Category Archives: Story

508. Six True Crime Stories from Victorian England, Told by My Dad

Learn English by listening to Rick Thompson telling some true stories of petty crimes committed in an English town in 1851.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello everybody, and welcome to this brand new instalment of Luke’s English Podcast – a podcast for learners of English.

In this episode my dad is going to tell you some true crime stories from England’s history. There are six stories in total and they all involve curious crimes and their punishments which can tell you quite a lot about what life was like in England in the mid 19th century.

We have established the value of listening to stories on this podcast before, right? Listening to stories can be a great way to improve your English, especially when they’re told in an interesting, clear and spontaneous way and of course I’m always happy to get contributions from my dad on this podcast – so I’m feeling good about this episode. I think it should be a good one.

These days my dad is semi-retired but he keeps himself busy doing various things, including some volunteer work for an organisation based in the town where my parents live – Warwick, in the midlands, in England.

The organisation is called Unlocking Warwick and it is a volunteer group based in a restored building in the centre of town.

This building used to be a court-house – a place where, in the past, people who had been accused of committing crimes were sent to be tried and possibly sentenced to various punishments, and back in the Victorian times those punishments could be quite harsh. The building operated as a court room from the early 16th century all the way through to the 1970s when it eventually closed. Then, a few years ago the building was fully restored to its former glory and is now a cultural centre for the town of Warwick. The volunteer group that my parents belong to, Unlocking Warwick, does various events and activities in this building as a way of helping people to explore the history of the town, which is also the site of one of the UK’s best medieval castles. Warwick is a place that’s worth visiting if you’re into English history and it’s only about 30 minutes away from Stratford Upon Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

Last year you heard me talk to my Mum about the Unlocking Warwick project and she mentioned the regency ballroom in the building, where they organise events like dances with historical themes, and since the building used to be the location of a court room, the group also presents dramatic reconstructions of real court cases that happened there.

These are like plays based on real records of the court proceedings which are stored in local archives, and my dad is the one who writes these dramas. He reads the details of old cases from the archives, picks the ones that sound interesting and then turns them into plays which are performed for the public by volunteer actors. They even get members of the audience to shout things out and generally play along, a bit like they would have done during the real trials back in the 19th century.

So, because he’s written these plays, Dad has a few stories at his disposal and I thought it might be fun, interesting and good practice for your English to hear him describe these stories in an episode of the podcast, so that’s what you’re going to get; six true stories of crimes that actually happened in Warwick, told to you by my dad – and almost all of it is told using past tenses – so straight away, there’s some grammar and pronunciation for you to look out for. I’m not going to go into all the details of those narrative past tenses here, but if you’d like to listen to episodes in which I explain those tenses, give examples and help you to pronounce them then you can check out episodes…

Other episodes dealing with Narrative Verb Tenses in more detail

29. Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses 

372. The Importance of Anecdotes in English / Narrative Tenses / Four Anecdotes

176. Grammar: Verb Tense Review 

They’re all (also) in the episode archive on the website. 

But right now, let’s jump into this conversation that I had with my dad just the other day when my parents were visiting us. So, without any further ado – let’s get started.


The Six Stories

I’d like to summarise those six stories again now, just to make sure you got the main details and to help reinforce some of the language that you heard in the conversation.

You can find the notes I’m reading from here, written on the page for this episode on the website.

  1. The Case of the Notorious Window Smasher
    A woman who would go up and down the high street in Warwick and also in Birmingham, smashing shop windows (cutting up her arms in the process) and stealing goods, including a roll of top quality French material – and she was sentenced to time in the house of correction where she probably had to do hard labour all day, including walking in the treadmill – a kind of human-powered machine for grinding corn or wheat. Imagine being a sort of hamster in a wheel all day long – like going to the gym, but doing it for 10 hours or more and I’m sure the conditions were very dusty and awful. The Victorians, being sort of puritanical and protestant had a strong work ethic, and believed that hard work was the right remedy for people’s problems. You can see how this went together with a certain industriousness that marked that period of British history.
  2. What Happened to the Extremely Drunk Man?
    He was brought into the court by a policeman simply for being very very drunk, and was sentenced to 6 hours in the stocks.
  3. The Story of the Poor Lunatic Woman
    Her husband took her to the authorities claiming she was hysterical and completely impossible to live with, and she was promptly taken to the local lunatic asylum where she probably spent the rest of her life – but was she really mad, or did her husband just want to get rid of her?
  4. The Woman Who Ran Away from the Workhouse
    There were different places you could end up if you were found guilty of a crime, or simply didn’t have the means to look after yourself. The worst would be Australia, which was probably a very tough place to try and survive back in those days and the long boat journey would probably kill you anyway. Then there was prison, and I’m sure 19th century prisons would have been full of disease and all kinds of hideous misery. You heard about the hulks – these broken old ships that were moored on the river Thames in London, which worked as prisons. I expect the ones on the land weren’t much better. Then there were the houses of correction – essentially prisons where you did hard labour all day long. Then there were workhouses – not exactly prisons, but places that would house people who had no money. They’d give them accommodation and food in return for work. Honestly, I think places like this still exist in many parts of the world and it’s really sad and terrible, especially when we realise that some of the products that we consume might have been made in places like these – we call them sweatshops these days – places where people work long hours in awful conditions. The woman in this story ran away from her workhouse because, as she claimed, they weren’t feeding her. I expect that could be true. I think the food given to people in workhouses was often just very weak and watery soup (called gruel) which probably contained next to no nutritional value, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were denied food as punishment in a workhouse. There was so much cruelty in those days. This woman ran away, and was caught – but she hadn’t really committed a crime, had she? A workhouse wasn’t a compulsory place to stay. It’s not a jail. She ran away of her own free will. But they caught her and charged her with theft of the clothes she was wearing. I expect the clothes were provided for her by the workhouse – so that’s how they got her. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t some sort of personal revenge or some kind of personal vendetta against this woman, or some kind of conspiracy against her. Her sentence? 3 months hard labour in the house of correction. I’m sure some people profited from all this free labour.
  5. Why did Joseph Smith Break a Lamp in the Market Square?
    Just to get arrested and put in the house of correction – because he had no money and no food. So he did it just to get fed and housed, even if it meant having to do menial work. It sounds like he was pretty desperate. There was no such thing as welfare or social security in those days. That didn’t arrive for nearly another 100 years, after WW2.
  6. What Happened to the Shoemaker’s Rabbit?
    It was stolen – and footprints were found in the garden of the house where the theft happened. Emmanuel Cox was charged with the theft – and accused of stealing the rabbit and cooking it in a pot.  The police officer that arrested Cox seems to have been tipped off by someone. The constable mentioned “Information received” – so did someone tip him off about Emmanuel Cox? Was someone trying to set Cox up, or did they have genuine information about Cox? In any case, when Cox’s place was searched they found a rabbit skin hanging up in the kitchen, which the shoemaker identified. It looked like an open and shut case. The evidence was a dead giveaway! But during the trial a woman in the audience defended Cox (she turned out to be someone he lived with – so probably not a great witness) and it was claimed that there was a witness who could testify to Cox’s innocence – but he couldn’t be found. In the end Cox was acquitted – the magistrate let him go without a charge, because he said the evidence was not sufficient. I wonder what the punishment would have been, for stealing and eating a pet rabbit? I’ll hazard a wild guess at 3 months in a correctional house, because it seems that doing pretty much anything would land you in the correctional house for 3 months, if you were a petty criminal and you lived in Warwick.

Well there you have it, the case of the shoemaker’s rabbit and 5 other stories.

I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned some English or at least you had some nice and nourishing listening practice – yum yum yum.

You can find notes and some transcriptions on the page for this episode on the website, where you can see some of the words and phrases used in this episode.

Don’t forget to download the LEP app for your smartphone. It’s free – that’s where you’ll find the entire episode archive on your phone and there are various app-only episodes and other bonuses for you to check out.

Join the mailing list on the website to get an email whenever I upload new content. That email will contain a link that’ll take you straight to the page for that content – usually a new episode and sometimes some website-only content, like when I’m interviewed on someone else’s podcast or if I want to write to you about something in particular that I think might interest you.

Sometimes episodes arrive on the website a day earlier than everywhere else, so being an email subscriber might be the fastest way to find out about new episodes when they’re released.

So, be an email subscriber, be an app-user and if you enjoy my episodes and find them useful and if the spirit moves you – please recommend this podcast to at least one person who you think might like it, leave LEP a review on iTunes or the Google Play store, and you could consider sending a donation to the podcast to help with running costs and perhaps as a sincere way to say thanks for my work.

In any case, I’d just like to say thanks for listening and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Bye! 

Luke

503. My Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 1)

Talking about the new Star Wars film including the audience reaction, English accents you can hear in Star Wars, and a run-through of the plot with my thoughts about the events and characters. Plot spoilers throughout the episode! Transcript available.

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Transcript (95% complete)

This episode is all about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Some of this stuff that I’m saying is scripted, some parts are not – but if you want to read along with me while I’m talking, which can be a great way to work on your English, see specific phrases I’m using and so on – if you want to read along with me, check out the page for this episode on my website.

In fact there will be two episodes about Star Wars. This one, which is just me talking about the film, going through the plot, giving my thoughts and discussing the audience reactions to the film, and also the next one, which will be a conversation about the film with my brother and my dad. We went to see the film together while they were here at Christmas time and afterwards I managed to record a conversation with the them and you can hear their reactions and some general rambling about it – that’ll be in the next episode.

So, at least 2 episodes about Star Wars. I was wondering if I should devote so much time to this, especially considering that some of you probably aren’t into Star Wars at all. Then I thought to myself – “Well, how do I choose my topics when I know that I can’t please everyone?” Often the deciding factor is – do I want to talk about it myself? Would I want to listen to it? The answer to those questions is yes. When I came out of the cinema in December having just seen this film I just wanted to hear other people’s comments about the film, and I looked for podcasts about it and youtube videos and stuff, and if I was learning English I would definitely like to hear someone talking about this film in English. Certainly for my ideal learning French podcast I would want to hear someone discussing the film in some depth in clear French – I am still yet to find this elusive perfect French version of Luke’s English podcast! And also, you know what? I just really want to talk about Star Wars for a while just because it pleases me to do it. So there you go, that’s my justification for doing these episodes.

SPOILERS

There are spoilers for the film throughout this episode – so if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, you might want to wait before you listen to this. I’m pretty sure the film has been out for a while in most places. I understand that it came out in China on 5 January – a bit later than in other countries. So I think there’s been enough time now for me to do some spoilers.
If you’re not a fan of Star Wars (which is totally fine of course), I understand that this might not be for you. I don’t expect everyone to be into Star Wars – it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed since childhood. So if you’re just not a Star Wars fan – I totally understand, but you’ll just have to put up with an episode or two about Star Wars this time, or you can just skip them – it’s totally up to you.

If you want to listen to something else from me, like perhaps an episode about vocabulary, or an episode with various jokes, an episode with a mystery adventure story or an episode with grammar and pronunciation questions answered – let me remind you that you can download the LEP App completely free and there you will find at least 7 exclusive app-only episodes that deal with those things specifically.

Just check out the app store, download the LEP app, check the App-Only Episodes category and away you go.

And of course you have the entire episode archive there which you can peruse at your leisure.
But for this one and the next one, it’s all about Star Wars – and if you are a fan, I hope you will enjoy being immersed in the world of Star Wars The Last Jedi for a couple of episodes.
Let me say again very clearly there will be spoilers coming as I am going to talk about exactly what happens in The Last Jedi in quite a lot of detail. Please don’t let me spoil this film for you – even if you’re keen to listen to this new episode I strongly recommend that you wait until you’ve seen the film first.

So, perhaps the people I have left with me now are:
Fans of Star Wars who have already seen the film.
And maybe some other LEPsters who might not be big fans of Star Wars but are just happy to listen to me talking about it, even if it includes plot spoilers.

I should also say that I might lose some more of you when I say that I really liked Star Wars The Last Jedi – not everything, but on the whole I really enjoyed the film and I feel like the good things definitely outweigh the bad things.

I have seen it twice now, and so there’s always a chance that I might change my opinion after seeing it a third time, but I don’t think so.

I said I might lose some more of you when I say that I enjoyed this film and that is because the response to this film has been very divided. Plenty of people like it a lot but having said that plenty of people dislike and even hate this film.

This reaction mainly comes from so-called “hardcore fans” online who are posting very negative reviews on YouTube as well as on film review websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.
But I’m quite a hardcore fan and I loved it.

In terms of my fandom, here is a summary. I grew up with the films. Watched the original trilogy over and over again throughout my life. Watched ROTJ in the cinema. As a teenager I used to have lots of fun speculating about the back story of certain characters and so on. As a child I used to think I was Luke Skywalker, as I’ve said in previous episodes. I was quite obsessive about it growing up. In the 90s and 2000s I saw the prequel films and was disappointed by them. I found them to be badly written and directed, with pretty bland characters and too much CGI. Not everything was bad about the prequels – I like the Darth Maul scenes, the pod-race, the scenes between Obi Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett but that might be it I think. I found the rest of it to be more like a Saturday morning cartoon in places.

More recently I saw reviews of the prequel trilogy on YouTube that cemented my opinion of those films as being rubbish. I’m talking about Mr Plinkett’s reviews, by RedLetterMedia.

Very astute criticisms of the prequels, with some twisted humour thrown in.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the prequel trilogy “ruined my childhood” as some fans have said (and are also saying about The Last Jedi). I think if your childhood can be ruined by a fantasy film that you watch as an adult, then perhaps your childhood was already quite flimsy in the first place. What this phrase really means is that the films spoil the Star Wars franchise, which was such a key part of your upbringing… Anyway, the prequels didn’t ruin my childhood but they did disappoint me a bit.

Then it was announced that more Star Wars movies would be released, after Lucasfilm was taken over by Disney. 2 years ago The Force Awakens was released and I really enjoyed it, even if it was very derivative of the original Star Wars films (episode 4). It basically copied the plot of Episode 4 – but I’m alright with that. I thought it was done in a way that was far closer to the original spirit and aesthetic of Star Wars and that was really pleasing. Also they introduced a few new characters that was interesting.

Also, in 2015 Rogue One was released – a film set just before Episode 4. This was a sort of war movie inspired episode that didn’t have any Jedi or lightsabers, but told the story of how the rebels managed to get the plans to destroy the Death Star. I really enjoyed that too! It feels like Star Wars is good again.

I love reading about fan theories and speculations on forums (like Star Wars Leaks on Reddit) and I do watch lots of dumb YouTube speculation videos about Star Wars, and there were a lot of them released onto YouTube before The Last Jedi came out.
But I like to think that I have my fandom under control. I love the world of Star Wars and I feel invested in the stories, but I try not to expect too much from the films. I remember the prequel trilogy – I used to get my hopes up really high before each film was released and I was disappointed each time.

Also, I know that your enjoyment of these films is largely a question of taste and a question of subjective experience. What makes a bad film for some people makes a good film for others.

The relationship between the fans of Star Wars and the films is very complicated. A lot of people feel very personally invested in this franchise. The fans feel that they own the franchise or that it represents their own personal life, childhood, dreams, imagination and everything.

It’s strange how Star Wars can do that. When it is at its best it manages to touch people in the most personal and profound ways. Also, the level of speculation and theorising among the fans has created such massive expectation from the films that it’s almost impossible to please everyone now, and when a film fails to meet people’s specific vision for the story and characters it can feel like a very personal disappointment.

But I think some fans are expecting too much from Star Wars now. They’ve put it on a pedestal – which is a way of saying that they expect it to be perfect and to live up to their highest expectations all the time. But it’s just a movie franchise and to an extent it’s a children’s movie franchise. I think some people just need to chill out a bit and stop expecting so much from the films. Saying that, there is bound to be someone out there listening to me who disagrees, who says I’m being an apologist, who says there’s no excuse for what they’ve done.
When I read some of the negative reactions, I honestly think – “did we see the same film?” Some people are so angry! It makes me wonder if perhaps there are other things going on, like that these people are not just angry with the film, but they’re angry with what they see as a certain political agenda being expressed through the film. This probably feeds into the ongoing saga of the war between right-wing people (who don’t say they’re right wing) and what they describe as liberal social justice warriors. I see these arguments all the time online in comments sections and so on. The angry ones (whatever their political position) get furious when there’s a suggestion that a film is being used to promote feminism, or to promote ethnic diversity or perhaps animal welfare or environmental issues. A hint of this in a film makes some people really mad. There’s a bit of this in The Last Jedi – some strong female characters, black, asian and hispanic actors in prominent roles, a storyline about animal cruelty… Part of the hatred aimed at SW is fuelled by this stuff.

But also, some people don’t like it because they think it’s bad storytelling, and because of the way some characters are dealt with – particularly Luke Skywalker. A lot of people can’t stand the way he is represented in the film.

Added to that, there’s the humour. Some people have really taken against the moments of humour which they think don’t fit in with the tone of the film as a whole or the whole franchise in general.

I’m talking there about some reasons why the film is disliked by some people – but not everyone of course. Plenty of people like or love this film too although it’s hard to tell what the overall audience reaction has been. I think it’s fair to say that the film is dividing people, particularly the more serious fans.

I don’t know what you thought of The Last Jedi. There are some pretty strong feelings out there. You might disagree with me when I say I like it, but I hope you hear me out on this. Of course the film is not 100% perfect or anything but generally I think there is a great deal to be enjoyed about it.

Story recap

I’d like to now go through the film from start to finish, describe what happens and give my thoughts on each part.
You remember the numbers don’t you?
OT – Original Trilogy (4, 5, 6)
PT – Prequel Trilogy (1, 2, 3)
ST – Sequel Trilogy (7, 8, 9)
Also Rogue One that fits in before episode 4.

The Force Awakens
The Resistance are searching for Luke Skywalker because they need his help. There’s a missing piece of a map hidden inside the droid BB8.
A scavenger girl called Rey finds the droid.
Han Solo and Princess Leia had a son who turned to the dark side.

The Last Jedi – Opening Crawl

How did it feel in the cinema at this point?
I was trying to keep my expectations realistic. I thought – if I expect too much from this I might be disappointed. It’s just a film and ultimately it’s just a space fantasy. It seems silly to invest so much into it.

Having said that, I was really looking forward to getting stuck into some new Star Wars and I had no idea what was coming.

The Lucasfilm logo appeared and I was really trying to just stay calm but I have to admit it was difficult. I felt really nervous.

Star Wars logo + music and I was already getting chills and started welling up. I know it’s a bit pathetic or something, but there it is. Somehow these films just take me directly back to my childhood. It’s like stepping back in time and going straight back to my living room when I was 7 years old and my Dad was younger than I am now and I’d never had any real experiences, I’d never left home, never had my heart-broken, never fallen in love…
I was a bit emotional during this film. I just can’t help it. Also bear in mind that I was watching this while fully expecting my wife to give birth to our baby at any moment. I literally had my phone in my hand and every single vibration I expected was a text from my wife saying that her water had broken. Anyway, I was feeling very emotionally susceptible while watching the film, which is fine – I’m in touch with my feelings, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
The opening crawl started and it’s impossible not to get excited by this, if you’re a Star Wars fan. For some reason I can never really read it and take it in.

Episode VIII
THE LAST JEDI
The FIRST ORDER reigns.
Having decimated the peaceful
Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke
now deploys his merciless
legions to seize military
control of the galaxy.

Only General Leia Organa’s
band of RESISTANCE fighters
stand against the rising
tyranny, certain that Jedi
Master Luke Skywalker will
return and restore a spark of
hope to the fight.

But the Resistance has been
exposed. As the First Order
speeds toward the Rebel base,
the brave heroes mount a
desperate escape….

The First Order are now in complete control of the galaxy after having blown up the republic with Starkiller Base.
The Resistance are on the run, escaping from their base. The First Order are closing in, with vastly superior weaponry, ships, and so on.
They blow up the base as remaining resistance ships escape, but they’re being pursued by a First Order fleet.
In an effective but costly counterattack led by Poe Dameron, Resistance fighters manage to destroy a First Order dreadnought.
One of the FO officers is played by Ade Edmondson, and all the Brits are delighted.
Admiral Hux is played by Domhnall Gleeson, Irish actor. He really “hams it up”.
First bit of controversial humour. “Holding for Admiral Hugs” etc.
FO officers are pretty incompetent and Gleeson plays a lot of his scenes for laughs – it’s a completely over the top performance. Old fashioned RP, and general frothing at the mouth.

A note about accents:
In SW almost all the Imperial Officers have old fashioned heightened RP accents. This is because this is the accent that Americans associate with an evil old empire – because the British Empire was an evil old empire for the USA. This association still exists – more so in the 70s but still today. Also, it means stuffy formality.
Obi Wan Kenobi also had an old school English accent, but that was to suggest that he came from an era that no longer exists – the old republic. It just fits the character. His British accent gives him class, dignity and suggests that he is more than just a “crazy old man”.
Vader also had a bit of an RP British accent, but this gradually changed into a trans-atlantic American accent. Still old fashioned and formal in tone, but a bit American. That’s just because the voice actor – James Earl Jones – was a classically trained American actor. These great actors really brought a lot of weight and class to the original films and this was repeated in the prequel trilogy. They chose more well trained British actors because they have class. This includes people like Terence Stamp.

In this sequel trilogy (ST), accents are also used to create certain feelings and associations with the characters. The FO officers still speak in old fashioned RP in order to give that sense of old empire (think of the naval officers in Pirates of the Caribbean who speak in a similarly old fashioned way). Supreme Leader Snoke speaks in formal British RP. We don’t know much about him (and I’ll come to that in a bit) but basically he’s a bit like the Emperor – probably very old and powerful and he is the Supreme Leader of the First Order so of course he has the old fashioned English RP accent.

Most of the other characters speak American English though, and this seems to be the default accent for “ordinary person” in the Star Wars universe. This includes Han Solo – a kind of cowboy smuggler flyboy kind of guy, and Luke Skywalker- just a farmer from a desert planet – nobody special (or at least that is the background he has come from).

Also, most of the new characters speak with standard American accents – Finn is just an ordinary guy – quite a low level person since he used to be just a stormtrooper and he speaks with an American accent, although the actor is actually from Peckham in South London. Apparently he auditioned in his normal voice but it just didn’t feel right. He auditioned in an American accent and it just fit the character better. Poe Dameron also has a standard American accent. As I said – ordinary people, rebels, not part of the empire.

But then there’s Rey. She speaks with quite a posh English accent, although not in the formal way that the FO officers speak. She is definitely just a normal person too, and according to this film she is nobody special (unless this is just a trick and in episode 9 they will reveal something special about her, but I don’t think so – again, more on this later). So why does she have this English RP accent? I don’t really know! Perhaps the actress doesn’t do a very good American accent and this is just her normal voice. Perhaps they just wanted to arouse our interest in this character by giving her a distinctive and classy voice, like Obi Wan Kenobi. The fans certainly took this point as a big clue about her origins. A lot of people believed that because she is force sensitive and speaks in a posh English accent that she must be related to other force users with this accent like Obi Wan Kenobi or perhaps even Emperor Palpatine. There are other details that support these fan theories. But apparently her accent doesn’t mean this. But still, it’s interesting to note that although she grew up on an insignificant planet and lived as a scavenger for all her life, she still speaks with quite a posh English accent, when all the people around her on her home planet of Jakku don’t have the same accent. Her slave owner for example (because in TFA she appears to be basically a slave or at least someone who works for food rations rather than money) – her master or boss speaks with a working class cockney English accent.
Just a note on accents there. Next time you watch these films in English, think about that.
Back to the plot.

The Resistance avoid getting blown up by the First Order ships – massive battleships called Dreadnaughts.

Poe Dameron bravely and recklessly flies right up to the FO dreadnaught and does some Top Gun style maverick moves, taking out lots of gun turrets and generally being a brilliant pilot. He clears the way for the Resistance bombers.
WW2 style bombers.

Star Wars always took inspiration from WW2 films.

The bombers are laden with cool-looking round black bombs.

Some people say “but there’s no gravity in space!” – but this is Star Wars not Star Trek. It’s fantasy, not science fiction. If your argument is that it doesn’t make scientific sense then sorry, that’s a bit invalid considering Star Wars has never stood up to scientific scrutiny. It’s an emotional character driven fable set in space in a galaxy far far away a long time ago. It’s more like a greek myth or an episode of Flash Gordon than 2001 A Space Odyssey.
There are some classic moments of Star Wars fighter combat in space, including a fat guy with a beard who instantly dies. This is something that happens in so many Star Wars films, beginning with Episode 4 when a fat bearded pilot called Porkins dies, and it happens again in Episode 7 I think, and then here we go again – a fat bearded pilot buys the farm almost instantly. It’s a running joke. I wonder how the fat bearded guy community feels about this.
Poe is an awesome pilot but an incredible risk taker and he ends up getting most of the Resistance fleet destroyed, except for one lone bomber which somehow manages to get through the FO defences.

Super-dramatic sequence with the last remaining bomber.

This feels like the ending sequence of the film rather than the start.

How could anyone not find this exciting and brilliant?

This is Rose’s sister. She’s a gunner on the bomber. All the other crew have been killed. It’s up to her to drop the bombs. Very dramatic stuff with the trigger button. She falls and the button is on a ledge above her. There’s a suggestion that Leia uses the force to help her. She also holds onto a necklace – the other half belongs to her sister Rose. The button drops down but she seems to miss it. This is executed in a slightly cheesy and cliched way by Rian Johnson. The button clearly drops past her and out of reach but in slow motion we see the button dropping from another angle and her hand comes from nowhere to grab it.

It’s exactly the same thing that happens in Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise when he is in a high security room trying to steal some classified information or something. He’s suspended from the ceiling and a bead of sweat drops from his forehead. If it touches the floor, he’s dead basically. The bead of sweat falls and is definitely going to land on the floor but his hand comes in and stops it at the last minute. The magic of the movies, right?

Some people probably found that annoying, but it’s just a trick that’s been used in countless other movies. Movies always play with time, they slow it down, speed it up, use different angles and so on in order to raise the tension. The worst you can say about this sequence is that it’s a cliche. I personally found it to be good old fashioned dramatic tension and the moment when she presses the button and the bombs drop onto the dreadnaught very satisfying. Massive explosion and the dreadnaught is destroyed, although at great cost to the Resistance.

That was a really exciting sequence. I didn’t mind the jokey dialogue between Poe and Hux. I love the way the FO officers are quite ridiculous. I always found that funny in Star Wars anyway.
But there is a hell of a lot of war in this film. Of course – it’s Star Wars. But I remember James saying in another episode that we did about Star Wars once – will this war ever end? Probably not. It’s going to go on and on forever. It’s a pity that this is all about war and that this is great entertainment for us. War as entertainment. That’s a bit of a pity. You see it a lot in other films too, like Avengers Infinity War for example. War war war – explosions and explosions.
The Resistance fleet jumps into hyperspace and escapes, for now.
Poe gets told off by General Leia who demotes him.
Poe’s character arc in this film is that he has to learn how to develop from a reckless if brilliant fighter pilot to a strategic and inspiring leader of the Resistance.
One of the complaints about the film is that none of the characters develop. I disagree. Most of the characters have clear character arcs.
Hux gets told off by Supreme Leader Snoke who throws him around the room and drags him across the floor using the force.
So, I think Hux is summoned to Snoke’s throne room along with Kylo Ren.
Snoke is really pissed off but Hux reveals that they are actually tracking the Resistance through hyperspace – something that wasn’t possible before – hyperspace tracking.
Some fans are pissed off about this – that it’s a new thing that’s come from nowhere but this was mentioned v quickly in Rogue One, so there it is – it’s not completely out of the blue that this is possible.
This kind of gets him off the hook with Snoke.
Then Hux leaves Snoke alone with Kylo Ren who is still wearing his mask from episode 7.
This is a cool scene.
Snoke bullies Kylo – explains how he’s disappointed, how he’s lost faith in him, how he is still conflicted despite having killed Solo. He said when he found him he thought he had so much potential and raw power and that he could be the new Darth Vader but he’s just a boy in a mask who got beaten by a girl. To be fair to Kylo he had been shot when he took on Rey, but still. Snoke really makes him feel small and useless. Snoke is manipulating him but in a very cruel way.
He basically slaps him down. In fact he gives him a jolt of force lightning. Kylo stands up defiantly and Snoke shocks him quickly sending him flying backwards. I suppose to teach him a lesson – like a cruel parent or something. When this happens we see Snoke’s power used casually and also his guards quickly adopt fighting positions when Kylo stands and then return to their original positions after a couple of seconds. These guards look badass and cool, and better than the Imperial Guards that (badly) protected Emperor Palpatine in the original films.
Snoke looks amazing.
Kylo feels utterly humiliated and furious at this point.
Adam Driver’s performance is great.
It’s understated, except for the moments when he flies into a rage. We don’t quite know what’s going on inside him, except for subtle looks he gives, subtle changes in his expression which suggest that he’s feeling hurt, angry, determined, impatient, calculating. He’s a bit of an enigma. He never blinks in the film, I think. He never quite reveals his hand.
I feel sympathy towards him, considering how Snoke bullies him, builds him up and knocks him down.
I actually think he’s a bit more interesting than just a guy in a mask. Vader is of course a brilliant villain, but he’s also really ridiculous. The helmet is a bit over the top.
Kylo removes the mask and this is a good idea – in terms of the film making. It allows us to see Adam Driver’s performance. I like the way he is mostly quite blank in his expression – it’s hard to read him. Then at certain key moments we see the conflict inside him.
I like the fact that we never really know which way he is going. Is he turning good or bad? Or is it possible that he’s going in a completely new direction – against The Resistance & Luke Skywalker but also against Snoke who is using and abusing him?
Kylo is upset and very angry – not only does he remove the mask but he destroys it against the wall of the lift. He smashes it to pieces. This guy is calm and expressionless one minute and completely unhinged the next minute and I love that.
He orders his ship to be made ready.
The Resistance are just licking their wounds from the bomber run on the dreadnaught. Poe is feeling gutted that he’s been demoted.
Finn wakes up inside his bacta tank thing – some sort of medical body suit he’s been wearing while recovering. There’s a bit of comedy when he walks out of the medical ward wearing this ridiculous suit with pipes sticking out of it and liquid going everywhere. It looks pretty dumb, but it doesn’t really do any harm to the film or to Finn. Just a slightly goofy moment. Poe sees him and kind of fills him in on the plot.
I think at this point the First Order ships suddenly jump out of hyperspace right behind the Resistance and The Resistance are shocked to discover that the First Order have somehow tracked them through hyperspace.
The thing is, The Resistance are a certain distance ahead of the First Order ships – just out of range of the FO’s big weapons. I admit that this part of the plot is quite contrived. We now have a sort of standoff, or a low-speed chase in which the FO can’t get any closer because their big ships aren’t quite fast enough and The REsistance ships are relying on their shields and their mobility to keep out of range of the FO’s guns.
I don’t know why the FO can’t just do a really quick hyperspace jump so they’re immediately behind The Resistance ships and then use their big weapons. I don’t really understand why the FO ships aren’t faster and why their big weapons have such a short range – but honestly, I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter that much to me. The situation is this – the FO decide to play the long game. They’re convinced that eventually The Resistance will run out of fuel and then their shields will fail and they’ll fall within range and the FO will be able to destroy them. They also know that The Resistance can’t escape through hyperspeed. So they wait. That’s good enough for me! It shows the arrogance and cruelty of the FO – enjoying the feeling that they have the upper hand and perhaps even relishing the dominance of their position.
In terms of the film it allows other things to happen in the meantime and works as a kind of ticking clock device, which is really common in many films. A ticking clock or ultimatum which gives a sense of urgency to everything that happens. The protagonists have to hurry because they’re running out of time.
Kylo then goes out on an attack run against The Resistance with a few other FO fighters.
First time we’ve seen Kylo in his own Tie Fighter. It’s a bit like Vader’s tie fighter or perhaps the fighter flown by Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. Kylo also does some spinning, which is something Anakin was known for doing in the prequels. It’s quite a nice touch since Kylo is Anakin’s grandson.
Kylo destroys a lot of The Resistance x-wing fighters in the hanger on their ship The Raddus.
Loads of Resistance pilots die.
Kylo is a badass pilot. He flies past the bridge of The Raddus, where his mother Admiral Leia is situated. There’s a cool moment when the two of them obviously become aware of each other through the force. Kylo is planning to blow up the bridge, killing everyone, including his mother, but he pauses and seems to be wrestling with inner conflict. We see Leia perhaps reaching out using the force. This is a great emotional moment and really good performances by both Adam Driver and Carrie Fisher. A lot of emotion is shown in their faces. Kylo doesn’t shoot his missiles into the bridge. He can’t kill his mother, apparently. Maybe Leia is using the force to control his mind or something, or perhaps Kylo hasn’t become completely dark yet and the light part of him has mercy on her. It’s interesting anyway – to see his conflict and to consider where his loyalties really lie – with Snoke or with Leia. We don’t really know, but he doesn’t launch his missiles in any case. However, the two tie-fighters by his side do shoot their missiles and the bridge is blown up – sending everyone hurtling out into space, including Leia.
Kylo is then told to return to the FO fleet and he seems frustrated – perhaps because his mother has just been blown up, or because he resents being given orders by General Hux. At this moment I feel like he’s going to turn back to the light side, or at least that he’s not completely loyal to Snoke and the FO. This conflict is really interesting and I don’t see why some people don’t see this as a really positive point about the film. Trying to work out Kylo Ren is fascinating.
I reckon the best things about this film are the inner conflicts in the main characters. There is depth, contradiction, failure, confusion and pain in these characters, and the film shows this to the audience, rather than explaining it in really clumsy dialogue like you get in the prequel films.
Kylo flies back to the FO fleet.
Then perhaps the most controversial and weird moment in this film happens. This is the one that a lot of people really don’t like.
This is the end of part 1.
Part 2 – coming soon.

Observations on the Paris Metro… from Inside the Metro (Listen to my appearance on Oliver Gee’s podcast “The Earful Tower”)

Hello website LEPsters! Here is some more listening you can do while waiting for the next episode of LEP.

I was recently invited onto The Earful Tower Podcast by Oliver Gee (remember him from episode 495?) We recorded an episode all about the Paris Metro while riding the Paris Metro. You can listen to it here.

You’ll hear us talking about our experiences of using the Metro, some of the things we find fascinating, funny, weird, cool and even disgusting about it. You can hear various background noises and experience what it’s really like to travel through Paris on line 2 with Oli and me.

Keep listening to the end to hear a cool story from Paris’s history, read by Oliver’s regular storytelling guest Corey Frye.

Click the link below to see photos from our trip and to check out other episodes of The Earful Tower podcast with Oliver Gee.

Click link below for photos from our trip and more info:

theearfultower.com/2017/12/07/observations-on-the-paris-metro-from-inside-the-metro/

Oliver Gee is a journalist from Australia now living in Paris. His podcast is all about Paris and episodes include interesting stories, bits of history, chats about language and comments about the cultural differences. It’s all in English and you should check out his episode archive – you’ll find several appearances by Amber Minogue, one episode with Paul Taylor and two with me (including this one). Enjoy!

p.s. You might be wondering whether our baby daughter has been born yet. Well – not yet! We are still waiting. She’s currently one day overdue, but everything’s fine. She could still arrive at any time. We’re waiting with bated breath.

More episodes of LEP coming before too long.

Don’t forget to download the LEP App and enjoy listening to some full-length episodes only available in the app, plus more bonus content.

Cheers!

Luke

499. Prince Harry & Meghan Markle / Royal Family Quiz (with Amber)

Talking to Amber about the UK’s Royal Family, including our thoughts on the upcoming wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, some royal gossip & rumours, and also a Royal Family Quiz with questions about the monarchy today and in history. So, expect to hear our thoughts and some facts about this very traitional British institution. Notes available.

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Introduction Transcript

Here’s an episode about the Royal family.

You probably know that recently we had the news that Prince Harry is going to marry his gorgeous girlfriend Meghan Markle. I don’t know if that made the news where you are.

There’s going to be another royal wedding next year. This is actually quite a big deal for the UK.

You might be wondering what British people think about all of this. What do we think about Harry and Meghan and what do we think of the Royal family in general?

Well, I can’t ask every single Brit what they think, but I can give you my opinions and the opinions of Amber, who I am talking to in this episode..

Also this gives us an opportunity to chat generally about the Royal Family on the podcast again, and that’s usually a subject which attracts quite a lot of interest from abroad.

Also, in this episode Amber and I have prepared some quiz questions about the royal family.

I wonder if you know the answers.

So first you’ll get a discussion of Harry and Meghan, and then a royal family quiz.

Let’s see how much you know about the royals and hopefully this episode can help you you learn a few things about the British monarchy that you didn’t know before, including some scandals, some rumours, some big moments in history and other interesting facts about this most traditional of British institutions.

—- Conversation Notes and My Quiz Questions —

Amber mentions “Christmas-abilia” – this is not a word! She just made it up. She meant ‘bits and bobs relating to Christmas, like decorations and things in her flat.

It sounds like “memorabilia” which means: ​objects that are collected because they are connected with a person or event that is thought to be very interesting. (Cambridge Dictionary)

e.g. Beatles memorabilia, or memorabilia from the royal wedding. Stuff like this:

 

Prince Harry is marrying Meghan Markle next May.

  • Who is Meghan Markle?
    An actress from the TV show “Suits”
    Background – Rachel Meghan Markle[5][6] is of Dutch, English, and Irish descent through her father. Don’t know about her Mum but apparently she was African-American. She was born on August 4, 1981, in Los Angeles.[7] Describing her parents, she has said, “My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African-American … I have come to embrace [this and] say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident, mixed-race woman.” [8] (Wikipedia)
    Divorced
    American
    Catholic (sounds like Wallace Simpson – the woman Edward VIII chose to marry)
  • What do we think of her?

Royal Family Quiz – Luke’s Questions

How much does it cost the UK taxpayer per year (on average) to maintain the royal family?

About 66p in 2016. That’s the part that comes from the treasury.

The family also gets money from other places. (see article)

Where do the royals get their money from?

2 or 3 main sources.

Sovereign Grant – about 15% of the profits made by the Crown Estate. That’s money made from all the properties owned by the Queen. I’m not sure how the money comes in – it’s probably rent, ground rent, entry fees for visitors etc. All that money goes to the government, who give back 15% of it two years later.

The Privy Purse – profits from all the land and assets that have been owned by the royal family for generations. Residential, commercial and agricultural properties. It’s about 184 km2. Between 2015-2016 that was about £17.8m. That pays for expenses incurred by other members of the family.

Private savings and personal fortune. The Queen herself owns properties which she inherited from her father, including Balmoral castle in Scotland. She also has a large art collection apparently. This is all worth about £340m.

www.businessinsider.com/where-does-the-royal-family-get-money-2017-1?IR=T

Who was Edward VIII and what did he do?

How many monarchs can you name from the Queen back?
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_monarchs

Who has to die for Harry to take the throne? (Can you tell me the line of succession?)
The Queen, Prince Charles, George, Charlotte – they all have to go before Harry can become king.

Queen – Charles – William – George – Charlotte – Harry – Harry’s Kids (none) – Andrew – Andrew’s kids (Beatrice and Eugenie) – Edward – Edward’s kids – Anne – Anne’s kids – no idea.

Queen Elizabeth II (born 1926)
(1) Charles, Prince of Wales (b. 1948) B D W
(2) Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (b. 1982) B D W
(3) Prince George of Cambridge (b. 2013) B D W
(4) Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (b. 2015) B D W
(5) Prince Henry of Wales (Prince Harry) (b. 1984) B D W
(6) Prince Andrew, Duke of York (b. 1960) B D W
(7) Princess Beatrice of York (b. 1988) B D W
(8) Princess Eugenie of York (b. 1990) B D W
(9) Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex (b. 1964) B D W

Which living royals (in the nuclear family) are divorced? Did they have affairs?
Charles
Anne
Andrew
(Diana, Sarah Ferguson – both had affairs which were leaked in the press)

Which royal was once given a toe-job?
Fergie’s Toe-Sucking Scandal

What gives the monarch his/her power?
It’s a covenant with god! Haven’t you seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

What would happen if the Queen murdered someone?
Nothing, apparently. She can’t be prosecuted. Amber disagrees.

True or false?

  • The Queen has her own poet. True – poet laureate is officially the poet to the monarch and is paid in sherry. TRUE
  • The Queen can fly and regularly pilots her own helicopters and light aircraft. Her favourite is a Harrier Jump Jet which she sometimes flies over Dartmoor where she enjoys blowing up deer. FALSE
  • By law, all pubs in the UK must display a picture of the Queen behind the bar. FALSE
  • The Queen and Winston Churchill once had an affair. FALSE
  • The Queen doesn’t really like Scottish people. FALSE
  • The Queen smokes cigarettes. FALSE
  • The Queen smokes pot. DUNNO – probably FALSE. Queen Vic used it.
  • The Queen owns all dolphins which swim in British waters. TRUE
  • The Queen owns all the Swans on the River Thames. TRUE
  • The Queen writes ‘the laws of the land’. FALSE – she gives them ‘royal assent’.
  • The Queen is in charge of the government, including the PM. FALSE – not really in charge of them, but she officially invites them to form a government on her behalf.
  • The Queen’s powers include visa free travel, veto (refusal of royal assent) and invisibility. TRUE (except the invisibility – we think)

Will Megan be a princess when she marries Harry?

Which member of the royal family talks to trees and believes in homeopathy?

Outro Transcript

What you just heard there was The Queen’s speech from 2015. That was actually the Queen’s voice. Have you heard her speak before?

She speaks in a heightened RP, or as some might say “very posh English”.

I don’t know if you can recognise it, but to me it’s unmistakable. For you it might just sound like clear speech (which it is – she does speak very clearly), but for me there are certain features of her voice that are a dead giveaway that this person is really posh, and honestly this kind of “posh” accent isn’t how most people speak. For example, my Dad and I speak clearly but we don’t have this posh accent.

Every now and then I’ll hear someone speaking with this kind of accent and it’s a sign that they come from an upper-class background. There’s a lot more to say about this subject and I intend to explore it further in later episodes.

Anyway, thank you for listening to this episode. I look forward to reading your responses in the comment section.

Have a great day, morning, afternoon, evening or night and if you are celebrating Christmas this year I hope you’re starting to get into the Christmas spirit.

By the way, our baby hasn’t arrived yet, but it could be any day now. I don’t know how that will affect the podcast, but if there are no new episodes for a week or two, that’s why. I think I should be able to record something for you, so I don’t think there will be a big delay, but anyway – if you don’t hear from me from a bit, it’s probably because I’m changing nappies, dealing with visiting family members, and generally in a sleep deprived condition.

Alright then, thanks for listening and speak to you soon I hope.

For now, bye bye bye!

Harry & James Hewitt 

They look pretty similar, don’t they? 

497. Film Club: Withnail & I (with James and Will)

Talking about a classic British film which not many learners of English know about. Listen for explanations of the film, its appeal, descriptions of the characters and events, the type of people who like the film and a few bits of dialogue too. Notes available.

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Introduction Transcript

Today on the podcast I am going to be talking about a cult classic of British cinema – a film called Withnail & I.

This is a slightly ambitious episode because in my experience this film is usually very difficult for learners of English to fully appreciate. Even the title of the film somehow fails to register with many people when I tell them.

“Can you recommend British films?” one of my students might say.
And I say “Yes, definitely. You should watch Withnail & I”
And the person’s face creases into an expression of “what was that you just said?”
“Withnail and I” I repeat.
But still, this clearly just seems like a noise to this person.
He doesn’t know what to write. He doesn’t know how many words that is. He doesn’t know how to spell “Withnail and I”. He’s lost for a moment.
So I write it on the board “Withnail and I”.
Still, this doesn’t help much. The person doesn’t even recognise the word “Withnail”. It’s difficult to spell, it’s difficult to pronounce, it doesn’t seem to mean anything.

Then I think – “There’s no way this guy is going to enjoy this film, he can’t even get past the title.”

But something inside me says – “Luke, Luke… I am your father…” No, it says “Luke, you need to make these people watch this film. It is your duty as a British person teaching people your language and culture. These people need to see this film. They need to know what a Camberwell Carrot is, they need to know about cake and fine wine, they need to know why all hairdressers are under the employment of the government. It is your duty Luke, to teach these people about the wonderful world of Withnail and I – even if they don’t want it!”

So now I feel duty bound to tell you all about this cult British film. By the way, the title of the film “Withnail and I” – these are just the two characters in the film. Withnail and another guy whose name we don’t know. He’s simply “I”.

If you’re interested in British films, if you like slightly dark comedies with good acting, interesting characters, an excellent script and some top level swearing – this is a film for you.

You might never have heard of it, I realise, and that’s partly why I’m doing this episode. I like to recommend things that you might not know.

Withnail and I is a cult film which means it’s very very popular with a certain group of people. It’s not a mass-appeal sort of film. It might not be the film you think of when you consider typical “British films” – you might think of something like Love Actually or a Jane Austen adaptation, but Withnail & I is a film that you will definitely know if you a proper lover of British films. It is a cult classic and those who love it – really love it with a passion as if they’ve lived the film themselves in their own lives.

But not everybody gets it. Certainly, in the UK it is very highly regarded by people who have a special love for films, but it’s not a film like Four Weddings or James Bond which seem to appeal to everybody. Plenty of Brits don’t get it. Also learners of English hardly ever know about it (because in my experience most learners of English understand British cinema as things like Hugh Grant, Harry Potter and even Mr Bean). It can be a difficult film to understand if you’re not a native speaker from the UK. It’s not well known in the USA even.

But as I said, it’s a cult success in the UK.

Cult has two meanings. A cult can be a sort of small religious group devoted to a particular person, but when cult is used as an adjective with something like “film” then it means that this film is extremely popular with certain people.

  • What kinds of people like this film?
  • Why do people love this film so much?
  • What is the appeal?
  • What can this film tell us about British culture?
  • Why should you as a learner of English take any interest in this film at all?
  • How can you learn some real British English from this?

Let’s find out in this episode of Luke’s Film Club on Luke’s English Podcast all about Withnail & I.

I’m a huge Withnail & I fan but in this episode I’m also joined by several other Withnail fans who are very keen to talk to you about one of their favourite films.

Those two fans are my brother James and his mate Will.

I just sincerely hope that we can somehow explain this film and its appeal, and make this interesting for you to listen to (that’ll be hard considering it’s three blokes with similar voices talking about an obscure film that you’ve probably never seen).

***

Links & Videos

The Wall of Withnail – superfan Heidi’s collection of objects seen in the background of Withnail & I. wall-o-withnail.blogspot.fr/

Withnail and Us – a great documentary about the making of the film, by the people who made the film.

Bruce Robinson interview

Bruce Robinson & Richard E Grant at the London BFI

The Hamlet Monologue (Act 2, Scene 2, Page 13)

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither.”

In plain English:

“Recently, though I don’t know why, I’ve lost all sense of fun —the whole world feels sterile and empty. This beautiful canopy we call the sky—this majestic roof decorated with golden sunlight—why, it’s nothing more to me than disease-filled air. What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking, how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding! There’s nothing more beautiful. We surpass all other animals. And yet to me, what are we but dust? Men don’t interest me. No—women neither.”

Outtro

What you just heard there is the final scene of the film in which Withnail repeats lines from Hamlet by Shakespeare and it’s quite a tragic ending, but you’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens.

So that was an ambitious episode! I honestly think this one is as ambitious as the one about the rules of cricket. All the way through that conversation alarm bells were ringing in my head.

Sometimes I get alarm bells when I’m teaching. From experience I know what my learners of English will and won’t understand. For example, if there’s a listening that we’re doing and it contains a few phrasal verbs or connected speech or a specific accent, the alarm bells ring in my head and sure enough none of my students have understood it.

So for this episode alarm bells are ringing like mad. First of all the film is like kryptonite to students of English (which is a pity because there’s a lot to enjoy), but also because you were listening to three guys talking with fairly similar voices in a comfortable way – meaning, not graded for learners of English to make it easier, and also we’re talking about a film that you’ve probably never seen. Also the little clips in particular were, I’m sure, rather difficult to follow.

So a big well done if you made it this far. I promise you that this film is an absolute gem and if you give it a chance it will actually improve your life.

I have talked about this film on the podcast before and in fact I do remember getting a message from a listener who said that she had watched the film on my recommendation with her boyfriend and that now they enjoy repeating lines from the script when they are about the house.

So if they can get into it then you can too, although of course this film is not for everyone, that’s why it’s a cult film.

I’ve just remembered, I promised to play the Withnail & I swear-a-thon. That’s like a marathon isn’t it, but with swearing.

Withnail and I is celebrated for its swearing and there is a lot of colourful rude language in the film. For the 20th anniversary DVD box set someone edited together all the swearwords from the film in order. This is the Withnail and I swear-a-thon. Now, as you would expect the next minute or so is going to be absolutely filled with swearing so brace yourselves. YOu’re going to hear all sorts of rude words like bastard, shit, fuck and also cunt. Here we go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode of Luke’s Film Club on Luke’s English Podcast.

Check out the page for the episode for some notes, transcriptions and also a bunch of video documentaries, clips and interviews that are definitely worth watching if you’d like to know more.

Have a great morning, evening, breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleep, commute or run!

482. The Murder Mile True Crime Podcast (with Moz) More Creepy Stories of Murders in London

My friend Moz, who runs a murder-themed tour company in London, is back on the podcast to talk about some more creepy stories of crimes from London’s history and his new podcast. Vocabulary list and quiz available below.

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Links

www.murdermiletours.com

www.murdermiletours.com/podcast

Notes and Introduction Transcript

Moz (aka Michael Buchanan-Dunne) has appeared on the podcast a number of times before, for example in the Brighton Fringe Festival episodes, the drunk episode, the episode recorded on Moz’s narrowboat and also the episode from last year called “Murder Mile Tours”.

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

If you haven’t heard those episodes, let me bring you up to speed as it might help you understand some of the things we talk about in this conversation.

I first met Moz and made friends with him about 8 years ago while doing stand-up comedy in London.

He used to work for the BBC, making comedy television programmes, but then a few years ago he decided to set up a tourism company and bought a narrowboat which he now lives on. Narrowboats are boats that can be used on the UK’s canal system. They’re long and narrow and they’re boats, hence the name “narrowboats”.

Moz now lives on his boat which he usually moors at different locations throughout London’s canal network (there are lots of canals running through London).

He also runs a successful tour company in London, called “Murder Mile Tours”.
His most popular tour is called the “Murder Mile Walk” which currently takes place in Soho in central London every week. The walk takes in various sites where murders have actually occurred. Some of those murders were the work of serial killers and they all have gruesome stories connected with them, stories which Moz has painstakingly researched by looking up lots of archived material including court records from courtrooms in London.

Last year I invited him onto the podcast to tell us some of those stories. That proved to be one of the most downloaded episodes of the podcast last year. Since then his tours have gone from strength to strength – not directly a result of being on this podcast of course, although that has helped because quite a lot of LEPsters have been on the murder mile walk with Moz, no, the tour seems to be going really well because it seems really fun, it’s original, the stories are fascinating, and the tour has had loads of 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor.

In fact just recently Murder Mile Tours received a TripAdvisor certificate of excellence, which is a really great achievement. TripAdvisor describe it as one of the 150 best things to do in London and Time Out Magazine described it as one of the top 3 themed tours in the city.

Now Moz has decided to start up his own podcast in which he will regularly share some of the stories he has discovered while doing his research. His podcast, called “The Murder Mile True Crime Podcast” will be available from 1 October (you’ll be able to find it on iTunes – or just check www.murdermiletours.com/podcast).

So, I’ve invited Moz to come back onto the podcast to talk about all of this.

Moz and I are friends, so this isn’t just an interview, it’s also a light-hearted informal conversation and a chance for the two of us to catch up on each other’s personal news and just have a bit of fun while we’re doing it, and you are invited to join us.

You should know that this episode contains some graphic content and explicit language
including some fairly detailed descriptions of violence and murder
and some other things that you might find disturbing or disgusting.

I feel I should let you know that in advance, just in case you’re squeamish and you don’t like that sort of thing – but to be honest the content of this episode is no worse than what you would see in the average episode of a TV show like CSI or Game of Thrones.

But still – there are some creepy and gruesome details in this episode, so – you have been warned.

By the way, if you’re interested in some of the items of vocabulary that you can hear in this conversation, you should check out the page for this episode on my website. You’ll see a list of words and phrases there which you learn in order to add real strength and depth to your English.

OK so here is part one of my conversation with Moz, the guy from Murder Mile Tours.

murder mile tours

Vocabulary List

  • “Sacre bleu!” (French – used to express surprise or amazement)
  • “There’s lovely” (this is what Welsh people apparently say a lot – it means “that’s nice”)
  • “Zoot alors!” (an old-fashioned French phrase – it’s used to express surprise, shock etc)
  • More excuses for my lack of improvement in French. [absence of]
  • I’ve got to pull my socks up, pull my finger out and turn over a new leaf. [all these phrases are ways of saying “improve my attitude and approach”]
  • I don’t have long to get the French up to scratch. [improve it to an acceptable level]
  • Rutting [when animals, such as deer, have sex – but also when the male deer fight with each other during the mating season]
  • A deer [an animal with big antlers – click here find out more on Wikipedia]
  • Wild boar [a sort of wild pig – more info]
  • “During the rutting season the male boars have terrible mating battles”
  • It’s a scratchy howl [a howl is the sound an animal makes – usually a dog or wolf at night, e.g. ‘to howl at the moon’. ‘Scratchy’ describes the rough sound of the howl]
  • Foxes, when they’re mating, make a high-pitched scream which sounds like someone being murdered
  • I’m not registered for council tax [tax you pay when you live in a house or flat]
  • I’ve got a P.O. Box [a post office box where you can have post delivered if you don’t have a fixed address]
  • I’m not condoning mass murder [promoting it, saying I agree with it]
  • The police had sectioned off the walkway [used plastic tape to prevent people from accessing that part of the walkway]
  • Someone may commit suicide and the body floats down (the canal) [commit suicide = kill yourself / float = not sink, but stay on the surface of the water]
  • Grisly details [unpleasant, involving death or violence]
  • People think that a canal is a good place to dispose of a body [to get rid of a dead person]
  • The canal has been used for dumping rubbish, but also corpses [dumping = throwing away, getting rid of, disposing / corpses = dead bodies]
  • They decided to take this guy’s card and start withdrawing money [taking money out of the bank]
  • The culprits were found guilty of ‘denial of a proper burial’ [culprits = people who committed a crime / ‘denial of a proper burial’ = a criminal charge which is given in a court – it means when someone didn’t bury a dead person properly, or perhaps didn’t dispose of the body in the legal way]
  • That was the main charge that they could definitely pin on them [a statement by prosecutors in court that someone committed a crime]
  • Eastenders is a soap opera that’s been on TV for years [a TV drama which is about ordinary people, shown on television on a regular basis]
  • “My auntie’s brother’s sister left me 10% of this pub in her will!” [a will = a document which explains who should receive someone’s property when they die]
  • He smoked skunk all the time [a strong and smelly form of marijuana]
  • He had an argument with her, killed her, chopped up the body [cut the body into pieces] and then wrapped up [put inside a sheet or some clothing] her limbs [arms and legs] and her torso [the body, but without the arms or legs], put them in a suitcase and dumped [threw away, disposed of] them in the canal
  • He bought loads of bin bags [bags for rubbish] and saws [tools for cutting something up]
  • Things got out of hand, they had an argument [things got out of control]
  • He dragged her down to the canal [pulled her along the ground]
  • The suitcase floated for about two miles [didn’t sink]
  • Poking out of the top of the suitcase was hair [you could see part of it coming out of the top of the suitcase]
  • I like having a good poke around [looking and investigating, perhaps by looking into something and moving things around] different streets and digging into [going deep into something] murders
  • Most murders are just men having fights, but occasionally you come across [find] a really good one
  • Don’t worry, we’re hung over! [feeling sick because they drank alcohol the night before]
  • I was a cannibal, [someone who eats human flesh] I’d eaten my girlfriend and her body was slowly working its way through my bowel (yuk!) [moving slowly through the lower part of the digestive system] yuk yuk!
  • It was one of the darkest jokes I’ve ever pulled off [managed to succeed bit it was difficult]
  • It didn’t get a laugh it just got a gasp [a shocked sound when people breathe in suddenly
    😱] and for me that was enough
  • It certainly got the evening off to a different start [to get something off to a start = to make something start]

  • Often the murderers are like slapstick movie idiots [a form of comedy involving funny physical movements, like people falling over or hitting each other]

Can you remember the vocabulary in the list?

Were you listening carefully? Take the quiz to find out.


Links

Murder Mile Tours Website www.murdermiletours.com

Murder Mile True Crime Podcast www.murdermiletours.com/podcast

You can also follow Moz on Twitter @mmiletours

Part 2 (with more rambling tangents) coming soon…

480. Holiday Diary (Part 7) BIG ROCKS!

In this episode I’m going to continue telling you stories of my recent holiday and there will be descriptions of impressive rocky landscapes, a sort of geology lesson and a brief history of planet earth. Expect plenty of solid descriptive chunks of vocabulary as this holiday diary continues.

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Some talk of putting shelves up… doing DIY…

Transcript and Notes

In this episode I’m going to continue telling you stories of my recent holiday and there will be descriptions of impressive rocky landscapes, a sort of geology lesson and a brief history of planet earth. Expect plenty of solid descriptive chunks of vocabulary as this holiday diary continues. I think there will be just one more episode to come in this series, and then it will be back to the usual sorts of episodes I do, including a few conversations with some friends of mine as guests.

The first part of the trip was urban. Now it’s all about earth, wind and fire – not the band, but the elements, earth, wind, fire, rocks, stone, water, ice, wood and time.

We drove from Las Vegas on a road trip tour, a loop, in our Jeep, over about 9 or 10 days stopping at various places to stay a night or two and taking in some of the most impressive spectacles of natural beauty I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know about your country – I’m sure that you have some seriously big and impressive locations too. Places that are famous and that take your breath away when you see them. Places and things that I would love to see with my own eyes one day.

In the UK our countryside is absolutely beautiful, but it is generally on a fairly small scale compared to other places – we have rolling hills and stone bridges over babbling rivers – it all seems quite self-contained or cute or something – a bit like The Shire or Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings. Not all of it – we have impressive spots with mountains and lakes and stuff but it doesn’t quite smash your senses like the things we saw in Arizona and Utah.

Every day or two we would be greeted by ever more stunning views as we toured around the border between Utah and Arizona, from Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park to Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon in the Navajo Nation Territories and finally the Grand Canyon before heading back to Los Angeles via Las Vegas.

America’s National Parks

Think what you like about the USA, I mean, there are plenty of things that aren’t appealing, like.. Pop Tarts – they’re disgusting aren’t they? Say what you like about the country, you can’t deny that it has some truly breathtaking spots of natural beauty.

Thankfully, most of these places were protected by the National Parks project, which was initially set up at the end of the 19th century and then was fully put into force in the early 20th century by the president at the time, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.

The whole area that we were driving around and visiting basically features canyons and cliffs that form what is known as The Grand Staircase. Imagine a big staircase made out of rock, but it’s all spread out over hundreds of miles. In different locations you can see different layers of rock that are exposed because the rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded. It’s a series of colourful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon (in the north of that area) and the Grand Canyon (in the south, basically). Zion is sort of between the two.

The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon. So, in terms of the staircase, Bryce is at the top, then Zion in the middle of the staircase and the Grand Canyon at the bottom.

If you were a massive giant, you could start at the riverbed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and go up the stair case (some of the stairs are huge plateaus of course and moving across them you can visit places like Lake Powell or Monument Valley, where there are eroded tables, platforms and columns that stick up all around you) and walk up the cliffs, the stairs, and pass through Zion and keep going until you get up to Bryce Canyon at the top. On your walk you would ascend through about 40 identified layers of rock, and about 2000 million years of history. The oldest sedimentary rock at the bottom of the staircase is 2 billion years old. The rock at the top is about 40-30 million years old.

So, driving around the area we were going up and then back down this staircase, travelling through hundreds and hundreds and million of years worth of time as well as hundreds of miles of distance.

This is one of the only places in the world where this much of the earth’s history is exposed to us, and because of that – because so much old rock is exposed in this area, it is one of the most studied geological areas in the world.

These 40 layers of rock are full of evidence that show us what happened in this area in the past, and that allow us to understand a lot about what happened in history – way before humans even existed. The story is told in the rock, including fossils of many dinosaurs.

As well as that, it’s just amazing to look at. The layers of rock have different colours. Some are rust coloured, some yellow, some pink, some white, some grey, some a deep blood red. The different colours are caused by different chemical reactions in the rock – things like the presence of iron which oxidises and changes colour – a bit like the way an old bicycle will go rusty as the metal reacts with the water.

So our entry point into this grand staircase was Zion National Park. We spent a day and a half there and did a fairly easy hike up the side of the canyon to a viewpoint. We were very careful and cautious of course, this time.

Then we drove in a northerly direction to BRYCE CANYON.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is the highest point in the grand staircase. We drove up towards an elevated point on one side of the canyon. The usual thing to do there is to drive to the end of this point and then drive back, stopping at certain viewing points on the way.

So at Rainbow point we stopped the car and walked to the edge, where there are barriers and information points and so on.

Imagine standing on the edge of some cliffs and in front of you there’s a huge canyon – a massive area where the ground goes down quite sharply and there are thousands of bits of rock that stick up on top of huge blocks of rock of different colours and they look a bit like huge statues and there are river beds in there at the bottom and trees growing up from the bottom, and big bits of rock that stretch out into the canyon, and way way over on the other side (almost on the horizon) is the other side of the canyon. So you’re standing on the edge of a plateau, it all goes down, and then the plateau continues again way over on the other side. You can see the layers of rock – all different colours.

Now, this is all caused by erosion and the rocks that stick up in the canyon are all really weird shapes. It’s really stunning and weird too. It’s like an alien landscape. I’ll give you some more details in a moment.

At rainbow point we saw a guide explaining all of it and how it fits into the grand staircase.

He was doing a great job of telling the massive story of the place and enthusiastically putting himself into it.

This helped us understand a lot of the geology of the whole area.

I’ve already told you some stuff about the grand staircase, and it’s pretty difficult to explain but I’d like to try and give you some more details of the story of how all of this happened. This is what I understood from the ranger – this guy employed by the park, wearing a green outfit and a wide brimmed hat.

So this is ancient history and geology.

By geology I mean the study of the Earth’s structure, surface, and origins.

So, we’ve had space, we’ve had belief systems, and now the history of the earth itself. I told you I had a lot of stuff to get off my chest in this series of podcasts!

I’m talking about the history of the earth.

A Short History of the Earth (according to the Big Bang Theory)

How about we start right at the start? The Big Bang theory – not the TV show, but the account of how the universe began, which is based on a lot of study and a lot of analysis of evidence and understandings of the way the universe works – the collaborative work of many people over many years, people analysing the evidence, creating hypotheses, testing them, coming up with theories that get adapted and improved and disproved and further changed. The big bang theory is the best we have at the moment.

So, at one point the universe was all compressed into a space about the size of a pin head. All matter that exists now in the universe, all of it was at one point contained in a tiny little spot, a singularity. An extremely high density and high temperature singularity.

Physicists are undecided whether this means the universe began from a singularity, or that current knowledge is insufficient to describe the universe at that time… Detailed measurements of the expansion rate of the universe place the Big Bang at around 13.8 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the universe. After the initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of subatomic particles, and later simple atoms. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity in halos of dark matter, eventually forming the stars and galaxies visible today.(Wikipedia)

This is just what we know today. There’s still a lot we don’t know – like exactly what ‘dark matter’ is. But that’s the point of science – we don’t have to be able to explain it all at once, we’re working it out bit by bit.

So after all that matter came together through gravity and the stars were created (over an incredibly long period of time by the way, and it’s still going on now) earth also formed from matter that was basically left over from when the sun was created – we’re talking about cloud and dust particles containing all the elements that make up the building blocks of everything on earth.

This stuff coalesced into this ball due to the force of gravity. In the early days the earth was very hot and was basically molten lava, and was hit by lots of other lumps of rock that were still flying around the galaxy. A lot of this rock, left over from the sun’s creation still exists in space  and is orbiting our sun too. Most of it is in the asteroid belt which is  located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  There are also loads of asteroids which are not in this belt, just flying around our solar system on different orbits around the sun. We’re pretty sure that one or two of them hit the earth in the past and probably wiped out the dinosaurs – because if a huge asteroid hits the earth it creates an explosion which is like loads of nuclear bombs all going off at the same time, and that tends to make life on earth a little bit tricky, like for example when the sun gets blocked out by dust or when the atmosphere is filled with poisonous gas from the explosion.

One might hit us one day too, which would be pretty bad news as I’m sure you can imagine, but if we’re clever we’d be able to prevent it by sending Bruce Willis up there to blow it up before it hits us.

After earth cooled down, the molten rock on the surface cooled down to become the earth’s crust. THat’s a bit like if you leave some soup out for ages and the top becomes a thick layer and if you leave it out for ages (like you go away travelling for a few months and don’t do the washing up before you leave) eventually it’ll dry out and form a hard crust.

So the surface of the earth was this crust, made up of a number of different plates. It’s not all one single crust, because underneath it’s all still molten rock – you know, because as you go deeper underground eventually it get really hot and ooh magma! Lava is the stuff that spews out of the top of volcanoes. It’s amazing but it’s not very friendly.

So the earth’s crust is made up of a number of plates that sit on top of this magma. On top of these plates you have land with different features. Some of it is covered in grass, some of it is covered in water, some of it is just rock, etc etc.

Different types of rock

Igneous rock – this is the stuff that is formed when magma cools down. Sometimes it cools down when it’s in the ground and sometimes it cools down on the surface after being spewed out of volcanoes as lava.

Metamorphic rock – this is the stuff that is formed when magma cools under the ground but in certain conditions, like when there’s massive amounts of pressure or heat and the rock gets compressed and it changes quite drastically – for example it becomes crystal or the rock has layers of crystal in it. It’s often extremely hard rock and it can be shiny, or striped with layers of crystal in it. E.g. diamond is metamorphic rock because it has changed from pure carbon (or coal – a sedimentary rock) into diamond.

Sedimentary rock – this is the stuff that usually forms on or very near the surface. It’s made of particles of sand, shells, pebbles (little stones) and other fragments of material. Imagine you have a fish bowl with some fish in it and you go away travelling for 3 months and you forget about it. Eventually the water in that fish bowl will get dirty.

First there are the little stones at the bottom, then there might be dust from the room that lands in the water and of course there’s the fish poo and the green algae that might build up inside there and the water gets cloudy and dirty and eventually the fish will probably die (I know it’s a sad story) and over time all that stuff in the water will settle on the bottom of the tank – that’s sediment. Imagine that over millions of years. Now imagine it’s the ocean which is washing over the surface of rocks and eroding them, creating more sand, and also think of all the sediment – sand and little stones that get washed into the ocean from rivers. All that stuff is sediment and it finds its way to the bottom of the ocean and gets compressed.

Oceans or lakes don’t last forever and they sometimes dry out, exposing all the compressed sedimentary rock. That might get blown by winds into big sand dunes, which then eventually compress, or at least the sand that was once at the bottom of the ocean or lake dries out and over time it compresses more until it becomes rock.

This is not just useful for describing types of rock. The word ‘sediment’ is used in other situations too, like we get sediment at the bottom of a bottle of wine sometimes, or in fruit juices – any stuff that has settled at the bottom of liquid.

Also ‘metamorphic’ is in the same word family as ‘metamorphosis’ – the process of when something changes into something else.

e.g.

the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly
She had undergone an amazing metamorphosis from awkward schoolgirl to beautiful woman.

(Oxford dictionary)

Igneous – not useful outside this subject. It’s just for rocks, except that it’s formed from the latin ‘ignus’ which means ‘fire’ and from ‘ignus’ you also get the English word ‘ignite’ and that’s a good word. It means ‘start to burn’ or ‘make something start to burn’.

E.g. “Gas ignites very easily”, or “the hot weather made it much more likely that the forest would ignite.”

It can also be used as a metaphor, especially with words like “controversy” or “debate”.

“Donald Trump’s words ignited controversy for the 2nd time this week…”

So that’s igneous rock, metamorphic rock and sedimentary.

Terrible Jokes

I’ve got a (terrible) pun for you.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are on a geology field trip, walking near a lake. Watson spots something interesting and says “Holmes, what kind of rock is this?”

Holmes says “Sedimentary, my dear Watson”.

Rubbish isn’t it. Obviously, it’s because Holmes is famous for saying “Elementary my dear Watson”. It’s a pretty easy joke to adapt.

Holmes and Watson are wondering through a weird alien land where everything is made of chocolate. Watson says “what’s this massive tree with red and yellow sweets on it?”

“M&M tree, my dear Watson.”

I challenge you to come up with a pun for igneous and metamorphic rock…

Anyway…

How do you know what kind of rock is which?

If it’s got little bubbles in it? Igneous

Got some little crystals in it, or some little bits seem shiny? Igneous (e.g. granite – that hard grey rock which is used to build really good quality things – like a really solid good quality wall outside a bank, or an impressive modern monument in the centre of town)

Got some lines or bands in it (not musical bands, unless it’s Dinosaur Jnr, lol) It’s igneous

Has it got fossils in it? Dead animals that got compressed, preserved and petrified? Sedimentary

Sand or pebbles in it? It’s sedimentary

Breaks apart fairly easily? It’s sedimentary

Looks like it was formed in layers? It’s sedimentary

Glassy surface and sharp edges, like flint? ? It’s metamorphic

A big beautiful crystal? It’s metamorphic

Diamonds? It’s mine. It’s fine, just give it to me.

Continuing the story…

The atmosphere in earth is made from gasses that were released from the bubbling cauldron of magma under the surface and which were ejected into the air through volcanoes. All that gas created our atmosphere and we’re lucky in that this combination of gasses is just right for sustaining life.

So all the land and sea and all that stuff is on the surface of these tectonic plates. All the land masses on the top which are exposed above the water layer – these are the continents, countries, islands etc. Now, the tectonic plates under the ground move around all the time – very slowly from our perspective, but they do move over time.

Let’s say that at one point the countries we all live on were in different positions, because the tectonic plates that underpin everything on earth were in different places.

The land on top of those plates is made up of the outpourings of volcanoes and also layers of sedimentary rock which is the result of erosion of different kinds. Rock that is spewed out of volcanoes gets eroded over time and the sediments are carried into the ocean or lakes from glaciers at the top of mountains down through rivers and out into the sea.

The sediments then become sand at the bottom of oceans and lakes.

There was a big ocean over these parts of the USA many many millions of years ago. That ocean dried up in the sun and revealed the sediments at the bottom.

The part of the USA where Bryce Canyon is located now has occupied different points of latitude over the years. Basically, that area in Arizona used to be further south. At one point it was equatorial (on the equator), and as the tectonic plates shifted the continent moved and it went north and became sub-equatorial, which is that part just above or below the equator (above in this case) that tends to be super hot and dry – deserts like the Sahara are sub-equatorial.

As this ocean dried up and the sandy sediment was exposed to the sun in sub-equatorial conditions like that it became a huge desert covered with sand dunes being blown around by the wind.

Those dunes built up and up and over millions of years the pressure of their own weight solidified them into sandstone rock.

The heat of the sun baked it and traces of iron in the stone reacted with moisture causing this rust coloured rock you can see everywhere (like the way rust appears on an old bike).

So, imagine a huge plateau of sandstone rock, baked by the sun. A massive plateau that covers an area of hundreds of square kilometres.

I’m sorry I’m not sure of the time frame here but we’re talking about stuff that happened hundreds of millions of years ago and changes that occurred over that period, give or take a few hundred million years. I can’t even imagine that much time, but it’s a really really long time. Even longer than this episode of the podcast.

By the way, here I am talking to you about geology. I’m just an English teacher remember. There might be some of you out there who are actual geologists and I don’t want you to feel like I’m, what, teaching my grandmother to suck eggs (that’s an old expression which means – teaching something to someone who already knows it).

Anyway, I’m just trying to give some context. About 3.5 billion years of context. Ha!

This is stuff that I read about when I was there because it helped us to understand the significance of the place that we were visiting.

So, tectonic plates are moving under the surface all the time. Sometimes the plates push against each other or rub over each other, causing the land on the surface to rise.

That activity creates mountain ranges and sometimes volcanoes. The mountain ranges then eventually get glaciers forming on top as moisture collects there, it snows and the snow gets ever more compact and turns into lakes of ice – glaciers. Those glaciers slowly move down the mountain because of gravity and they scrape and crush all the rock from the mountains, carving out valleys as they go. As the glaciers get lower and they melt their rivers carry stones and rock sediments out to sea.

These are the sediments needed to make these big sandstone plateaus which are exposed when an ocean dries up. In this case these mountains are the rocky mountains to the north – that’s where all the sediment originally came from.

These tectonic plates move everything on the surface around over millions of years so that Bryce Canyon and the whole Grand Staircase has kind of shifted north from an equatorial zone, to a sub-equatorial zone to its present location.

Also volcanic activity underground can push the land up – not just forming mountains, but whole areas can be lifted up. You might end up with a whole plateau rising up over many years, turning it into high ground – not a sudden mountain, but a gradual swell over hundreds of miles, so that what was once the bed of the ocean becomes a huge plateau that’s at quite a high altitude.

That’s what happened at Bryce and the surrounding areas.

The whole thing that used to be this ocean floor and a lake basin, got pushed upwards to form this high plateau of sandstone. A lot of it is also limestone from deposits of things like shells or animal matter that was in the water. There are loads of fossils in this area and you can track the evolution of animals by comparing evidence from each stage in the staircase. It’s like a time ladder or something – it tells you the story of life.

So this sandstone with a limestone layer on top becomes a high plateau. Like I said before, remember, if you stand on the edge of Bryce Canyon (which is not actually a canyon because there’s no significant river at the bottom – unlike the Grand Canyon which has the Colorado river running through it) If you stand on the edge, like my wife and I did, you can see in the distance, on the horizon the other part of this plateau, but in the middle now there’s a huge series of canyons with massive bits of rock that stick up in ridges, and on the top of each ridge there are tall towers of rock in all sorts of weird shapes, and they have different lines of colour depending on what layer in the staircase they are from.

This whole place was formed from that plateau.

Here’s how that happened.

Basically, cracks formed in the top of the plateau as it rose. A bit like when cracks appear on the top of a cake as it rises.

Over millions of years these cracks were subject to erosion – the movement of things like water or ice and maybe wind.

At the top of the plateau moisture freezes in winter to become ice. The ice sits like a layer on top of everything. During the day it melts a bit and then flows into the cracks. At night it freezes again, and we know that water expands when it freezes (imagine leaving a bottle of beer or wine in the freezer – it cracks the glass because the liquid has expanded as it froze) so as the water trickles into existing cracks in the rock and then freezes again and expands it cracks the rock.

The water/ice works its way down, cracking the rock as it goes. Some of the rock is harder than other parts so not all of it gets cracked – not all of it disintegrates. So these creepy looking towers are left behind by the erosion of the ice and water.

It’s like the ice, the water and just the passage of time have worked on these towers of rock, sculpting them into different shapes that stand like statues above the open space of the canyon below them.

Below that the trickling water and wind smooth out these gullies and creek beds that go down and down into the canyon.

So you can walk down into these little riverbeds, down the sides of the canyon and walk around looking up at the towers of rock.

You commune with the rock formations.

To the native Americans who used to live here, these places were very sacred and special and they believed that spirits lived in the rocks. In fact they saw the faces of loads of different spirits and gods in the stones when they looked at them.

As you see all these abstract shapes your mind attempts to make sense of it and it’s easy to see  faces, animals and even little stories in the formations.  You know when you see big clouds in the sky and sometimes they look like things – like, “that one looks like a dog!” or “that one looks like a face” or “That one looks like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un kissing” or something, there are hundreds of faces in the rocks. It’s stunning to look at.

Actually, ‘seeing faces or shapes in rocks or clouds’ is a recognised phenomenon called

Pareidolia (/pærɪˈdliə) is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists (e.g., in random data). 

Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon, the Moon rabbithidden messages within recorded music played in reverse or at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds, and hearing indistinct voices in random noise such as that produced by air conditioners or fans.[1] (Wikipedia)

Basically, when your mind is presented with a stimulus – like a pattern or just random sounds, it tries to make sense of it and often will kind of read the stimulus as something familiar. This probably accounts for the way people can see ghosts in swirling mist, or they can see images of Jesus in toast or something. Either that or Jesus is trying to tell us something and putting his face in toast is the only way he can do it.

These towers in Bryce Canyon are called “Hoodoos” (sounds a bit like voodoo doesn’t it) and some of them have very human forms. They look a bit like old Roman statues, worn away be the rain. Or they look like architecture by Gaudi the guy who designed various buildings in Barcelona, like the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

In any case they look like spooky, ghostly statues standing in these huge auditoriums made from the erosion of rocks over millions of years.

It’s incredible and a lot more powerful than any of the art we saw in Los Angeles.

Genuinely breathtaking stuff.

After an afternoon of being wowed by the spectacle of Hoodoos and a big naturally occurring bridge in the rock we did a moderate hike into the canyon. This was late afternoon so the whole place got flooded with this incredible orangey pinkish rust coloured light. It was absolutely amazing.

A MOUNTAIN RANCH

Buffalo in the field (though we can’t see them), chickens running around.

Cows and horses.

Slept in a little wooden cabin.

Absolutely insane stars in the night sky. The milky way is incredible. No light pollution. It’s like someone has poured milk into black coffee.

At this point we enter the Navajo Nation.

To be continued!

Photos

477. Holiday Diary (Part 4) The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

The holiday diary continues and in this chapter we visited Bel Air in L.A. and so here is an analysis of the lyrics to Will Smith’s rap from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, a famous TV show (and a very serious piece of work, haha) from the 90s which was set in Bel Air itself. Topics covered: TV pop culture, racial politics, slang English.

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Episode Notes, Lyrics & Vocabulary

By the way, these are flapjacks, just in case you were wondering. Yum.

Flapjacks (these ones are made with honey, oats and peanut butter) Click the pic for the recipe.

Flapjacks (these ones are made with honey, oats and peanut butter) Click the pic for the recipe.

Did you get The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV in your country?

I used to watch the TV show a lot when I was younger (in the 90s).

Yes, the Fresh Prince is American English but I consider it also to be global English and you should too. Also, I think everyone should know or at least be able to repeat one or two of the lines from this rap, right?

So let’s listen to it and analyse some of the lyrics.

It’s not even a great rap, that’s the thing! It’s just a laugh! It’s not exactly the Wu Tang Clan or anything… Anyway…

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – language analysis & cultural commentary

Summary of the story 

This rap basically sets up the scenario of the show. Did you work out the details of the story?

Will Smith is an ordinary guy from a rough part of Philadelphia. The area where he lives is too rough and dangerous, so his mum decides he has to move in with his aunt and uncle, who happen to live in Bel Air, in Los Angeles. The aunt and uncle are rich and successful. The uncle (Uncle Phil) is a top lawyer. This is obviously possible, but quite rare.

Is it just a funny TV show, or is it about race relations and racial politics in the USA?

I’m not sure I am fully qualified to talk about racial politics in the USA. The fact is, despite the American dream which says anyone can make it, it appears to be much harder for a black guy to become a millionaire than for a white guy to do it. I’m not saying why that is, I’m just saying it. In fact, I’m reporting it as something I’ve heard Chris Rock say, so fine – not my words, the words of Chris Rock.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game”.

“You don’t get plaques for getting rid of plaque.” (two meanings of the word ‘plaque’ – listen to hear the explanations)

“The black man gotta fly to get something the white man can walk to.”

“I had to host the Oscars to get that house.”

Lyrics

Listen to the episode to hear my language analysis and some comparisons with British English.

I’ll tell you which bits of vocab are “standard” (i.e. not specific slang – the stuff everyone should know) and “slang” (i.e. the stuff that’s more specific to the informal English you might hear from Will Smith or the social group of the time)

Fresh Prince of Bel Air – Rap, Long version
Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
So just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air

In west Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground was where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, maxin‘ relaxin’ all cool
And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared [UK – mum, USA – mom]
She said ‘You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air’

I begged and pleaded with her day after day
But she packed my suit case and sent me on my way
She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket.
I put my Walkman on and said, ‘I might as well kick it‘.

First class, yo this is bad
Drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass.
Is this what the people of Bel-Air living like?
Hmmmmm this might be alright.

But wait I hear they’re prissy, bourgeois, all that
Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat?
I don’t think so
I’ll see when I get there
I hope they’re prepared for the prince of Bel-Air

Well, the plane landed and when I came out
There was a dude who looked like a cop standing there with my name out
I ain’t trying to get arrested yet
I just got here
I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared

I whistled for a cab and when it came near
The license plate said “FRESH” and it had dice in (on) the mirror
If anything I could say that this cab was rare
But I thought ‘Nah, forget it’ – ‘Yo, holmes to Bel Air’

I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8
And I yelled to the cabbie ‘Yo holmes, smell ya later
I looked at my kingdom
I was finally there
To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air

Songwriters: SMITH, WILLARD C. / TOWNES, JEFFREY
Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Other vocab

We drove around in Bel Air for a bit looking at houses like weird stalkers.

They’re huge and ostentatious (displaying wealth, showing off).

You get the impression that these people live in a bubble.

We came across Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s house which is unfinished.

Apparently they’re having problems with their neighbours who claim the house is obstructing their view.

I am not surprised because it is a but of a  monstrosity.

Apparently they are getting sued by the neighbours or something. I think they’re claiming that it’s interfering with their enjoyment of their property.

Driving back down we went past another massive house and we could see helicopter rotor blades above the hedge. Someone’s got a helipad on their property. Mental.

Then we swung past the Scientology buildings again on the way home.

To be continued…

472. Andy Johnson at The London School (Part 2) Why Andy runs marathons

Talking to Andy about why he runs marathons, including vocabulary relating to doing exercise, health, fitness, technique, injuries and medical care.

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Intro Transcript

Here’s the next part of my conversation with Andy Johnson, recorded at The London School of English a few days ago.

Andy is an English teacher, a father of 2 kids, and also a regular runner. He’s done at least one marathon and a few half marathons, and I thought since many of you listening to this podcast will also be runners (in fact some people will be running right now while listening to this) that it might be interesting to hear Andy talking about his reasons for running, the way he does it, the benefits, the difficulties and all the rest of it. So here’s a conversation about running.

If you’re not into running I would still recommend that you listen to this. You might be surprised at how personal it gets when Andy explains his reasons for training for the London marathon 10 years ago. It turns out that running has special significance for Andy and that running the London marathon was a key moment in his life as it marked a significant milestone for him – and running acts as a regular reminder of a particularly difficult experience Andy had when he was younger.

So, this episode is about running, but it’s also about much more than that. I’d like to thank Andy again for taking part in another episode of the podcast and for sharing so much of his story.

Vocab hunters: Watch out for vocabulary relating to doing exercise, health, fitness, technique, injuries and medical care.

So, without further ado you can now listen to our conversation about running.


Outtro Transcript

I just want to thank Andy again for coming on the podcast and telling us about his story. It was a very interesting conversation and I think the closest we’ve come to having tears on the podcast – it was a moving story but no tears this time! I wonder if you held it together out there in podcast land, or did you start welling up at any moment?

Don’t forget that Andy would like you to take his survey about self-directed learning. You can find a link to that on the page for this episode. Andy just wants to know about how you learn English on your own, outside of the classroom environment, and that includes how you use LEP to help with your English.

TAKE ANDY’S SURVEY ABOUT LEARNING

Click the link, the questionnaire will take a couple of minutes and you’ll help Andy with research for his next IATEFL conference talk.

That’s it for this episode. Watch out for some website-only content coming soon. Subscribe to the mailing list to get informed when that is released.

I hope you are continuing to have a good August, if indeed it is August as you listen to this. I’m still on holiday, relaxing and having a lovely time, I hope – I’m actually recording this before I went on holiday, so this is a very weird time situation. Which tense should I be using here, because I’m actually recording right now, in the past, but as I’m talking it’s the future, so my present is your past and your present is my future, so that’s the present past perfect future continuous or something. I am will have been being having a great time and I will have been had been hoped that you will be being having a wonderful time too, in the future.

Thanks for listening to this episode and I’ll speak to you again soon. Bye!

465. How I make episodes of the podcast (Part 2)

Talking about the technical side of making podcast episodes, including fascinating* insights about my recording equipment and an exciting** anecdote game. Includes upbeat music to absolutely guarantee*** that you will not be bored during the episode!

*insights may not actually be fascinating
**management holds no liability for any lack of excitement experienced
***not actually a legally binding guarantee

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Introduction

Here’s a new episode and I’m continuing to talk about how I make episodes of the podcast, and this whole thing is a response to a question sent to me by Carlos from Barcelona

In the last episode I was talking about the creative side of coming up with ideas and making them into podcast episodes. Not that I know what I’m doing really, but a few listeners have asked me about this over the years and I thought it might be interesting to answer those questions and just lift the lid on LEP and let you see how episodes are recorded.

In this one the plan is to talk about the technical side of doing the podcast.

Vocabulary

Watch out for vocabulary which will be explained in forthcoming episodes, including uses of get, technical language and other expressions.

Feedback

Send me a private message with more details.

Please be constructive with your feedback! Thanks :)