Jon Stewart is an interesting mix. He is both a university lecturer and a pop star. He runs a Masters Degree course in Music Business and Popular Music Practice at the BIMM Institute in London, and he also plays guitar for legendary British band The Wedding Present, AND classic ‘Britpop’ band Sleeper.
So, Jon knows all about the music business from both a personal and academic point of view. In this conversation I ask Jon about his new book “Dylan, Lennon, Marx and God” which is an amazing dual-biography of John Lennon and Bob Dylan, two of the most significant figures in contemporary popular culture.
Jon talks about the way Dylan and Lennon used language in their work, the references they make to the culture they grew up in, including their spiritual and political views.
Jon also talks about his time as a musician, including working with Elvis Costello and George Michael, and a funny story about John Lennon’s “Imagine piano”.
I hope you find this conversation as fascinating as I did. If you like it, consider getting a copy of Jon’s book!
Flashback to the 1990s! This is Sleeper on Top of the Pops in 1995. Jon is playing guitar on the left of the stage. Great song!
Luke reads verses from a modernised version of this medieval poem, considered one of the masterpieces of Middle English literature. Listen to hear the rhyme and rhythm of the poetry, the descriptive vocabulary and details of the story, with vocabulary explanations and comments from Luke. This is part 2 of a double episode about this story. Video version available with on-screen text.
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight by Simon Armitage, published by W. W. Norton & Company (available in all good bookshops)
Welcome to episode 779 of my podcast for learners of English. This is in fact part 2 of a 2-part episode.
In part 1 of this (episode 778), I talked to my dad about an old poem from the medieval period in Britain.
The poem is basically a really mysterious and wonderfully descriptive adventure about a knight from King Arthur’s table at Camelot.
King Arthur was a mythical king of Britain who people told and wrote stories about, many centuries ago.
We’re not sure if he really existed, if the stories about him are all fictional, or some combination of those two things.
Anyway, the Arthurian legends, or stories of King Arthur and his Knights from Camelot are full of magic, chivalry and adventure.
Chivalry means the rules that all honourable knights had to follow – a code of honour.
Anyway, the poem I talked about with my dad in the last episode is about one of Arthur’s knights who accepts a strange and dangerous challenge. The poem is called Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.
If you listened to episode 778, you heard my dad describing the story of the poem, the linguistic style and how it fits into British history and the history of the English language.
At the end of that episode I read some verses from a modernised version of the poem, by Simon Armitage.
In this episode I’d like to read some more verses from the poem, but this time I’d like to explain some of the vocabulary and other aspects of the language while I am doing it.
So here you will be able to hear part of a medieval poem written in middle English, which has been updated into modern English, with explanations and comments from me.
Again, the poem is called Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.
It was probably written in England in the 14th century (probably around the year 1370).
Since this text was discovered it has been studied and translated and is now considered one of the greatest works of medieval English literature.
Modernised versions have been published, including one by JRR Tolkein and another one more recently by Simon Armitage.
The one I’m going to read from here is the modernised version by Simon Armitage, which is available as a book from W. W. Norton & Company – you can get it in any good bookshop.
I do recommend it. It has a really interesting introduction and it presents both the modernised version and the original text, side by side.
In terms of language, there are three main things to notice.
These linguistic features or poetic devices were all present in the original version and Simon Armitage has done a great job of replicating them in this modern version.
Alliteration This is when the same sounds are used at the beginnings of words.
It creates a kind of rhythm or music to the lines.
a fearful form appeared, framed in the door
a mountain of a man, immeasurably high,
a hulk of a human from head to hips,
so long and thick in his loins and his limbs
I should genuinely judge him to be a half giant,
or a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals.
The “Bob and Wheel”. This is a poetic device which can be found in poems from this era.
Each “stanza” (group of lines) ends with two syllables (the bob) and then four flowing lines which follow (the wheel)
So listen a little while to my tale if you will
and I’ll tell it as it’s told in the town where it trips from
and as it has been inked
in stories bold and strong,
through letters which, once linked,
have lasted loud and long.
Descriptive vocabulary The poem is full of vivid descriptions, and Simon Armitage has managed to modernise the vocabulary so most of the language used here is up-to-date and still used by people today.
So, let’s get into the poem.
I’ll read each verse one by one, and then I’ll go back through and explain the language.
You could try to repeat the lines of the poem after me. That would be a good way to practise your pronunciation.
I’m going to start reading from line 130.
Just to bring you up to speed with the story, here’s what happens between lines 1 and 129.
The poem begins by referring to Greek mythology. It briefly describes the fall of Troy and the foundation of Rome, and it makes a clear connection between King Arthur of Britain and those heroes from Greek and Roman mythology.
It’s Christmas in Camelot and King Arthur is celebrating with a big feast (a big meal which lasts for a long time).
The poem describes the celebrations, the food, the games they’ve been playing, the decorations, the seating arrangement with all the knights, ladies and their guests. King Arthur’s wife Guinevere is there, and the poem describes how beautiful she is.
They are just about to start eating, when the celebration is interrupted by something extraordinary.
Luke reads lines 130 – 466 from the Simon Armitage version of the poem.
A conversation with my dad about a great medieval adventure story originally written in middle English and updated and translated into modern English by Simon Armitage. Dad talks about the origin of this story, its connection to the history of the English language, and the poetic devices used in the writing. In the second half I read a summarised version of the story and some verses from Armitage’s modernised version.
Hello there, how are you? Hope you’re well. Just before we start – a quick bit of news.
So, my full time teaching schedule at school has ended now and I have about 1 week to work on LEP content, and upload it before the August summer holiday begins. I’m not sure if I will be able to work during August, because “hello” it’s holiday season – my daughter is off school, we’re going on holiday in France and in the UK, and I might not bring my computer with me and so on. So I might upload loads of content this week, which you can listen to during the summer. I don’t want to overload you, but also I don’t want to underload you (is that a word).
In any case, it’ll be like waiting for a bus again – you wait ages and then 3 come at the same time. This includes premium content. An update about LEP Premium: New episodes will be arriving very soon, including P35 part 2, which is full of pronunciation practice. As you may know, LEP Premimum is still in a transition from Libsyn to Acast and during this time I can’t upload episodes because of a slight issue relating to transferring 6 and 12 month subscriptions, but this is going to be solved very soon, and as soon as it is solved, new premium content will arrive. If you are a premium subscriber on Libsyn (the old system) with a 6 or 12 month subscription, and you’re keen to move to Acast – I will be contacting you soon with a solution to the situation. Just hold on. If you don’t understand what’s happening, check my website for updates. But mainly – just hold on.
If you are new to LEP Premium, you can go ahead and and sign up through Acast+ – it’s www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium or click the link in the description. If you do that you will be supporting this whole project and in return you will get access to all the LEP Premium episodes (well over 100 vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar practice lessons) PDFs, videos and also you get ad-free episodes of LEP. If you’re wondering how it all works, have a look at my website where you will find all the information you need, including how to access the PDFs and how to add LEP Premium episodes to your podcasting app of choice.
— Jingle —
In this episode, my dad is back, but it’s not the Rick Thompson Report, so no politics this time. Instead we’re doing an episode that we have been hoping to do since Christmas last year.
In this one, Dad is going to tell us about an old story from the Arthurian legends – that’s a set of stories about the mythical King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. British legends and folklore.
The story we’re talking about is in the form of a poem called Sir Gawain & The Green Knight. This long poem was probably first written down in the 14th century by an unknown poet, but the story is probably much older than that, and part of a long oral storytelling tradition.
What Dad is going to do is describe the significance of this story, give us a summary of the plot and also he will make some comments about the history of the English language, and the rhythmic and rhyming style used in the original 14th century version, which was written in what we now call middle English. My dad studied English literature at university in the 1960s and this was one of the texts that he studied, and so he knows it quite well.
Recently the old 14th century version of this poem was updated by a modern poet called Simon Armitage (the current poet laureate in the UK). Armitage has managed to write a modern version of this poem using modern English vocabulary, but it retains many of the linguistic and poetic devices of the original, including certain forms of rhyme and rhythm that made the poem so effective.
My dad got that version for Christmas and that’s what inspired us to do this episode.
It should be interesting for you to hear the story, hear my dad’s comments about it and learn how this fits into the history of the English language.
In the second half of the episode I will read you a summarised version of the full story just to make sure you get to hear an uninterrupted version, plus I will read out a few verses of the Simon Armitage version of them poem, again, to give you a good chance to hear some the rhythm and rhyme of it uninterrupted.
So, if you are sitting comfortably, let’s begin.
Well, how was that?
You might be keen to hear more of the story and to hear more samples of the poem. That’s what I’d like to do in this ending part.
I’m going to do a couple of readings for you now.
I thought it would be useful for you to hear a brief version of the whole story, just to give you an overview and to make sure you’ve understood the whole thing. Then I’ll read a few of verses from the Simon Armitage version, in order to give you a flavour of the poetry with its distinctive style: wonderfully descriptive language and a particular rhythm, which was originally used in the 14th century version, as my dad described.
A Summary of the Story
This is a version of the story, from a TED Ed video by Dan Kwartler.
Credit for this version goes to Dan Kwartler and there’s an animated version of it here https://youtu.be/SaQImmPev2o I have adapted this version slightly.
This doesn’t have the rhythmic style of the original poem, or the richly descriptive language.
But it does tell the story quite briefly. I’m not going to explain all the words here. I might do that in part 2 (If there is a part 2).
It was Christmas time in Camelot
and King Arthur was throwing a party.
The entire court was invited,
except for the evil sorceress Morgan le Fay.
The food and drink flowed freely.
But in the midst of all the revelry,
the castle doors suddenly split open.
A tall knight riding an emerald horse
burst into the room,
stunning the court into silence.
He was green from head to toe,
including his skin, hair and clothes.
Even his horse was green.
Then, in a deep bellowing voice, he proposed a game.
The Green Knight declared that he would allow
the bravest warrior present
to attack him with his own axe.
If they could strike him down, they would win his powerful weapon.
However, the knight would be allowed to return that blow
in one year and one day.
Arthur and his knights were baffled.
No man could survive such a strike.
How would the Green Knight be able to return the blow in a year’s time?
The Green Knight began to mock their leader’s hesitance,
and Arthur stood up to defend his honour.
But as soon as he gripped the axe,
another person leapt up to take his place.
It was Arthur’s nephew,
who decided he could not let the king be drawn into such a macabre game.
Keen to prove himself as a worthy hero,
Sir Gawain took the weapon instead.
The Green Knight knelt down to receive the blow from the axe,
even moving his hair away to expose the naked green skin of his neck.
With one swift strike, Sir Gawain beheaded the knight.
But the moment his skull hit the ground, it began to laugh.
The Green Knight bent down,
collected his head
and mounted his horse.
As he rode off,
his severed head reminded Gawain of their contract
and told him to seek the Green Chapel
one year and one day from that moment.
In the months that followed, Gawain tried to forget this bizarre vision.
But despite the strangeness of the knight’s game,
Sir Gawain was determined to act honourably and fulfil his promise.
When the following winter approached,
he set out —
enduring foul weather
and encounters with dangerous beasts
in his quest to find the mysterious Green Chapel.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, he saw a shimmering castle on the horizon.
The castle’s lord and lady were thrilled to help such an honourable guest,
and informed him that the Green Chapel was only a short ride away.
They implored Gawain to rest at their home until his meeting with the Green Knight.
Thrilled at this news, Gawain happily accepted their offer.
However, in exchange for this hospitality,
the lord made a strange request.
Over the next three days, he would go hunting
and every night he would share whatever he caught with Gawain.
In return, Gawain must give him whatever he’d gained during his day at the castle.
At first, Gawain was perplexed by these strange terms.
But the lord’s meaning became quite clear the next day,
when his wife tried to seduce Gawain.
To rebuff the lady’s advances without offending her honour,
Gawain allowed one kiss —
which he then passed on to her husband in exchange for a slain deer.
The next day, Gawain allowed two kisses,
which he gave to the lord for a dead boar.
But on the third day,
the lady offered more than just three kisses.
She presented a magical sash that would protect Gawain
from the Green Knight’s blade.
Gawain accepted immediately,
but that evening,
when the lord returned,
Gawain offered only three kisses and did not mention the enchanted gift which he had received.
The next morning,
Gawain rode out to the Green Chapel—
a simple mound of earth
where the Green Knight was waiting and ominously sharpening his axe.
With the sash’s protection,
Gawain approached stoically —
determined to honour his agreement.
He bowed his head for the deadly blow.
He flinched twice,
but then with a massive swing,
the Green Knight cut Gawain’s neck —
but inflicted nothing more than a flesh wound.
Once more, Gawain was bewildered.
Why hadn’t the sash protected him?
And why hadn’t the knight killed him?
Bursting into laughter,
the Green Knight revealed himself to be the castle’s lord,
and that he’d been working with the sorcoress Morgan Le Fay
to test the honour and bravery of Arthur’s knights.
He was impressed with Gawain’s behavior,
and he’d planned to spare his neck entirely —
until Gawain concealed the sash,
and this is when the Green Knight chose to inflict the fleshwound upon him.
Filled with shame, Gawain returned to Camelot.
But to his surprise, his companions absolved him of blame
and celebrated his valor.
Struggling to understand this strange journey,
it seemed to Gawain that perhaps the whole world was playing a game —
with rules more wild and bewildering than any man could understand.
Ok, so that’s the story.
It’s a bit confusing and mysterious.
(Luke gives a quick summary again)
Reading Verses from the Simon Armitage version of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight
What you don’t get from that story summary (above) is the beautiful language.
Wonderfully descriptive vocabulary
Alliteration (the repetition of rhyming consonant sounds at the start of words)
The “Bob and Wheel” (a rhythmic device which ends each verse)
There are some extracts from the Simon Armitage version available in the preview of the book on Amazon (other bookshops are available)
Let me read a couple of those initial pages.
The way the Armitage version of this poem is presented is that it gives one page of the modernised version, and then on the next page you have the equivalent original text, so you can compare them side by side.
I won’t read any of the original text because the English is so old fashioned that I frankly wouldn’t be able to pronounce it all. And before you fall out of your chair in disbelief that I don’t know my own language – hardly anyone is able to pronounce sentences written in middle English. Only academic experts can do that, and a lot of them disagree about how middle English should be pronounced. So, that’s not for us. Middle English is almost like another language, so there’s no need for me to read it to you.
The modern version of this poem on the other hand, is much more appropriate for us, and Simon Armitage has done a fantastic job because as my dad said, his version of the poem manages to keep the same alliteration, the same rhythm, and the bob & wheel – that structural device where after a few lines the verse comes to an end with a distinctive two syllable break (the bob) and then four lines which follow it (the wheel). You’ll have a chance to listen to examples of that again in a moment.
Simon Armitage, while managing to keep a lot of these literary and poetic devices from the original poem, has updated it using normal modern English words. So this is still written in a literary and poetic style, but these are words that are still regularly used by people today, more or less.
Listen carefully to the rhythm and sounds of this and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m now going to read the first few verses to you. This is very rich in terms of language. Again, I am not going to stop and explain everything here, or analyse the text. I’m just going to read it to you.
I do plan to do another separate episode in which I just read out some of these verses again and then break them down for language. Hopefully I will be able to make a video version of that too. Perhaps it will be the next episode. We will see. If not, I will do my best to get it done at a later date.
But now, for your listening pleasure, have a listen to this.
Extracts from Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, by Simon Armitage.
Learn English with The Beatles as we explore lyrics from Beatles songs and pick out some idioms, descriptive language and other vocabulary for you to learn. Featuring Antony Rotunno from the Glass Onion: On John Lennon podcast.
In this episode you can learn English with The Beatles as we look at specific bits of English which appear in the lyrics of their songs.
I’m joined again by Antony Rotunno from the Glass Onion on John Lennon Podcast. Antony is also an English teacher and something of a John Lennon expert. He is also a musician, and a lot of the credit for this episode goes to him, because he did most of the preparation, going through lyrics of Beatles songs and picking out specific use of English, including certain phrases and idioms.
This is like a quiz actually. Can you name the songs when Antony plays them?
Can you beat me?
Can you name the songs from the lyrics and from the music?
There are a few references to The Rutles and Neil Innes of course, but for us those songs are all part of The Beatles extended universe.
I’ll chat to you again at the end of the episode and will sum up some of the bits of language that come up, but now let’s get started.
Phrases / Vocabualry
Using lots of pronouns, me, you, us, I etc
Using more imagery in the lyrics
I’m going to love her until the cows come home
A chip on my shoulder
My heart went boom when I crossed that room
Buzz, hum, boom (Onomatopoeia)
It won’t be long ‘til I belong to you
I don’t know why she’s riding so high
To be on your high horse
I’ll make a point of taking her away from you
I sat on her rug biding my time, drinking her wine
This bird has flown
Please don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away, and after all, I’m only sleeping
If she’s gone I can’t go on, feeling two foot small
Feeling 10 foot tall
Ouch, you’re breaking my heart
To upset the applecart
Where there’s a will there’s a way
He was like a wolf in sheep’s clothing
Or an iron hand in a velvet glove
Working like a dog
Sleeping like a log
Sleeping like a baby
If you need a shoulder to cry on
To give someone a shoulder to cry on
To open up the doors
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
It was anotherstring to their bow
There is a place, where I can go, when I feel low, when I feel blue
To feel blue
Everybody’s green because I’m the one who won your love
Green = 1. Jealous 2. inexperienced
Oh dear what can I do, baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue
When the sun shines they slip into the shade, and sip their lemonade
With tangerinetrees and marmaladeskies, cellophane flowers of yellow and green
No-one I think is in my tree
Nobody is on my wavelength
Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower
The clouds will be a daisy chain, so let me see you smile again
Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering, in the sun
My mother was of the sky, my father was of the earth but I am of the universe and you know what it’s worth
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Don’t need a gun to blow your mind
No longer riding on the merry go round, I just had to let it go
Hello listeners, welcome back to my podcast. I hope you’re doing well and that you’re ready to learn some more English with me in this new episode.
This one is called The Mountain and I’m going to read you a short story and then use it to teach you some English.
There is a video version of this available on YouTube with the text on the screen, so you can read and listen at the same time and you can see my face while I’m recording this, if that’s what you’d like to see. You can find that video on the page for this episode on my website or on my YouTube channel – Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe of course.
Stories are great for learning English, and I’m always searching for various stories that I could read out on the podcast. I’ve found a few stories and texts, both online and in books that I have on my bookshelves, so you can expect more story episodes like this coming in the future as I read things in different styles, from different texts, including some well-known published work and some independently published stuff and fan fiction that is available online.
Stories make ideal material for language learning. They are compelling and often the text of the story is also available which makes it extra useful for language learning because it works as a transcript for what you are listening to.
Today I googled “Free short stories online” and I ended up on a website called commaful.com
This website is described as the largest library of multimedia stories online. Commaful.com
On Commaful you can read and share stories written by users of the site, fan fiction, poetry and comics, and they have a picturebook format, which means that their stories are presented in a slightly different way, which makes them a bit more pleasant to read online or on mobile devices – more pleasant than just reading text on a screen, which is never a pleasant way to read literature. So rather than just presenting their texts on screen, they put each line of the story on top of an image of some kind (like a picture of a lake or a landscape or something) and you can swipe from one image to the next, reading each line of the story as you go, which is quite nice.
When reading these stories out loud the format encourages you to pause as you read each line, which is quite a good habit. Pausing is a good presentation skill.
It can be a good discipline to practise because pausing can add some space for the audience to think and can change the atmosphere slightly, adding extra weight to each line that you say. So pausing and taking your time can be good presentation skills to practise.
First I’m just going to read the story to you. You can just follow along and try to understand what’s going on.
Then I’ll read it again and I will stop to explain some bits of English that come up, and there are various nice bits of English in here – phrasal verbs, expressions and other nice bits of vocabulary mainly.
The story is written in American English, which is mostly the same as British English really, but I will point out any differences and will give you the UK English equivalents, so this can be a chance to learn some British and American English equivalents.
I’ll do a vocabulary and language summary at the end too.
As I said, there will be some pauses between the lines of the story, because of the way the story is presented to me on the website. I don’t normally pause like this when doing this podcast, but it could be useful because it might help you absorb what I’m saying and you can use those pauses to repeat after me if you like. This will be easier if you can read the lines with me, and again you can do that by watching the youtube video, or visiting the story on commaful.com.
Or you can try repeating without seeing the lines if you want an extra challenge.
And of course you can simply enjoy listening to the story without worrying about repeating or anything like that.
The story is about 10 minutes long, just to let you know what to expect.
The rest of this episode is me explaining and describing the language in the story.
By the way, this story was posted on commaful.com by a user called Aknier and I am assuming that Aknier is the author of this, so credit goes to him or her for writing it.
Follow the link in the description to access the story and you can leave comments there if you like.
I hope you enjoy it!
But now let’s begin the story…
OK so that is where the video ends, but I’m adding a bit more here to the audio version in order to do a quick language summary of the bits of vocabulary that came up in that.
How was that for you? Did you enjoy the story? As I said, there weren’t many narrative elements. It was more an emotional story, but quite an interesting one.
Again, I do recommend that you try reading the story out loud, either by repeating after me or not.
Now let me recap some of the vocabulary items and British and American English differences that you heard there, just to sum up and help you remember what you’ve just heard. I’ll be as brief as I can while jogging your memory here.
You can find this vocabulary list on the page for this episode on my website of course.
I hardly cried (I didn’t cry a lot)
To work hard / to hardly work
To fuss / to make a fuss (Fuss = anxious or excited behaviour which serves no useful purpose. “What’s all the fuss about?” “Everyone’s talking about this Meghan & Harry interview. What’s all the fuss about?” “Why don’t you complain?” “Well, I don’t want to make a fuss”)
To make a scene = do something which attracts a lot of attention, like angrily shouting at staff in an airport terminal or hotel lobby
Siblings (brothers and sisters)
To bet that something will/would happen (to be sure it will/would happen) “I bet that England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties” or “I bet it rains this afternoon”.
To shrug your shoulders
To grit your teeth = (literally) clench your jaw so your teeth are held tightly together (idiom) to decide to do something even though you don’t want to “I had to tell my dad that I’d crashed his car, so I just gritted my teeth and told him”)
A cast / a plaster cast
To be able to afford something “We couldn’t afford it” “We can’t afford it” (use ‘be able to’ after modal verbs when you can’t use ‘can’ – “We won’t be able to afford it”)
A cripple (offensive word)
To get picked on
To get teased
To make fun of someone
To get bullied
To get catcalled
To flash a smile
A blinding smile
To take that as a yes
To get upset
To get fired
To skip lunch
To be stunned
To soften your voice
To talk back
To sneak into the kitchen
To sneak money back into your wallet
Fight – fought – fought
Buy – bought – bought
To cheat on someone
To freak someone out
To make it up to someone
To raise your voice
To cave (in)
To punch someone in the jaw
To stare blankly
Stand up for yourself
Deadly / the deadliest
American English / British English
Fifth grade – Fifth year
Pants – trousers
Mad – angry
To figure something out – to work something out
To yell – to shout
A jerk – an idiot
To take out the trash – to take the rubbish out
Chores – housework
To punch someone in the jaw – to punch someone in the face
My dad has written a book and it’s all about the wildlife you can find in an urban English park. He’s on the podcast to tell us all about it, and there are some collective nouns for animals too, plus some bonus stand up comedy at the end.
Hello listeners, this is a reminder about LEP Premium, which is my other podcast service. With episodes of LEP Premium I focus specifically on language, helping you understand, remember and pronounce target vocab and grammar. I’m currently still deep into premium series 24 which is about homophones, but also you can access an archive of over 80 episodes now both audio and video, all about teaching you the kind of English that I speak, and there are plenty of stupid improvisations and jokes and things too. Get started by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast – this award-winning podcast for learners of English. Yes, the podcast has won a few awards over the years, but not lately. The last few years have been quiet, on the award front. If you see any competitions for best podcast for learners of English, or something, let me know!
Speaking of competitions, I’ve been thinking of launching another listener competition, and I’m wondering what you think. The competition would involve you recording yourself speaking and sending it into the podcast, then people would vote for their favourite and that person would then get interviewed in a full episode of the podcast. This idea was sent to me some time ago by a listener called Vadim. What do you think? I haven’t fully decided to do it yet, so let me know what you think of this new competition idea from Vadim.
But anyway, what about this episode then?
Park Life – A Year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park
As promised, this episode features my dad, which should be good news for all the Rick Thompson fans out there. As you might know we sometimes call my dad Rickipedia because he knows so much stuff about so many things, although it might be unreliable from time to time.
People often say that my dad should start his own podcast, as his episodes are so popular. He still hasn’t created a podcast of his own, but I am glad to say that he has written a book.
The book is called “Park Life – A year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park”
The book is available for you to read. You can find it on Amazon.com and also Bookdepository.com (free shipping).
In this episode I’m going to talk to my dad about the book he’s written including a broader discussion of urban parks in the UK – green public spaces which perform an increasingly important role in UK life.
We start by talking about the book, what it’s about, how he was inspired to write it and what style it’s written in. Then we move on to describe some of the wildlife you can find in a local English urban park. Then we discuss some history of urban parks and the health benefits of spending time in green spaces.
Also there are some collective nouns for different animals, including things like “a murder of crows” and “an unkindness of ravens”. Keep listening to hear some more.
I hope you enjoy the conversation. I’ll chat with you a bit afterwards, but now, here is Rick Thompson talking about his new book.
Thanks again to Dad for being on the podcast today. Once again, check Amazon or BookDepository for Rick Thompson Park Life to pick up a copy of my dad’s book for yourself.
In fact the book has already picked up a 5 star rating on Amazon from someone called Princesslizzykins
I have no idea who she is, but this is her review.
5.0 out of 5 stars
A wonderful read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 September 2020
What a beautifully and thoughtfully written book.
A super balance of content between wildlife and local history, with some lovely poetic references thrown in, this book shows how anyone can escape the haste of urban life and take a moment to look at and love the world around them.
I live in Warwick, so have the added benefit of knowing the localities mentioned, but would recommend this to absolutely anyone that has an urban park near them and enjoys a damn good read.
Thumbs up for Dad. Nice one.
We’re not done here yet, I have some more things to do in this episode.
First of all, you heard me mention the stand up comedy gig that I had on Sunday and I did the gig and it went fine. I recorded it so I’ll play a few minutes of that at the end of the episode.
But first, let me go through some more collective nouns for animals. This is a really interesting and curious aspect of English – the way we use different words to collectivise different animals.
You heard us mention some there, and I’ve included them in this list too. So here is a list of common collective nouns for animals.
As promised earlier, here are a few minutes from my stand up set on Sunday evening. There was one LEPster in the audience by the way, who had come because he’d seen the gig advertised on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lukecomedian So, shout out to that LEPster!
Anyway, this was my first gig since Christmas, but it was great to be back on stage again and I should be doing more gigs this year, lockdown permitting.
So this is me on stage at the New York Comedy Night in Paris last Sunday. Thanks for listening and speak to you again soon. Bye…
A language-focused episode looking at words and phrases that you often see and hear in advertising and sales situations. Also includes discussion of sales techniques, Apple’s sales and marketing strategy and also a classic bit of stand-up by the late great George Carlin.
Here is an episode with Paul all about the subject of advertising and sales, with a bit of marketing thrown in there too. So this is a language-focused episode looking at words and phrases that you often see and hear in advertising and sales situations. It also includes discussion of sales techniques, Apple’s sales and marketing strategy and also a classic bit of stand-up by the late great George Carlin.
The episode starts with a discussion between Paul and me about Paul’s experiences of working in sales jobs at Apple, including selling their products to customers on the shop floor and how Apple markets its products to people. Then we go through a big list of words and phrases relating to sales situations in various ways, including the typical things you might read on packaging, advertising or sales material. The list is pretty long but it all leads up to the comedy sketch at the end, which includes all the phrases. That comedy bit, by the way, does contain some very rude language, so there’s a heads up if that’s not your cup of tea.
So get your vocabulary learning hat on for this episode and also let’s get stuck into the topic of sales and advertising, with Paul.
Positive or Negative?
You’re interested in buying a new product (e.g. a fantastic portable tumbler, or some Southwest Pacific Air). You look at the sales literature for the item and see some of these phrases and conditions. Are they positive or negative?
all sales are final
allow six weeks for delivery
no purchase necessary
batteries not included
each item sold separately
free home trial
and free parking
no cash? no problem!
Leather / leather-style
limited time only
mileage may vary
no down payment
no entry fee
no hidden charges
no payments or interest until September
no one will call on you
no red tape
offer good while supplies last
send no money
so act now
some assembly required
some items not available
some restrictions may apply
two to a customer
So that was Sales and Advertising with Paul.
As usual, let me know your thoughts relating to this episode.
What do you think of sales and advertising?
Do you work in sales? Have you noticed any particular techniques or use of language that helps you sell things?
What do you think of adverts on TV or the way things are promoted to you on the internet?
How do you feel about clickbait? Do you ever click on those articles?
Do you think graffiti is ok in public places? How is that different to advertising in the sense that we don’t get any choice over what is displayed to us in public? What about drawing graffiti on advertising that’s in public spaces?
The subject of sales, advertising and marketing is a big one and I expect to come back to it on the podcast at some point because there’s loads of things we could do with that.
Business English is always something that I’ve saved and never done on the podcast. I was always planning to do a business English podcast or a business English course, but without calling it a business English course, because people don’t seem to like the word business. It sounds all heavy and dark, like the dark side or the Death Star or something. But English in professional situations is really interesting and I’m talking about things like how we negotiate, how we deal with being diplomatic in meetings, how we do presentations and socialise with people. I was actually working on a business course and have loads of unfinished material for it. I must go back to that but in the meantime I might dip into some more businessy subjects in the future. We will see. But let me know about your interest in business English and if you’d like to learn the ways of the dark side and fulfil your destiny and all that stuff.
But for now, it’s pretty much time for the end of the episode. Thank you for listening as usual.
If the spirit moves you, you could leave me a lovely lovely review on iTunes or apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Getting positive reviews helps to promote my podcast on those platforms. It’s more likely to end up in recommended selections and things like that, so it helps the podcast a great deal.
Otherwise, you can always donate with one of the yellow paypal buttons, sign up to LEP Premium at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium and check out my sponsors italki at www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk
You’ve been listening to Luke’s English Podcast and until next time, good bye bye bye bye…
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Limited time only, though, so act now, order today, send no money
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Batteries not included, mileage may vary, all sales are final
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Listen to me reading out some pages from a diary which I wrote when I was 16 years old. Join me as I take a trip down memory lane and find out what I was doing, thinking and feeling 25 years ago. Some language is explained along the way. Vocabularynotes available below.
In this episode you’re going to hear me reading out some pages from an old diary I wrote 25 years ago, when I was 16 years old.
In the UK a diary can mean two things. Either it’s a plan, timetable or schedule for the future in which you write appointments and stuff, like “Let me check my diary – yes, I’m free that day to have coffee with you David Beckham”, but also a diary can be a sort of notebook in which you write a record of things you’ve done and all your thoughts and feelings every day.
It’s where you write all your most personal and private things. So, in this episode you’ll hear me going through an old diary that I wrote when I was 16.
I recorded this episode quite spontaneously actually. The idea just came to me and I quickly started recording. I didn’t use a script or notes at all, except for the things I was reading from the diary.
It’s a bit self-indulgent to read your own diary like this, and I don’t think that my teenage years have any particular significance or anything, no more than anyone else’s, but I found it strangely fascinating to look back on my life 25 years ago, reading out my thoughts and remembering what was important to me then and how I was growing up in various ways.
Imagine meeting your 16-year-old self. What would you say to that person? What would you think of their lifestyle and thoughts? What kind of advice would you like to give to them? That’s kind of what happens in this episode.
Things get a bit rude as I talk about girls and also drinking – underage drinking in fact – and there is some strong language, meaning swearing. All that stuff – drinking, swearing and snogging girls, that’s all quite normal for young people in the UK. I point that out because there’s bound to be some people listening to this who are slightly shocked about what I was doing aged 16 and 17, just because of cultural differences, but really, for the context of the UK, my late-teenage years were actually very normal.
Also, as I continue to read pages, things get a little bit dark in some places. But it’s not too serious or anything, just normal teenage angst I think.
I’ll let you find out more as you listen and I will be explaining various bits of language as I go.
Right then, so this is me, grabbing an old diary and going through its pages while rambling away into my microphone.
Imagine meeting your 16-year-old self. What would you say to that person? What would you think of their lifestyle and thoughts? (Using “they” or “them” as a non-gendered pronoun – very common)
Went to the arcade and got really far (made progress) on “bass” Navel gazing Self-indulgent Self-involved
It’s a little glimpse into what I was like at the time
I wanted a snog from Sarah
I could of (could have!!) easily got off with Sarah’s friend who fancies me
At 16 my grammar was pretty atrocious
As long as you hand in all your assignments, you don’t have to attend every class
I took that as a green light not to go to any classes Pocket money from your parents or an allowance
When you get a bit older your parents give you an allowance
I’d turn up at college and I’d be borrowing money from my mates, scrounging things from my mates
I just want to take £10 into college and spend it all on people who have crashed me things
“Can you crash me a fag?”
“Can I bum a fag off you?”
When it really comes down to it, it’s most important to have mates who like you and that you like. Without that, you’re pretty fucked.
The lyrics really struck a chord with me. They really meant a lot to me.
As a teenager you start to get more profound feelings
You start feeling a deep sense of mystery or profundity about life
You’re carrying around all this baggage with you in terms of all the experiences you’ve had, and the people you’ve met and it just builds up and up and up, and you carry it with you every day
Constantly your body is repairing itself and rejuvenating itself
Does your body really replace itself every 7 years?
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/does-body-replace-itself-seven-years/ It turns out that each body part has its own very distinct lifespan. The lining of the stomach, constantly under assault by digestive acid, is renewed every few days. But bones are refreshed once a decade. And there are a few parts of you that stay with you from birth to death. (NPR, care of Snopes.com, link above)
I couldn’t grasp why it was so important, it just felt very significant
Beastie Boys – Namaste (Lyrics) https://genius.com/Beastie-boys-namaste-annotated
More vocabulary notes
It’s quite cathartic to write your thoughts and feelings down
I spilt beer all over myself when I put my pint on the hand dryer and it slipped off
Jake, Ed and Mouse nearly bought it in a car crash.
Ed’s car is wrecked
Jake had a fracture in his arm
They all looked really shaken
Really good down-tempo atmospheric trip hop
I feel like things are slipping away Get a grip, take control
Loads of people I know have turned into stuck up super-confident idiots. I felt like people were becoming arrogant.
I’ve got so much potential but I get stuck in a rut and I can’t lift myself out.
If I fail the DELTA it could be a big blow to me. I would like to just break away and drop out.
It did a world of good for my confidence, passing the DELTA.
The podcast has given me some purpose and a project to focus my creativity and energy on.
“Hearing those sounds again, it’s so evocative.”
Maybe a bit of oversharing going on here.
You shouldn’t wallow in the past.
To wallow in mud, wallow in misery, wallow in grief.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
― Bill Keane
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
Some tracks from one of my mix tapes (this is the kind of thing I was listening to in 1994)
This is the last episode of LEP before the end of 2018.
It’s Christmas and New Years Eve is approaching, so it’s time for the traditional Christmas episode of LEP! In this one I’m going to read some Christmas stories and a couple of poems which are a bit different to the normal stuff you get at this time of year. Also, keep listening for a funny appearance by The Beatles.
Luke, I know that it’s Christmas and it’s a time of giving, but why are you uploading so many episodes at the moment?We can’t keep up!
The Christmas holiday is about to start and I’ll be quiet for a few weeks, so I’m giving you quite a lot of stuff now for you to listen to while I’m away.
That includes this episode in which I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a Happy New Year too, then ramble to you a little bit and then tell you one or two Christmas-themed stories, read a couple of Christmassy poems and there will be an appearance by The Beatles as well, as you’ll hear later on.
First of all, a bit of a ramble (not too long).
I’ve uploaded a lot recently. New free podcast episodes, new phrasal verb episodes and new premium episodes. It’s quite a lot of stuff, which might be difficult to keep up with, but as I’ve said, I won’t be uploading for a few weeks so it should be enough time for everyone to catch up.
Just yesterday I uploaded another series (3 parts) of premium episodes for December, and that is all about language from the Alan Partridge episodes I did in October. They were popular episodes and they were full of really nice language – I mean, descriptive vocabulary and noun phrases I used to talk about Alan, and also various other expressions, phrases and bits of grammar that came up in the clips that we listened to. So I devoted a couple of Premium episodes to that and also the usual memory tests and pronunciation drills. PDF worksheets are available for all the premium episodes.
There are also new phrasal verb episodes in the premium package now too, and more arriving on a regular basis.
If you want to become a premium LEPster, go right ahead, be my guest. You’ll get access to all of the premium content in the ever-growing library, and all the stuff that will be published in the future too. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started. Also, you’ll be supporting the podcast with a small monthly contribution – about the price of a coffee or beer every month.
I tell you what, I am super duper chuffed to finally be making premium episodes and having this project alongside the normal episodes of the podcast. I hope those of you out there who are premium Lepsters are getting into the work I’ve been doing. Thank you for your support for the podcast too. You’re making it possible for me to spend more time on this, and that’s going to help me to improve and develop what I’m doing.
It’s been a pretty good year for LEP with lots of episodes about different things. I hope you’ve enjoyed them all and found them useful for your English. The year started with the birth of our daughter, and I talked about it in episode 502 – that’s about 65 episodes ago, can you believe it? I’ve done 65 episodes of the podcast this year, plus all the premium ones. Quite a productive year. Episode 502 – that’s when you first heard my wife’s voice on the podcast.
Sometimes during the year I think you heard the voice of my daughter in episodes, when I was recording stuff while she was in the flat with me. That may happen more and more as she grows up.
She’s not really speaking yet, although she is walking. She is making more and more complex noises though, not exactly speaking but making sounds with different bits of intonation and stuff – things that sound like questions, things that sound like “yaay” etc. She’s started doing this thing where she lifts objects to her ear and kind of goes “hello?” as if she’s speaking on the telephone. No idea where she got that from because we usually use headphones when we’re on the phone at home.
She also understands various things that my wife and I say to her, in both languages. She’s very fond of pointing at things too and kind of going “huh??”, like “What’s that??” As she speaks more, I’m sure I’ll record her sometimes so you can hear her learning to speak over the next few years. I’m looking forward to doing that.
A shout out to my students at the British Council
I teach 4 groups of students at the British Council at the moment, across different levels. They’re all adult learners of English and we’ve had some great classes over the last year. Hello, if you’re listening. I want to share a video that some of them were involved in.
So, at the BC in Paris we offer a social programme called English Extra, which involves things like social events, drinks, talks by teachers and guests (I did one about British humour if you remember) and also weekend trips to London. The idea is that it gives our students more opportunities to socialise in English and get more talking time in English, basically. Also, it’s just a lot of fun and we have some really outgoing, funny and social people in our adult classes at the moment, including in my classes, which is great because it means we have a lot of fun while also learning English. So, some of them went to London recently and as part of the trip they made a little video for YouTube. It’s called How Much do Londoners Know about France? The students went around, interviewing British people in the street, asking them various questions about France. The results are pretty embarrassing, I must say!
The average Londoner doesn’t seem to know that much about their nearest continental neighbours! To be honest, I wonder if the same would be true about the French, in fact I think it would be. Anyway, the video is pretty funny and I want to share what my students did, so check it out – you’ll see the full video on the page for this episode. I also shared it on social media today.
My students at the British Council made this video in London
Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you have any plans?
What are you doing for Christmas? Is it something you celebrate in your country? Do you have any plans?
This year we’re going to spend some time with my wife’s family in France on the 24th and 25th – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, doing Christmas the French way, which involves Champagne (of course – although I’m off the booze at the moment – might have to make an exception for Christmas) and then on Boxing Day (which is now also our daughter’s birthday, the poor girl! It’s no fun to have your birthday at Christmas) we’re going to the UK to spend about a week with my parents in their house, which will be great. My Mum and Dad are looking forward to seeing us, but mainly they want to see their granddaughter. It’s cool, she seems to get a boost when she sees them. It’s funny, she loves music and will dance and clap her hands when you play music to her. I am currently educating her in the ways of The Beatles, by playing Beatle music to her every day. It might backfire and she’ll end up sick of it, I don’t know. Hopefully she’ll grow to like their music like I do and my parents do too.
So I’ll be on holiday from the moment that I publish this episode until some time in early 2019. I’m not sure when the podcast will be back exactly. But you’ve got plenty of content to keep you busy in the meantime, right? All the recent episodes and the premium content. By the way, in those premium episodes it’s not just all serious and boring language work. I like to have a laugh there too, it’s just there’s more of a focus on teaching you language and helping you to practise your pronunciation.
Right, so that’s enough rambling.
‘Alternative’ Christmas Stories / Poems / Jokes + The Beatles
I was scouring the internet for good stuff relating to Christmas – stories, mainly. I wanted to read a good Christmas story or a couple of short stories or something. I haven’t found much! Most of the stuff I found is quite cheesy and crap to be honest so it’s been a bit difficult to find the right things.
So, this year, after searching and thinking, I’ve come up with one funny little story, some slightly odd poems, a funny Christmas tradition and The Beatles…
As I said, most of the stories with a Christmas theme that I found online were quite cheesy and cliched, and that’s a bit dull. But I did find several stories which are a bit different or maybe you could say alternative. By that I mean they take a different look at Christmas time.
These stories and poems are quite weird and a bit dark too in some places, but I’ve decided that’s ok because I’d rather have some weirdness and funniness than the usual Christmas stuff about sleigh bells, reindeers and all those other cliched tropes of Christmas – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I do love the cosiness of Christmas when you’re indoors with your family (as long as you’re not trying to kill each other), eating nice food (prepared by someone else possibly, probably your Mum or my Mum in this case – thanks Mum) and generally having a lovely and jolly time. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – that’s what Chrimbo is all about. But I’m sure you’re getting plenty of that stuff everywhere else, in shops, bars, on TV, on the radio, online etc. I don’t know where you are, but certainly in the UK you start to get inundated with the usual Christmas stuff from as early as November these days, and it starts to become a bit annoying after a while.
For example – Christmas songs…
“Well the weather outside is.. blah blah.. and the blah is blahdy blah blah, let it snow let it snow let it snow!”
“Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose…”
“Driving home for Christmas…” etc
Nothing wrong with that stuff really, but it is everywhere, all the time.
So instead of that kind of stuff, here are some alternative takes on Christmas time. Some funny(ish) stuff, some weird stuff, some slightly disgusting stuff, some slightly dark stuff and then The Beatles as well, as you’ll hear later.
Let’s start with a funny little story I found on a website called www.funny-jokes.com
The Missing Five Pound Note
Chippenham George worked for the Post Office and his job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day just before Christmas, a letter landed on his desk simply addressed in shaky handwriting: ‘To God’. With no other clue on the envelope, George opened the letter and read:
I am a 93 year old widow living on the State pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had in the world and no pension due until after Christmas. Next week is Christmas and I had invited two of my friends over for Christmas lunch. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. God; can you please help me?
Chippenham George was really touched, and being kind hearted, he put a copy of the letter up on the staff notice board at the main sorting office where he worked. The letter touched the other postmen and they all dug into their pockets and had a whip round. Between them they raised £95. Using an officially franked Post Office envelope, they sent the cash on to the old lady, and for the rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of the nice thing they had done.
Christmas came and went. A few days later, another letter simply addressed to ‘God’ landed in the Sorting Office. Many of the postmen gathered around while George opened the letter. It read,
How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your generosity, I was able to provide a lovely luncheon for my friends. We had a very nice day, and I told my friends of your wonderful gift – in fact we still haven’t got over it and even Father John, our parish priest, is beside himself with joy. By the way, there was £5 missing. I think it must have been those thieving fellows at the Post Office.
George could not help musing on Oscar Wilde’s quote: ‘A good deed never goes unpunished’
And now, three poems by modern authors. Poems like these are good. They’re written in plain English and they have a rhythm and rhyme to them. It’s a good idea to practise saying them yourselves. See if you can get the rhythm right.
An alternative Christmas Poem from Roald Dahl
Mother Christmas “Where art thou, Mother Christmas? I only wish I knew Why Father should get all the praise And no one mentions you.
I’ll bet you buy the presents And wrap them large and small While all the time that rotten swine Pretends he’s done it all.
So Hail To Mother Christmas Who shoulders all the work! And down with Father Christmas, That unmitigated jerk!” [c. RDNL]
Explain some of the vocab.
Alternative Santa: A Christmas Poem
Roger McGough by the way is from Liverpool and was part of a poetry group there in the sixties called The Scaffold. Another member of The Scaffold? Mike McCartney – Paul’s brother. We used to read Roger McGough’s poems when we were children. He used to write a lot of funny little poems for kids, but some of his work is actually really good for adults. It’s not too fancy or pretentious, it is written in plain English and for me it does exactly what poetry should do, makes you feel something inside. I also like his brief style. Less is more.
By Roger McGough
‘I’m fed up looking like Father Christmas,’ Muttered Father Christmas one year ‘I need a new outfit, I must move with the times So for a start, it’s goodbye reindeer’
He googled Alternative Santas And was amazed at the stuff that appeared He got rid of the holly-red costume Had a haircut, and shaved off his beard
Spent his days in front of a computer In a cave hollowed out of the ice Wearing a tee shirt emblazoned Merry Xmas And jeans (Amazon, Armani, half price)
Couldn’t wait to straddle his snow-ped (The bargain he’d bought on eBay) A rocket-powered silver toboggan [sledge, sled or sleigh] His supersonic sleigh
Then one morning he thought, ‘Oh why bother Delivering presents by hand When it could all be done online Busy parents will understand
We are lucky to live in a digital age Where the aim is access and speed SantaNet I’ll call the system ‘Santafaction guaranteed’
And that was years and years ago Times that children barely know Midnight mass and mistletoe Christmas carols and candle glow
Sleigh bells ringing across the snow And Santa singing Yo ho ho For that was years and years ago And that was years and years ago.
This poem appeared in the Telegraph on December 7th, 2013
Hmmm, but what does it mean?
This next one starts out quite sweet, but it gets a bit dark. I think it’s a brilliant poem though, even if it is quite sad.
The Trouble with Snowmen by Roger McGough
‘The trouble with snowmen,’ Said my father one year ‘They are no sooner made than they just disappear.
I’ll build you a snowman And I’ll build it to last Add sand and cement And then have it cast.
And so every winter,’ He went on to explain ‘You shall have a snowman Be it sunshine or rain.’
And that snowman still stands Though my father is gone Out there in the garden Like an unmarked gravestone.
Staring up at the house Gross and misshapen As if waiting for something Bad to happen.
For as the years pass And I grow older When summers seem short And winters colder.
The snowmen I envy As I watch children play Are the ones that are made And then fade away.
Something a bit disgusting, or is it? An odd Christmas tradition from Catalonia. The Caganer.
Catalonia is a region in Northwestern Spain. Barcelona is the most famous city there. Some of you may be there right now. Lovely part of the world.
Apparently they have a slightly odd tradition there. The Caganer. It’s a little figuring of a man pooing on the floor. Yuk, disgusting! You might think, but actually it’s a long-standing tradition in the region and is a symbol of good luck and also renewal for the coming new year.
This is an article from nowIknow.com (I brilliant email list with fascinating and funny little stories every day)
Do you have any slightly odd or funny Christmas traditions or new year traditions?
A Beatles Christmas Record 1964 (one that my Mum had in her record collection)
Why are we going to listen to this? It’s interesting, funny, charming and silly and maybe you’ve never heard The Beatles speaking before.
Every year The Beatles recorded a Christmas message for their fans. The message was distributed to members of the fan club on floppy 7 inch ‘vinyl’ (but not vinyl, it was plastic or something) records. My Mum was a member of the fan club in the 60s and she got these records in the post, I think. She still had them as James and I were growing up, and we used to listen to them as children too. I think James is now the owner of these records. I sincerely hope that he’s looking after them because they will be worth quite a lot of money one day. I’ve seen them on eBay for over £300.
As well as being great song-writers, The Beatles were naturally very funny. They were quick-witted, silly and surreal. Part of that is because of they were from Liverpool, and Scousers naturally are very witty people, but partly because John, Paul, George and Ringo were talented and funny in their own right. They did not take themselves seriously at all, which is one of the reasons they were so charming.
You can see this in their films, but their humour came out best when they were just being spontaneous in interviews and in situations like this where they’re in the studio reading out some comments that were written by someone else, maybe a member of staff from the record company. They are supposed to be reading out the messages but they can’t help fooling around, and the results are pretty funny. Their sense of humour is still fresh I think, even though this was over 50 years ago.
Here are some things you should look out for as you listen to this clip.
First they seem to run towards the microphone and then run away again at the end.
The text they are supposed to be reading was written by someone else, and was written by hand, so they have some trouble reading it and make a few mistakes sometimes. There are also a few little ad-libs here and there. John keeps saying it says here, to show that he’s reading someone else’s words.
Paul: (thanking the fans) Don’t know where we’d be without you
John: (instantly) in the army perhaps
Paul: I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the records as much as we’ve enjoyed melting them! I mean, making them.
Paul: That’s all, except to wish you a Happy Christmas and a very new year. (A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year)
John: (coughing loudly) Thanks all for buying my book and there’s another one out pretty soon, it says here. (clearly reading from a text). It’ll be the usual rubbish but it won’t cost much. You see, that’s the bargain we’re going to strike up. I write them in my spare time, it says here.
Paul: Did you write this yourself?
John: No, it’s somebody’s bad handwroter. (you expect him to say handwriting). Thanks a lot and a happy Christmas and a merry goo year. (goo is like slime or mud or something…)
George: I’d like to thank you for going to see the film. ‘SPECT (I expect) a lot of you saw it more than once. We had a quiet time making it. (George misreads the text and corrects himself) Actually we didn’t ! We had a great time making it. The next one should be completely different (he goes into a strong Liverpool accent) This time it’s going to be in colour. (John: Green)
When Ringo speaks, it’s just funny. I can’t explain why. I think it’s the way he delivers these pre-written lines in a slightly awkward and sweet manner. It’s just Ringo being Ringo. While he’s speaking someone drops something in the background and he says casually “Who’s droppin’ that?” They were natural and never cheesy or contrived, and that was very different at that time. They were very real, in a very formal world of show business.
Ringo: Those airport receptions knocked us out, man, great! (to knock someone out = to amaze/surprise someone)
At the end they break into a rendition of “Oh can you wash your father’s shirt, oh can you wash it clean?” which is probably some old song that people used to sing.
They run away again at the end.
Another Beatles Christmas record – 1965
This is the one from 1965, a year later.
More things to listen out for
Check out the nice crackling vinyl sound.
Paul: Got to thank everyone for all the presents this year
John: especially the chewed up pieces of chewing gum (I think they did receive this kind of thing), and the playing cards made out of knickers (not sure about that – they probably did receive home-made playing cards and stuff, and perhaps some knickers too!)
John: (in a weird creepy voice) On behalf of George and I, I’d just like to thank you for… (inaudible)
Paul: Well Ringo, what have we done this year?
Ringo: Well, I see you haven’t shaved again.
John starts singing a made-up song in a strong Scottish accent, with lyrics which are hard to understand because sometimes Scottish people speak in a dialect that English people don’t understand. John used to make up nonsense poetry and songs on the spot. He had a surreal sense of humour.
The band then go into a version of Auld Lang Syne which is a traditional Scots-language poem written by George Burns, the famous Scottish poet. It’s a song which is sung in Scotland and many parts of the English speaking world in order to celebrate new year’s eve. The boys here do a silly version of it. They continue to make up silly nonsense as they carry on recording the Christmas record. It’s as if the record company people, or whoever ran the fan club had just given up on writing messages for them, and have just let them record any old nonsense into the microphone, which is great for us!
John improvises a song which sounds like an Elvis record and Ringo shouts “Copyright John!” meaning that he can’t sing that because it’s protected by copyright. Paul then puts on a heavy working-class Liverpool accent and says “What are we gonna do that’s out of copyright?” and John replies (in the same accent) “How about we’ll gather lilacs in an old brown shoe?” I have no idea what he’s talking about. Maybe this is just an old reference that I don’t get, or it’s just John talking nonsense again, but I do like the way they go into these different accents all the time.
Apparently they were always like this, including when recording their albums in the studio. In fact it was their sense of humour that got them a recording contract with George Martin at EMI.
He was more impressed by their general humour than their music (in the beginning), although they proved themselves in the music department later, of course.
The boys do silly accents of old people and weather reporters on the radio. They do a Bob Dylan impression at one point.
John begins singing a made-up Christmas song and the lyrics end up becoming weird noises, then the others join in.
John was often the leader when it came to being ridiculous and absurd, but they were all so close and so quick that they could all keep up with it too.
John: (in a strong Liverpool accent) This is Johnny rhythm saying good night to youse all and god bless youse.
Paul: (in the same accent) All right well, ehhh, that’s got it done then. What are we gonna do now?
George: (Scouse accent) Has he turned it off? (listen for the way he says “turned” – “teeeeeerned it off” – that’s the Liverpool accent, the Scouse accent – exaggerated)
Paul or Ringo: Have you turned it off, la? (‘LA’ is a Scouse word meaning “Lad” or “mate”)
And that’s the end of their Christmas record for 1965.
I think we’ll leave it on that note then, eh?
All right then. Merry Chrimbo and have a very new year all right?
Speak to you in 2019. All the best!
Previous Christmas Episodes (Just in case you’re looking for more stuff to listen to during the break!)
A couple of years ago I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s still available in the archive, if you want a nice Christmas story, sort of a bed time story (episode 320).
In fact there are a few Christmas episodes in the archive, if you’re feeling festive. You might have heard them already, but maybe you haven’t, or maybe it’s time to revisit them if you’re looking for more podcast action during the Christmas break.
From memory I remember one with my brother which I recorded in London, called “Christmas, it’s all about Family” (episode 78) and we aimed to chat about Christmas but ended up rambling about lots of other things, which was good fun.
The first time I spoke to Paul Taylor on the podcast was about 5 years ago, in December 2013 and we talked about Christmas traditions and his plans for the holidays (episodes 158 & 159).
I spoke to my mate Raphael Miller once at Christmas time and we did a fairly long episode called The A to Z of Christmas, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about British Christmas culture (episode 160).
I spoke to Amber in 2016 and we chatted all about Christmas traditions again, with lots of funny anecdotes about things like my Dad’s competitions and games which he organises every year, and her son’s behaviour at Christmas time (406 A CHRISTMAS MEGARAMBLE with AMBER).
Last year was a bit of a blur because we were expecting the arrival of the baby, but I had a bit of a Christmas ramble in episode 501 I think, with some listener correspondence (including an email from Jesus) and I sang a Paul McCartney song I think (episode 501).
There are also a few episodes recorded with my family at Christmas time, which is sort of a tradition. These episodes: 79, 322 & 413. Not sure if I’ll get the chance to do that this year, we will see.
Listen to readings of “If—” by Rudyard Kipling, a popular poem from England. Includes analysis of the vocabulary and the themes in the poem and also a chance to enjoy the unique voice of Sir Michael Caine – with some funny impressions too. Transcript, vocabulary and videos available.
Hello, here’s an episode of the podcast devoted to one of the UK’s favourite poems.
I thought it was about time we looked at some poetry on the podcast. I was wondering which poem I could look at. In the end I’ve chosen one that is popular with lots of people in the UK. Sometimes poetry is a bit complicated and highbrow, but this particular poem is pretty clear and not too challenging or anything, while also touching upon ideas that most people can relate to. So I think it’s probably a good one for us to do.
We’re going to listen to the poem, understand the vocabulary used, and talk about the general meaning of the poem too.
You’ll also be able to listen to the voice of Michael Caine, and hear some Michael Caine impressions too.
The poem in question is called “If -” by Rudyard Kipling. That’s it… “If -“.
It has been voted the UK’s favourite poem in a number of polls done by the BBC. So, let’s listen to this much loved poem being read out by a couple of different people and then analyse the lines for their full meaning and pick up some vocabulary in the process.
“If-” by Rudyard Kipling
“If—” is a poem by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling (a nobel laureate is someone who won the nobel prize for their poetry). The poem was written in 1895 and was first published in 1910.
It is written in the form of paternal advice to the poet’s son. You can imagine that the poet is talking to his son about life and teaching him what it means to be a man.
Grammatically, it’s basically one huge ‘if clause’ with each line beginning with the word ‘if’ and then concluding at the end of the poem. It might actually be the world’s longest conditional sentence – “if you do this and this and this, then eventually, this will happen”. Like, “If you do plenty of practice, stay motivated and don’t give up then eventually you’ll be a fluent English speaker.”
As poetry, “If—” is a literary example of the principles of Victorian-era stoicism. This is a set of attutides that became popular in the UK during the Victorian period. By stoicism I mean a kind of attitude and approach to life that involves being tolerant of difficulty, showing a sort of calm self-discipline, having control over your emotions, being patient, accepting difficulty and having a quiet determination to just keep calm and carry on. It could also be described as the principle of “stiff upper lip”, which British people often consider to be a national virtue. If your upper lip is stiff, or firm, I suppose it means that you have your emotions under control.
Often Brits will talk about how they are proud to be tolerant (not just of things like cultural differences, but of difficulty, discomfort and hardship) and I think we quite like the idea that we are in control of our emotions because it shows strength of character. This is what “If–” is about and because of this, the poem remains a cultural touchstone in the UK.
We’re not always self controlled of course. You can’t generalise. There are times when Brits intentionally lose all self-control – like when they get drunk on a Friday night or when they go on holiday to Majorca or something, and get drunk there. Those moments seem to be like time off from being self-controlled. Also, these days, I think British people are more in touch with their emotions than they used to be.
But this poem is all about the side of the British personality that is all about quiet strength, fair play and not losing your head in a crisis.
It is also like a of self-help mantra which inspires people to try and do the right thing and probably gives people some inspiration for living your life correctly and dealing with times of difficulty.
For these reasons it’s often voted one of the UK’s favourite poems.
Listen to Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine reading the poem
Listen to Michael Caine reading the poem. All the sentences start with IF – how do you think the poem will end.
If you’re already familiar with the poem, you can just enjoy the voice one of our favourite actors. Michael Caine
“If—” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)
The audio comes from a YouTube video uploaded by Peace One Day http://www.peaceoneday.org/
Peace One Day is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 1999. In 2001 due to their efforts the member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the first ever annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on 21 September – Peace Day.
Peace One Day’s objective is to institutionalise Peace Day 21 September, making it a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.
I guess these ideas are universal and this applies to everyone facing the challenges of life.
Girls – I hope you can relate to this too, even though he says “…and you’ll be a man my son”.
Read it again and analyse the words
“If—” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you’re in a stressful situation in which everyone else is losing their heads and saying it’s your fault, but you stay cool and stay in control…
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;
Everyone doubts you but you trust yourself, but you still consider their doubts in you – you don’t ignore them
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, (patience is a virtue) Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
other people are lying about you, but you manage to avoid lying
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
others hate you, and you feel pressure to hate them too, but you resist that pressure and don’t give in to hatred, or give way to hatred – don’t let hatred come in – it’s sounding a bit like the Jedi code here
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
stay modest in your appearance, and also don’t talk like you know it all
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
have dreams, ambitions and ideas but keep them in perspective so you’re not just a dreamer but someone who is still practical and pragmatic – a doer not just a dreamer
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
you can be thoughtful, but manage to actually do things rather than just thinking about things all the time
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;
don’t let success go to your head, but don’t let failure get you down either – an imposter is something or someone who is not welcome or someone who is pretending to be someone else – e.g. someone who claims to be an experienced pilot and fakes their ID, or someone in a hospital who claims to be a doctor but isn’t
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
if you can stand having your words manipulated by dishonest people – e.g. in the press or in a court of law) (to bear something = to tolerate something) (twisted = changed, distorted, manipulated) (knaves = dishonest and untrustworthy people, it’s an old fashioned word)
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:
see your life’s work, ruined and then just start again even though the tools you’re using are damaged by lots of use
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
(you take a big pile of all the money you’ve won and risk it all on one go – if you’re willing to take big risks) (a game of pitch-and-toss is an old gambling game in which you ‘pitch’ a coin – throw it – towards a mark on the ground. The one who gets closest to the mark wins the right to ‘toss’ all the coins which have been thrown. To toss means ‘throw’ but specifically to ‘toss a coin’ means to throw it up so it spins and then lands. If you win you can toss all the coins and you can keep all the ones that land with the heads facing up” – so basically, if you can win loads of money and then risk it all on one game…
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
and then lose but just start again from scratch
And never breathe a word about your loss;
and never tell anyone you lost – that would be hard!
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone,
even when you’re exhausted you keep going and force your body to keep going, sinew = tendons, ligaments
And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
so, just using your willpower you force your muscles, heart, ligaments to resist and keep going
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
if you can stay honest and moral even when you have the attention of a crowd of people – e.g. you might feel pressure to lie, bend the truth, tell them what they want to hear. Virtue = doing and thinking what is morally right. Adj – virtuous.
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch
if you spend time with rich and powerful people but never lose touch with ordinary life and people
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
Foes = enemies. You’re not affected by criticism or praise.
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you value everyone equally. Everyone counts – everyone is important.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
if you can make the most of every single minute – the unforgiving minute means 60 seconds, no more no less. So, if you have the strength, stamina and determination to do your absolute best in every second of every minute
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)
Hear Michael Caine’s thoughts on it from the recording
If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.
Films can be either successful or failures. You have to be able to deal with both outcomes.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
When you’re a famous actor the press sometimes takes your words and uses them against you – especially the tabloid press.
He also says that war ruins everything. Also, every single war has been declared by men who are too old to go, and this has made him suspicious.
Impressions of Michael Caine’s Voice
Michael Caine’s voice. It’s quite distinctive. He comes from the East End of London – so it’s a cockney accent, basically – not very strong, but it is there. Also, his voice is unique (just like everyone’s voice is unique) and quite well-known. It’s so well-known that he is one of those actors that lots of people can impersonate, like Sean Connery.
How Michael Caine Speaks
You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off! (The Italian Job)
Batman – The Dark Knight Rises “I won’t bury you”
keep your head (stay calm, stay in control!)
Don’t lose your head (don’t lose self control)
(Don’t) Blame it on someone (it was his fault, he did it!)
To have doubts (silent letter)
Make allowance for something / take something into account (include something in your decision making process – e.g. when I plan lessons I have to make allowances for the fact that students come from different countries and cultural backgrounds)
Don’t give way to hatred/anger/frustration = yield, give in (Star Wars)
(Star Wars: don’t give in to hatred)
To be wise / to have wisdom (e.g. Yoda, Gandalf, Dumbledore, ObiWan Kenobi – most old dudes with grey hair and beards)
Keep something in perspective (think about things in a reasonable way – e.g. Let’s get things in perspective / let’s keep things in perspective. Sure, we’re locked up in a Turkish jail, but at least we have each other! It’s not that bad! OK bad example. The doctor says I have a 1 in 200 chance of survival!!! Oh shit!!! Wait, let’s keep things in perspective. 1 in 200 is really quite good, and you’re quite young and in good shape. Don’t panic.)
Treat someone/something like something (Don’t treat me like an idiot Tony!)
Impostors = people who fake their identity in order to get in somewhere. “I felt like an imposter” (common usage) I think it’s quite common for us to feel like an imposter if we feel we don’t deserve the success we’ve had, or when we are in a situation that we don’t deserve to be in, because we feel inferior. Have you ever felt like that? You’re in a situation, you look around and everyone seems so impressive. They’re all so clever and have achieved so much and you feel like you’re not as good as them, and you’re not worthy to be there. You feel like an imposter. It’s a common feeling. I think this might be the situation in which the word “imposter” is most commonly used today, other than when someone has intentionally sneaked into a place by lying.
If you have ever felt like that, here’s a nice little anecdote from Neil Gaiman – a great author of short fiction novels, comic books and graphic novels.
This is from an article I found on Quartz.com and it quotes Neil Gaiman from his Tumblr page. https://qz.com/984070/neil-gaiman-has-the-perfect-anecdote-for-anyone-with-impostors-syndrome/
Neil was asked if he had any advice for people experiencing imposter syndrome – that feeling of being an imposter. Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things. On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while some musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.
So, there you go – even Neil Armstrong feels like an imposter, and so does Neil Gaiman and many other people who’ve done good things.
How about you? Do you ever feel like an imposter?
Bear to do something / bear to hear your words twisted (I just can’t bear to see him like this)
To stoop (bend down)
To build something up (create something from the bottom up)
The common touch (the ability to appeal to ordinary people)
Friend / Foe
Count (v) (all opinions count, every second counts) = to have merit, importance, value, etc.; deserve consideration
Finally, listen to Dave Bassett doing it in a scouse accent
I did an episode a while ago called “The Chaos of English Pronunciation” which included a couple of poems which are full of notoriously difficult words to pronounce in English. You can find that episode in the archive. It’s number 144