Category Archives: Science

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.


Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!

Language and Psychology

I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.



There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

453. The 36 Questions that Lead to Love (with Amber & Paul)

Listen to Amber, Paul and me answering questions designed by psychologists to help couples or friends become closer and more intimate.

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Hello, welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast, this podcast for learners of English hosted by me Luke Thompson. Hi.

The general idea of this podcast is to help you to improve your English by providing you with content to keep you listening regularly, for longer periods of time, to authentic English as it really is spoken. Sometimes I teach you things on the podcast and other times I play conversations for you to follow, like in this episode.

This episode is entitled 36 Questions that Lead to Love

In this one you’re going to hear the tangential trio of Amber, Paul and me talking about this set of 36 questions, which was compiled by a group of psychologists as part of a study into ‘interpersonal closeness’ or intimacy between people.

Amber first found out about it in a podcast published by the New York Times. Here’s what the NYTimes website says about this study, which is where the 36 questions come from.

The study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. The 36 questions in the study are broken up into three sets, with each set intended to be more probing than the previous one.

The idea is that mutual vulnerability helps to create closeness and intimacy. To quote the study’s authors, “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal and personal self-disclosure.” Allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult, so this exercise forces the issue.

The questions are now used to help build intimacy or personal closeness typically between couples that want to fall in love, but also between anyone looking for ways of finding out more about each other and developing a closer or deeper relationship.

Amber’s going to tell you more about it in a moment.

These 36 questions are available for you to use or read online at

In this episode you’ll hear Amber, Paul and me asking each other those questions.

Let’s see what happens.

  • Will the questions bring us closer together?
  • To what extent will the intimacy level rise?
  • Will they make us fall in love with each other?
  • Or will we just learn weird truths about each other that will disturb us, ultimately causing us to drift apart as friends, and then they’ll never appear on this podcast again?
  • Will these questions help you get to know us more?
  • What could be revealed by this set of questions designed by psychologists to become more and more intimate as they go?
  • Is it possible for 3 British friends to take the whole thing seriously enough for the questions to have the intended effect?

Listen on to find out more.

Here we go…


OK so if you were counting the questions you’ll see that we skipped some but that’s our choice isn’t it!

I think, on balance, we probably did become slightly closer than before. There were some particularly revealing moments there where Paul was talking about his lack of confidence in social situations, which is a bit of a surprise considering how I often observe him showing no obvious signs of social awkwardness.

Of course, we didn’t take it all completely seriously. For example, you’re supposed to stare into each other’s eyes at the end of the questions, for four minutes, but that wouldn’t have been particularly interesting for you to listen to.

All the questions are available on the NY Times website – here

So check them out and use them yourselves – either on a date, with friends, or with your language partners or language groups.

They could provide a nice way for you to practise talking about feelings and personal thoughts in English.

And, if you fall in love with someone as a result, that’s a nice bonus isn’t it!?

If you’ve fallen in love with Amber’s voice and you’re wondering when Amber’s podcast is coming out – it’s not ready yet and I will announce it on the podcast as soon as it is online. It takes a long time to get these things ready – getting your head around the technology, writing, recording, working out how to publish, building a website, setting up your podcast feed, getting on the iTunes store and all of that stuff – it takes time and it’s not as easy as you might think, so just hold your horses for a bit, it’s on its way.


418. The Rick Thompson Report: Technology and The Future (January 2017)

Talking to my Dad about developments in technology in the future.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello and welcome back to the podcast. Thank you very much for choosing to listen to this episode. How are you? Are you doing alright? Are you ready to listen to some English? You are? Good! (I’m assuming that you all said yes to that) OK, well let’s go then shall we?

It’s the new year period and it’s normal at this time to look forward to the year ahead and to think about the future in general, so in this episode I’m talking to my Dad about technological developments that we can expect to see and read about in the coming months and years and the implications of those developments.

Of course neither of us are experts in this field (my Dad is a broadcast journalist and I’m an English teacher) but we both like to keep fairly up-to-date on technological issues, and since CES happened earlier this month in Las Vegas (that’s the Consumer Electronics Show where all the latest tech products are presented) there’s been quite a lot of coverage in the media about new technology. My Dad has been reading about it, I’ve been reading about it, and maybe you’ve been reading about it so let’s talk about it.

And that’s what we’re going to do and that’s what you’ll hear in this episode – two blokes, talking about technology, including some bits about driverless cars, green energy, drones, virtual reality headsets, augmented reality, and superintelligent computers that talk to you in that slightly threatening and disturbing sounding voice. “Good morning Mr Thompson”, “Did you sleep well?” “I have noticed that you are late with your banking payments Mr Thompson.” “It’s the 3rd time this year.” “I’m afraid I am going to have to turn off your oxygen supply unless you pay the outstanding credit on your account Mr Thompson”.

As I said, we’re not experts but I am sure that I have many tech-minded listeners who know a thing or two about this subject, so if you have anything to add to this conversation then I invite you to write your comments and predictions in the comment section on my website.

From a language point of view, you’re going to hear a lot of terms relating to technology of course, but also the natural conversational English that you’ve come to expect from episodes of this podcast.

If you’re interested in transcribing this episode as part of the Orion Transcription Team, go to my website and click transcripts – the details are all there. The team is growing all the time and it’s a good way to get some intensive language practise while helping to add value to my website by working together with other podcast listeners.

OK, so without any further ado, here’s a conversation with my Dad about technology and the future.


Moore’s Law
(n.) Moore’s Law is a computing term which originated in around 1970 based on an observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore (not Ian Moore), co-founder of Intel. The simplified version of this law states that processor speeds in computers, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years.
So, it starts as 2 and becomes 4, then 8, then 16 – doubling every two years, resulting in massive levels of development at an ever-increasing rate.

Basically: computers are getting more and more advanced all the time and eventually they’ll take over the world and make us their slaves like in The Terminator or The Matrix, maybe.

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition

How driverless cars could solve our traffic problems

Dad’s footballing predictions (wishful thinking I think!)

Leicester City will win FA Cup
Liverpool will win the Premiership


Outtro Script

What do you think? I am sure many of you have interesting things to add to this conversation. There’s bound to be a lot of things that we missed, including things like chatbots, Uberisation and plenty of other things. Get into the comment section to share your thoughts.

Did you understand everything we said in this episode? There’s a lot to be gained from that conversation in terms of vocabulary. Taking part in the transcript collaboration is a way for you to focus on that, but also perhaps I should do another episode just focusing on the language you heard in this one. Just let me know.

Don’t forget to do these things:
Join the mailing list on my website.
Like the Facebook page for LEP and follow me on Twitter. @englishpodcast

If you’re a ninja listener, hiding in the shadows, I invite you to come forward and leave a comment on my website saying who you are and how you found the podcast.

Thanks very much to those of you who have written recently. It’s good to hear from you and to know exactly who is out there downloading my episodes.

Take care and have a good day, etc!


330. Let’s Play… Grand Theft Auto 5 (and learn some English while doing it)

Hi listeners – this is a multitasking episode in which I record a podcast while doing something else at the same time. In this case I’m playing the classic computer game “Grand Theft Auto 5”. Listen to hear some general discussion of the game, descriptions of what’s happening while playing and some other bits and pieces. Enjoy :)

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Introduction – Men can’t multitask, really?

Here’s another episode in which I talk to you and teach you some English while doing something else at the same time. It’s another multitasking episode. Last time I did this I was cooking dinner while recording the podcast. I’ve done others before in which I was either driving or just walking around somewhere and talking to you at the same time. I’m doing this again today because I hope it will be an interesting episode of the podcast, but also as some sort of ongoing mission to prove that men are in fact able to multitask, unlike the fairly commonly-held view that we actually are not able to do several things at the same time.

I do think men can multi-task, despite the fact that people often say that we can’t. Of course we’re capable of doing two things at the same time. Just think, for example, of David Beckham who must be an expert at multitasking, because not only does he have to play football really well, but he has to look handsome while he’s doing it! Or consider Liam Neeson in the film “Taken” who has to punch people’s teeth down their throat with the edge of his hand, and be a good father at the same time. So, it’s clearly possible.

To be honest, I think that this myth of men not being able to multitask probably comes from the fact that there is one situation in which we definitely can’t do it, and that’s when we try to complete a task while also listening to a wife or girlfriend.

Because when your wife is talking to you, you have to stop everything and focus! We can’t multitask in that situation because if you’re not concentrating and you miss something then it will come back to you later, when she remembers and you forget and then you’re in trouble!

So, “men can’t mulitask” and “men don’t listen” are closely linked to each other I think. It’s not that we can’t multitask, it’s just that listening to you is already a kind of multitasking – because not only do we have to understand what you’re saying, we also have to identify important bits of information which might get dropped into the conversation – clues about what you want for your birthday, indications about how you feel about certain people, basically – anything that could go into the “I told you” category. The “I told you” category is obviously a category of information that your wife or girlfriend has told you, but for which you have absolutely no memory. It could be, for example, like this:
“I’m going to the football tonight babe, ok?”
“But it’s our half anniversary tonight”
“It’s our half anniversary”
“Half anniversary for which day? When we met or, when we…?!
“Babe! I told you!”

Now, this might be followed by “You never listen to me”.

For example,
“It’s our half anniversary of six months since our previous anniversary – I told you!”
“Umm, no you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did – you never listen to me!”

“…Sorry, what did you say? I wasn’t listening…”

So, it’s important to listen to your partner to prevent this kind of thing. Which is why women think men can’t multitask. We just can’t listen to you, and do something else at the same time.

For example, you’re doing the shopping, trying to buy the right food so you can prove that you’re able to buy the right food.
Your girlfriend calls you, and you answer the phone because you love her.
She then starts talking to you about nothing in particular.
Stop shopping. Just stop.
Stop what you’re doing.
Put that grapefruit down and listen.
This might seem like a meaningless conversation.
She might just be calling you because she’s finished work and she likes to call you as she’s walking to the bus stop.
She might be speaking to you while buying some bread in the bakery, or even while speaking to a colleague in the street.
But you still have to concentrate on every word she says, or you might miss fluffy the cat’s birthday or something and then you’ll be in trouble.
Because if you continue shopping, and try to make fresh fruit choices while talking to her – either you’ll miss something vital or you’ll seem distant and not fully involved in the conversation and she’ll say “What are you doing?” and you’ll have to say, “I’m buying some grapefruits – you know the pink ones you like” and she’ll say “Can’t you do that and listen to me too?”
NO. Actually.
No I can’t.
And now men can’t multitask.
David Beckham can’t buy fruit and talk to Victoria about the kids at the same time. Neither can Messi or Ronaldo or any of those other over-paid multitaskers.

Even RAF fighter pilots who are the best multitaskers in the world, are probably standing in supermarkets right now not doing anything, on the phone to their wives, because they love them.

So anyway, maybe men can multitask, maybe they can’t. Maybe we’ll find out in this episode.

This could be a series, perhaps called the multitasking series

Last time I cooked a chicken dinner and taught you some words for cooking. That was quite popular and I had a few comments from listeners about it, and even a couple of suggestions for other episodes I could do. For example I had a message from Ethan Lee from South Korea who said on Twitter, “I enjoyed the cooking episode a lot. Why don’t u try another thing like house cleaning? Looking fwd to it! Cheers!”

OK, so now I’m getting requests to do the housework on Twitter as well as at home. Only kidding…

That would be great Ethan because I’d be able to teach you all the language we use for cleaning, like “rub, wipe, rinse” etc – but the only problem is, I’d actually have to do some cleaning, and… I hate doing the housework, but then again maybe that could be a really good way of getting things done – just making mundane acts of housework into episodes of my podcast. There are so many possibilities for new episodes! Luke does the ironing while talking about clothes and fabrics (while trying not to burn the clothes – my wife told me to say that), Luke cleans the windows while teaching you some phrases about glass. Luke builds some IKEA furniture while teaching you some of the most commonly used swear words in the most authentic way possible. So many ideas…

Well, this time, rather than doing the housework, or doing something else useful, I’m playing a game on my new PLayStation 3. I’m going to play Grand Theft Auto 5, and while I’m playing I’m going to just describe everything I’m doing in the game, and also just ramble on about the whole GTA phenomenon (and it is a phenomenon – the series has made over 220 million dollars worldwide, which is quite a lot of money – I think it’s officially a lot of money), and anything else that occurs to me during the episode.

So, in terms of language teaching in this episode

I’ll just see what comes up while I’m playing – you know, I’m just going to kick back and see what happens (really cool English teacher character – yeah, we’ve got no agenda today, so close your book – let’s just stick on GTA5 and see what language stuff happens… yeah, chill out, no homework today – just a DVD…) but I will aim to explain and highlight certain expressions in English as I talk to you.

I expect the language that you’re going to hear in this one will fall into these categories

– General vocabulary for playing a game, with verbs such as ‘start up’, ‘plug in’, ‘unplug’ and so on
– Phrases for describing what is happening, so that means vocabulary of movement, phrases for navigating around the city, travelling, describing dramatic action, accidents, violence, explosions, shootings, murder – just the usual things that happen in a normal game of GTA5
– Exclamations of surprise, shock, anger, tension (yes, there may be some swearing)
– Ways of describing the gaming experience, such as the emotions and feelings you experience while doing it
– Ways of commenting on the game as a cultural phenomenon – so, some fancy language for discussing how games fit into society, and the usual arguments about violent computer games like this

I have done a full episode on computer games before in which I go through a history of gaming and discuss some of the issues around the subject. Click here to check that out.

The microphone should pic up some background noise while I’m doing this, which I hope should provide some context.

So, let’s go!

Things to say

– Explain the point of the game for people who have never played it.
What type of game is it?
What’s the objective?
What’s the story?
What do you actually do?
How does it work?

– It’s many things – a kind of pulp gangster movie, a sandbox game, a collection of mini-games, an online playground, a very controversial franchise and a work of social satire

– The history of the GTA franchise
It’s a British game!
Originally created by DMA Design – a games company based in Edinburgh Scotland!
DMA created Lemmings and some other games like Uniracers and Body Harvest before creating GTA for the PC and PlayStation consoles. DMA was bought by Rockstar Games – another British company based in London. Later Rockstar games was bought by Take-Two games, based in NYC. So, GTA is a British/American production. The games have all been developed by British game developers, and marketed by American companies.
GTA – 1997
GTA London 1999
GTA 2 1999
DMA became Rockstar North when it was acquired by London company Rockstar Games
GTA 3 2001
GTA – Vice City 2002
GTA – San Andreas 2004
Various GTA games for handheld franchises
GTA 4 2008
GTA 5 2013

– Controversy
According to The Guinness World Records 2008 and 2009 Gamer’s Edition, it is the most controversial video game series in history, with over 4,000 articles published about it, which include accusations of glamorising violence, corrupting gamers, and connection to real life crimes.

– The violence in the game. Is it ok? Or is there something wrong with this?

– The satirical elements of the game

– Some fun things to do while playing
* escaping from the cops
* causing total mayhem
* blowing things up
* driving through the hills
* stealing different vehicles
* skydiving
* going up Mount Chiliad
* diving in the sea
* setting challenges for your friends
* starting a gang war

– How it feels to play it for an extended period of time

– What might happen with the GTA franchise in the future (combining this with google maps, Oculous Rift, social networking, bitcoins – we could have a fully immersive, virtual reality earth in which we go round doing whatever we want, with no consequence – a world that has its own currency, but which has almost no boundaries)

326. Catching up with Oli / Future Predictions (Part 2)

Here’s the second part of the recent chat I had with my cousin Oliver. In this one we talk about becoming a Dad and predictions for the future. What will society be like in the next 10-20 years? What changes will we see in communication, technology, travel and other areas? What kind of world will Oliver’s daughter grow up in? These are all questions we discuss in the episode. Watch out for language related to the future, technology, communication and childcare. Also, listen until the end to hear Oli play a nice tune on the guitar. :)

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There is no text related to this episode.  All you have to do is listen. :)


Hello everyone – I’m just adding a bit of extra content here after the jingle because I’ve got some good news to tell you! I just wanted to let you know that since I published this episode last week Oliver has become a proud father. Yes, Valentina was born just yesterday. I’m happy to report that both mother and baby are well, and are currently resting, eating, sleeping and generally recovering from the birth. According to Oliver, the baby is not only fit and healthy, but also “perfect”. So, there’s a new Thompson in the world! I can’t wait to meet her. Maybe one day I’ll have her on the podcast. If you want to congratulate Oliver and his wife, you can leave a comment under this episode or even send me an email which I can then pass on to the proud parents. I am sure they are both absolutely delighted. It’s amazing to think that a whole new chapter has just opened in their lives. OK – that’s enough cheese!

However, if you like a bit of cheese, and if you’re wondering what to say when congratulating someone who has had a baby, here are some ideas:

When you meet someone (spoken English)

Hey congratulations (on the new baby)! You must be delighted! That’s fantastic, I’m really happy for you. 

When you write a message (e.g. in a card)

Wishing all the happiness to the new mum and dad! May life be especially sweet for you and your little baby!

You must be sooo happy! Wishing you happy moments with your little girl/boy.

I’m really excited that your little baby has arrived safe and sound! Congratulations on this lovely news.

Congratulations and welcome to the world of parenthood! May little one be blessed with every happiness.


Here’s the Simpsons video I mention in the conversation with Oli.
“So this stuff really works?”
“Certainly does”
“Well, lots of LUCK!”

Oculus Rift

Solar Roadways

A solar roadway sceptic


325. Catching Up with Oli / Future Predictions (Part 1)

Here’s a 2-part episode featuring a conversation with my cousin Oliver in which we talk about first some challenges he faced over the last few years (including dramatic things like a scooter crash, a tropical disease, a burglary and how he completely flooded his own house) and then some more positive things about being a father and predictions for how society will be different in the future. Also, listen for some general news and announcements about Luke’s English Podcast.

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Announcements & News

  • I hope you enjoyed the episodes I recorded as a tribute to David Bowie. Unfortunately, so soon after we lost Bowie, the news came that another great person has died – the British actor Alan Rickman, who like Bowie was 69 years old and died from cancer. He’s most famous for playing the part of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, and the part of Hans Gruber the bad guy in the film Die Hard with Bruce Willis – both very enjoyable and distinguished performances, but he played many other roles too. Alan Rickman was known for his sardonic humour, his wonderfully rich and unique voice, and for bringing a great amount of weight and humanity as well as humour to his roles. He will be missed too.
  • And, I haven’t even mentioned Lemmy – the lead singer of the group Motorhead, who also died recently. Lemmy played a massive part in the invention of heavy metal music, and was generally a huge personality in the world of British rock. He was on the scene all the way from the 60s until this year when he passed away due to cancer. Lemmy was known for his gravelly voice, his appearance (he looked like a biker dressed in leather with big mutton-chop sideburns and moles on his face – he wasn’t a pretty guy like Bowie by any means), his hard-drinking speed fuelled lifestyle and his bizarre obsession with Nazi regalia – clothing, weapons and so on from the Nazi era. He wasn’t a bad guy, he just liked the designs and imagery from that time – it had nothing to do with the ideology, and at heart he was just committed to playing loud and fast music and living a loud and fast lifestyle – and he will surely go down in history as a true legend of the music world. So, that’s three people, at least. So, can famous British people stop dying please!? If we carry on at this rate there’ll be none left by the end of the year.
  • But let’s not dwell on these dark things any more! I’m glad to present you this episode today because this one is all about the future, and new life because my cousin Oli is going to be a Dad for the first time – his wife is expecting a baby daughter at any time, so let’s look to the future, with new life and positivity and all that stuff! We’ll start that in just a minute, but first – a little bit of admin…
  • The comments issue on the website is fixed. I just needed to do a few updates. You can now post comments on the homepage again. No worries!
  • Email subscribers – are you still receiving emails when I post new episodes? I had a couple of messages from listeners recently who said they hadn’t received emails with new episodes. How about you? If you’re an email subscriber, could you let me know if you received emails for the David Bowie episodes, the episode called With the Thompsons, and the Star Wars spoiler review.
  • Picture comp is finished – so, don’t send me any more photos please! Thank you for the photos I have received in my email account, and, of course, I have loads of pictures. They’ll go up on the website soon and you can pick your favourite. I’m a little bit concerned about how that’s going to work because there are about a billion photos, but I’ll work something out.
  • I’ll be meeting Paul and Amber again soon. Firstly to catch up with them both – because quite a lot has happened since we last spoke on the podcast. Amber went to Costa Rica, and Paul Taylor is now something of a celebrity as his comedy video about kissing in France went super-viral over the last few weeks. His video, “Paul Taylor – La Bise” is about his frustration with the French custom of kissing people when you meet them. It was uploaded onto Robert Hoehn’s YouTube channel French Fried TV on new year’s day and within the space of just a few days it got over 1 million views. He was featured on lots of French websites, radio and TV, and then the video went global on the BBC’s website and more. Paul also has a new solo comedy show every Saturday (as well as the one with me on Thursdays) and it’s completely sold out for the next 10 weeks or something. Wow! Remember when he was on this podcast talking about how he quit his job to do comedy? Remember how difficult it was in Edinburgh? Well, things seem to be working out for him now! Good news!

  • Also, I hope to get Amber and him on this podcast again (if he’ll come on now that he’s such a big celebrity) in order to do that interactive version of the Lying Game – remember that? Listen to “318. The Rematch (Part 2)” to find out the details. Basically, this is a chance for you to get involved in another version of the lying game.  All three of us said some statements, and you now have to write questions in the comments section for episode 318. IN the episode we’ll ask each other your questions, and answer them. Then you can decide if they’re true or lies. Again, listen to 318. The Rematch (Part 2) for all the details (listen until the end).

Introduction to this Episode

As you know at Chrimbo I want back to the UK and stayed with my family, and with my cousin at his home in Bristol. It’s been a while since he was last on the podcast, and quite a lot has changed with him. In our conversation we talk about lots of things and I really think this is an interesting episode, and a very valuable one from a language point of view. The topics we talk about are diverse and quite in-depth and as a result we use lots of different features of grammar and vocabulary. I always encourage you to notice language while listening to native speakers on this podcast, so try to do that in this episode if you can. First we talk about what happened to Oli since the last time he was on the podcast, so watch out for the ways in which we talk about the past – tenses, and other forms. Oli faced a few difficulties and challenges, so watch out for the ways he describes those things. Essentially, he tells me a few anecdotes about some of his difficulties in London, watch out for past tenses and so on. Then we talk about the future, and about various predictions for the next 10-20 years, so naturally you can try to notice the specific language, tenses and modal verbs that we use to describe the future, make predictions and make judgements about the future. As well as that, there’s a lot of vocabulary related to technology, transport and communication.

In my opinion this is a very useful conversation for you to listen to. I loved catching up with Oli and I sincerely hope you enjoy listening to it, and by the way, listen all the way to the end to hear Oli play a bit of guitar – and he’s a really good guitarist.

That’s it!


314. Luke’s Guided Sleep Meditation

Fancy brushing up on some grammar while getting a really good night’s sleep? Yes? Well, this episode is for you. It’s a guided sleep meditation to make you feel all drowsy and relaxed, with added hypnopedia – that’s hypnosis and sleep learning both at the same time. So, kick off your shoes, turn down the lights, lie back, relax and drift off into an ambient dream state, while learning some English in the process. Don’t listen to this while driving. Transcript below. zzzzzzzzzZZZZZzzzzzzZZZZZZzzzzzzz

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Hello everyone, I’m speaking in a slightly different voice today. I’m close to the microphone and I’m speaking a little more softly and calmly than usual. That’s because this episode of LEP is designed to help you fall asleep while listening. Don’t listen to it while driving or operating heavy machinery. If you listen to this carefully, and follow all the instructions I say, then you should be asleep by the end of the episode.

Some people tell me that they listen to LEP while falling asleep. Apparently I’m so boring that it’s the perfect way to help them doze off at night.

I’m just kidding of course, I don’t get that many messages saying that I’m boring, but I know that some people fall asleep while listening to my podcast. I too like to listen to podcasts at night while lying in bed and it’s a lovely experience to drift off while listening to someone’s words.

Something my wife and I have been doing recently, is to find ways to help ourselves go to sleep. Sometimes we feel a bit stressed because of work or whatever and one thing we’ve been doing is to take turns to guide ourselves through a relaxation meditation with the aim of putting each other into a relaxed state that ensures we get a really good night of sleep.

The guided meditation usually involves giving some instructions for relaxation which you both follow step by step. Simply following the instructions allows you to switch off your mind and allow your body to relax fully, and then you drift off into a truly restful and healing slumber.

I find this really helps me, not just to drift off to sleep at night, but also because it relaxes me generally in my life, and the next day I find I have better concentration and sharpness. In fact this kind of relaxation exercise is said to have a cumulative effect. The more you do it, the more relaxed and stress-free you become long term.

Also, there is a theory that you can learn things subconsciously in your sleep. Listening to things while you drift off and while you are in a sleep state has been said to be a good way to internalise information. Is this true? Apparently research on the subject of sleep-learning or hypnopædia have been inconclusive, but studies have shown that the brain does react to stimulation while we are sleeping.

So, what I’m going to do in this episode is to guide you through a relaxation meditation with the aim of helping you to fall into a comfortable deep sleep. Then, once you’re in that sleep state I’m going to read some grammar rules to you. The aim of that is to either a) help you learn the grammatical rules, and b) ensure that you definitely don’t wake up and that you continue to sleep really well.

So this episode is completely devoted to helping you fall asleep. I’m going to try really hard to help you drift off into a state of nourishing and refreshing rest. So, I advise you to listen to this episode while you are lying in bed, or lying on a sofa, prepared to get a really good night’s sleep, somewhere that you can comfortably sleep for a long time. So, not on the bus or train on the way to work, and certainly not while driving. If you have insomnia, this could really help you. Or if you just want to get the full benefit of a good night’s sleep, then this is also for you.

I suggest that this is one of those episodes that you can listen to over and over again, whenever you feel like you want to relax or get a good night of sleep.

However, if you’re driving, operating heavy machinery or simply in charge of a nuclear power station or something I would warn you not to listen to this because, seriously, I’m going to make you fall asleep.

I’m quite serious. I’ve done lots of reading about suggestion and hypnosis techniques, and I am really going to work quite specifically on making you fall asleep in this episode. So, if you are driving a car or doing something that requires you to be fully awake and aware of your surroundings, do not listen to this episode. I must be clear about that – do not listen to this episode while driving. Wait until you are home or in a hotel room, or at work – some place where you don’t need to be fully conscious –  then put the headphones on, lie back and drift away…

OK. Are you clear what’s going to happen?

I’ll guide you through various stages of relaxation, and then into a sleep state. We’ll go down down down through various levels of meditation until you are hopefully completely asleep, or at least so relaxed that you can’t be bothered to open your eyes and do something else. Then when you’re down in the deeper relaxation zone, I’ll read some grammar rules to you. From that point I will add some hypnotic suggestions to ensure that when you wake up you’ll be in a fully positive and energised state, ready to take on whatever life throws at you that day. At the end the episode will slowly drift away into silence, letting you continue your sleep until the next morning when you will wake up refreshed and positive. The main thing is this: As long as you follow my guidance step by step, you will be asleep by the end of this episode.

OK. So the first thing is to prepare the environment around you.
Make sure you’re in relaxing surroundings. Ideally you’ll be in a tidy place, not too disorganised and messy. Oh, that’s a pity you seem to be in your home and, well, it’s not very tidy. Perhaps you should stop listening to this and just clean up a bit and then carry on. Ok good, you’re back, and the room is much neater now, well done. Oh, I see that some of you didn’t bother to do any tidying up. Ok that’s your choice. It doesn’t really matter that much anyway. It’s still possible to get the full benefit of this relaxation exercise without being in a tidy place. But really though, you should think about being more hygienic, that’s , well that’s just not very civilised, especially all that stuff in the corner, and the dust. And would it kill you to do a bit of laundry sometimes? Seriously.

Anyway. Make sure the ambient temperature is the room right. Not too warm, not too cold. If you live in a very cold place, you might consider moving to a different country. Somewhere with a better climate. Not England. No, go to the Mediterranean or something. If that’s not practical right now, not to worry. Just put on an extra jumper or get a blanket or something.

Make sure that you’re either sitting in a relaxed position or ideally you’re lying down comfortably. The best is to be in bed, or at least on a bed. Next to the bed, or just near a bed isn’t good enough. To get maximum benefit you need to be actually on or ideally in a bed. Your bed, preferably. Don’t just get into someone else’s bed, especially without their permission. People tend not to like that sort of thing, unless they fancy you and then they might be glad. I’d say, to be on the safe side, it’s better if you stick to your own bed, in order to avoid confusion or at worst, violence and strong language. “What the hell are you doing in my bed?” or “Who are you? Why are you in my house?? Get OUT!” “I’m sorry, I… I’m just listening to LEP – Luke told me to. it’s the sleep episode, I’m, I’m sorry!” That kind of conversation is not conducive to a relaxing night of sleep, so stay in your own bed. That’s the best thing to do.

Don’t forget to take off your shoes. That’s right.

You might want to draw the curtains as well.
No, put the pencil down, I don’t mean that. No, draw the curtains means, close the curtains. Yes, it’s a homonym. Oh you already knew that. Well done. Yes, very clever. Now don’t get cocky alright. Ok.

I’d also suggest that you take your mobile phone and put it on silent, and if possible just turn it off, or even better, just throw it out of the window. You shouldn’t be distracted by it. Statistics have shown that we think about touching or looking at our phone every 2.35 seconds. Don’t ask me where I got that information, because, frankly I just made it up now on the spot. But it doesn’t matter. Don’t be distracted by your phone. Also, don’t be distracted by this episode of the podcast. In fact, it’s probably better to just stop listening, take the headphones out of your ears and do something else. Me talking to you is probably just going to distract you from the relaxation exercise and keep you awake to be honest.

Only joking. Don’t stop listening that would defeat the purpose of this. But do try to reduce the number of distractions that you have around you. Put your phone on silent and put it on the side, out of the way. Obviously if you’re using your phone to listen to this, it’s better if you keep it near you. Turn down the lights. Maybe light a few candles.

OK so now you’ve prepared the room you’re ready to fall asleep.
get into a comfortable position. I quite like lying on my back with my arms and legs spread out like a star fish. Or sometimes I lie in a straight line with my arms by my sides like a penguin, or perhaps curled up like a snake on my side, or just generally spread out along the bed like some sort of slug. Whatever animal you’d like to copy that’s just great. Animals sleep too and that’s the point of this whole exercise after all isn’t it! Yes it is.

So now you’re comfortable, I’ll start leading you through the initial relaxation stage. I hope you’re not too sleepy yet because we haven’t started properly. If you’re already drifting off then perhaps you should get up and have a bit of a walk around the building or drink a black coffee – we haven’t started yet, so wake up a bit, you don’t want to miss the more important bits do you?

OK let’s begin the initial relaxation stage.

The first thing to do is to fully tighten all the muscles in your body. Clench all the muscles together. That’s it. Pull them all tight so you’re stiff like a board. Hold it! Keep holding it!

Oh, wait, ow! I think I’ve got cramp. OW! Cramp, in my foot… hold on…

Sorry about that I got a bit of cramp.

OK, so hold your muscles tight and then gradually relax them all. Not yet! I haven’t said the magic word, which is “release”. So, keep holding, keep those muscles tight! Don’t relax yet I haven’t said “release”. That wasn’t it by the way… Ok keep holding, and then gradually “releeeeeeeease”.


Let’s do that again. Tighten all your muscles like you’re made of wood or something. Hold them tight, and then gradually, “releeeeeeease”.

Don’t forget to breathe, that’s very important.
You need to breathe in order to supply oxygen to all your vital organs, especially the brain. And you need oxygen in order to be alive. This isn’t going to work if you’re not alive. So breathe.

In fact, let’s concentrate on your breathing.

Take a deep breath through your nose. Breathe deep into your lungs, and then slowly release it through your mouth, like you’re smoking a big spliff with Bob Marley. Gwan take a deep hit o dat sensimelia man, tek it deep into ya lungs rude bwoy, da ‘erb gwan relax ya mind and tek ya into a deep state a meditation and relaxation maaan, rude bwoy bombaclart rasta, jah, ire feelin jah know, I and I know dat all dem yoot are gonna witness the day that babylaaan gwan faaaaalllll.

Sorry, I just went to Jamaica for a moment. Of my own accord.

Anyway, when you breathe deeply, focus on breathing from your diaphragm. That’s a muscle that sits below your lungs, dividing the thorax from the abdomen. Focus on breathing from there, or from your stomach. That’s the key to drawing in the maximum amount of breath into your body. Don’t just let the ribcage rise, focus on letting your stomach swell first, then the ribs. You’ll find you’re pulling more oxygen deep into your lungs that way, and it will relax you more.

Do this a few times. Take a deep breath in, from the diaphragm, through your nose. Then slowly exhale through the mouth.
Deep breath in… exhale through the mouth.
Deep breath in… exhale through the mouth.
Deep breath in… exhale through the mouth.

Now you can continue normal breathing, but for a moment I’d like you to just be aware of the air passing slowly through your nose and then out through your mouth. Don’t force it to go at a particular pace. Just let it happen, being aware of the sensation of the cool air moving in and then out of your face. In, and then out of your face. In, and then out of your face. In and then out again.

Let any thoughts that appear in your mind go by, without attempting to control them or focus on them. Just let your mind be like an open window and the thoughts are like a cool breeze flowing through in a relaxed way. Just observe the feeling of the air passing through your mouth, and the thoughts just drifting through your head, without any need to stop them. Let them continue on their way, just like a breeze through an open window. The window is like your mind. Open, peaceful. There’s blue sky, and the sun is lazily setting in the distance, as the curtains sway in the breeze. They’re slightly old curtains. You’ll need to change them before long.. but never mind that now… just let yourself breathe slowly and allow your mind to wander without feeling the need to control it. Just let yourself go completely…

Now, let’s take you further into a state of relaxation.

*the relaxing every body part bit (even obscure body parts that they might not know, including the area behind the knees that doesn’t really have a name)
Your toenails, your toes, the arch of your foot, your heel, the Achilles heel, your ankle, your uncle, your shins, your calf muscle, your knee cap, your knee in general, the space at the back of your leg behind the knee that nobody has a name for, your thighs, your quadriceps, your groin, your private parts, your bum (both cheeks), the private area of your bum (between the cheeks), your waist, your hips, your navel, your tummy button (the same thing as your navel), your stomach, your abdominal muscles, your solar plexus, your sides, the small of your back, your spine from bottom to top, all your ribs, your chest, your nipples, your arm pits, your shoulder blades, your shoulders in general, your biceps and triceps, your forearms, your wrists, the backs of your hands, the palms of your hands, your knuckles, your fingers, your thumbs, your fingernails, the bits of skin next to your fingernails that you might bite if you get nervous, the cuticles (Those are those bits at the base of your fingernails that women scrape off when they get a manicure), your fingertips, your fingerprints, the back of your neck, your throat, your jaw, your cheeks, your teeth (molars, canines, incisors) your gums, your tongue, your alveolar ridge, your philtrum, your nostrils, the bridge of your nose, the tip of your nose, your nasal hair, your cheekbones, your ears (including your ear lobes and your ear drums) the bit behind your ears that your parents always remind you to wash, your temples, your eyebags, your eyeballs, your eyebrows, your eyelids, your eyelashes, your retinas, your pupils, your optic nerve, your forehead, your monobrow if you’ve got one, your hairline, your scalp, your follicles, your hair, your crown, and last but not least – your brain. It’s all totally relaxed…

* I’d like you to imagine that you are slowly walking down a long corridor towards some steps, and with every step you’re getting more and more sleepy.
* Eventually you walk through a doorway. The door says the word SLEEP on it in blue letters. It’s all fluffy and made of cotton wool. You pass through the door and into the realm of sleep.
*This is where your brain goes when you’re sleeping
*It’s all made of cotton wool clouds under your feet. Everything’s blue and white and smells of fresh blankets.
*Up in the sky you see the clouds twinkling in the distance. It’s a perfectly calm night. Under your feet there are lovely soft blankets, pillows and duvets. You could lie down anywhere and sleep like a baby, but you keep moving, looking for the perfect spot.
*You see some sheep made of cotton wool. “Baaa” one of them says. “Baaa” you say in return. The sheep lazily approach a gate and begin to leap over it, but instead of landing on the other side, these fluffy sheep just continue drifting up into the sky, eventually becoming little fluffy clouds that slowly drift across the night sky into the distance. “Baaa” you hear one go in the distance.
*Every step takes you deeper and deeper into a restful slumber.
*You come across a river – dark, black water. Just going near it makes you drowsy. You lean over to take a drink, and take a couple of drops into your mouth, and slowly you drift off as the water envelopes you, pulling you down into the cool dark waters of deep sleep. As you slowly enter the water each part of you from head to toe enters a deep restful sleep. Under you go, with the lazy fish drifting by, and an old boot on the bottom and a tin can. It’s nice down here, and there’s a blanket which you wrap around you. You can breathe down here. In fact it’s a lot easier to breathe than it was before. Even though you’re safe under the water the air is fresh and healthy, but the water makes you drowsy. There’s a sand bank that looks comfortable with a bunch of clean pillows piled up next to it.
*Next to the sand bank on the bottom the bottom of the river you find a door and you pass through it. It’s wonderfully warm and protective inside. It’s an old school classroom with windows at the top of the walls, and wooden panelling and old wooden desks. The room is surrounded by old radiators that make the room really warm and comfy. All the kids have hung their jackets and coats on the wall and their sitting at their desks, wearing wooden jumpers, shirts and ties. There’s an old man at the front of the school classroom. He invites you to sit. It’s early morning, so early that it’s not light yet and you sit at the old desk. You’re so sleepy that you can hardly stay awake. It’s like when you were a kid and you couldn’t stop falling asleep in those very early morning classes in winter when the room was so warm and you were still sleepy from your night. You sit next to one of the old radiators which keeps your lovely and cosy. It’s safe here. You’re here to learn English from this old man in a tweed suit, with a beard. He looks a bit like god, or father christmas, or the guy at the end of The Matrix Reloaded, or Colonel Sanders from KFC.

He tells you and the other children to take some notes as he reads you some grammar rules. You hold a pencil in your hand and try to write notes in a notebook, but your head is nodding and you just want to lie down on the floor there next to the radiator where it’s lovely and warm, but you can’t. You have to hold this pencil and listen to the wise words of this old teacher. Your eyes are rolling in your head and your head is tipping forwards and backwards as you try to listen to the teacher. The room seems to be spinning. You just want to put your head down and sleep. Your eyes sting, and they feel better when you close them. It would be better if you could just keep your eyes closed and you could just fly away to total peaceful sleep. You manage to look at the other kids. They’re all asleep with their heads on the desks, their eyes firmly closed, breathing deeply. They look so peaceful. You turn your attention to the teacher again and despite your desperate desire to put your head on the table to sleep a sleep of the ancient kings, you try to listen and take notes. This is what the teacher says…

Boring grammar: Relative clauses

Finally, at the end of the lecture, the teacher says to the class “You may now put down your pencil, put your head on your book, and go to sleep, but make sure your head goes on your book so the words can go in and stay there forever, because every word you have heard in this episode of Luke’s English Podcast, you will remember forever as you sleep, sleep, sleep.

As he’s saying this you manage to look up at the teacher, but he’s sitting back in his chair, his head back, fast asleep and no doubt dreaming of his bed.

Now, finally it’s the time for you to get the rest you desired. You kick off your shoes and curl up on the warm floor next to the radiator. There’s a small mattress and a blanket. It’s so comfortable, better than you ever expected.

And as you feel yourself breathe slowly, and you feel the warmth of the bed you’re lying on, you feel yourself drifting back into a deep sleep again, deeper and deeper, more and more relaxed, and as you listen to these words you know that this is a sleep which will allow you to fully rest, with nothing but slow deep energy growing inside you as you breathe the oxygen in, deeper and deeper, and let it out again without thinking, the fresh air nourishing your warm body as you go further and further into a sleep, and when you wake up in the morning on the other side you will be so refreshed and so healed by this sleep that your brain will be so bright and ready to speak English with total clarity and you’ll remember all the words and all the grammar and all the structures and all the rhythm and all the intonation and pronunciation and vocabulary and expressions will be stored in your mind forever and ever and will always be ready for you to use at any time wherever you are whenever you open the window, and open your mouth and let the words come out like a mountain river on a clear blue day, as the water flows on and on and you sleep steadily, deeper and deeper, longer and longer, letting yourself go further and further into this state of wonderful nourishing and healing sleeeep. Thanks for listening to another episode of Luke’s English Podcast. Good night, and good bye bye bye bye bye!

305. Back To The Future (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of this episode of Luke’s Film Club, about the Back To The Future trilogy. In this episode I’m going to talk about: lessons we can learn from the story, a few fun facts, the 2015 predictions in the film, how the DeLorean works, theories about time travel and some temporal paradoxes in the story. So strap in, let’s go back to the future again.

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3. What are the themes of the film? or the morals of the story?
– Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back and meet your parents when they were the same age as you? What would they be like? Would you get on with each other?
Writer/Producer Bob Gale had the idea for the film after finding his father’s yearbook in the basement, seeing that he was somewhat of a nerd and wondering if they would have been friends if they’d been at school together.
– The complexities of time travel and questions raised by it, including the dangers of meddling with the past or the future, and how certain events in your life can alter your future.
– The idea that you’re in charge of your own destiny and future.
– “You can’t go losing your judgement every time somebody calls you a name”
– “The future isn’t written. It can be changed. You know that. Anyone can make their future whatever they want it to be.”
– “No-one should know too much about their own destiny”
– “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”
– History repeats itself – there are numerous examples of history repeating itself, all the way through the whole series. Biff is the bully across 3 time periods. In all three periods he is outsmarted by Marty in various similar ways, and in all three stories he ends up falling into a pile of horse manure. That’s just a couple of examples, but time and time again there are other repetitions.

4. Any info or anecdotes about how the film was made?
The Delorean was chosen as the time-travelling car because the filmmakers felt that its wing doors meant it could conceivably be confused for a UFO.
Claudia Wells only plays Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, in the first film and not the sequels because her mother became ill and she chose to spend time with her. Elisabeth Shue took over the role for the second and third movies.
Robert Zemeckis joked in a behind-the-scenes featurette that the hoverboards used on set were real. A large number of parents took him at his word and tried to order them in toy shops.
Robert Zemeckis regretted the decision to have Jennifer get into the car with Marty and Doc Brown at the end of the first film as it meant Jennifer would have to be incorporated into Part II, rather than giving free reign to tell a brand new story.
By time he shot parts II and III, Michael J. Fox was 28 years old, but still playing 17.
Chrispin Golver, the actor who plays Marty’s Dad chose not to appear in the sequels because he disagreed with the messages in the film. Apparently he didn’t agree with the film’s values. He didn’t like that the McFlys were happier people because they were more prosperous financially. And he felt the idea that money = happiness is BS.

5. How about their vision of the future in 2015? How many predictions did they get right?
So, here we are on October 21 2015. How is the world outside similar or different to the version from Back To the Future 2?

Some things were wrong, like mainly the fashion and the flying cars, but they got a lot of things right.
Let’s have a look.
Things they got right:
– 3D movies. But not Jaws 19. Technically we don’t have holographic TVs or cinemas in the mainstream yet though.
– Tablet computers. There’s a guy in Hill Valley with what looks like a tablet computer – a wireless touch screen with no keyboard.
– Drones. When Griff gets arrested we see a USA Today camera drone arrive to film the event. Now drones exist and some media companies use them to collect video footage.
– Big screen TVs mounted on the wall, and video conference calls. My TV in 1985 was like a big heavy wooden box. The ones in the film are much more similar to our TVs of today – flatter, wider, bigger, attached to walls.
– Multiple TV channels. Marty is confused by the TV he sees in his future home. There are hundreds of channels and you can see them all playing in different boxes on the screen, all a the same time, instead of having to flick through them one by one. Now this is a normal way people choose the show they want to watch. You can still flick through, but most digital TVs will allow you to get an overview of all the channels, usually with a little preview screen of what’s on that channel at the time.
– Hands-free video games. In 1985 Marty is an expert at the computer game in his local diner. In 2015 he finds the same game (left in the store as a retro novelty), and a couple of kids trying to play it. They don’t understand that you actually have to use your hands to play the game. Apparently, in 2015 all kids use hands-free games, and they think this one with a controller is boring. *Cameo by a young Elijah Wood here. When I saw this before, the idea of hands-free games was so ridiculous that I found it funny. Now, it’s pretty normal with things like Xbox Kinetic and other motion sensitive games consoles. Not so ridiculous after all.
– Fingerprint recognition. In the film it’s possible to make a payment by touching your finger on a screen. We’re pretty much there – you can do that on your iPhone and we definitely have the technology to do that in shops now too, although it hasn’t become commonplace yet. Finger and thumb prints are also used to open doors, and we do have thumbprint security systems now, but again, they’re not commonplace and haven’t replaced the usual keys that we still have in our pockets.
– Virtual reality headsets. Marty’s children in the future spend quite a lot of time wearing virtual reality headsets. They’re masks you put on which fill your vision with a screen, which can also be like an immersive video game experience. Yep, we’ve got them too. Also, some characters wear glasses that incorporate telephone and video call functions as well as augmented vision – for example Doc Brown wears a pair of glasses that provides him with extra information about things he’s looking at. Little boxes and bits of text fill his vision when he’s looking at things. This is basically Google glass, which hasn’t taken off yet but I’m sure that eventually we’ll get augmented vision in some way – so that we don’t have to keep staring down into our phone screens, and instead we can just walk around and get our internet services right there in our vision – perhaps this could be a projection onto a glass screen in front of our eyes like with Google Glass or some sort of biotechnology in which our brain is connected to the internet. Imagine that! Sounds a lot like The Matrix, which is a bit scary.
– Ordering your food and drinks from computer screens. In the film, people order by talking to digital versions of celebrities on TV monitors. Now many restaurants use table-top tablets to replace waiters. Ok, so you’re not ordering from a digital version of Michael Jackson but almost.
– Voice commands. Lorraine in the film gives commands to her oven by talking to it. Now we can do this with our phones by just saying “Hey Siri” or whatever and then attempting to perform basic commands by using your voice.
– Self-tying laces. Marty wears a pair of Nike trainers that fit themselves to his feet automatically. Apparently, Nike has developed something like this and in fact there are rumours that they’ll release a limited edition Back to the Future range of trainers with this feature.
– Robotic petrol stations. I’m pretty sure these exist in Japan – you go in and park the car and the machine does the rest of the work somehow. They’re not mainstream by any means.

Things they didn’t get right:
– Hoverboards. OK so we kind of have hover boards now, but they’re not like in the films. The real hover boards we have today require a special magnetic surface as well as the board. They’re based on magnets I believe, such as the Hendo hoverboard. (see link) IN the films the hover boards will fly on any surface at all, even on water if you have some power to keep pushing you forwards, which is exactly what’s so cool about them. The Hendo hoverboard only works on top of the magnetic surface, which makes it pretty limited. Also, the Lexus Slide hoverboard requires a magnetic skatepark but apparently it operates pretty well. But on the subject of boards that will hover over anything, Astro-physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson believes that they are impossible. Hoverboards impossible – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

– Flying cars. Ok we do have some cars that can fly – but they have wings and they need roads for take-off. It’s not the same as this kind of flying car.

– Self-drying clothes. Not done yet I think, but we do have some awesome technology that resists water and keeps your clothing dry, and also some fabrics that dry very quickly. Nothing with in-built fans though, or any clothes that say “Your jacket is now dry”. Pity that. I generally like it when inanimate objects talk to me in weird soulless robot voices. Except perhaps those tills at Tescos that are so patronising, scary and disappointed in you. “Unexpected item in bagging area. I didn’t expect you to put your bananas there yet Mr Thompson. We’re very disappointed in you at Tescos. That’s why, unfortunately, you will be terminated. Have a good day!”

– Using rubbish as fuel. In BTTF2 Doc Brown has invented a device called Mr Fusion which converts raw rubbish into energy to power the flux capacitor. That’s incredible because apparently it generates 1.21 gigawatts of energy. We can recycle a lot of things now, and also convert some rubbish into fuel, like waste cooking oil into bio-diesel fuel, but we’re far from being able to generate significant power by just using a few banana skins and a half drunk can of beer.

– Floating signs. We’re still using traditional signs which are attached to the ground. I can’t imagine us adopting floating signs soon because of the energy needed to keep them in the air, probably with drones. But who knows, maybe they’ll be using drones to fly information around the skies at some point, and that will no doubt include advertising. That’s not a nice thought – advertising is already invasive enough. I don’t really want drones to be sweeping into my vision to try and make me look at an advert.

7. Talk about the time machine / Delorean. How does it work?
Someone asked me how the Delorean actually works, and also how to travel in time. HA! That’s easier said than done, especially since I’m an English teacher, not a quantum physicist! Also, it’s just a movie! It didn’t really happen! I think you know this though, so you’d probably quite like to hear me bang on about time machines and some of the science around how they work.

The DeLorean
The car is really a carrier for the Flux Capacitor, which is the real heart of the invention.
Let’s start with the Flux Capacitor
Info from Futurepedia the Back to the Future Wiki
The Flux Capacitor is not fully explained in the film, which is clever because it means the film doesn’t get bogged down in too many technical details (of course here at LEP we love to get bogged down in details) and it leaves a lot to the imagination. Here are a few things about it though. It’s situated inside the car, just near the driver’s seat and looks like a Y shape with glowing and pulsating light running through it. This is the thing that allows the Delorean to travel through time.
Apparently it briefly opens up a wormhole in space-time and then the DeLorean passes through it, achieving time travel.
You input the date you want to go to and the date you’ve come from.
Start the car and get up to 88 and boom – you travel through time. It’s pretty dangerous because you’ll be travelling at 88mph wherever you arrive, and you might crash into something (like Marty crashes into a barn, and also arrives in the middle of a fight between cowboys and Indians).
The Flux Capacitor needs 1.21 gigawatts of power, which is a lot! It’s equivalent to the output of about 2.5 nuclear power stations. In fact, Doc Brown powers the flux capacitor using plutonium, which is of course a very powerful radioactive fuel, which apparently he stole from some Libyan terrorists (little bit of politics there). So, that time machine is actually an extremely dangerous and unstable thing, as it is carrying the power of several nuclear reactors on board.
Later Doc Brown replaces the nuclear reactor with an invention from the future called Mr Fusion, which converts household rubbish into fuel. How that works, we don’t know – it’s from the future! (I sometimes imagine that if they have that kind of technology in the future they’d probably have a time machine, and then the universe and all of history would be populated by people from the future in their time machines… but that’s a paradox or problem that we’ll come to later)

Why 88mph?
Here’s some stuff about this that I found on and it’s pretty good. It explains why the DeLorean has to travel at 88mph exactly.
Why the DeLorean had to travel at 88 MPH to travel through time. (Back to the Future)
submitted 1 year ago by LessThanHero42
The Flux Capacitor allowed time travel by generating a wormhole to the programmed temporal destination, but these wormholes are unstable and only last for a little over a tenth of a second.
If the wormhole stability was measured as lasting only .10717 seconds then to move a car 4.216 meters long (A DeLorean) through the wormhole before it closes you would need to be moving at 39.3395 meters per second or 88 MPH.
If you are moving too fast then the vehicle would reach the wormhole before it fully opens. The front part of the vehicle could be sheered off, spaghettified, be delivered to a different temporal location, and/or eaten by spacetime krakens (or the whole vehicle could simply vaporize from trying to coexist in spacetime with an opening wormhole, who knows). Also you could miss the wormhole completely and be forever known as that guy who crashed a DeLorean into Twin Pines Mall right before being gunned down by Libyan terrorists.
Going too slow would cause the back end of the car (the engine of the DeLorean) to remain in 1985. Possibly large portions of whoever was inside too.
Regardless, arriving in the past/future without the front of the vehicle/pieces of the occupants because you were going too fast or too slow is probably a bad thing.
It’s like walking into automatic doors. If you run full speed at the doors, they won’t open fast enough and you’ll get a number of lacerations and a trip to a hospital. If you walk too slowly, the doors begin to close on you (when you leave the motion sensor range) and you get a concussion when they close on your head.
Now these numbers are general and it is likely that Doc Brown gave himself some leeway on the timing (Human error and imprecise engineering being what they are, it would be hard to determine if the car is moving exactly 88 MPH). Most likely the Flux Capacitor is programmed not to activate until the car reaches the appropriate speed.

Is time travel possible?
Yes it is. In fact, we’ve already done it. Obviously we’re all doing it right now because we’re travelling forwards in time. But in terms of moving through time at different speeds, yes, apparently that is possible and has already been done.

This is a bit complicated for me to understand, but let’s go with it.
*Try to explain how time travel is possible* No problem!
– Moving clocks go slower than stationary ones.
Brian Cox can explain this. (short extract)
So, we can go into the future, by taking a rocket and flying at great speed (just under the speed of light) out to space and back again. It’s just a bit impractical, because we don’t have the technology or power to go that fast.

– Wormholes
Remember the TARDIS from Doctor Who? It’s the blue box that the Doctor uses to travel through time, around the universe. It’s super cool – looks like a blue police telephone box and is much bigger on the inside than on the outside. The cool thing about the TARDIS is that not only does it travel in time, it also travels in space. TARDIS means Time And Relative Dimension in Space. Remember, in previous episodes I’ve mentioned this before – the universe is moving all the time. The earth is spinning on its axis (the days), we are orbiting the sun (years) and even our sun and the rest of the galaxy in which we exist, is orbiting the centre of the universe, and that whole universe is said to be expanding all the time. So, nothing is static, all matter is racing through space pretty fast. This suggests also that there is no such thing as a single static point in the universe. I guess it means that if you travel in time, you’ll end up in a different place. For example, even 5 minutes would result in me being in a different spot completely, probably in the air over a different part of the earth, or maybe embedded under the surface of earth, or even outside the atmosphere completely. This is because the earth is spinning at hundreds of miles an hour not to mention the orbit of the earth around the sun and everything else. So if I travelled forwards or backwards in time, I’d appear in a different location. So you need a time machine that will also put you at the same place as you were before, relative to everything else in the universe. So the time machine would somehow log your relative position in the universe in both time and in space and take you there. That’s how the TARDIS works.

I think Back to the Future doesn’t really deal with this explicitly, so we just imagine that it is able to work like a TARDIS – travelling not just in time, but also to that location. So, if I went back 5 minutes, my TARDIS time machine would locate this chair in front of this laptop in my skypod here at LEP HQ, so I don’t just suffocate to death in space, or get burned up by the sun’s rays or whatever else would happen to me if I found myself floating outside our atmosphere.

OK, so that’s the fact that time and space are linked together and can’t be separated.

Let’s talk about wormholes. Again, I’m no expert but here we go.
This is another idea or theory about time travel, that could allow us to go forwards or backwards in time.
So, let’s say time and space are connected and you can’t separate them. It’s like an axis or a sheet of paper let’s say. You want to go from A to B (draw two points on the paper). To travel from A to B along the surface takes time (I guess like in the rocket across space to travel at a slower rate of time). But if you could fold that paper in half then you’d be able to go from A to B instantly. I don;t get it, I’ll be honest. Folding paper in half is easy, but how do you just fold the universe in half? That’s just ridiculous!

Apparently wormholes can do that. Wormholes can allow you to go from one point in the universe to another, and that includes travelling from one point in time to another. If we could create a wormhole in spacetime, and find a way to control when it opens and closes, we could possibly bend the universe like paper and take a short cut. Again, we don’t have the technology or access to massive energy to do that. It would require a lot more than 1.21 gigawatts to do it.

That’s utterly confusing I know. But basically, The Flux Capacitor creates a temporary worm hole in space, and then the Delorean travels though it before it closes.

So, that’s time travel!

Problems with BTTF / Paradoxes / Temporal Anomolies
Lots of people have noted that travelling in time would bring about lots of possible problems, paradoxes or whatever, like the idea that if you went to the past and prevented your parents from meeting, you would then cease to exist, but then if you hadn’t been born you would never have gone back into time in the first place, and you wouldn’t have prevented your birth, so you would exist… is it possible that you would simultaneously exist and not exist at the time? I imagine that would be painful. It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it.

But that’s just one of the temporal anomalies which is brought up by BTTF. In fact there are a number of problems that people have noticed, that the film doesn’t really deal with, focusing instead on just telling a fun story. (And thank goodness for that)

I’ve chosen not to go into some of those paradoxes here, for several reasons. One of them is that they’re just too complicated to explain! The other thing is that they miss the point. This is just a fun movie which plays with ideas of time travel. In the end it’s about friendship, love, choosing your own destiny and trying to do the right thing. It’s not about solving complex logical problems about time travel. However, if you’re interested in these anomolies, check out the links on my website.

MJ Young’s Website about Temporal Anomolies in Back to the Future
MJ Young’s “Problems in Time in Modern Popular Movies”
Back to the Future 2 plot summary (quite long)
3 Ways to Travel in Time

Prof. Brian Cox – Is Time Travel Possible? (BBC Doctor Who documentary)

Interstellar Wormhole scene

280. The UK’s Top 13 Superstitions

Hello listeners, this episode is all about superstitions. Every country and culture seems to have particular superstitions. They can be quite a large part of the life or culture of that place. For example, if you’ve been living in a different country for a while, you’ve probably noticed that certain things are part of the common belief system, and that will no doubt involve some superstitions. Even if you don’t really believe in them, it’s quite useful to know about the main superstitions in a country, so that you can avoid doing something wrong (like opening an umbrella indoors in the UK) or you can just follow what is being talked about and understand all the reference points in conversation, and perhaps add your own comments as part of every day conversation – such as using expressions “touch wood” or “fingers crossed” – both of which are very commonly used phrases which are connected to superstitious beliefs. Now, since Luke’s English Podcast tends to focus on all things British or all things UKish – what are the top superstitions in the UK? What are those things that many people in the UK follow as every day superstitions? Well, in this episode I’m going to go through a list of 13 superstitions, unlucky for some, which are commonly held in the UK. We’ll also consider where these superstitions come from and why people still hold on to them. Join me! And in the comments section you can tell me if you share these superstitions in your countries, what the most common superstitions are where you come from, and generally what you think about superstitious beliefs.

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What’s a superstition?
It’s the belief in unnatural causality – the idea that one thing causes another thing to happen, even though there is no scientific evidence to explain it, for example the idea that crossing your fingers helps to bring good luck, or the idea that if you talk about the devil he will magically appear. These are ‘leaps of faith’ – beliefs that require you to suspend your need for evidence and just believe something that has no rational explanation, and so many of us make leaps of faith on a daily basis – some more than others, but even the most rational person can be influenced by superstitious beliefs and behaviour.

I don’t believe in superstitions because I like to believe I’m a modern, scientifically minded person. But saying that, I do find that from time to time my behaviour betrays my rational thinking. For example, I don’t like to open umbrellas in the house, walk under ladders, and I often will touch something that’s made of wood and say “touch wood” to avoid tempting fate. I can’t help it! I know that there’s no evidence that superstitions are real, but sometimes I just can’t help acting on some superstitious beliefs. Of course, I’m not the only one.

So, let’s consider the UK’s most common superstitions, and of course I would be delighted if all of the LEPsters in different countries around the world shared their superstitions too. What are the superstitions in your countries? What do you think of the superstitions I’m describing in this episode, and generally – do you believe in any superstitions? Why? Share your thoughts and practise your English too.

Here’s a list of the UK’s most common superstitions, with some explanations too.

Two-Black-billed-magpies-0011. Magpies

What’s a magpie?
Black and white birds
Quite big, long tail
Related to crows (corvid family)
Quite noisy
They steal shiny things.

Magpies have different superstitions based on how many you see, as this 18th century poem explains:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret, never to be told

This relates to the number of magpies you see. Most people know at least the first two lines of the rhyme.
I’m not superstitious, but even I find that if I see one magpie, I often will look around and try to find another one to make myself feel better.

2. Mirrors

Watch out when you’re moving house or doing some DIY and you break a mirror – if that happens you’ll get 7 years of bad luck.

What’s weird about mirrors? Why are we superstitious about breaking them?
Mirrors were once believed to be windows into other worlds – often worlds where things were the wrong way around.
People may also have been frightened that a person’s reflection shatters when a mirror is broken.
One theory is that mirrors contained a person’s soul, so if you break the mirror, you break the person’s soul.
People used to believe some pretty stupid stuff!
It just shows, that superstitions come from our general fear and mistrust of things we don’t understand. If it’s amazing and unexplained, then people are likely to make up all kinds of stupid stuff, e.g. those superstitious emails.

Some people also believe that mirrors should be covered up during births and funerals, for fear the person’s soul might escape through them to another realm.

There’s also an urban myth that if you look into a mirror and say “bloody mary” three times, you’ll conjure up the ghost of a woman called Bloody Mary. This comes from old folklore –

3. Umbrellas
Is it a surprise that there’s a superstition related to umbrellas in the UK?
Can you guess what the superstition is?
You might be thinking something like this: “If you don’t bring an umbrella when you go out, it’s unlucky”.
That’s not exactly right.

The myth is that it’s unlucky to open an umbrella indoors. This is probably related to the fact that umbrellas used to be quite awkward, large and difficult to open, and since our houses used to be quite small and cramped, there was a chance that you’d break something, or knock something over with an open umbrella in the house.

So, be aware that if you come into a house or building in the UK and leave your umbrella open, perhaps on the floor to dry off, the Brits might be stressing out quietly.

Again, this is still something that I can’t help feeling slightly uncomfortable about when I see, which is not logical, but it’s hard to completely escape these superstitious feelings.

On the subject of umbrellas – another cultural myth is that Brits always have umbrellas with them. That’s not exactly true.
Equally, I’ve met plenty of foreigners who are surprised that we don’t all carry umbrellas – they are surprised by the frequency with which we get caught in the rain. I think this is due to the unpredictability of British weather. It’s hard to be prepared all the time!

4. Crossed fingers

This is a way to ensure that lucky things will happen. It really means “Let’s hope it happens!” or “Let’s hope for good luck”.
“Fingers crossed!” = good luck!
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you today!”

Also, crossing your fingers is considered a way to get away with telling a lie. This isn’t related to the good luck superstition.
For example, if someone says “I won’t tell anyone” but they secretly have their fingers crossed behind their back, it means that they’re lying!

Is it the same in your country?

5. Don’t step on the pavement lines.

When we were kids we used to say “Don’t step on the cracks or the bears will get you”. What bears?!

Why is it necessary to tell kids that there are wild animals waiting around the corner, who hate it when you step on the cracks between paving stones?
Truth be told – I think we never really believed the thing about the bears. It was just part of a game where you had to avoid walking on the cracks.
When we were kids we used to make up those kinds of games all the time. Not for superstitious reasons, but just for fun. That’s what kids do. For my brother and me it was always sharks and lava. We used to put cushions on the floor between the chairs and the sofa, and those cushions were little stepping stones or islands. All the carpet between the cushions was either lava or shark infested waters. If you so much as stepped on the carpet you’d be killed by the lava or eaten by the sharks. Then we’d run around climbing and jumping on the sofa, chairs and cushions. Good times.

Back to the superstition…

Another rhyme is:
‘Don’t step on a line or you’ll fall and break your spine! Don’t step on a crack or you’ll fall and break your back!’

It seems that bad luck is waiting everywhere for you! Just walking down the street in the wrong way can cause you to have a serious injury or even worse to be attacked by dangerous animals.

Cracks in the pavement can be dangerous. You could trip and fall. Could you really break your spine?
In the past, the pavement was probably less even or safe than now. Today you can even sue the council for an accident caused by an uneven pavement.

6. Numbers

What list of superstitions would be complete without something about numbers?
Lucky and unlucky numbers are common in many countries and cultures – and the UK is no exception.

Seven is usually seen as the luckiest number. Here’s some info on that from

By far the unluckiest number is of course 13 – especially the date Friday 13th. This goes back to the Christian belief that the 13th person at the Last Supper with Jesus was Judas, who betrayed him and led him to be crucified, and ‘unlucky Friday’ was the day Jesus died.

13 is such a powerful superstition that many hotels don’t have a 13th floor, football players don’t like to wear the number 13 and some people even take a day off work to avoid going outside on the 13th.

More details about 13 and here

Here is some interesting stuff I found from the pages linked above.

There’s a Norse legend that has 12 gods sitting down to a banquet when the 13th (uninvited) god, Loki, shows up. Loki killed one of the other gods, which led to events that eventually resulted in Ragnarok — the death of a bunch of gods, a slew of natural disasters, and the eradication of everything on earth save for two human survivors. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but you get the general idea.

Traditionally, there used to be 13 steps leading up the gallows. There’s also a legend that a hangman’s noose traditionally contained 13 turns, but it’s actually more like eight.

Apollo 13 is the only unsuccessful moon mission (intended to get men on the moon, anyway) thus far. An oxygen tank exploded and the survival of the astronauts on board was pretty touch-and-go for several days, but they did all come home safely in the end (but you already knew that).

There’s an old superstition that says if you have 13 letters in your name, you’re bound to have the devil’s luck. Silly, yes, but slightly more convincing when you consider that Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all contain 13 letters (I know, I know, what about their middle names?).

Kids officially become teenagers at the age of 13, and we all know that’s a scary phase.

There may also be a mathematical theory behind it too.
Throughout history, the number twelve has long been connected to the idea of “completeness.” There were twelve gods on Mount Olympus, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve months in a year, and twelve apostles. Therefore, people viewed 13 as 12+1, or “completeness plus one” (Lachenmeyer 24). This idea of being one away from completeness gave people a sense of uncertainty and unpredictability; thus they associated the number 13 with these feelings (Lachenmeyer 24).

Generally, the whole idea of superstition is fascinating to me. Why do we believe in these things, even when we know they’re not true? Or is there some actual truth in it? For example, if you stay in room 13 in a hotel, are you more likely to experience bad luck? Is this just the placebo effect? I mean, if you feel you’ve been cursed by bad luck, will you be more likely to accept bad things happening to you?

Let’s look at some possibilities.
John Smith stays in room 13. He’s superstitious.
He then believes he’s been cursed.
When he’s driving he’s sure that he’s going to have an accident.
This expectation leads him to somehow make it happen – he subconsciously proves his thinking to be correct.
It sounds like nonsense to me.

Here’s another idea.
John stays in room 13 and is superstitious.
He then drives in his car the next day and has an accident. Someone pulled out of a junction without looking and hit him.
He decides that it happened because of the hotel room he’d stayed in.
But there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest it was the hotel room. It probably would have happened anyway.
However, there’s no way of proving it. We can’t go back in time to do a test.
But John needs an explanation. He doesn’t want to believe that the universe is basically chaotic and random, or at least far more complex than his head can contain.
So, he chooses to believe in the superstition because it makes it easier to live in the world. It’s easier and more comfortable for John to believe in superstition than to know that some things are just completely beyond his control or understanding. It’s not pleasant to know that some things are not within your own control. So the superstition allows him to get some more control. He feels that he can control the chaos slightly. Next time he won’t stay in room 13.
I’m sure this accounts for a lot of our beliefs. We believe things like superstition, conspiracy theories or even god, because it explains unanswered questions and allows us to hide from the fact that the universe is chaotic, unordered and out of our control.

Have a nice day!

Let’s carry on with these superstitions because they’re fun to share!

7. Wishes: birthdays and bones

You’re celebrating your birthday in the UK and your English friends have bought you a cake. That’s not the bad luck – that you have to eat an English cake. No. Actually, our cakes are delicious thank you very much. No, the thing is, there are candles on the cake – of course there are. It’s a birthday cake. Everyone’s singing happy birthday. You have to blow out the candles – but here’s the thing – make sure you blow them all out with one breath because if you don’t – bad luck!

Also, what you really should do is close your eyes and make a wish first, then blow out the candles. If you manage to blow all the candles out with one breath, your wish will be granted. If not, you won’t get your wish. Of course, this has no validity to it at all – it’s just a superstition! But, it’s quite normal for people to say “Make a wish!” before blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.

Why do candles on birthday cakes have magic powers?

It’s not just birthday cakes though, it’s chickens or turkeys too, when they’re cooked for a Sunday roast. There’s a wishbone – it’s at the end of the neck of the bird (where the neck meets the body). It’s forked in shape – with two little bones forking out at angles. The tradition is for two people to hold onto the two bones with their little fingers, close their eyes, make a wish, then pull. The one whose bone doesn’t break (the one who ends up with the bigger piece) will have their wish granted.

8. Weddings

Weddings are already complicated enough because you have to worry about invitations, seating plans, food and wine choices, location, music, vows, transport options, speeches, the dress, the rings, the readings, the RSVPs, children, babysitters, flowers and photographer, but if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are also some superstitions to be aware of.

According to superstition, brides should wear ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ as part of their outfit. Something old – could be a piece of old jewellery from a mother or grandmother, something new (obvious), something borrowed (obvious), and something blue (also obvious – it’s the colour). If not – then I suppose the wedding will somehow be cursed.

Then, there are loads of other things including the colour of the dress (one verse goes: ‘Married in white, you have chosen right; married in black, you’ll wish yourself back’), to the day of the wedding
‘Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday best of all,
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
Saturday for no luck at all’
to the things you see on the way to the ceremony (for brides, lambs are lucky but pigs are unlucky; for grooms, policemen and clergymen are lucky).

For more on UK wedding superstitions, click here

9. Ladders
Never walk under a ladder in the UK… Apparently it’ll bring bad luck because it used to be associated with walking to the hanging scaffold.

That sounds a bit grim doesn’t it.

The fact is, many Brits will cross the street rather than walk under a ladder, me included.
Perhaps there’s some common sense in this. Someone who is up the ladder might drop something on you.

10. Sneezing

You probably know it’s polite to say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes in the UK, but did you know the custom might have originated in the sixth century? The theory is that sneezing was seen as the first symptom of the plague, so people would say a blessing to ward off the disease.

Another theory is that people thought sneezing stopped your heart, just for a moment, and saying ‘bless you’ would make sure your heart keeps beating.

11. Keep your shoes off the furniture

And not just because they’re dirty! According to one UK superstition, putting shoes on the table (especially brand new shoes) is bad luck. Some people even avoid putting shoes on chairs or footstools. One explanation is that in coal mining communities, particularly in north England in the 19th century, a miner’s shoes would be placed on the table if he was killed in an accident. The gesture then became a symbol of death.

12. Black cats
Confusingly, black cats can be both lucky and unlucky in the UK, depending on who you ask. Some people say it’s a sign that good things are to come if a black cat crosses your path… while for others, it’s a terrible warning.

How about this: Recently I was walking down the street and a black cat started walking across my path. It stopped and looked at me and got scared and ran away. What does that mean?

13. Rabbits
Rabbits are supposed to be good luck. For some reason keeping a rabbit’s foot will bring you luck. Some people have one in their pocket or attached to their key ring. That’s right – an actual dead rabbit’s foot. Just the foot. You can get fake ones now apparently. Weird isn’t it.

Saying the words ‘white rabbit’ are also supposed to bring good luck, especially at the beginning of the month.

Other things:
– Walking over 2 drains is lucky, but 3 is unlucky.
– Horseshoes
– Egg shells (crack them so the devil can’t make a boat – the devil must be a badass dude if he uses an eggshell as a boat)
– Making eye contact when you say “cheers” – this is growing in popularity, mainly because of the influence of other cultures where this is kind of a big deal.
– “Jinx”, when people say the same thing at the same time by accident, the first one to say “jinx” can avoid the bad luck.
– Lucky underpants


236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

This episode is about other people’s podcasts that I love listening to and that I’d like to share with you. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonThis episode is not about podcasts for learners of English. It’s also not about podcasts made by LEPPERS. It’s just some podcasts that I love to listen to and that I’d like to share. They aren’t for learners of English specifically. This could mean they’re hard to understand for you. However – it could be really good for you to at least try listening to one of these podcasts and see if they click with you. It could be really good for your English, especially if there’s one that really grabs your attention.

I listen to podcasts on my phone, or on my mp3 player when I’m out and about or when I’m doing something. How about you?

LEPPER Podcasts
Zdenek’s English Podcast
Guillaume’s English Podcast (
Chris’s English Podcast
Learning with Myself
There’s also a Skype group which you can find out about in the forum. Click here for the LEP Skype thread in the forum.

My Favourite Podcasts
jcwn10. Wireless Nights with Jarvis Cocker (UK)
I just started listening to this so I don’t have much to say except:
– I discovered it on the BBC podcasts website ( by just browsing and clicking.
– Jarvis Cocker is great. He used to the lead singer in a band called “Pulp” who were one of the biggest bands in the UK during the 90s (and after). They were one of the top bands in the musical movement known as Britpop, along with groups like Oasis and Blur. Jarvis is a really cool guy. He’s intelligent, ironic, humorous and has really wide-ranging interests. He’s pretty much interested in everything. Also, he’s my neighbour! I recently discovered that he lives just two doors away from me here in Paris and in fact I see him in the street sometimes.
– The podcast is called “Wireless Nights with Jarvis Cocker” and it covers all kinds of different topics. They’re all like mini-documentaries in which he deals with different subjects each time, all with the aim of “taking listeners on a nocturnal journey around stories of night people.” So, it has this cool, late-night atmosphere in which you go on a little journey into a fascinating new world. Recent episodes have covered subjects like The Moon (including tales of people who have somehow been touched by the various manifestations of the moon, including astronauts who actually walked upon its surface) and this one from last week: “In front of a studio audience, Jarvis Cocker and the BBC Philharmonic weave tales of insomnia, nocturnal inspirations and dark imaginings from the world of classical music – against the backdrop of a President embroiled in the Vietnam War.”
– It won the Prix Italia for Extraordinary Originality and Innovation, a top European radio prize. Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
– Let’s listen to a bit from his most recent episode. Play the intro to the Moon episode.

adamandjoe9. Adam & Joe (UK)
This was my absolute favourite podcast for a few years, and it’s probably the podcast that inspired me more than any other. I’ve talked about Adam & Joe on the podcast before (in an episode about anecdotes). Unfortunately they’re not doing the podcast any more, which is a great pity, but they’re all still available in iTunes – not all of them, but what is available is a kind of ‘best of’ selection. By the way – avoid the Adam&Edith episodes – they’re crap, but all the Adam&Joe episodes are great.
– They’re comedians, radio & TV presenters, Joe is a film director.
– Personally I like the podcast because I feel that I’m totally on the same wavelength as them. Their humour is both stupid and clever at the same time. They observe a lot of funny details about life in the UK and typical experiences that everyone shares, like going to the cinema, how it feels to come back from holiday or going to the doctor. The podcast is full of amusing little jingles and ironic jokes. Adam & Joe have been friends since childhood and that really comes through on the podcast. They’re quite childish but really sweet, funny and charming.
– Play a clip called “Bikes on a train / Posh bloke”

041811browimage8. John Lennon – The Rolling Stone Interviews (UK)
As well as being a great musician, John Lennon was also a fascinating speaker. I find all of The Beatles to be really interesting and funny, but John is the one who catches my attention more than the others. Paul is great, but I often get the sense that he’s being careful about his public image and putting on a slightly contrived ‘upbeat’ persona in interviews. George was very funny, dry and honest – in a similar way to John, but sometimes he could be a little bit evasive as well, and his spiritual beliefs could dominate his interviews. Ringo is great but doesn’t really have that much to say. John is perhaps the most open and honest of The Beatles – in a way that draws you into his heart and mind, revealing his vulnerability, his anger, his intelligence and his humour too. He had an extraordinary life, from childhood all the way through to his untimely death. This set of podcasts is an audio interview he did for Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, and it catches him at quite a vulnerable period in his life. At that time he was still dealing with the breakup of the Beatles, attempting to find a place for himself in the world, breaking down the Beatles myth and setting himself up as an individual in his own right, with Yoko Ono by his side. He’s outspoken, sincere, angry, defensive, aggressive, humorous, and passionate in these conversations. If you’re a Beatles fan, this is essential listening because it gives you real insight into the innermost thoughts and feelings of John Lennon, but if you’re not a Beatles fan I think you’d still find this fascinating because it is such an open, honest and frank interview with one of the most extraordinary people of the last century. The audio quality is a bit sketchy because this is taken from the original tape recording of the interview. The interviewer is not really audible – his questions are very quiet, but John’s answers are easy to hear.
Listen to:

startalk-radio-show-by-neil7. Startalk Radio (USA)
Neil De Grasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with a talent for speaking in a very accessible, engaging and entertaining way about science. His podcast deals with all kinds of different subjects from a scientific point of view. For example, he did one all about zombies, one explaining scientific errors in films and others about robots, aliens, hip hop and sex. He brings intelligent guests onto his show, and is almost always joined by a comedian called Eugene Merman who provides some light comic relief. Ultimately, Tyson inspires your thirst for knowledge and wonder and also provides us with a sense that science can be a kind of spiritual pursuit, or certainly a very meaningful and emotional thing, not just a cold and soulless subject. He’s also very funny!
– Listen to the clip “The most astounding fact about the universe”
– Listen to another clip in which he deals with a question about UFOs

did6. Desert Island Discs (UK)
This is an absolute institution on BBC Radio. This programme has been broadcast on the BBC for over 70 years, with a format that has basically remained unchanged for that whole period. As a child the radio was often playing in the kitchen at home and often this is the programme that would be on. It’s now part of the landscape of not only my childhood, but so many other children too. For me it is on the same level as The Beatles, Doctor Who, BBC News and all these other cultural landmarks of my life and childhood over the years.
It’s basically just an interview programme with a twist. The twist is that we, the interviewer and the guest all imagine that the guest is going to be sent to live on a desert island for the rest of their life. The guest (or ‘castaway’) is allowed to take a few things with them – namely, 8 pieces of music, a book and a luxury item. In the interview they talk about their life, explain their musical choices (usually these relate to specific moments or feelings from their life) and explain their choice of luxury item. The format is a success because it creates an intimate atmosphere in which the interviewee is encouraged to share deeply personal reflections on their life so far, and we get to listen to some of their favourite music too. It’s absolutely delightful and a great way to get under the skin of each guest, and there have been some really great guests on the show.
The interviewer has changed a few times. It used to be a woman called Sue Lawley, who spoke with a crisp RP accent. Now it is presented by Kirsty Young who comes from East Kilbride in Scotland. Kirsty’s accent is absolutely delicious – I mean, it’s very lovely to listen to (and it helps to know that she’s a very attractive and intelligent woman). She very deftly and carefully manages to ask some very revealing questions and guests are usually more than glad to take part and share themselves with the audience. The combination of Kirsty’s lovely accent, her intelligent questioning, the candid intimacy of the guests and the little bits of music we can hear make for a really rewarding listening experience. It’s a BBC podcast so the sound quality is excellent.
You can either subscribe to the current podcast with all the latest DID episodes, or search through the DID archives. I’d recommend that you search through the archives and find names of people you know, like Sir Michael Caine, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Morrissey or Emma Thompson.
Listen to: Morrissey
Search for Desert Island Discs in YouTube.

Click here for part 2.