More thoughts and comments inspired by things that happened during my recent holiday. In this one I’m discussing stories about the Church of Scientology and the claims that it is a cult. Listen to find out what happened in this part of my trip. Check the episode page for the vocabulary.
This episode includes information and claims about Scientology which I saw and heard in various interviews and documentaries. It should be noted that the Church of Scientology disagrees with those claims. They state that critics of the church are seeking to make money or gain attention from their claims and their associations. I am presenting the information in this episode because I believe it makes an interesting episode of my podcast and is therefore an opportunity for my listeners to improve their English.
Here is a list of vocabulary that you can learn from this episode. (definitions are in brackets)
a modern kind of dogma (a belief system that is imposed on people, e.g. through rules or writings which tell you what to do, or not to do)
a self-help system (a set of practices that can help people deal with their problems)
theology (a set of religious beliefs)
to ascend the hierarchy of the church (to rise up through the different levels)
the principles that underpin the religion (support, are the foundations of)
these guys were checking us out (looking at us, observing us)
minding their own business (not paying attention to other people or things, just focusing on their own things)
it’s not subject to scrutiny because Scientology is officially recognised as a religion (careful observation)
hostile behaviour (showing strong disagreement, sometimes aggressively)
to be shunned by your family, or shunned by the church (rejected, ostracised, ignored)
he was suffering from mental illness at the time – he was having a bipolar episode (a period of mental illness symptomatic of bipolar disorder, e.g. a period of mania or psychosis)
conventional psychology, psychiatry or psychotherapeutic practices (psychology = the scientific study of the mind and its processes / psychiatry = medicine and medical care for mental illness / psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic practices = the use of psychological practices and not drugs in the treatment of mental illness)
psychosomatic illness (physical illness caused by the mind, not by the body)
a placebo (a ‘fake drug’, a substance with no effect which is used as part of the testing process for medicines)
the placebo effect (the fact that a person’s health might show improvement after taking a placebo because they believe it to be a genuine drug, a kind of psychosomatic effect)
Freud’s ideas about the ego, super-ego and the id (super-ego = the part of your mind which understands right and wrong and imposes society’s rules on yourself / the id = the primitive instincts which exist in your unconscious mind / the ego = the conscious mind, aware of itself, in balance or conflict between the motivations of the super-ego and id / all concepts developed by Sigmund Freud)
It’s a doctrine written by one man (a set of religious beliefs)
L Ron Hubbard – the founder (the person who set up or founded something)
they rejected it as pseudoscience (fake science)
Some people have called him a visionary (someone with an original and inspiring vision of something new), other people have called him an outright fraud (an open or obvious liar and deceiver)
spirits that were sent to earth by a celestial being (a person, creature or life-form from outer-space)
was he making it all up (creating it) on purpose and developing a sort of cult of personality (a small and strange group devoted to one individual) around himself as anarcissisticpowertrip? (narcissistic = self obsessed and in love with himself / power trip = an obsessive or extreme use or abuse of power)
someone with bipolar disorder (a mental illness, previously called ‘manic depression) suffering a manic episode
the guy was crawling the walls (going crazy). He was delusional (not in touch with reality), hallucinating (seeing things that aren’t there), in the grips of (being severely affected by) a full-on (intense) bipolar manic episode
a device for displaying and/or recording the electrodermalactivity (electrical activity on the skin) (EDA) of a human being
the Church of Scientology now publishes disclaimers in its books and publications declaring that the E-meter “by itself does nothing” and that it is used specifically for spiritual purposes (a statement that they are not responsible for something)
a small arm, like on a watch, that moves or twitches sometimes because of stimulus from the metal tubes (moves quickly or suddenly)
described by some critics as a typical example of a “Bait and switch fraud” (a type of deception in which someone thinks they’re buying one thing but it is replaced for something else)
a term used usually to describe fraud in a retail context (relating to shops)
The court ruling was upheld ( ruling = a decision by a court or judge / upheld = was not changed or overturned, was maintained)
an appeal in a court (a request for another court decision or judgement)
The fraud conviction (when someone is found guilty of a crime in court) criminal was upheld in the appeal court
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath
“Going Clear: The Prison of Belief”
“Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie”
Paul Haggis, Oscar winning Canadian film maker who used to be in the church but left. Also, the story of ‘Xenu’ (from Going Clear)
Longer videos – full conversations about scientology
Louis Theroux – full conversation on Joe Rogan’s podcast
Leah Rimini – full conversation on Joe Rogan’s podcast
Find out what happened two years ago when I first visited the Scientology Centre in Los Angeles
In this episode I talk about visiting the fantastic Griffith Observatory and then ‘go off on one’ about Astronomy vs Astrology and ludicrous flat earth conspiracy theories. Includes various bits of vocabulary throughout the episode.
Just before we start I just realised that I forgot to mention some of your responses to the episode with my Dad about cricket which was uploaded in August.
Cricket episode (#473) comments
In general, the responses seem to be along these lines: I love listening to you talk to your Dad, it’s always nice to hear his voice and his descriptions of things, but this was the most difficult episode of the podcast ever! You broke my mind! You destroyed my brain!
Hi Luke, I do really love episodes with your Dad, but this particular one, completely destroyed me. ;) Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to listen to your Dad, as always, and I liked the cricket related phrases, so I’ll cut you some slack for making my brain hurt a bit. Cheers!
Holiday Diary part 3
Here we go with part 3 of this series which is based around some of the things I saw while I was away on holiday last month.
You should listen to parts 1 and 2 before hearing this, because that will put this episode in the right context. In a nutshell the context is that my wife is preggers, she’s got a bun in the oven. By the way, I just wanted to say that I chose to reveal this personal news because it would be impossible to keep it secret, right? For example if my uploading becomes a bit erratic when the baby arrives, you’ll understand why. Perhaps you can manage your expectations a bit if you remember that I’ve “got a lot on my plate“. Having a child will be wonderful but probably quite disruptive, but I certainly don’t plan on halting this project as a result. We went on hols to the USA for a “babymoon” (our chance to enjoy a fairly big holiday together while it’s just the two of us), we saw some really interesting things and it gave me inspiration to talk about some topics on the podcast.
What’s this episode all about?
In this one the plan is to talk about astronomy, astrology and flat earth conspiracy theories. I hope there will be enough time! Let’s see. If I run out of time, some of those things will no doubt turn up in the next episode.
I expect the main questions for this will be:
What is the Griffith Observatory and what did we see there? )And how do you pronounce Griffith Observatory?)
What is the difference between astronomy and astrology?
Is astrology a load of old nonsense, or is it all right?
What is the flat earth theory all about?
Why do people think the earth is flat?
Is the earth flat or is it round (I’m pretty sure it’s round or globe shaped)?
What words can you pick up from all of this to help expand your vocabulary, improve your listening and develop your English in general?
We will see as we go through the episode.
Vocabulary for you to learn (check the notes and script)
On the subject of the English you’re going to hear, I will try and define some language as it comes up, but also you should check the page for this episode. In the episode archive search for episode 476 (oh that’s this page- you’re already here). On that page you’ll see some notes and some transcriptions, and there you can see the words and phrases, see how they are spelled, copy/paste expressions to your word lists or flashcard apps and so on, or just enjoy listening to the episode.
Griffith Observatory and a hike in the park
There was lots of geology and astronomy on this holiday. The geology because of the National Parks and all the rock formations with their stories of history, and astronomy because we visited the Griffith Observatory (this place dedicated to observing the sun and the night sky). Also, in a hotel one evening while zapping between the many TV channels I came across a long interview with famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which was absolutely fascinating and also quite mind blowing – as he usually is.
You can listen to that conversation with Neil Degrasse Tyson on the Nerdist podcast here.
And then near the end of the holiday there was the total solar eclipse over some parts of the USA and every single person was talking about it. We didn’t see the full eclipse, but experienced some of it. So, lots of big things like the moon, the stars, the earth, our place in the universe and also the value of proper critical thinking and science in general.
We had a nice hike (not too demanding but not too easy) through Griffith Park up to the observatory. Hiking…
Walking up through the park we had views of Griffith Park and the Hollywood hills and the Hollywood sign. You get views over LA including the high-rise buildings in the downtown area.
It’s cool to be doing some hiking in what feels like the countryside and then to turn around and see the skyline of the city.
Hiking to Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park are named after the man who donated the land (about 12 km squared) and paid for the observatory and theatre.
His name was Griffith J. Griffith. What a name!
Imagine calling your son Griffith Griffith!
Interesting bloke. Here’s the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s page about him:
Anyway, (despite that horrible crime) it’s cool that this guy clearly believed in the importance of having a space dedicated to teaching ordinary people about how the earth fits into our galaxy, how it interacts with the sun and the moon, and all that stuff.
Astronomy is fascinating, I think.
Astronomy vs Astrology (the difference)
Astronomy – the scientific study of stars, planets and natural objects in space
Astrology – the study of movements of stars and planets and the belief that these movements can affect the lives of humans on earth. So that includes the predictions written into horoscopes, the system of star signs and how they are said to dictate our personalities and the things that will happen to us.
I don’t believe in astrology.
How could the movement of stars and planets affect whether your boss will give you a pay rise or if you’ll have an awkward encounter with a possible lover?
Who knows, maybe our lives are totally subject to astrological forces out there and everything that happens has already been written in advance, but I don’t think there’s much reliable evidence for it.
But that’s not the point for people who believe in horoscopes. I think for them it’s not about looking for the most reliable theory to understand the universe. It more about finding the one that makes you feel right about yourself.
We’re not the centre of the universe. We’re part of something much larger than we can possibly imagine. (I sound like Obiwan Kenobi)
Sure, Saturn is a huge thing out there in space and it does have forces of gravity, probably radiation that come from it, but my iPhone probably produces more radiation than Saturn, because it’s so much closer to me than Saturn. I get it, Saturn is big, but it’s also very very far away. The mass of the table in front of me exerts more influence on me than the mass of Saturn at this distance.
And, if horoscopes can predict the future, why aren’t they front page news?
Maybe they don’t want to seem arrogant.
Yeah we can predict the future, we know what’s going to happen to the money markets, to the environment, to each individual person, but we don’t like to make a big deal out of it.
Horoscopes are never on the front page, they’re always printed in the middle of the newspaper, next to the crossword and the sudoku. “Yes, we know the future of your children, but let’s just print it down here in the corner next to these puzzles.”
Anyway, at the Griffith Observatory, it was nice to get a dose of space stuff – some astronomy. It’s great to see that this building is devoted to educating people about astronomy and that loads of people were there, families with their kids (even if they were annoying “Mommy look this is awesome!” etc) it’s good to see that these kids are being educated about science.
They have cool interactive models and presentations about the earth’s orbit around the sun, with live telescope footage of the sun itself (through loads of filters of course), the moon’s orbit around the earth, the way the moon and the sun together affect the tides in the oceans. It was really cool.
And the earth is round, by the way.
Flat Earth (Conspiracy) Theory – Some people still believe the earth is flat
These days Flat Earth theories seem to be quite popular again, especially on the internet.
I didn’t meet anyone or at least speak to anyone in the USA who believed in flat earth theory, but I’ve seen a lot of talk of it online.
There are quite a lot of youtubers and even famous musicians and celebrities who spread the idea that the earth is flat and that there’s a global (although I guess they wouldn’t use the word “global”) conspiracy to convince us all that it’s in fact round, or a ‘globe’.
Most of these people are Americans of course, because as far as I can tell the USA is the world’s #1 place for conspiracy theories.
I’m quite interested in conspiracy theories and I’m willing to hear the arguments. Some of them are fairly convincing (e.g I’m a bit sceptical about the official story of the JFK assassination but I don’t pretend to know what really happened) and other theories are completely ridiculous.
I think the flat earth theory is in the latter category.
I think it’s ridiculous believing the earth is flat because it means you have to also reject:
Pretty much all the basic understandings that we have of the way the world works, including the laws of physics, which are tested time and time again, scientifically (which means subject to the most reliable forms of objective testing and scrutiny possible). You have to reject the big bang theory, and even the basic law of gravity.
And you have to believe that all the governments, shipping and airline companies, scientists in different communities around the globe and in fact all those underpaid science teachers – you have to believe they are all part of a huge organised conspiracy to maintain the idea that the earth is round, when in fact it is flat.
What would be the purpose of doing that?
And anyway, it’s impossible! We’re just not competent enough to do that.
As a species we’re not even able to keep a sex tape secret, so what chance do we have of maintaining a lie that big?
I think we have to look at why people choose to believe in this kind of thing anyway.
I think it goes together with a general sense of distrust in authority, a feeling of individual empowerment that you get from believing something like that and the simple human ability to get stuck in a certain worldview and then block out anything that contradicts it, even if it’s rational evidence that has been proven over and over again.
I think once a person has invested themselves in a certain belief system for whatever reason, it’s very hard to get them out of it.
For example, you might hear a conspiracy theorist say “I believe the earth is flat and nobody can convince me that it’s not”.
That’s all you need to know really. They’re not interested in being convinced with evidence.
They’re more interested in pursuing their belief and maintaining it. Why? I don’t know. I think it’s an aspect of human nature that is very powerful and you can see it in lots of other situations too – like for example the way people end up getting involved in religious cults or the way people do very bad things because they believe they’re carrying out some kind of divine plan.
Flat earthers are not as bad as people like that, I suppose, but what would happen if the President came out as a flat earther? Then what? Would flat earth theories start to enter schools? Would more and more people start to believe it? If the flat earthers eventually outnumbered the scientific community, the round earth community, would flat earth become the dominant idea? Hundreds of years of history could be wiped out by a belief system like that. It’s actually possible, that’s the thing.
Let’s listen to a couple of YouTubers talking about it.
If you disagree and you think the earth is flat (which is very trendy at the moment by the way) write your ideas in the comment section. Why do you think the earth is flat? What’s your evidence? How do you deal with things like the laws of gravity or the fact that shadows are at different lengths on the ground in different places at the same time of day?
Thanks for listening! Leave your comments below with any thoughts from this episode.
Did you notice any good bits of vocabulary? You could copy&paste them into the comment section.
In this episode I’m just sitting in the sunshine and I just want to ramble with absolutely no preparation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of fairly serious episodes about language, and politics and there’s more to come. But in this one I don’t want to feel obliged to make any serious points at all. Instead I’d much rather just be light hearted and talk about whatever comes into my head in an effort to just relax and have fun.
Nothing is written down. I have literally no idea what I’m going to talk about. I’ve got loads of episodes in the pipeline but for this one, it’s just turn on the microphone and let’s go. It might be pretty inane and stupid. Don’t take too much of it seriously. But who knows what kind of vocab or idioms will pop up, and maybe some other bits.
So – expectations should be a full on ramble with no particular language aim than to just follow the English as it accompanies my stream of consciousness.
Let’s go through 9facts.co.uk. I have no idea if they are actually facts, but it’ll give me a springboard to just ramble about whatever I come across.
Today on the podcast I’m talking to Rob Ager from Liverpool, who is probably best known for his film analysis videos on YouTube in which he discusses classic Hollywood thrillers, sci-fi and action movies in quite astonishing levels of detail, often focusing on deep psychological and political themes and hidden messages that most viewers probably wouldn’t even notice. His videos are carefully constructed documentaries, made for educational purposes and all of them feature a voice-over commentary by Rob in which he analyses the film and gives his observations.
I think I first came across Rob’s work on YouTube about 5 or 6 years ago. Sometimes I start watching YouTube and I get sucked into a kind of YouTube worm hole. That’s where you start watching one video, and that leads you to watch another one and then another one and eventually you find yourself watching something really fascinating and unexpected and that you wouldn’t normally have come across. I think that’s what happened with Rob’s videos. I think I first came across a short documentary he made about a horror movie called The Thing by John Carpenter, which is one of my favourite films. It’s really scary, tense and well directed, and it has a terrifying monster in it. Also it has a complicated story line which creates an eerie sense of paranoia that invites the viewer to speculate on who is or who isn’t a monster. It was really interesting to listen to Rob talking about The Thing in so much detail and it made me think about the movie in ways that I hadn’t considered before.
Then after that I kept noticing other videos by Rob and I would always watch them with interest. He has videos about The Matrix, Star Wars, The Shining, Alien and more.
Sometimes I find his comments to be a bit too specific, like he is perhaps over-analysing the films, but then again I think this is what’s great about movies – that everyone can interpret them in any way they want – and that a film might mean one thing to you, but mean a completely different thing to someone else. Even the director of the film might have a very specific message in the movie, that most of us don’t even notice. I think most modern film makers understand these ideas and they often leave their movies open to interpretation. Think, for example about the ending of Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio – what does it really mean? We’re supposed to imagine and discuss our own interpretations of it, and I think it’s one of the strengths of the film and one of the reasons it is so popular. Everyone can leave the movie with their own theory on what it was about and what had happened at the end. Rob Ager takes this principle – that there are multiple readings of a movie – and really runs with it in his documentaries, suggesting that many of these great films that we love could in fact be about political events in the real world, our deep desires and psychological motivations or even about hidden power structures.
Another interesting thing for me is that Rob comes from Liverpool. He’s a scouser (that’s the word for people who come from Liverpool) and he speaks with a scouse accent, which really reminds me of the people I used to meet, talk to and work with when I lived in Liverpool years ago. The Liverpool accent is really distinctive, and I always want to feature different British accents on this podcast, so on this one you’ve got the chance to get used to listening to a scouse accent, or Liverpool accent.
Also, I think Liverpool is a fascinating city and not enough people know about it. Most people know The Beatles or Liverpool and Everton football clubs, but there’s more to Liverpool than that. I’m hoping that Rob will tell me a few things about what it’s really like to live and grow up in this important English city.
His website – CollativeLearning.com reveals all sorts of interesting things – like that fact that Rob is a filmmaker himself and he is very prolific with his analysis videos. He has loads of documentaries which you can download from the website. What becomes clear after reading and watching his work is that Rob is a very observant and articulate person with a great interest in film, but he is also knowledgeable about a wide range of academic theories and he incorporates ideas from psychology, sociology and philosophy in his film analysis. All of that reminds me a lot of the things I read and wrote about while doing my Media & Cultural Studies degree at university in Liverpool. What’s also notable about Rob though is that he has received no formal academic education or training in all of these subjects – he’s completely self-educated.
I’ve never spoken to Rob before, and I’m recording this introduction before our interview, which is due to start in just a few moments. I’ve got no idea how the conversation will go or what directions our conversation will take but I really hope it’s an insightful and engaging listening experience and that Rob and I get on with each other. I suggest that you listen out for differences between my standard Southern British RP accent and Rob’s accent, and let’s see what kind of vocabulary emerges from our talk.
Alright, it’s time to speak to Rob now. So, here we go.
*Conversations starts (after I remembered to press ‘record’ on my device)*
Hello, and welcome back to to the podcast, this episode is called “Murder Mile Walks: Stories of London’s Most Infamous & Shocking Murders”, and in this one we’re going to hear about some true crimes that happened in parts of central London. Yes, all the stories that you will hear in this episode are true, and you should know in advance that this episode does contain some graphic descriptions of horror and extreme violence. And on top of that, there is some swearing at the end of the episode too.
So, this is an adult episode of the podcast, recorded by adults, featuring adult conversation between two adults about adults doing adult things to other adults and it’s presented here by an adult for other adults to listen to OK? So, the point I’m making is that it’s not for kids, this episode. So, if you don’t mind a bit of horror and some strong language – then, great! But if you’re easily shocked then please be cautious. To be honest though it’s no worse than some of the stuff you see in the average horror film, an episode CSI or Grey’s Anatomy or a true crime documentary or something. But anyway, now that I’ve warned you about that let’s continue…
Welcome to the podcast. This is a conversation with my mate Moz, who has been on the podcast before. You might remember Moz from previous episodes such as the Brighton Fringe Festival series, the drunk episode, and the drunk episode 2, which was recorded on Moz’s boat. So, Moz has been living in London for ages but a couple of years ago he decided to buy a canal barge – a narrow boat, and live in it at various locations in the London canal system. It sounds like a pretty nice life. Instead of just living in one location the whole time he moors the boat at different locations in the canal and river system in London, enjoys a more peaceful side of London life, with all the ducks and geese, and fishing, and pubs, and knife crime. Well, maybe not the knife crime. Let’s hope not anyway.
Anyway, Moz used to work as a producer of comedy TV shows at the BBC. He also produced, wrote and performed in a few of his own comedy theatre shows at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe festivals over the years, and all his shows featured slightly dark subject matter but in a comedic way. They were basically horror stories that in the end turn out to be quite funny and sweet.
Murder Mile Tours
Fairly recently Moz launched a small tour company. It’s a company that offers walking tours in the Soho area. You know those tours that you can join, where there’s a tour guide who shows you round some interesting spots in the city, and you follow the guide around as he or she holds an umbrella in the air or something (that’s always a bit weird in my opinion – walking around holding an umbrella followed by loads of disciples – worshipping the holy umbrella!) and the tour guide stops and talks to you at various points, and you’d rather be in a pub or something. They’re nice, but a little boring sometimes, right?
Well, Moz’s tours are quite different, and they’re proving to be very successful already, with some great reviews on the travel website TripAdvisor. The thing about Moz’s tours is that they’re original, because not only are they presented by Moz himself, the tours are all about murder. A lot of murder, in fact, they’re all about real murders that took place on the streets of London, in Soho to be specific.
I’m not going to tell you more, I’ll let Moz do that. You can just listen to find out all the grisly details as they come up in the conversation.
We’re almost ready to start listening to the conversation. But I would like to just give you another warning now before you listen to this episode.
ANOTHER WARNING: Explicit Content
Most of you won’t think this is necessary but I would like to just ask you again to please be aware that this episode contains some descriptions of explicit violence and horror. It we deal with the subject in a grown-up and responsible way but if you are playing this to young listeners, please use the maximum amount of discretion – it’s supposed to be for adults.
There is loads of great vocabulary in this, not to mention some really good stories all based on proper historical research, and everyone knows that listening to stories is a great way to learn English.
So, as you listen – just try to follow the conversation. I’m not teaching you specific things in this one, I’m just inviting you to listen to some natural conversation between native speakers, but try to notice language as it comes up. Would you like it if I produced a follow-up episode in which I explain all the vocab, like I did with the Craig Wealand interview? Let me know.
Before we get to the murder stories we talk about swearing on TV and on Luke’s English Podcast, and we discuss the question of whether I should bleep out swear words on the podcast. “To bleep or not to bleep?” As a former producer of BBC comedy shows, Moz has some wise words to say about that.
So, a bit of conversation about swearing, and then we get onto the subject of Moz’s new project: Murder Mile Tours.
So that was the chat with Moz. How do you feel? Alright? Personally, I don’t feel too upset or disturbed by those stories, I just find them intriguing. It’s amazing what has happened in the past, what people do and their motivations. People are fascinating and mysterious aren’t they? And isn’t it weird that the woman sensed the site of that plague pit? It’s all very interesting indeed and I can’t wait to go on one of those walks on a Sunday next time I’m in London.
You can check out Murder Mile Tours by visiting murdermiletours.com. If you’re going to be in London I think this could be a really cool tour for you to join. You’ll get to see some cool spots in Soho like Denmark Street with its guitar shops, and you can hang out and have a cup of tea and a chat with Moz, and maybe hang out for a bit and go to a pub and drink beer and talk nonsense for a while. Buy him a pint, he might like that.
That’s it from this episode then. Thanks for listening! I look forward to reading your comments on the page for this episode.
Now, wait a moment that’s not the end, because I’m now going to play you an outtake.
Out-take: Some bonus swearing
Earlier in episode the were talking about swearing, and I bleeped out pretty much all those words (partly for comedy purposes) but after we finished our conversation Moz and I kept talking and we came back to the subject of swear words and we decided to let rip a little bit – to let rip – that means just express your emotions or thoughts without holding yourself back. In this case we decided to let rip with some swearing. So here is a mini outtake, sort of like a sequel to the swearing podcast I did a couple of years ago with my brother. So, here is a super-duper x-rated outtake which I recorded with Moz after having finished the interview.
You’re about to hear loads of swearing now. If you’re offended by the rudest words, stop listening now. Got it? If you’re not offended by swearing, then keep listening! It’s pretty simple isn’t it. Do you take the blue pill or the red pill? Your choice.
OK OK that’s enough explaining and justifying – Let the swearing commence…
Hello again, how are you? Welcome back to the podcast. Here’s a new episode for your listening pleasure. This one is a rambling conversation with my parents and my brother about everything and nothing.
Just before we get started – here are just three announcements or bits of news.
First: I’ve received loads of emails recently, especially over the Christmas holiday period. I managed to write back to quite a few of them, but unfortunately some of them go unanswered – so I would just like to say sorry if I didn’t get back to you. Even if I don’t reply, I love getting messages from listeners, and please know that I read everything that is sent to me.
Second: The LEP photo competition. I’ve received loads of photos and the competition ends soon. Then I’ll post all the pics and you can vote for your favourites, and the one that gets the most votes will get an LEP mug plus a t-shirt or bag. The runners up will get a mug each. Personally I love seeing the contexts in which you are listening to this podcast. It is really cool! I’m looking forward to sharing them on the site for all to see.
Since we’re talking about competitions, this is usually the time of year that I ask you to vote for me in the Macmillan Love Dictionary Awards, but it seems that they’re not running it this year. Perhaps they got fed up with me winning it every time! I don’t know. But anyway, that’s not happening, but I’d like to ask you a favour – if you know of any other awards at all for learning English websites or online services, please do consider nominating me and my podcast. Awards are a great way of bringing exposure to the podcast. The Macmillan Awards were really helpful for bringing new audience members to the show every year, and for giving the website a bit of kudos too. So, please do nominate LEP for any awards that you’re aware of, if you think I deserve it of course – I would really appreciate it.
Third: Disappearing Comments. *Actually, this is now resolved! I found a way to fix it and you can read comments on the homepage again :) * You might have noticed that comments have disappeared from the front page of my website. Normally I have a load of comments that show up under the text on the front page of my site. It’s important for me because new visitors to the site can see the positive comments and it’s a great endorsement of my podcast, but the comments are gone and I don’t know why. I find that quite annoying. I run my website myself and I’m no expert, as you may be able to tell. The site looks pretty basic but it does the job. I use WordPress to manage the site – so if any of you out there can explain to me why the comments on my front page have disappeared, I’d really appreciate it. The comments box is still there, and the comments are still visible in my admin dashboard, but they’re just not showing up on the front page. Comments are visible on all other pages and posts on my site. I think it may be something to do with the template, and .php files and stuff – but it all gives me a headache and I’m a bit cautious about messing with the template files of my website. So, if you know about this stuff then let me know if you have a solution to my missing comments section.
OK, that’s enough technical stuff – I don’t want to bore you! Let me hurry up and introduce this episode.
As you know I was back at home in England this Christmas and while I was there I managed to record a few rambling conversations with various members of my family. You already heard the geeky conversation with James about Star Wars, but in this episode I’m speaking to my Mum and Dad too.
At Christmas time, or in fact whenever we’re together as a family, we like to sit around and talk rubbish for a while, often over a glass of wine or a meal or something. It’s sort of a family tradition – I’m sure it’s the same thing for many of you. I like talking rubbish with my parents, and as a family I think we’re quite good at wittering on about whatever comes into our heads. Usually there’s some disagreement, arguing and bickering involved, like you heard a few years ago in an episode of LEP called Family Arguments and Debates, in which I recorded arguments and discussions with my Mum, Dad and brother about various things. Well, here’s another one.
For this episode I decided I’d like to give you the chance to listen in on one of our family rambling sessions. You can imagine that for an hour you’ve joined us at my family’s home in Warwick, you’ve had a glass of wine or three, and now we’re all sitting around enjoying each others company and generally setting the world to rights.
In terms of language learning – there’s no target language which I’m teaching you in this episode. Instead I’m just letting you hear some natural conversation between native speakers. As usual I recommend that you just follow the conversation, try to understand it all, get carried away with it, think about your own responses to the questions I’m asking, try to notice certain bits of language and grammatical usage as it comes up naturally. My parents are both educated and well-spoken people. They have standard British accents – they speak RP, which is like BBC English. In fact, my Dad worked for the BBC as a news broadcaster for many years. My Mum works in a charity bookshop and also likes to study subjects like art and history in her free time. You’ll also hear my brother James who you already know. He’s a freelance designer who still likes skateboarding in his free time even though he’s getting on a bit now, and last year he fell of his board and dislocated his shoulder. You can hear all about that story in episode 180 “Dislocated Shoulder”. teacherluke.co.uk/2014/05/20/180-dislocated-shoulder/
In this episode I wanted to get my family talking a bit, so I prepared some random questions and posed them to the group. If you like you can write your answers to any of the questions in this episode as comments on the page for this episode. It’s a good way to interact and practise your English at the same time.
So now, just sit back, relax and enjoy this rambling conversation about everything and nothing, recorded in the company of the Thompsons at Christmas time.
Welcome to LEP. I hope you’re well, I hope you’re fine. This episode of the podcast is a rematch of the lying game with Amber, Paul and me. Check below for show notes and other links.
[DOWNLOAD] A couple of announcements before we go further.
Thanks for your photos for the LEP photo competition. This is a chance for you to send in your photos for a chance to win some LEP merchandise including mugs, t-shirts and bags. You can still send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, until 15 January 2016. Your photo should show the environment in which you listen to LEP. Feel free to get creative. The only rule is that there has to be some evidence that you’re listening. E.g. a headphone in the photo somewhere. The idea is for us all to see the different situations that people are in while they listen. Once all the photos have been sent in I’ll display them in a mural on the website and you can pick the one you like the most.
Please do take my business English survey.
Just go to the menu and you’ll find it under the contacts button.
A note on subscribing by email.
On the right under the logo you’ll see a field that says SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL. Put your email address in and click subscribe. Then check your inbox to confirm the subscription. Then you’ll receive an email every time I publish a new episode, and you’ll get direct access to the page for the episode, with all the show notes, videos, transcripts and other stuff.
Thanks also for different comments I’ve had recently. It’s awesome to hear from you all. You now have the option to send me voice messages. There’s a button on the side. Click it, get your mic ready and send me a message. It could be a comment or a question. I’ll receive it in my inbox and I might play it in an episode of the podcast, especially if you ask a good question.
OK, so now let’s get down to business.
This episode is called “The Rematch”.
It’s one of those episodes that involves a competitive game between Amber, Paul and me. In the last one of these, called The Lying Game, this happened:
The scores were level between Luke and Paul.
They then played a tie-breaker.
Luke told a story about the tooth fairy.
Paul talked about burning down his house.
Luke identified it.
Since then, it has come to light that I may have cheated. I swear that I didn’t, but some clever listeners noted that a story Paul told in The Lying Game was one he’d already told on the podcast before. So, I admit that a rematch is necessary, and here it is. This is The Lying Game 2: The Rematch.
Do you remember the rules of The Lying Game? They go like this:
One person says a statement, it can be true or a lie. Then the others ask lots of questions to investigate the story. Then they decide if they think it’s a lie or the truth, justifying their responses. Then the truth is revealed. If a competitor gets it right, they get a point. If a competitor gets it wrong a point is awarded to the storyteller.
So, this is the rematch. We’re going to play another round of The Lying Game. Listen carefully to the stories and the questions and try to predict if they are lies or the truth.
Also, listen all the way to the end of the second episode to hear about a new interactive version of the lying game that we plan to play next time, and that will involve your input. We’ll tell you about that at the end of part 2.
At the beginning of this episode you’ll hear us chatting a bit about our recent news including a couple of stories about doing comedy shows, Amber shares something about an interesting podcast she listened to, and Paul tells a story about how a girl lost one of her teeth on stage during a comedy performance recently. After our little ramble chat we then get properly into the lying game, which will continue in part 2 of this episode.
So, yes I am glad to say that Amber and Paul are on another episode of the podcast, so let’s get started, here we go.
Round 1: Statements
Luke: I once hit a teacher when I was at school.
Paul: I nearly died in a car accident.
Amber: (story in part 2)
Hi listeners, this is Luke, recording this in my flat in Paris as usual. This episode of LEP is all about the terrorist attacks which happened here last Friday evening. I’m joined by Paul Taylor and we’re just going to try to talk about what we saw, what happened, and what this all means.
[DOWNLOAD] First of all, I should say – Thank you for your concern
As you know, I live in Paris and I should say right now, thank you very much for all the messages I’ve had from LEPsters. Lots of people contacted me in various ways, saying that they were concerned about my safety and the safety of my family and friends. Thankfully I can say that I am fine and so is everyone I know – including my wife, her family and all our friends – including Amber and Paul of course. Still, our thoughts go out to those people who have been directly affected by the attacks. It’s a very sad, shocking and infuriating time indeed, but one thing’s for sure, we have to carry on as normal to make sure these terrorists don’t win. Life goes on today. We keep laughing, we keep going out – basically, we keep calm and carry on.
Also, it’s not just Paris. This is just one of a number of recent ISIS attacks in different places.
Recently, two explosions in suicide attacks in a Shi’ite Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon killed 43 people, and 224 people died when a Russian aircraft crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Also, Turkey stopped a major Istanbul terror plot on same day as Paris attacks, according Agence France Presse.
And it’s not just ISIS – there’s violence and fighting in many places by many people for many reasons. It all sucks. Our thoughts go out to anyone who has been the victim of violence in any country.
In this podcast we’re talking about the attacks in Paris in particular just because they happened in our town, close to home, and we have some direct experience of it. We just want to tell you about what happened.
I expect you’ve seen the story in the news a lot over the last few days. Here and in the UK it’s totally dominating the news. Just in case you don’t know what happened, on Friday evening Paris was attacked by ISIS terrorists and 129 people were killed in explosions and shootings. Members of the public were shot in public bars, restaurants and cafes. The worst attack took place inside a live music venue called Bataclan, which is just 100 metres or so away from Le Paname Art Cafe where Paul and I often perform stand up comedy. In fact, Paul was there at Le Paname when the attack happened nearby. He’s with me today and we’re going to talk about what happened, what he saw and the rest of the story.
Are you alright Paul?
What have you been doing over the past couple of days, since the attacks?
What happened specifically?
During the evening of Friday 13 November, there were six different attacks in and near Paris. Apparently the attacks were co-ordinated and carried out by ISIS terrorists. At this moment, 129 people have been killed in the attacks and something like 350 people are injured, with about 100 people in a critical condition. The death-toll might rise over the next few days depending on how people recover in hospital.
This is after some artists working for the Charlie Hebdo magazine were murdered by ISIS terrorists in Paris at the beginning of the year. After that, there was a big peace march in which hundreds of thousands of people got together to march against terrorism and to celebrate solidarity. Place de la Republique was the focal point of those peaceful gatherings. That is also the focal point of these recent attacks.
Stade de France 9.20pm
9.20pm on Friday 13th. A football game between France and Germany was underway at Stade de France which is just outside Paris to the north. 3 explosions were heard from inside the stadium, but the game carried on. French President Francois Hollande was inside the stadium at the time and by 9.30 he’d been informed as to what was actually going on, and was evacuated to the interior ministry for an emergency cabinet meeting. This was while attacks were going on in a number of different places in Paris. It’s not until the football game ended that the fans in the stadium really learned what had happened. 3 terrorists had set off explosive belts outside the stadium – two at entrances to the stadium and another outside a McDonalds. 4 people were killed – the 3 terrorists and one other person. The fans gathered on the football pitch and eventually were led out of the stadium, singing the French national anthem.
Le Carillon bar and restaurant; le Petit Camboge, Rue Alibert 9.25PM
These two places are on a road not far from Place de la Republique.
It’s not certain how many gunmen or cars were involved. It could be one shooter and one driver, or two shooters and two drivers. Apparently one of the cars stopped outside the two places and a gunman got out. He started shooting into Le Carillon bar, and then crossed the street to shoot into the Le Petit Camboge. It sounded like fireworks apparently, and people didn’t really understand what was going on. Some witnesses say one of the cars had Belgian number plates. 15 people were killed and 10 injured.
Casa Nostra, Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi 9.32PM
This one happened at 9.32pm. Apparently a gunman arrived outside Casa Nostra, a pizza place and started shooting at people on the terrace. He was wearing tight black clothing and had a machine gun. Some witnesses commented that he looked exactly like a trained soldier, standing with one leg in front of the other, firing in short bursts, his clothes very tight fitting and completely black all over – just like you’d expect from a combat soldier. He appeared calm and didn’t say anything. After shooting a number of people on the terrace he swivelled (turned, mechanically, like the way soldiers are trained to do) and shot through the window of a car (presumably to kill the people in the car). He then went into the cafe. More shots were fired. When the police arrived they couldn’t find him. Five people were killed and 8 injured.
Restaurant La Belle Equipe, Rue de Charonne – 9.36PM
This is a popular restaurant on a street corner in a cool part of Paris where people like to eat out, drink on the terrace outside the restaurant and generally enjoy life, like they do here in Paris. That’s one of the best things about this place. The restaurant and cafe culture. But some people apparently can’t stand the fact that we like to freely drink, talk about anything we want and just have carefree laughs. The restaurant was fully booked on Friday evening, with quite a lot of seats outside.
So, at about 9.36 according to witnesses, a car pulled up outside the restaurant and a man got out with a high-calibre weapon – like an assault rifle or machine gun. He then, quite calmly, began shooting at people sitting outside La Belle Equipe. Within a few seconds everyone was on the ground, either dead or just protecting themselves. Witnesses said that people were screaming and moaning. 3 minutes later the gunman got back in the car and they drove away. 19 people died.
Bataclan 9.40PM This is a concert venue in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. It’s a place to go and see live music. On Friday about 1500 people were in the venue, listening to a Californian band. At about 9.40 three men started shooting AK-47s randomly into the crowd. These men were no more than 25 years old, dressed all in black and apparently were calm and silent as they fired their weapons into the crowd, killing a lot of members of the audience. Apparently everyone hit the floor, lying on top of each other, protecting each other, trying to avoid getting shot. The gunmen walked around, reloading and continuing to shoot people as they lay on the floor. A lot of people managed to escape from the building, some of them getting shot in the process. There’s some footage of people scrambling out of the back of the venue, some people hanging from outside the windows, doing whatever they can to escape the shooting. The terrorists held about 20 people hostage. According to a witness called Pierre Janaszak who hid in the toilet but could hear what was going on, the terrorists were talking to the hostages, saying stuff like, ‘It’s the fault of Hollande, it’s the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria,’ Apparently people who were stuck inside the Bataclan were using social networks to communicate with the outside world, with messages like this “I’m heavily wounded. Please police you have to launch an assault, there are still people alive here but they are killing them one by one.”
This all went on for several hours. The police were on the scene but couldn’t get inside. Special forces arrived at about 12.20 and raided the building because it was clear that the gunmen were still killing hostages on the inside. Within a couple of minutes the three terrorists were dead and it was over. Two of them blew themselves up with explosive belts they were wearing, and one was shot. The scene inside the Bataclan has been described as a blood bath. Immediately after the attack, about 90 people were dead.
Now there is a memorial outside the venue with flowers, messages and candles.
Boulevard Voltaire 9.40PM
This attack happened at the Voltaire restaurant at about 9.40pm. The restaurant is on Boulevard Voltaire which connects Place de la Republique with Place de la Nation, two big intersections and meeting places. Boulevard Voltaire is the road where some world leaders marched for peace after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year. Apparently one of the attackers involved in the Bataclan incident ended up here. I guess he was a fourth attacker. He went into the restaurant, ordered a coffee and then blew himself up. The attacker is dead, and one person is seriously injured.
That’s what happened in the six attacks.
Who did it?
ISIS have claimed responsibility for it.
Quickly – who are ISIS?
ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIL – Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or IS or DAESH in France.
ISIS is originally, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have established a caliphate – that’s an area ruled by one leader, and have imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Their strict conservative Islamic law applies in the caliphate. What distinguishes the new armed group is its capture and occupation of areas of territory, covering areas of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has essentially formed this caliphate as a rogue state across the territories of sovereign nations. They’re using their base as the centre of operations, where like-minded people from around the world can come and train. They also use the internet as a training and recruitment tool, allowing them to control operations abroad.
ISIS gets its money by capturing oil fields and from extortion – essentially stealing money and resources by threat. They’re also accused of brutality and ethnic cleansing, including publishing beheading videos of their enemies. Residents of Syria are escaping them, that’s the reason there’s a big exodus of people from Syria into Europe. They’re running away from these people.
Syria was already in civil war, between Assad the incumbent President and rebel forces. It’s not completely clear to me what the relationship is between ISIS and these two factions. ISIS is probably a problem for both groups. Apparently, in the G20 summit happening in Turkey – Obama and Putin just agreed to work together to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria, as part of an effort to stop ISIS. This probably means they’re going to try to replace Assad’s regime with a regime involving the Syrian rebels, that may work like a proxy government. I don’t know enough about it at this stage, but it’s interesting that Obama and Putin are working together to take down ISIS.
How did ISIS organise the Paris attack?
It’s unclear if the Paris attacks were organised and arranged by ISIS from their headquarters (in Syria) or if it has been planned and carried out by local people who are operating under the name of ISIS. The nature of the attacks suggest that these are organised, and carried out by people with some military training – that suggests to me that it was a plan centralised in Iraq, but who knows. How did the attackers get their weapons? How did they get their training? It looks like they were experienced soldiers. They may be European-born men who went to Iraq/Syria in order to fight with ISIS. While there, they might have received military training and indoctrination before returning to France to carry out the attacks.
Who are these people? The individual attackers are yet to be identified. There’s lots of information going around, like reports of passports being found which suggest they’re either Egyptian or Syrian.
Unconvincing information – why would the terrorists have their passports? (I think this theory is now disproved)
Actually, reports suggest that three of them were French nationals, brothers living in an area of Belgium known for its community of extremists. Apparently one of these brothers is still “at large”
How many others were involved in the 6 attacks? 3 at stade de France, 3 in Bataclan, 1 at Boulevard Voltaire, 3 other gunmen and then there are drivers too. It’s at least 10 people. Only 7 have been accounted for. There must be loads of other people who were involved, including the leaders of the operation, locally, who no doubt are not the ones who killed themselves. The leaders aren’t the ones who kill themselves, they just get other people to do it for them.
Some people are blaming the refugees from Syria. Perhaps some of the attackers came into Europe with refugees via Greece. But those refugees are running from exactly the same people that did these attacks.
Just because the terrorists may have entered with the refugees, does that mean the thousands and thousands of innocent refugees should be turned away?
In fact, one Syrian passport found near one of the bodies of the attackers near Stade de France was not the passport of one of the attackers, so that’s a false alarm.
How was this allowed to happen during a period of high security in France?
There are many things we don’t know. But I guess what we can be sure of is – this was an attack by ISIS against the values and way of life that they hate, and as an act of revenge against western bombing of ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.
I’m not going to say they’re evil or devils – I don’t really believe that stuff, and I think labelling someone as “evil” is a bit of a cop out. What does ‘evil’ mean, and where does it come from? I don’t think they’re evil – I think they’re just wrong. I think for whatever reason they have got completely the wrong idea about everything. That’s obvious isn’t it! But what I mean is that this isn’t the result of evil magic or something, it’s just an example of how humans can go wrong, can be misguided and can do terrible things if they live in certain circumstances, if they are children of war, if they are brainwashed by certain twisted ideas and if they believe they are doing the right thing. I’m sure they are convinced that they’re doing something good and that god wants it. That’s part of what’s so horrendous.
It just shows that people are capable of doing terrible things if they believe that it is the right thing to do, and this is especially so if they believe it is god’s plan.
These people are basically members of a death cult, with a super strict and messed up ideology. They want to impose their rules on everyone. For them, the lifestyle of the average Parisian should be punishable by death. Drinking, laughing, playing music, men and women flirting and hanging out together, etc. All these things are considered to be obscene and against the will of god. Never mind the fact that if god is all powerful it means he created all these people in the first place and if they do those things it’s because god allows it to happen.
I’m not going to go into the reasons why ISIS are wrong. I think we all agree.
Also, they don’t represent Islam of course. There are something like 1.6 billion muslims in the world and the vast vast majority of them are peaceful. No, ISIS have been created by other forces, not the doctrine alone. Their cult is based on Islam but it is not Islam of course, it’s some sort of twisted version of religion. I think their dogma is shaped by hatred – suffering from it at the hands of others, allowing it to breed. They don’t love life. They want to stamp it out at all costs. I still don’t really know why.
Just because you don’t like the Parisian way of life, it doesn’t mean you should go on a kill-spree.
Fair enough, we all find hipsters annoying, but you don’t need to shoot them, just bitch about them on Facebook and move on.
A Cambodian restaurant was targeted – Cambodian? Have some consistency! Why are you dragging the Cambodians into it?
Why did it happen?
ISIS hate the western way of life and this is really embodied by Paris. They see our way of life as obscene and all that stuff. Paris is the capital of obscenity and prostitution according to them. I’m not even sure that’s accurate. Amsterdam is a bit more obscene isn’t it. That’s not a suggestion by the way.
Also, it’s way to make us submitted to their ideology. The plan is to strike so much fear into our hearts that we take them seriously and stop all our naughty behaviour. They failed didn’t they – we’re still completely convinced that we like music, wine, humour and sex and everything. That’s all still fine. In fact, we’re more aware of it and proud of it than ever. We like democracy, thanks very much, particularly now it is under attack. The attacks have caused a lot of fear and sadness, true, but it’s also making us celebrate our freedom and way of life. People are gathering together, showing solidarity with one another. Normally Parisians can be a bit moody and grumpy. Not this weekend. People are warmer, there’s more of a sense of community. Sure, people are panicky and scared of more violence. But we’re still carrying on. We stand together. Other countries all over the place are showing their solidarity too.
Intolerance of Islam
ISIS see France as a place which is intolerant of Islam, which is not really true. I think you’re free to practice your religion as long as it doesn’t violate the basic human rights of other people in society. As long as you don’t force it on other people then go for it – you can believe whatever you want to believe. That’s your right. Just don’t expect everyone to follow your ideas if you threaten them.
France has been launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq/Syria. These attacks are acts of revenge against that.
France has already launched a large bombing campaign – 10 planes, 20 bombs on Raqqa in Syria, where the HQ of ISIS is. The first target included guns & munitions. The second target was a terrorist training camp. They’ve both been destroyed, according to the French Ministry of Defence. I expect that’s involved multiple casualties – those places are unlikely to be empty are they?
So, instant retribution from France. That’s what happens in war I suppose.
What’s going to happen next?
More attacks, probably and not just in Paris.
Security will be stepped up. France has closed its borders. It’s going to be harder for us to live our lives freely. It may be harder to travel between countries.
The climate change summit is still going ahead. G20 summit too.
The far right parties in Europe will use this as an excuse to impose anti-immigration policy, and to get out of the European Union.
ISIS say they will launch more attacks, which is, of course, worrying.
Security will be stepped up. I hope the French forces really will pay attention and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The police across different countries are attempting to find out exactly who these guys were. I think there’s one member of the 8 who was not caught, but really – we’re not sure exactly what is going on. It’s all very mysterious.
On the tragic events in Paris: an attack on freedom and human dignity
November 16th, 2015
We live in an uncertain, fragile world.
And yet in this world, there is joy. We find a way, through the hardships of life, the pains, the tribulations, the daily struggles, to make life mean something more.
We socialise. We enjoy the pleasures of music or a good book. We watch films. We play sports. We enjoy a drink, or a meal. We find joy, and happiness, in life itself. And we can do so freely, whatever our tastes may be, so long as we do not harm others.
In a city like Paris, all interests are catered for. It is a city characterised not so much by its politics, architecture, or history as it is by life itself. By joy. By the bustle of humanity. By the diverse preferences and tastes of millions living side by side.
And yet life itself, the joy of living, was the target of Islamic extremists with a burning hatred for these very freedoms on Friday night, killing well over 100 people. They did not attack infrastructure, politicians, military personnel, or sites of historical or cultural significance. They targeted innocent people, going about their lives, trying to make it through this difficult and complicated world with a modicum of fun and lightness. Something we all aspire to.
It was, in every sense, an attack on multiculturalism; an attack on how we find happiness, outside the confines of a strict religious code of submission; an attack on the secular, enlightened spirit embodied by Paris’s vibrant, varied culture.
Our hearts go out to all those affected, over the world. And not just by events in Paris but those in Beirut and Syria and everywhere the cruel hand of extremism is felt.
Today we make one request of you. And it is a simple one.
Enjoy your life.
Make it count.
And don’t let the murderers win.
Our dream is of a tolerant, open society with a secular state ensuring the human rights of everyone, where we can all go about living the kinds of lives we want for ourselves.
That dream, that essential humanist cause, is now more important than ever.
Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.
If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.
In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.
A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. Look for episode 294.
*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*
Let’s get straight into it.
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.
Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.
I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.
That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).
It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.
San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.
My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.
History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?
There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.
This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.
We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.
The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.
Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).
The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.
The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark
The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.
The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.
How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.
Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.
George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968
What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.
Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.
I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.
I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?
Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.
What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…
I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.
I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.
In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.
Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.
The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.
“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on audible.com: Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.
Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.
End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Hi listeners, I hope all’s well. Here’s part 5 in this series which I’m doing about my California road trip. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about these things: The Church of Scientology, Yosemite National Park and our slightly dramatic adventure there, more British and American English, and if time I’ll talk to you about San Francisco, where among other things I met and interviewed AJ Hoge. So let’s get started. [In fact I only managed to talk about Scientology and the Yosemite experience – British & American English, and AJ Hoge will be in the next episode].
[DOWNLOAD] Periscope Live Broadcast
While recording this I’m also doing a live-stream on Periscope. You might be thinking – oh, I wish I’d known about that, I would have watched it! You can watch the videos of the live feed here: (and there’s about 45 minutes of extra stuff in the videos that you don’t hear on the podcast)
The Road Trip Continues… 11 August
Prepare to drive to Yosemite – we go to CVS and stock up on water and other supplies, program the SatNav (GPS) to take us via Bakersfield and Fresno, then up Highway 41 into Yosemite, where we have managed to book a spot in a camping ground. We’re both really looking forward to being in the fresh air in the mountains.
Before leaving we stop for breakfast in a recommended cafe where they do awesome pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and free refills of coffee. We park the car and walk up the street and then suddenly come across a huge imposing blue building. It’s massive and weirdly painted bright blue. It’s the headquarters of the Church of Scientology. At this point I’d like to talk a little bit about Scientology, which I consider to be a fascinating and (here’s that word again) mysterious aspect of California life.
What’s the Church of Scientology?
Here’s a recording I made at that moment.
Play the first recording.
It’s a religion, and quite a controversial one. Some people call it a cult. Some of its members are famous celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Apparently the church has a lot of influence in Hollywood, and lots of people think it’s really weird and secretive. There are even suggestions that the church has been involved in criminal activity, threats – again these are just allegations, but it’s pretty mysterious and fascinating, like something from a mystery novel.
I recently saw a really interesting documentary about Scientology, called “Going Clear” in which lots of ex-members (people who decided to leave) of the church explain what it’s really like, and they don’t say very positive things. In fact the documentary seems to suggest that it’s a power-hungry cult which takes money from its members and threatens them with retribution if they try to leave. There are also suggestions that the church committed crimes like burglary, theft and intimidation in order to avoid having to pay a huge tax bill to the US government. Bold claims indeed. What’s really going on in this blue building?
A brief history of Scientology
This time I’m going to paraphrase a summary of Scientology that I’ve found on the “For Dummies” website. “For Dummies” is a series of books that help to explain various complex subjects in simple terms. You might know the series – they have distinctive yellow covers. It’s a really good series and they have books on almost every subject. A quick look at the For Dummies series on Audible shows titles like… (read some titles).
Recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of “British History for Dummies”, and it’s really good and yes I got that from Audible. You can get it too if you want – just click an audible button on my site or go to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke and sign up for a trial and you can get a free audiobook. You could choose one of the “For Dummies…” books. Just search Audible for “For Dummies” and you can see all the books available.
Anyway, For Dummies also have a website with clear and fairly brief summaries. So, let’s check out the summary for Scientology. You can check the link here: www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-scientology.html
So, what I’m about to say is based on information in that summary, but also what I learned from the Scientology pamphlets I’ve read and what I learned from several documentaries I’ve seen.
The church was set up in 1953 by a writer called L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was already fairly successful as a writer of both science fiction stories, and then self-help books. His most successful self-help book explored the relationship between body and mind, and he called it Dianetics. This book became the basis of the religion he then set up called Scientology. Some critics say that Diabetics is just quackery (not proper science or psychiatry) he only set this up as a religion because it was a tax-dodge. In the USA religions don’t have to pay tax, so Hubbard is criticised for having a cynical reason for making his religion in the first place – so that he could make money, or worse – that he was just power-hungry. Whatever the reason, Scientology was set up as a religion in the USA.
Hubbard is loved by the Scientologists, but viewed with a lot more suspicion by many non-members of the church. For example, the French government, who considered him to be a fraudster and tried to convict him of customs violations in the 1970s. “Britain, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Venezuela all closed their ports to his fleet in the 70s. At one point, a court in Australia revoked the church’s status as a religion.” (Wikipedia page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Ron_Hubbard#Life_in_hiding) These are all reasons why he went into hiding in 1970. To go into hiding means to leave the place where you live and go to a place where nobody can find you. He was the leader of the church right up until he died in 1986.
What do Scientologists do?
You can walk into a Scientology centre in many cities in the world now, and have a counselling session. In fact you might be invited in for one. When I used to live in London I used to walk past the Scientology centre in central London and they would sometimes as me if I wanted a stress-test. I always said no because I felt it was just a way for them to get me into the centre. I imagined it would be like this:
“Hi, are you feeling a bit stressed today? Would you like a free stress test?”
and then you go in and they check you out and tell you that you’re feeling all stressed out and that stress is really harmful and that they have all the solutions to how to combat stress and live a more effective life – and it’s Scientology. “Here’s a leaflet” or “Would you like to sign up to a course?” and then you’re in.
Sounds okay doesn’t it? I expect it is helpful at the beginning, for many people. It’s just not for me.
A counselling session at the church is called an audit. Essentially, this is a bit like a psychotherapy session. You’re invited to share deeply personal things in order to free yourself from emotional burdens. It sounds a bit like Freudian psychoanalysis doesn’t it? In fact Scientology completely rejects psychoanalysis. Apparently, Scientology is the only way. During these auditing sessions you are hooked up to a machine which is called an E-meter. According to scientology this can measure your thoughts, well – it’s not just as simple as ‘thoughts’ – apparently it’s related to immortal spirits from space which inhabit our bodies and prevent us from living a healthy and happy life. Auditing allows us to set these spirits free, which makes us feel better. Critics say the e-meter just measures electromagnetic energy in your hands and is no more revealing about your mind than a crude lie detector test. But, according to Scientology if an e-meter is used by a Scientology minster then it really works. Freeing yourself from levels of emotional burden in these auditing sessions is called going clear, and there are different stages of clarity. In order to achieve those levels of clarity you need to do more and more audits, share more and more personal problems, and also contribute more and more things to the church. This costs quite a lot of money as courses of auditing are not cheap, and all of this goes to the church, and also all the private and personal things you’ve said in auditing sessions are recorded and kept by the church. The aim is to free yourself of all your emotional burdens and achieve a state of perfect clarity. Apparently the church of Scientology is very rich as they have purchased some incredible pieces of real estate around the world, such as this massive building in Los Angeles. It’s not clear exactly how much power they have. Some say they exert some influence in Hollywood’s entertainment industry.
What do Scientologists believe?
Scientologists believe that people are in fact just receptacles for immortal spirits which came down to earth many years ago. The church doesn’t like it if these spirits are called aliens. Because, it sounds bad if you believe in aliens. It sounds a bit mad doesn’t it. So let’s not call them aliens. Apparently, these immortal ‘spirits’ live within us. They’re trapped inside us, and they can only be freed by going through auditing sessions, until you get to the top of level of clarity when I guess the aliens, sorry spirits go somewhere else. I’m not sure of the details of what happens to the spirits, or if we are the spirits, or what they look like.
Scientology is one of the most controversial religious movements of our time. Many people reduce their world view to nothing more than a cult that brainwashes its members and then fleeces (cons) them by charging outrageous fees for some auditing classes. Critics lambast the church for its rejection of established psychiatry, and many people take issue with the church’s “Celebrity Centres,” which are facilities that are technically open to the public but primarily serve the most famous Scientologists in the arts, sports, and government (think Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, and Nancy Cartwright).
Reports from some who have left the Church of Scientology are even more incriminating and include stories of church members being held for years against their wills at “rehabilitation camps” for violating certain policies, or sending members to go through the trash of the church’s critics and former members to find material to blackmail them into silence. In 1979, several Scientology members were convicted for participating in the largest theft of government documents in U.S. history. Scientologists have also been accused of tampering with witnesses in court cases and even murder.
In response to these claims, Scientologists state that their religion is genuine and that the movement has been distorted, and that they are being persecuted.
Among the criticisms are: Scientology preys upon people who want to make it in Hollywood by suggesting that they can help, then they force them to stay in the church with the suggestion that they can harm their careers due to their extensive connections in the business, they illegally resisted an investigation into their accounts by the IRS (the US tax office), they bully their members and they blackmail high-profile members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta into staying in the church – remember the church has recordings of all those extensive and deeply personal auditing sessions. These are all allegations and criticisms which have been made against the church – not necessarily my thoughts. I haven’t decided what I think of them yet and I’m just curious.
Is it possible that all of this sinister stuff is going in within these imposing blue buildings that we saw? I wonder…
Play the second recording.
I decided I’d try and talk to someone. I felt a bit excited and a bit nervous because I know the church can be a bit touchy about people doing recordings or making documentaries about them, which I guess is understandable. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to talk to someone so I went over to some of the people in uniform who were walking around the building. I spoke to a woman who was very nice and normal, of course. I told her I was making a holiday diary, and that I had just come across the building and wanted to interview someone about it. She took me into the building and I spoke to someone in reception. I made a recording afterwards.
Play the third recording.
What do you think about Scientology?
The woman I spoke to seemed very happy and proud to be working at the organisation. The place looked very smart and clean. Many members of the church say that it has helped them a lot. But what about all these allegations? Tell me what you think? Is the church a cult? Is it a force for good? Is there a church of Scientology in your country? What do you think?
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a huge national park, and probably one of the most stunning parks in the world. Most of the tourism there is centred on Yosemite Valley, which is full of meadows, a river and pine trees, and some accommodation and camping grounds. Around the valley you have incredible granite rock formations including stunning mountains. There are granite rock faces like El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome and so on, also some of the highest waterfalls in the world. The whole thing combines to be a stunning place to spend time camping, cycling, hiking or rock climbing and it is visited by about 5 million people per year. There are a few roads that go round the central part of the park surrounding the valley. 95% of the park is wilderness and hardly any people go there except experienced hikers, climbers and campers. You might know Yosemite from the Apple Mac operating system. At the time I’m recording this podcast, the most recent OS for mac is Yosemite (I believe the next one is called El Capitan – also a rock face in Yosemite National Park). So if you have a Mac with Yosemite, you’ve probably seem desktop images of the place. It’s absolutely stunning. Being there is a bit like being inside your own Apple Mac, but obviously much much better than that because nothing can compare to seeing it with your own eyes.
We drove out of LA and the through back end of the Hollywood hills. Handsome countryside with a highway which is great for driving. But the land soon becomes flat boring farmland. The driving is fun in the Camaro, which comes into its own on the open highway (which is rarely open because of all the cars). I realise that I’ve hardly put my for down the whole time. Most of the driving in LA has been slow cruising or edging forwards in traffic.
I floor the Camaro with some space ahead and it reveals masses of hidden power, roaring and leaping forwards with yet more revs all the time. It seems to have about 9 gears and they’re all RAAAAA!
We eat up the highway and eventually arrive in Fresno after about 4 hours. Fresno, aka Mall-land. It seems to be one giant shopping mall. I guess we’re in the commercial district but there is just open mall after open mall. We pick one with a Wholefoods and get sushi, which is not that great. Wholefoods is like Mecca to us. London has a few, Paris none.
What’s great about Wholefoods?
They’re normal in USA but this one isn’t that great, or maybe the expectation was too high.
It’s freezing inside and boiling outside.
We wander around mall-land looking for supplies.
Then the drive to Yosemite in the mid/late afternoon. A couple of hours.
The landscape gets more and more interesting as we climb up and up the winding highway. Wonderful driving and lovely smell of pine cones and pine trees. We drive with the windows open and the sun on our faces through the trees.
Eventually we’re in Yosemite and we glimpse views of stunning granite formations but keep going. We go into a tunnel and on the other side (tunnel view) the whole valley opens out on the left side. It’s my Mac desktop but we’re actually there. Can’t see properly from the Camaro. Terrible visibility.
After an hour of driving in a daze we arrive at our campsite.
Describe the tents.
Friendly atmosphere. Our tent is situated pretty well.
There are strict regulations about bears.
Black Bears in Yosemite
This is bear country and they are all around the park. They come out at night to go on missions into the valley to get food.
Apparently they have over 2x the sense of smell of a bloodhound, are very intelligent and more curious and confident than dogs, they have huge claws and padded hairy feet which make them silent. You must not keep any food or scented products in the tent or car. Everything has to be in the bear boxes which are very sturdy, made of metal and bolted to the ground. Apparently if you leave food out and then turn your back, they can appear and start feeding. Apparently at night, all the black bears head down into the valley under the cover of darkness. Slightly scary.
Naturally it’s pretty exciting to be sleeping in a basic hut with just a curtain separating us in bed and the bears which I imagine to be wandering around our tents at night.
I don’t have to imagine much because that night a bear has a go at the bear box just next to our tent. I hear it trying to open the box before moving on to try another one and another one. I later hear two people walking past talking about the bear they’ve seen. I was frozen solid in bed the whole time.
Apparently if you come across one you should shout at it angrily to try and scare it away.
I wonder what I would shout at it.
What should you say to a bear? What’s the appropriate thing?
I wouldn’t want to be too rude but at the same time it would be necessary to talk in rather strong terms.
I suppose indirect language wouldn’t work.
You have to be direct and clear, yet reasonable.
I’m joking of course. I think I would just scream at it and swear and say any old nonsense.
I imagine some of you would be a bit cooler.
Not me – I’m from the UK. We killed all our bears years ago, and made them fight dogs and other cruel things.
I imagine that any bear meeting me and hearing my London accent would not be that friendly.
So, no need to be cool. Freaking out and panicking is the order of the day here.
The place has a lovely summer camp, hippie Boy Scout feel to it, although it’s a bit crowded and there are lots of kids. It would be nice to have the place to ourselves of course but that’s impossible.
Dinner in the Yosemite Lodge down the road. Modest canteen food. Bought some tourist stuff like a cap and some playing cards.
Then bed after making sure all food and smelly stuff is in the reinforced box, then draw the canvas curtains – definitely not reinforced. Tie them with a good knot. Will it make a difference?
Of course bears won’t be interested in us, but apparently they’re really curious. We’re wearing mosquito repellent coil things. They’re quite interesting and smelly. Maybe a bear will find it interesting.
I would. “Oh what’s that on your wrist” – would the bear equivalent of that be “roar! Let me poke my head into your tent and bite your arm off, or just maul you a bit (because that’s what large dangerous animals do, they maul you).
Slept pretty well in the open air, despite these thoughts in my head and an actual bear or two outside the tent. Had to go to the loo in the night. I did so, noisily, checking the toilet quickly for any bears that might be in there hanging out or whatever. I did my business and had to look over the top of the door before leaving the cubicle, just to make sure there wasn’t a huge bear waiting for me. But it’s all fine.
Breakfast in the canteen and then a day in the park.
Stayed on the valley floor on bikes. Packed lunches. Wanted to hike but closed. Apparently there was a fire up there.
Amazing seeing the granite up there. Gave me the desire to climb, but that’s not an option without climbing buddies, and my wife hasn’t really done it before. Bikes are a bit awkward – beach cruiser type things. Mountain bikes would have been better. Still, it’s very peaceful and incredibly fresh. Sunshine and cycling are quite tiring so we end up chilling by the river.
I’m a bit worried about tomorrow. What can we do that’s fun and takes advantage of the proper rugged landscape without being too challenging?
That night I drive us back up to Tunnel Point to see the sunset. We end up staying to look up at the stars, lying on our backs. It’s immensely beautiful as there is hardly any light pollution, so the stars are all revealed in their glory. Millions and millions of tiny points of light. Our galaxy the milky way is so rich that it appears to be like a mist across the sky, but in fact it’s a dense collection of many many stars. We see constellations like Orion’s belt and the plough. Driving back through the valley my wife sleeps in the passenger seat and I stop the car again to lie on the bonnet and look up at the stars some more, but I get totally freaked out by the total darkness around me! We sleep soundly that night, ready for a pretty early start in the morning.
Coach trip up to Granite Point. Driver very amusing. 26 years and he has perfected his routine. Full of jokes and dry humour and the story of Yosemite. (What’s the story)
Panoramic views and start hike.
Some concern over the preparedness, but in fact we’re well prepared. Our shoes are not climbing shoes, but I think some of that is just marketing, and anyway some of the more recent climbing shoes don’t have ankle protection. 8 miles of hike, mostly downhill. Some uphill bits. Some tricky steps. Should take 4-6 hours.
We do the first 3-4 miles without problem except my wife rolls her heel slightly on a rock. As she’s walking she steps on a small rock, and her heel flexes a bit to the right as her foot slips slightly. I worry for a moment if she’s sprained it but she says she’s fine and carries on.
Stop at Nevada falls, dip our feet in the pools of cold water, chill out and eat sandwiches.
Time to leave and my wife’s ankle has ceased up completely.
Very painful to walk on and we face 5 miles of downhill trekking. Should take a couple of hours normally but it takes us about half and hour to do about half a mile. She’s holding my hand and using me as a crutch. We have to stop. We’re stuck.
Lots of people stop to ask if we’re ok. People are amazingly nice.
Two women called Jenny and Susan stop. Apparently they’ve just done a training course in safety and first aid.
They take our situation seriously and give us water and food, and then call search and rescue for us. I feel bad for not having done this earlier. Anyway, search and rescue take a full description of the injury and say they’ve sent a ranger up to meet us. Suddenly we’re in a kind of emergency rescue situation with the authorities involved. My wife in particular is gutted and embarrassed. They tell us not to move. We wait for about an hour and then the ranger arrives. Apparently he was on the trail already but he made good time to get to us. I’ve bound my wife’s leg in a bandage given to us J and S. The ranger has crutches and more supplies of water and food. He also has material to give the foot support with a splint.
According to him we should climb back up and then down another way. We realise this is going to take us hours and hours of slow and painful movement for my wife. She’s really pissed off and sorry. So am I.
We walk back the way we’ve come, up to the waterfalls again and it’s slow going. Poor wife has to struggle with crutches or one crutch and my shoulder. Very slow. A 2-3 hour trek looks set to take 5-6 hours. That’s a long time for my wife to hobble along a rocky trail up and downhill on crutches with one ankle in pain and unable to take her weight.
But she’s brave and determined. Every time Josh or I asks if she wants to take a break she says “non!”
She’s determined to get down the trail to the bottom, as quickly as possible.
Describe the trail and the things we saw.
Peregrine Falcons nesting above us.
We talk to Josh and he tells us various things:
There are about 5 fatalities from accidents per year.
That sounds like a lot, as if it’s a really dangerous place, but when you consider that about 5 million people visit every year it’s only 1 in a million who die. Imagine London with its 7 million residents. How many deaths are there in London per year? A lot more. So which is the more dangerous – trekking in Yosemite or cycling to work in London?
Nevertheless, there have been some pretty gruesome accidents, usually as a result of stupid tourists who have no sense of safety or no respect for the nature of the park.
Apparently one of the most common forms of death by accident is from people falling over the waterfalls and falling hundreds of feet to their death on the rocks below.
Apparently they jump around on the huge boulders at the edge of the waterfalls with their cameras and selfie sticks, edging forward trying to get the perfect photo or selfie and they edge forward a little too far and suddenly they’re over the edge.
What happens when a tourist falls off one of the highest waterfalls in the world and lands on granite rocks?
Apparently the rangers have nicknamed it the human water balloon. You can imagine what that looks like to the other trekkers and tourists who witness it happening.
Josh tells us other tales of tourists who are unprepared for the wilderness of Yosemite, even though there are numerous warnings written all over the park.
People who attempt to scale the half dome – a huge granite dome thousands of feet above the valley floor with a sheer vertical drop on one side. It takes at least 12 hours to climb up. Most do it over several days. It’s a proper climb for experienced people and it ends with a long ascent up the dome at a 45 degree angle. To get up there you have to hold onto steel cables which have been bolted into the rock, and use crude wooden blocks also bolted to the granite. Some people lose their grip and down they go. Others lose their cool and panic, with the same result. They fall all the way down to the bottom.
The search and rescue Rangers are called up to the mountainside every day. Sometimes it’s necessary to do helicopter rescues.
According to Josh, this year a woman fell from the half dome but didn’t fall to her death. Instead her shirt got caught on a sharp bit of rock and she hung there for two hours before being rescued.
Earlier that day, Josh had to rescue a guy who had fallen out of a tree. Apparently he was climbing the tree, messing around and he fell out and landed badly on a rock. His ribs broke and pierced his lungs. Josh thinks he probably didn’t make it.
This puts things in perspective somewhat. But still, the crutches and the assisted descent are definitely necessary and we count our lucky stars that it’s not worse. Josh tells us that we’re well prepared with water, food and a torch. Yesterday he rescued a Chinese couple who had tried to climb the half dome without knowing what they were doing. It’s at least a 12 hour climb, often more. They’d started after lunch and were quite high up, coming back down when they realised they would never get to the bottom before sunset and then they’d be stranded in total darkness on the trail. Not fun spending a night out there without food or shelter, especially when you know there are bears around, even 9 foot long mountain lions, although they are rare.
Josh heard the couple screaming for help on the trail, and assisted them to the bottom.
Again, 5 million people enter the park every year. Not all of them know what they’re doing.
We continue to make very slow progress down the trail. My wife is in a lot of discomfort, but mainly she’s frustrated at not being able to go faster. Each step is a mini challenge because of the crutches – she has to place them carefully, and then place her foot carefully too, making sure she doesn’t have to put her weight on the bad ankle.
On the plus side, we get to walk with a ranger and we get the sunset on the trail, with magnificent views of the half dome and other domes in the valley. Again, this all seems so familiar to me because of a computer game – this time it’s Red Dead Redemption, which is set over 100 years ago, and you’re basically a cowboy gunslinger in the wild west. The landscape is very faithfully reproduced in the game, and there is a mountainous area with bears which is really similar to the landscape in Yosemite.
As the sun stretches through the trees onto the trail we are basically alone at this point as it gets to about 8pm. We should have been back 3 hours ago but we still have a long way to go. In this quiet I keep expecting to see a bear cross the path in front of us. Everything seems so still and peaceful that I’m sure any moment now we’re going to come across a bear.
Anyway, the main challenge is to get down the mountain, never mind bears and lions. It’s very rocky, there are lots of steps and boulders and so on. It goes on and on forever until eventually we’re walking in the total darkness with torches on our heads.
I carry my wife for some sections, and it’s a chance to go much faster.
Eventually, after ages and ages, we finally get to the end of the trail at a huge water tank, which is like some massive UFO looming out of the darkness. From there we’re all picked up by a local police officer in his 4×4, which is absolutely huge, like many of the cars. It’s giant, with massive tyres. My wife sits in the cab with the police officer. Between them there is a gun rack with several massive semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun and a few handguns. A typical American cop car! Not only is it a tremendous relief to be off the trail and back in civilisation, but we get a ride in what feels like a tank! The police officer drives us through the forests in the closed area of the park, back to where our car is parked at Yosemite Lodge. We stop at the police station and Josh goes in to get us some food. It’s 11 o’clock and we haven’t eaten since the sandwiches at the waterfall. Josh comes out with two US Army meal rations. These are field packs for soldiers and they contain everything for a full meal including macaroni cheese, tea, coffee, a fruit desert, bread, salt, pepper, butter and the whole things heats themselves up without needing fire. Bonus!
In the end, we are completely knackered and go straight to bed, exhausted after I carefully inspect my wife’s ankle. Thankfully it’s not too swollen or discoloured. In fact, I think she escaped bad injury and her ankle will be fine if she rests it. The next 36 hours will be pretty inactive, with a long sleep and then a fairly long car journey so she can rest it.