water, electricity, coal, steel etc that were like massive pillars of British economic and social life. This is what the country looked like in the decades after ww2.

In the late 70s and early 80s Thatcher (Conservative) totally changed the country by pushing liberal free market economics and beginning the dismantling of the welfare state. She oversaw the privatisation of state owned institutions, letting the markets and the private sector dominate our economy, making it very hard to go back.

The left wing was badly hurt. Partly due to failures in the pre-Thatcher era with the country being dominated by the labour unions and with a lack of growth in the economy. THatcher did revitalise things but she also damaged a lot of the working communities that relied on industries like coal mining. She pushed the country towards liberal economics like Reagan in the USA and we’ve been following that ever since.

Left wing was a bit stuck for a long time, nearly 20 years of Tories.
Tony Blair in the mid-nineties revitalised the Labour party by re-branding it “New Labour”. He took a centrist position, known as the ‘third way’ or Blairism.

Essentially this was the social position of the left with the economic position of the right.
Free-market capitalism was allowed to flourish, but with redistribution of wealth, high public spending on welfare services, progressive policies.

A lot of it was funded by the financial markets, banking ‘trickery’, credit, lending and so on.

It was like a Thatcherite economic model but with the heart of the left – he claimed to represent ordinary working people and wanted to create a level playing field in society to give everyone an equal chance. He was popular in the beginning and won a landslide victory in 1997. Generally he was quite good, but it all slipped when he took the country to war in Iraq and there were questions about the way he justified that.

Also the reckless manner in which the financial markets were allowed to play with our money led to a banking crisis as all the lending backfired when basically people couldn’t pay back all the debt and banks lost a lot of money.

It came from a culture of risky investment and frankly dodgy debt trading, which is kind of what happens when you let the markets just get away with anything.
Because our society is utterly dependent on credit, our economy took a big hit, just like it did all over the world.

Tony Blair handed over to his partner Gordon Brown who inherited this mess and tried to solve things with a mix of quantitative easing and other policies. Lacking the charisma of Blair and arriving at a time when everyone was a bit sick of Labour. Brown is remembered as a bit of an unpopular guy who also had to deal with the fallout of the Blair years.

Labour took a big hit in the 2010 election and lost.

Voter apathy and general distrust in politicians led to low voter turnout in 2010. The Conservatives got more votes than the other parties but not enough to form a government so they formed a coalition with Liberal Democrats who took the opportunity to play a role in government.

The government pushed an economic policy of austerity. The Liberal Democrats compromised a lot of their principles because the govt was basically led by the tories. They lost a lot of public support.

Scotland had a referendum to leave the UK but the vote ended up being to stay, but the SNP gained a lot of support and Scotland still might vote to leave the UK in order to remain in the EU.

The Tories continued to push austerity as their solution to the economic crisis.

The next election saw a surprising win for the Tories. They managed to win an outright majority. This is mainly because the SNP stole votes from Labour in the north. The Lib Dems lost loads of seats because people had lost faith in them. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband just wasn’t convincing enough. People probably felt that the Conservatives had a plan for the economy which they had to finish. Also the usual voter apathy meant that a lot of people didn’t vote and as a result only a portion of the population got what they wanted.
So the Tories carried on with their policy without the influence of the Lib Dems. No more coalition, just the tories.
Their policy: Cut public spending and yet relieve pressure on businesses to stimulate the economy. It also looked like they were making working people pay for the economic crisis caused by rich bankers who were also their friends.

Labour, in opposition, looked for a new leader. Surprisingly an old member of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, was chosen. He’s quite radically left wing. He’s popular with the grassroots voters, but not popular with the more centrist members of the party, including many Labour MPs and the party is quite split.

Meanwhile the economic crisis, unemployment and increasing immigration caused more competition in the job market and the cut in public services caused a lot of frustration among middle class and lower class people. UKIP gained more support by campaigning to reduce immigration and make Britain great again by getting out of Europe. They posed quite a big threat to the Conservatives both among voters and within the party. David Cameron the PM and Tory leader faced quite a lot of pressure from this growing Eurosceptic faction.

He came up with a plan to satisfy those Eurosceptic members of his party and prevent UKIP from stealing too much support from them. He had to be seen to be addressing the EU situation, taking a tough position.

He called a referendum on Europe while also planning to try and renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. I think he believed he could use the referendum as a bargaining tool in Europe to get a better deal with more control of immigration and more control of business rules.

He thought the EU would say “ok you can have what you want, just don’t leave us!”

Dave imagined the referendum would be a choice between a better deal with EU or out.

He didn’t get the better deal he wanted, and you know how the anti-EU supporters campaigned hard for a leave vote by making lots of untrue claims, promises they couldn’t keep, presenting Brexit as the solution to all of the UK’s problems.

Surprise surprise, the country voted to leave the UK. 51.9% voted leave, 48.1% to remain.

Cameron, who had campaigned to remain promptly resigned, suggesting that he wasn’t the right man to lead the country into Brexit. There was a slightly messy leadership campaign, with Boris Johnson ultimately stepping down because he made a fool of himself with his leave campaign – too many promises he couldn’t keep and false claims. Theresa May was chosen by the Tories as the next leader. She was officially anti-Brexit during the referendum campaign, but she was chosen as the PM to lead the country through the Brexit negotiations. Crazy times.

A lot of people were angry with Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leader because he did not argue against Brexit strongly enough. As the leader of the left, he didn’t seem to care about Brexit that much and this probably damaged the remain campaign. It seems he doesn’t like Europe much. He lost a lot of support from shocked remain voters.

There was a high court claim by various people which argued that the government didn’t have the right to trigger article 50 (start Brexit process) without Parliament voting on it first. The claim was a success. Parliament voted to trigger article 50. In March Theresa May triggered Article 50. She also promised many times that she wouldn’t call a general election, and that “now wasn’t the time”.

Then, wow, she called a snap election and here we are. It was a surprise because we she didn’t need to do it until 2020.

Another general election on 8 June 2017.

Why has this happened? What’s the significance of this? What does it mean?

Let’s talk to my dad and see what he has to say.

 


What happened?
Theresa May has called a ‘snap’ General Election, to take place on 8 June 2017.

What does this mean?
That voters in the UK will be choosing new MPs in the house of commons.
We’ll get a new government, new arrangement in Parliament

Why did Theresa May call this election? She didn’t have to do it until 2020.
She says it’s because the country needs a united government. May needs a ‘mandate’ from the people to be able to oversee Brexit.
But really, this is just an opportunity for the Tories to grab more power because the opposition is a disaster.

How is this possible? How often do we have elections in the UK?
We have elections every 5 years more or less, but the government has the right to call elections whenever it wants. In the case of a ‘snap’ election like this, Parliament votes on it and it needs a ⅔ majority to go through. That’s going to happen because Corbyn has said Labour will back the snap election.

Why is Corbyn backing this election when it’s pretty certain that Labour will lose seats?
He’s in a Catch 22 situation. If he says no to the election it’s like admitting defeat.

What is going to happen?
Tories will gain a bigger majority, Labour will lose seats, Liberal Democrats will gain (because they’re the only ones fighting against Brexit so remainers will switch to them). But, anything can happen in politics, so let’s wait and see.

How is this related to Brexit?

What about the 48.1% that voted to remain?
Who do they have to vote for? Corbyn basically agrees with Brexit so the only party left is Lib Dem and they’re just not strong enough to win this. The Tories are bound to make big gains.

  • Some vocabulary
  • U turn
  • Voter turnout
  • Voter fatigue
  • Campaign
  • Televised debate
  • Polls
  • Brexit negotiations
  • Mandate

 

442. The Trip to Japan (Part 1)

Describing some thoughts about Japan after my recent visit. Exploring the culture and lifestyle in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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As you know I just came back from a little holiday in Japan that I had with my wife last week. We spent about 8 days there in total and I’m going to talk about it here because I thought you might like to know about the trip. You know, sometimes I do these episodes about travelling experiences that I’ve had and they seem to be quite popular. For example, I’ve done ones about going to India, Vietnam, Indonesia, New York, different parts of France, California and Thailand. In this episode (or these episodes) I’m going to do another one, this time it’s all about my recent trip to Japan from last week.

So, here’s another travel episode with a few stories, some descriptions of places, culture and experiences and other general ramblings about my reflections on the time spent in the land of the rising sun.

For the dedicated language learners and orion team transcribers, a lot of what I’m saying is written in the form of notes and I’ll put these notes on the page for this episode. So, you can read them and check any new words you hear, or if you’re transcribing this you can use my notes, copy them into your google doc and then just fill in the blanks – the bits where I improvise details and speak “off script” which I will probably do as I go along.

No idea how long this is going to take, but it’ll take as long as it takes. I’ll divide it into several episodes if it gets too long.

I’ve done at least one episode all about Japan before. That’s number 118 “Sick in Japan”(Full transcript)

118. Sick in Japan

It tells the story of how I ended up sick in a hospital bed in Japan more than 15 years ago, feeling physically terrible and mentally very panicked, not knowing what was wrong with me. Do you remember? If you haven’t heard it, I recommend listening – you might enjoy it! Basically, I got very sick there and spent two weeks (even before I went to hospital) essentially lying on my bed in my apartment at home getting more and more ill, unable to eat, unable to sleep even though I was very tired, in a lot of pain from a horrible infection. Eventually I got to a doctor who agreed to treat me and after taking a blood test he informed me in slightly broken English that I had liver damage, I needed to go to hospital and I needed an operation. To be honest, his diagnosis was a bit lost in translation and it wasn’t as bad as I thought but I assumed the worst! I thought I needed a liver transplant because I had some sort of weird liver disease! I remember the first night in the hospital bed feeling like I was going to die or something, not knowing what was wrong with me, thinking that I was going to be given an operation to get a liver transplant and the worst thing was that I worrying that they would give me a Japanese liver! For some reason this scared me because I thought “Maybe it won’t work with my body and maybe I won’t be able to drink beer like I could before!” That was the worst thing – I won’t be able to drink beer! Even if I survive! Weird paranoia and fear and ridiculousness. Naturally, it turned out ok in the end, and in fact it all turned out to be part of a really great adventure. That was one experience I had during the two years I spent in Japan in 2002 and 2003. To hear the whole story listen to episode 118. It also explains a lot of the reasons I went to live in Japan in the first place and what happened to me while I was there, especially the difficulties, even though the majority of my experiences were really great.

This episode

  • Why did you go?
  • What’s it like in Japan? Let’s explore the culture, the people, the way of life and the mentality etc.
  • What did you do, where did you go and what did you see?
  • How was your gig? Tell us about the comedy show you did.

Why did you go to Japan?

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you come to my country Luke? My country is a wonderful place with many fantastic things to offer. Come, Drink our favourite drinks, eat our national dishes, let me sing you the song of my people!” I’d love to visit everywhere all the time of course! But this time, it was Japan – a place where I used to live and which I’ve always wanted to return to, for my own personal reasons.

I have a connection to the place. 2 years of my life there. I made strong friendships and became attached to some specific places and things. It was hard to break away from it when I left years ago. It was an important period so I still have a connection with Japan. When I originally left Japan I thought I would never go back. I remember looking around at the places I used to go and I’d think – I may never come here ever again. That’s a strange feeling actually. When I first went to Japan I was a bit depressed and lost to be honest. When I returned I felt much more confident and positive in many areas, including work, how to live, how to connect to people, even how to perform etc. When I arrived I was feeling that there wasn’t much I could do. Everything was negative and a bit difficult. When I left I felt like I could do whatever I wanted! The place really lifted me up. Also I learned about the kindness of people and about how to relax and look after myself in the middle of chaotic stress. It was a good time and a place where things changed for me a bit, so naturally I have a soft spot for the place.

Now it’s 15 years later and I’m married. My wife loves Japanese things, she loves travelling, and I love her so I wanted to show her this important place. That was quite important to me.
Birthday – my wife wanted us to celebrate, anniversary. It was a special occasion.

What’s it like in Japan?

In no particular order, here are some reflections on the culture, lifestyle, psychology and general feeling of life in Japan, especially Tokyo.

Crowded
About 130,000,000 people – more than double the number of people in the UK or France. Just under the number of people in Russia – but consider the relative space. Greater Tokyo has about 40,000,000 people, making it the most populated city metropolis in the world. But they make it work. Despite the large number of people, the place functions very efficiently. There’s not a lot of space but it’s amazing how interiors are designed to make the most of the space they have, and how everyone manages to keep everything peaceful and tidy.

Geography
The place is 70% mountain, so a lot of people are crammed into the city areas where it’s more practical to build. Also, the country sits on a whole series of fault lines which means there are regular earthquakes, more than a thousand in a year. Not all of them are noticeable, but many of them are. Mount Fuji is the biggest mountain in the country and it looms in the distance – sometimes visible from Tokyo, much more visible from areas in Kanagawa where you can see it from the beach or you get glimpses when travelling on the train, especially in winter when the air is clear and mountain is covered in snow. It’s a spectacular and beautiful sight – symmetrical, powerful, peaceful and majestic. It’s also an active volcano, which makes it seem a little threatening and powerful. If it erupted – it would be pretty devastating. qz.com/236129/what-would-happen-if-mount-fuji-right-next-to-tokyo-erupted-for-the-first-time-in-207-years/

I’m sure this has an effect on life there, but it’s kind of below the surface. I don’t know if Japanese people really think about it a lot, or whether it bothers them when they’re alone. I don’t really know. But there’s always this feeling of “the big one could come at any time” perhaps that contributes to the uniqueness, the energy, the weird zen-like feeling of the place.
Queueing and other forms of social order. Coming from France, where public moments of conflict are very common, Japan seems incredibly orderly considering the number of people living in quite a small space. I suppose this comes from necessity – that people need to be able to get along in order for the whole system to work. Generally, people respect each other’s personal space, there’s a lot of effort made to maintain the common good. It’s almost a subconscious duty to make sure you do your bit – don’t drop litter, don’t make loud noise, don’t take up too much space, be respectful to those around you. There’s a real sense of collective consciousness in Japan. In the UK, I remember coming back from Japan feeling that everyone seemed so individualistic and ego-centric. Also I was surprised by the way some of my friends behaved in an anti-social way – speaking loudly in public places, dropping cigarette buts outside doorways and so on. People also seemed to do a lot of talking about themselves. In Japan that seems to happen less, and it’s distasteful to talk about yourself too much. These are just observations I’ve had – I might be wrong about it all, and please correct me if I am, but I feel like Japan has more of a sense of collective consciousness, and collective duty and less individualism – that’s not to say people aren’t individuals, of course they are, but people seem to just pay more attention to things that will be for the good of everyone, and as a result the place is efficient, clean, tidy and peaceful.

The charisma man
I thought I’d talk about this now, since I’m on the subject of some differences between JPN and let’s say ‘western culture’. There’s this idea of the charisma man, which used to be a comic strip popular in the expat community. It’s quite interesting and a little bit controversial but it does tell us something about the way western people (especially men) can be treated in Japan, or at least one phenomenon which can occur (not necessarily every time with everyone). What’s a charisma man?

Wikipedia: Concept of the Charisma Man
“Charisma Man” manipulates the superhero genre to ridicule the often unjustified self–confidence of some foreign men in Japan. Although something of a loser in his home country Canada—the home of Charisma Man’s creator—when around Japanese people the central character transforms from a skinny nerd into a muscle-bound hunk, extremely attractive to women and admired by men. Like other superheroes, however, Charisma Man has one major weakness: “Western Woman”. Whenever in the presence of western females his powers disappear and he becomes an unattractive, skinny wimp once more.[2]
“Charisma Man” is thus a statement on the relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan. According to Rodney:
“The Japanese seem to see Westerners through some kind of filter. An obvious example was all the geeks I saw out there walking around with beautiful Japanese girls on their arms. These guys were probably social misfits in their home countries, but in Japan the geek factor didn’t seem to translate.
“The dichotomy between the perception of these guys in their home countries and in Japan was amazing to me. This made me think of Superman; on his home planet of Krypton, Superman was nobody special, and he certainly didn’t have superpowers. But when he arrived on earth — well, you know the rest.
“He was somebody — that was the whole premise of the first strip.”
— Larry Rodney, in a 2003 interview with the Japan Times

I still see Charisma men in Japan quite a lot. Imagine some western guy who is acting a bit arrogant and self-important when really he’s not that great. The inflated ego of a western man getting attention from Japanese women. Partly it’s a bit unfair to Japanese women, that’s what some people say. It shows two things – one being that there is a certain filter through which some Japanese people will view western men – i.e. that they see them as more impressive and charismatic than they really are (or perhaps they’re just being polite) but the other thing is the way some western guys react to the attention they get in Japan. Some blokes let it go to their heads and they end up being tiresome egomaniac would-be alpha males who let all the adulation go to their heads. This is probably why they’re not that popular in their own countries – they’re just not that nice or charming, and it becomes more obvious in Japan when you see the way these guys become smug, arrogant self-important guys with an inflated sense of ego.
It’s just interesting to note the way in which people’s perceptions of themselves and each other can change depending on the cultural context. On one hand this is kind of a bad thing, but on the other hand it’s what makes Japan so special – people do treat you well, it’s really nice to have people show interest in you and to be genuinely impressed by where you come from and to be impressed by the differences. E.g. when we told people we were from Paris and London – this seemed to be impressive information. It’s nice! I’d rather have that than be met with indifference. Even if it’s even a little bit fake (which I’m not sure it is actually – I think people are genuinely curious) even if it’s slightly fake, it’s better than genuine rudeness. So it’s a double-edged sword – it’s lovely to be considered as slightly special because you’re different, but that can go to some people’s heads and make them act a bit arrogant, it can also get a little tiring after a while when you just want to be considered as a normal person like everyone else. I remember that I used to get a little fed up with people immediately being impressed by me when they first met me. Like, “where are you from?” “I’m from London” “Oh you are so cool guy! You are a gentleman!” and I thought “Well, I’m not really. I’m just a bloke – not all that cool really, just normal, and not that much of a gentleman really.” In the UK we tend to be a little bit wary of those big compliments and in fact when you really get to know someone you tend to just take the piss out of them, even when you don’t know them and first meet them, you might take the piss quite a lot – it’s a form of bonding and friendship building.

Quietness & “zen” feeling
Japan is officially a peaceful country.
But it’s more than that. The place can be incredibly peaceful. I’m not sure where this comes from to be honest!

Service
Excellent – the customer is god. Polite in the extreme. Attentive. Generally everything is of high quality and you’re looked after well. Can be a bit robotic though, and I find that there’s a certain kind of high-pitched woman’s voice that you hear everywhere, from machines and announcements. Also there was an actual robot at the airport.

Cleanliness
You could eat your dinner off the floor. The metro is shiny and reflective. Many indoor places ask you to remove your shoes and this is an excellent idea.
There are no bins anywhere! But also no litter on the streets. Very few cigarette butts. They all go in little cigarette butt bins, or people put them in their own little portable ashtrays.

Aesthetics
A lot of natural forms. Not as robotic and futuristic as you might expect. There’s a lot of wood, lots of stone. Natural forms – imperfect shapes combined with symmetrical lines. Patterns, textures and surfaces which are imperfect. E.g. the texture of stone, or wood, or rough surfaces with random patterns and textures. The same kinds you find in nature, often combined – stone, wood, moss, water. Different textures next to each other, with natural lines, shapes very neatly presented. It’s extremely satisfying and peaceful, relaxing – Zen.

Cherry Blossom
This is one of Japan’s big moments in the year. There are cherry trees everywhere, especially in certain spots and when the blossom comes out in early April it’s a beautiful sight to see. It’s a delicate pink colour and it looks like snow all over the branches. It contrasts beautifully with the blue sky and when the wind blows the blossom falls from trees again like snow. It lands on the ground carpeting it and also on rivers. It’s fleeting, transient beauty of the highest order. Japanese people celebrate it by having little picnics and parties in the park in cherry blossom areas. Lovely.

Cuteness – “Fluffy bunny land”
Cuteness rules – “kawaii”
Examples: Everything has a cute logo, everything is anthropomorphised with a cute little face – bread, chicken shops, cash machines, safety rules. Everything has a cute melody – constant little melodies like the music that plays when the green pedestrian light shines, bus doors, bus stops, cash machines, some streets just play music from the lamp posts. It’s like Super Mario Land, it really is.

Everyone has cute bags, badges, pencil cases. Even the people are adorably cute. They’re quite small, sweet, laugh and giggle easily, are self-contained (neat and tidy) quite easily scared (I mean, a bit socially awkward and shy) often have quite big fluffy hair, round faces. Extremely cute and adorable, especially the kids. Basically, Japanese people – you’re like cartoon characters to me, or ewoks or teddy bears.

Is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but Japanese people can come across as cute in those ways. But are Japanese people like Ewoks? Maybe. I’m sure Japanese people are perfectly capable of being mean, nasty, cruel, selfish and everything like that – I’m sure I’m just applying a filter to them just like they might apply a filter to me. Who knows… But I quite like the Ewok metaphor. Ewoks are cute and loyal, but they can also be deadly can’t they! When you think about it – the ewoks are perhaps the most dangerous creatures in the Star Wars universe. They basically stopped the Galactic Empire and helped the rebels destroy the second death star. You wouldn’t want to have to fight against them would you, even if they do look like cute little fluffy bears. Also, if you remember, in Return of the Jedi the ewoks were originally planning to eat Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, until C-3P0 stopped them. They were going to eat Luke Han and Leia. They’re vicious carnivores! Don’t underestimate them. Anyway, what I originally planned to say was simply that Japanese people seem very cute to me and cuteness or (kawaii seems to have an important role in Japanese life).

Why is everything so damn cute??? Why is cuteness so important in the culture?
Paul Ratner from BigThink.com
While you may dismiss cuteness as a regional peculiarity, there is science to back up the unexpected usefulness of kawaii in life. A study by researchers from the University of Hiroshima did several experiments on students and found that their performance on a variety of tasks like fine motor dexterity and non-visual searches improved after viewing cute images of puppies and kittens. The scientists concluded that this is due to the increase in narrowing attentional focus that resulted from viewing the cute images. They advocated the use of cute images and objects in work spaces to improve productivity.

I often wonder how Japan manages to be so efficient, and I’ve always thought that there was just something in the air here which means that people find the most convenient stress free ways of getting on with things. Partly that atmosphere is created by just focusing on certain pleasing things and trying to stay calm at all times. I guess it’s similar to the way the Brits just keep calm and carry on and try not to let emotions stop you from just getting things done. In Japan they seem to emphasise the cuteness just because it makes you feel good, makes you feel protected, reduces stress and allows you to be more productive. Perhaps that’s because Japan is quite a stressful place when you think about it – the potential for natural disaster is quite high. If you think about it too much you could freak out a bit – tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, Godzilla – they could all wipe everything out! Cute stuff helps you deal with that. Perhaps also the Japanese worship nature, like animals and so on – Shintoism believes in the gods of every creature or object, and you feel this level of respect in everyday life, kind of. It’s as if everything has it’s own Pokemon character which is both cute and potentially powerful and the Japanese are just in tune with all of that.

So, objects, animals and so on are given this cute personality just because this is the level of kind of respect that Japanese people attribute to things that in our culture would be basically meaningless. Maybe I’m wrong about that, if so – let me know what you think. Why are the Japanese preoccupied by cuteness? Are they the only ones?

Yumi Nakata from GaijinPot.com – 3 reasons

Reason 1: Kawaii usually refers to small children, babies and small animals. They are helpless and need to be cared for. In a culture that values youth, both men and woman are attracted to anything youthful. Women want to appear youthful and Japanese men are attracted to young girls, just look at the popularity of bands like AKB48.

Reason 2: Japanese people work very long hours and they are under enormous social pressure. Cuteness is the total opposite of Japan’s harsh reality. My sister who works in IT says she enjoys going to stores full of cute products especially after working long overtime hours. Cuteness is cool and soothing for Japanese people and allows them an escape from the realities of their life.

Reason 3: Japan is collectively a society with a 12 year old’s mentality and for many there is a strong resistance to grow out of this prepubescent stage. As adults Japanese people are expected to conform to strict social norms and expectations. However as I mentioned above, children are always taken care of in Japanese society. Therefore to cope with the harsh realities of adulthood, many Japanese people seek the comfort of cuteness.

End of part 1 – Part 2 coming soon.

The Robot in the Airport

Photos coming in part 2…

441. Andy Johnson at the IATEFL Conference

A conversation with Andy Johnson, talking about the IATEFL teaching conference, millennials, more tales of Andy’s appearance and the possibility of a WWE wrestling match between Andy and me.

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Get 10% off all courses at London School Online.

Hello hello hello! I’m back from my trip to Japan. It’s great to be back. We had an amazing time! We did all the big Japanese things – we saw the cherry blossom, enjoyed lots of delicious food, explored parts of Kyoto and Tokyo, saw a mix of the busy metropolitan city areas and the more peaceful natural spots too and had an amazing evening entertaining Japanese LEPsters at a comedy show in Tokyo. It was an amazing and intense week, it was really great to be back in the country I called home for several years and I will be recording a couple of episodes about it soon and I will tell you all about the trip including descriptions of what we did, what we saw and how it all felt, so you can look forward to that.

In the meantime here is an episode which I recorded before going away on holiday.

This one is another conversation with my friend and former colleague from the London School of English, Andy Johnson, recorded on Skype while he was attending the IATEFL conference in Glasgow earlier this month.

Before we start that, let me just make a couple of announcements here at the beginning.

Announcements

  • It’s LEP’s 8th Birthday!
  • British Podcast Awards – voting actually closes on 28 April. If you haven’t voted, please do it! If you have – thank you. I have a slim chance of winning this one so I need all of you to vote please. www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote
  • My Teacher Talk at the British Council – make your reservation at www.britishcouncil.fr/evenements/teacher-talk-quoi-humour-britannique
  • I’m also performing comedy on Monday in Paris – all the details on my page on Facebook for my comedy stuff – Luke Thompson – Comedy
  • Moscow LEPsters get together – Friday 21 April – I can’t actually be there, but I will be talking to the group via Skype – responding to some questions. Check Moscow LEPsters Conversation Club on FB for more details.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

This episode

In episodes 423 and 424 you might remember that I spoke to my former colleagues Andy Johnson and Ben Butler – English teachers from The London School of English. They were in Paris to take part in a teaching conference. We sat in the foyer of their hotel drinking overpriced beer and talked about loads of things including teaching, Andy & Ben’s presentations, millennials, teaching English for specific purposes, our teaching experiences and a few anecdotes about our appearances including a couple of funny stories about how Andy sometimes gets mistaken for Moby, the American musician.

They were fun and popular episodes, sparking quite a lot of discussion in the comment section, including a debate about who is the best teacher between Andy and me and how we should settle that debate by having a high-profile wrestling match… Yes, I know – that sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it.

Well, Andy is back in this episode today, and he’s at another conference – this time the English teaching industry’s biggest event, the IATEFL conference which this year is taking place in Glasgow.

Ben wasn’t available for this one – he was attending a session at the conference, but I spoke to Andy and asked him about this year’s conference and we continued our conversation about millennials from last time. You’ll also hear a couple of stories about what happened in Paris in November after we recorded our previous conversation and a number of other things, including the idea of us going head to head in a no holds barred wrestling match in order to determine who really is the greatest English teacher.

So without any further introduction, here is Andy Johnson in Glasgow.


That was my conversation with Andy. I hope you enjoyed it.

I just want to remind you that you can get 10% off all of the courses at London School Online. Just head over to londonschoolonline.com and use the offer code LUKE10 at checkout.

Also, Andy wanted me to let you know about a free webinar that they are putting on this Friday. If you’re interested in IELTS, check it out.

IELTS Workshop: Your questions answered
Friday, April 21, 2017 3:00:00 PM GMT (London time) – 4:00:00 PM CEST (Paris time)
This is the third in their series of free webinars. This is a webinar about IELTS and will take place on their eLearning platform, London School Online. It is suitable for anyone who is preparing to take the IELTS exam, or for teachers of the exam.

The idea is that you can use this webinar to get answers to your IELTS questions.

It’s being hosted by Daragh Brady, who I used to work with at LSE. Daragh is an excellent teacher who has wide experience in lots of areas, and he’s an IELTS examiner so he really knows all the ins and outs of this tricky but important English exam.

It’s totally free and everyone’s welcome but you do have to register.

Find the link here on the page for this episode or on the LSE Facebook page.

Click here for the LSE Online IELTS Webinar

Don’t forget also…

My teacher talk at the British Council in Paris. Thursday 27 April. I’ll be doing a kind of TED Talk about British Humour and Comedy. It’s also free and everyone’s welcome, but you need to register. You’ll find the relevant link on the page for this episode below.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

Thanks for listening!

Watch this space for some episodes about the Japan trip with some stories, comments about Japanese culture and descriptions of the comedy show I did in Tokyo.

Cheers! Bye.

Who do you think would win in a battle between Andy and me?

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440. This Pile of Books on my Desk

In this episode I just want to talk to you about this pile of 16 books I have on my desk. These are (mostly) books I haven’t read yet but which I picked up recently. I have lots of piles of books like this lying around and I must read them all but I can’t find the time! Anyway, I think they’re really interesting. I either received them as presents, was recommended them by friends and family or I bought them for myself when visiting book shops over the last year or two. I love books, and browsing bookshops is one of my favourite things. If only I was a faster reader!

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Part of the reason I’m doing this is because I just want to encourage you to read more and I would like to arouse your interest in books. Perhaps I can give you some encouragement to read a copy of one of these books, or perhaps this will encourage you to pick up a book (in English) from the pile of books that you probably have in your home too, and start reading it.

In any case, I hope you join me on this little exploration through this pile of books I have on my desk.

Here’s the list of books I talk about in this episode (also in the picture)

The Xenephobe’s Guide to The English, The French, The Japanese
The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson
:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman
William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Mo Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The Call of the Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Sartori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
David Bowie: The Last Interview Various journalists and publications
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unleard What You Have Learned
Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back Therefore I Am
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes graphic novel)

books