Talking to Michael Lavers from the Level Up English Podcast about learning Japanese, embarrassing moments in language learning, social awkwardness and some “very British problems”. Are you as socially awkward as a British person? Let’s see how you and Michael would respond to some quiz questions that will test your British awkwardness to the max. Video version available.
Today on the podcast I am talking to Michael Lavers who is an English teacher from Cornwall in the South West of England. Michael also has a podcast for learners of English. It’s called The Level Up English Podcast – you might want to check it out if you haven’t already done so. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts.
As well as being an English teacher, Michael is also a language learner himself and in his podcast episodes he often talks with guests about experiences of learning other languages, including those embarrassing or awkward moments that happen when you feel shy or you make mistakes. Also, Michael has described himself as a socially awkward person who lacks a certain amount of confidence in himself. In fact, he says that one of the reasons he started his podcast was to try and gain some confidence by going out of his comfort zone.
So this is what I thought I would ask Michael about: his language learning experiences and those awkward and embarrassing moments, and then I’d like to chat about social awkwardness and whether this is a uniquely British thing. And we’re going to go into some specific examples of how this so-called British awkwardness manifests itself.
That’s the plan, so now, let’s meet Michael Lavers from the Level Up English Podcast.
Awkward Situations – Very British Problems
Here are some questions based on some tweets by the popular Twitter account, Very British Problems. Each one describes a specific problem that British people typically experience in social situations. They seem to sum up the experience of being a British person. We’re socially awkward – I don’t know why.
Let’s see how you respond to these questions. And listeners, I want you to consider your answers to these questions too, then we’ll see what Michael says, and then we’ll see the original tweets and we can see if they match up.
Questions & Tweets
How do you feel when you walk through the “nothing to declare” gate at an airport?
You’re sitting with a group of people. It’s time for you to leave. What do you say as you kind of slap your hands on your knees and stand up?
If someone says something to you but you don’t hear it, how many times are you willing to ask them to repeat themselves?
What do you say to your taxi driver as they approach the point where you want to get out of the cab?
If you’re on a train, sitting in the window seat with a passenger next to you, and your stop is approaching, what do you do to signal to the passenger in the aisle seat that you will need to get up?
You’re standing at the exit door of the train as it is pulling into the station, slowly coming to a stop, and there is a crowd of other passengers right behind you, eager to get off the train. The “Open door” button isn’t yet illuminated. What do you do? Do you press the button?
How do you feel when the ticket inspector inspects your perfectly valid ticket?
What do you say, modestly, to guests arriving in your home, even though you spent some time before their arrival, tidying things up?
There’s one last roast potato on the table at Sunday lunch. You want to eat it. How do you achieve this?
Just take it and eat it
Ask if you can eat it
Offer it to everyone else first
Do you ever tell your housemates or family that you are “off to bed” but then just stare at your phone in bed for an hour?
Imagine you are walking through a hallway with lots of doors in it, like in a library or something and you’re walking just behind a stranger who keeps having to hold the doors for you. How many different ways of saying “thanks” can you think of?
How do you end an email? Is there a subtly less friendly difference between kind regards and just regards?
What do you do when you get an incoming call from an unknown number?
How good are you at overtaking someone on foot?
Do you feel it necessary to speed up at all, when walking over a zebra crossing?
If you pay for something with exactly the right change, and you know it’s exactly the right change, do you wait for the cashier to count the money?
I have had some entries already. If you’ve sent me something, then thank you. Please send your designs to firstname.lastname@example.org and my brother and I will review the entries we receive, talk about them on the podcast and pick at least one to be featured in the LEP Merch store.
Think of a t-shirt that LEPsters would want to wear
PRIZE: The winning design will be put on t-shirts, mugs and other merch, and the winner will also win £80!
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Understand English as it is spoken by native speakers. Let’s listen to Karl Pilkington rambling about life, the universe & everything, and see what we can understand and learn. Karl is from Manchester, so we’ll be looking at some features of his accent, picking up plenty of vocabulary and having a bit of a laugh along the way.
Welcome back to the podcast. How are you doing today?
In this episode we’re going to do some intensive listening and use it as a chance to learn some vocabulary and pronunciation.
This episode should be a bit of a laugh as we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of Karl Pilkington and listen to his thoughts on some big issues like health, food, animals, holidays and just existence itself.
We’ll be looking at the different features of his Manchester accent, and there will be lots of vocabulary to pick up too as we are covering a range of different topics. You can also consider this as a little intensive listening test, as I will be setting questions that you have to find answers to, then going through each clip in detail and breaking it all down for language.
We last heard about Karl Pilkington on my podcast in episode 656 in which we listened to a couple of his Monkey News stories about a chimp that works on a building site and another chimp that pilots a space rocket.
Do you remember that? If you don’t, then get the LEP app and listen to episode 656. It was a very popular episode and it should make you laugh out loud on a bus maybe.
That was pretty funny stuff, and Karl is very funny even though he’s not actually a comedian.
Who is Karl Pilkington?
To be honest, Karl Pilkington was most well-known about 10 years ago and these days he’s not in the public eye as much as he used to be, but he’s still a fairly well-known person in the UK, especially for Ricky Gervais fans.
Karl is just an ordinary bloke from Manchester who met comedians Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant when he worked for them as a radio producer in London.
Later, Ricky invited Karl to be on his podcast in order to broadcast his weird ideas and inane ramblings to the whole world, and the rest is history.
The Ricky Gervais Podcast became a world record-breaker with over 300,000,000 downloads.
In episodes, Ricky, Steve & Karl would talk about big topics like religion, evolution, philosophy, nature, birth and death and Karl would often say some bizarre and hilarious things, apparently without intending to be funny.
Ricky was always slightly obsessed with Karl, and he always described him as “an idiot with a perfectly round head like an orange”.
After being on Ricky’s podcast, Karl went on to become a fairly well-known figure in the UK, doing more podcasts with Ricky, then TV shows, books and documentaries like “An Idiot Abroad”.
Karl is known for his funny and slightly odd musings and observations about life.
He comes from a working class background in the Manchester area, and his accent has many of the features that you would expect from that.
Accent / Pronunciation
We will be going into the specific features of his accent in more detail as we go and this kind of follows on from episode 682 which was all about common features of pronunciation in England which are different to RP.
Which accent should you have?
So this episode is about one of the UK’s regional accents.
You might be thinking – Luke, by doing this episode are you saying that we should all learn to speak like Karl?
I’m not saying that. You can choose your accent, and many learners choose a neutral accent to learn, but it’s not all about learning an accent, it’s also about learning to understand different accents, and learning about the varieties of English that are out there.
So, you might not want to speak like Karl, but I certainly want you to understand Karl and the many millions of other people who speak English in a non-standard way.
So this episode is all about understanding an accent, rather than copying it. But of course you can copy Karl’s Mancunian accent if you like.
There will also be plenty of vocabulary coming up too as we pick apart the things that Karl says and the way he says them.
You’ll find it listed on the screen on the video version and also presented in text form on the page for this episode on my website.
We’re going to be using a series available on youtube in which Karl ponders certain big questions in just 3 minutes of video, originally broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK as part of their “3 Minute Wonders” series.
These are short videos in which Karl talks about his fridge, health, food, animals and holidays, covering each topic with his usual ramblings, all delivered in that Manchester accent, know what I mean?
I have about 6 recordings, which are about 3 minutes each (this could become two episodes).
Before I play the recording I’ll give you a little bit of context and I’ll set some questions.
Then you listen and try to get the answers.
Then I’ll break it down – listening to each bit again, with some explanations if necessary.
We’ll also pay attention to pronunciation – specifically his Mancunian accent. I’m going to break that down too, exploring the main features of that particular accent.
And I’ll sum up some of the vocab from each clip before moving on to the next one.
#1 Karl on Life
Karl goes around a museum looking at meteorites, dinosaur skeletons and endangered animals (stuffed ones or models) and muses about life in general medical science.
What does Karl wonder about the big bang?
What makes the meteorite room a bit disappointing?
What’s Karl’s main criticism of humanity today?
What does Karl think would happen if a dinosaur got loose and started to “run riot”?
What’s Karl’s main point?
The big bang
Did it only seem big because there was no other noise to drown it out at the time?
Meteorites (on earth)
Meteors (flying in earth’s atmosphere)
Asteroids (flying in space)
The edge is taken off it because that isn’t the only one.
I’m not surprised they went extinct, they’re all in here.
Enough’s enough. If your body is that done in, call it a day.
The more we know, the more we interfere.
Don’t interfere with nature and that.
Even if it was going round running riot they’d go “We don’t want it to go extinct”
The panda is dying out.
Notes on Karl’s accent
Here’s a summary of the main points regarding Karl’s Manchester accent.
Many of these features are common in people from the Manchester area, although not all people from Manchester will speak like this, and there are different degrees of it.
This is certainly Karl’s Manchester accent in any case.
A lot of what I’m about to say will include things brought up in the episode I did about Key Features of English accents, episode 682.
Look, how many do you need?
I’m not surprised they went extinct, they’re all in here.
She’d had a new lung, a new heart
He puts his hand in and goes “Yep, it’s broke”
They weren’t doing anything. They weren’t jumping through hoops. (talking about animals in a zoo)
I don’t know if it’s cruel or not, to have them in there.
I’m 32, I think I’ve got the hang of it.
Glottal stops (/t/ sounds get replaced by /ʔ/ )
I’ll have a look at the meteorites.
If you’re going to eat a live animal, don’t eat one that’s got eight arms that can get hold of your neck.
Let me see them again when they’re better.
Go back to my episode called 682. Features of English Accents, Explained to find out more about glottal stops.
#2 Karl on Health
Karl recounts a conversation he had with a woman about going to the gym.
Does Karl go to the gym?
What does he think of the idea of breathing classes?
What does he think of drinking 7 pints of water a day?
What’s Karl’s argument for not going to the gym? Heart beats, tortoise
I know what’s probably putting you off – the fact that it’s hard work.
Breathing classes – I’m 32 I think I’ve got the hang of it.
My Dad’s like 60-odd. I’ve never seen him drink a pint of water, yet they’re telling us we should have, like, 7 pints a day or something, and then they wonder why there’s a water drought on.
They keep coming up withdaft ways of keeping fit.
Chucking paint at each other.
/æ/ not /ɑː/ (the “bath/trap split”, again)
Short A sound /æ/ in bath, podcast
(gas and glass have the same vowel sound in Karl’s Manchester accent).
This is normal across all northern accents, and many accents in the midlands. I would use /ɑː/ because although I lived in the midlands for many years (half my childhood), my accent is mostly from the south because I’ve lived there more and my parents don’t have strong regional accents.
Come to my class. We do breathing classes.
/ʊ/ not /ʌ/
The U sound in but, enough and much.
I pronounce it /ʌ/ but Karl pronounces it more like /ʊ/
Do you go to the gym much?
#3 Karl on Food
Karl talks about a new trend – eating things which shouldn’t be eaten.
Coming from England, Karl thinks it’s weird to eat certain things that might be eaten in other cultures, like live octopus, insects, frogs, snails, probably raw meat, raw fish and sushi.
What is the danger of eating a live octopus?
What’s Karl’s issue with kids and food today?
What does Karl think about eating dog?
They choke you. Why would you want to eat that?
If we’re eating octopuses, why are dogs getting away with it?
Learn English from some jokes in this episode as we go through 9 jokes chosen as the best of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe stand up comedy scene this year (2021). Let me tell you the jokes, see if you understand them, and then I will break them down for language learning opportunities. Video version available.
Hello listeners, hello video viewers. How are you? How is the world treating you today? Not too badly I hope.
Here’s a new episode. So stick with me. Listen closely. Pay attention. You can definitely learn some new English from this. Let’s get started.
It’s time to dissect the frog again as we look at some of the most popular jokes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe of this year 2021. I’m going to read them to you and then explain them so you can understand them fully and also learn some new vocabulary in the process.
This is something I’ve been doing every year at the end of the Ediburgh Festival when the list of the most popular jokes is published in the newspapers.
Last year I didn’t do one of these episodes because Ed Fringe got cancelled due to Covid-19.
But the festival was back this year, so here we go again. Let’s find some popular jokes told by comedians at the fringe and use them to learn English.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Just in case you don’t know, the Edinburgh Fringe (full name: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe) is a huge comedy festival that happens every August in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.
Sometimes it’s called The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe, The Edinburgh Comedy Festival, Ed Fringe, just The Fringe or simply Edinburgh.
It’s one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world, and every August comedians travel to the city in order to perform comedy to the large crowds of people who travel there.
For comedians August in Edinburgh is a huge opportunity to get exposure and experience, but it is very tough, especially at the beginning when you have to drum up an audience of people to come to your shows every day.
Just in case you didn’t know, stand-up is a form of entertainment that involves one comedian standing on stage with a microphone telling stories and jokes in an effort to make the audience laugh. It is an extremely popular form of entertainment in the English speaking world.
This episode is about specific jokes told by comedians during the fringe this year, but stand-up comedians don’t really just go up and tell individual jokes one after the other (except in the case of some specific comedians), rather they fit their jokes into stories, observations about the world or confessions about themselves.
However, this list of the “best jokes from the fringe” just picks simple one or two line jokes from people’s performances.
Lower Your Expectations Now😅
I expect that taking these jokes away from their original performances will not help the jokes.
They will probably be less funny outside the comedy show that they came from because we’re going to remove the context of the joke, the attitude and personality of the comedian who told the joke and what was happening in the room that particular evening. All those elements have a huge impact on how funny the joke will be.
So, it’s not very fair to judge these jokes on their own like this, outside of their original context, but this is still an interesting experiment in learning English, so here we go.
Here’s how we’re going to do this
First I will read each joke one by one.
There are 9 jokes in total.
How many jokes do you “get”?
If you “get” a joke, it means you understand why it is funny.
Ideally you will laugh, but you can also groan.
If you don’t understand it you need to say “I don’t get it!”
The main thing is: You have to notice and acknowledge that a joke has been told to you.
So, listen to the jokes, do you get them all?
Then I will go through each joke one by one and I will break them all down, explaining exactly how they work, showing you double meanings, explaining any specific vocabulary or cultural reference points and giving you all the information you need to be able to understand these jokes properly.
There is a lot of vocabulary to be learned from this, which I will highlight as we go through and recap at the end.
So, get ready, it’s time to dissect the frog again.
Of course, I have to say the quote:
Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You can learn something from it, but the frog dies in the process.
I expect I will be killing all these jokes by explaining them.
You’re not meant to explain jokes, and if you do, the joke suddenly becomes less funny.
Most jokes work by surprise.
Getting the double meaning instantly is usually the only way to find a joke funny.
So I can’t guarantee that you will laugh at these jokes, but this is certainly going to be good for your English in any case.
A lot of these jokes use
synonyms (different words with a similar meaning),
common fixed expressions and sayings
homophones (different words that sound the same)
similies (finding similarities between otherwise different things),
pull back & reveal (revealing extra information to change the situation)
Top Jokes from Edinburgh Fringe 2021
I’m getting this list from the website Chortle.co.uk which is the UK’s number 1 comedy website.
1. “I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”
– Masai Graham
2. “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.” – Ivor Dembina
3. “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.”
4. “The roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.”
– Adele Cliff
5. “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.”
– Leo Kearse
6 “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.”
– Will Mars
7. “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.”
– Sameer Katz
8. “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.”
– Rich Pulsford
9. “People say zoos are inhumane. But that’s because they’re for animals.”
– Sameer Katz
Now let’s go through those jokes again and break them down so you can understand them fully, picking up bits of vocabulary along the way.
Broken down versions (sorry frogs)
1. “I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”
– Masai Graham
2. “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.” – Ivor Dembina
Common phrase: “A problem shared is a problem halved.”
3. “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.” – Tom Mayhew
To be into role play
Role play – pretending to be someone else, often during sex to make it more interesting.
To pretend to be someone / to do something
He pretended he was James Bond
She pretended she still loved him.
4. “The Roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.” – Adele Cliff
This is a pun – a word joke and it’s just that one thing sounds like something else.
“Julius Caesar” sounds like Julius sees her, which is why his wife hates playing hide and seek because Julius always sees her. Julius Caesar. I think you get it.
To play hide and seek
5. “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.” – Leo Kearse
Oooh, this is a bit of a groaner. That’s where you go Oooooh like it almost hurts.
“Heard it through the grapevine” is one of Marvin Gaye’s most famous songs.
“Herd” can mean to move a group of animals in a certain direction, like sheep or cows. You herd your sheep into a field.
Marvin used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. A vineyard is a place where you grow grapes for wine.
The grapevine is where the grapes grow, but there’s also an idiom “through the grapevine” meaning when you hear people gossiping about something, or you over hear people talking about something.
In the case of the song, he hears that his girlfriend is cheating on him and he hears it through the grapevine.
He heard it through the grapevine. He heard rumours or gossip about it.
He’d herd it through the grapevine. He attempted to move the sheep around through the grapevines of the plants in the vineyard.
To herd sheep
To hear something on/through the grapevine
This is too much of a stretch and if you get the joke please let me know. Write a comment in the comment section – do you get the Marvin Gaye joke?
6. “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.” – Will Mars
This is quite a clever little joke. Everything took longer in the past – travelling, communicating etc.
Marriages seemed to last longer, but everything took longer back then.
7. “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.” – Sameer Katz
This is quite funny and of course it hits two of my favourite notes, well three in fact: Star Wars, France and speaking English.
There is a common misconception that French people arrogantly refuse to speak English in Paris let’s say,
but I find that French people are more willing to speak English than it seems, and in fact they’re a bit more shy than arrogant, and if a French person in Paris speaks French to you, that’s quite normal as you are in France.
Also, rather than being arrogant, a lot of French people just feel quite self conscious about their accent and certain common mistakes that French people often make. They also might have bad memories from English lessons at school which knocked all the confidence out of them, and they’re afraid to be judged by each other. So it’s more likely to be shyness than arrogance.
8. “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.” – Rich Pulsford
This is a clever little joke.
To have an inkling means to have a suspicion or an idea of something.
“I don’t know who stole the last biscuit, but I have an inkling. Or I have an inkling of an idea who took that biscuit, and I think it was you!”
But an inkling does sound like a small spillage of ink from a pen. A small puddle of ink, or ink on your hand. An inkling.
What do we call that? I don’t know, but I have an inkling!”
To have an inkling
9. “People say zoos are inhumane. But that’s because they’re for animals.” – Sameer Katz
I’m not sure I have to explain that, do I?
Being humane means treating people in reasonable and humanistic manner.
Treating people with respect, dignity, justice.
Inhumane is the opposite – and although it includes the word human, we do use this word to refer to the cruel treatment of animals.
Keeping animals in a cage is inhumane.
Even though they’re animals, we still use the word inhumane, and this is just a funny little thing that can make you laugh when you notice it.
Reading a short story presented on Commaful.com. The Escaped Man is a mystery full of tension and intrigue. Listen closely as I break it all down and explain the vocabulary fully. YouTube video version also available.
The final part of this series in which I am reading from the classic story The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, while explaining and clarifying the English which comes up. Full transcript available and YouTube video version too.
Without realising it, the people of earth have been attacked by an aggressive alien species from Mars, with the intention of colonising our planet while escaping their home planet which has become uninhabitable.
The Martians are vastly superior to us in terms of their intelligence and technology. They are also unfriendly. Very unfriendly. Humans are now reduced to mere animals or insects in the presence of these things.
Human society has quickly turned to chaos and destruction as the Martians begin their campaign to take our planet.
The aliens first landed in a cylinder which fell from space with a green flash. After the cylinder opened, revealing the visitors to be awkward and clumsy in our atmosphere, their technology proved to be devestatingly powerful. They are armed with a heat-ray which they have used to clear out all life surrounding the fallen cylinder.
The narrator of the story witnessed the Martians emerging from their cylinder and the ruthless destructive power of their heat ray, but still does not yet realise the full scale of the invasion. He decides to escape the area and travel in the direction of London.
During the night, he sees another cylinder landing, and then sees the first Martian tripods striding over the countryside. These are the vehicles the Martians use and they are colossal and formidable. Suddenly the clumsy Martians are mobile and far more physically powerful than in their normal, naked form.
Reading an extract from chapter 12 (action packed stuff)
Summary of Chapter 11 (next part of the story) From the upstairs window of his study the narrator observes the destruction of his village and the fires all around the common, as well as the outlines of three creatures moving in the pit, which he can see from a distance.
He hardly recognizes his surroundings. The narrator begins to comprehend that the creatures from the cylinder operate the tripods, comparing them to a human-driven steam engine.
He invites a soldier outside the house to hide inside. The man recounts the futile military efforts against the Martians, who easily destroyed both companies and their weaponry before emerging as tripods from the pit and destroying the railway station and a train. The artilleryman managed to escape.
The two men look again from the window to see three tripods at the pit. As the sun comes up the narrator sees destruction “so indiscriminate and so universal” as to be unprecedented in human warfare.
HG Wells describes the horrific feeling of realising that these Martians are far more powerful than humans. Each cylinder contains at least three tripods, and each tripod is armed with a heat ray. Later we learn more about the martians and their technology as the narrator manages to observe them more, but they are still completely mysterious.
Meanwhile, people have become like refugees from a warzone and there is general chaos as people attempt to escape, get resources, look after themselves etc.
Shepperton Station has become a target for the Martians in their tripods and they have been destroying it, the railway lines and trains. This is especially poignant because they are targeting our infrastructure and our technology seems infinitely primitive to that of the Martians, and we are often compared to animals, insects, bugs or even microorganisms in comparison to our alien visitors.
HG Wells makes a point of observing how society reacts to a moment like this and how fragile it is, while also contrasting the familiar cosy surroundings of the English home counties, with the bizarre, grotesque and strange images of these very bad aliens from Mars.
The narrator and the soldier he met choose to leave the house. The soldier wants to go to London and the narrator wants to go back to his wife in Leatherhead.
They end up in Weybridge which a town just on the river Thames, with London to the east and the Thames Valley to the west.
This is a place where the Thames meets The Wey, another river. It’s a sort of port where you can get a ferry across to the other side. Crowds of people are gathered there, hoping to get on a ferry. The army have placed rows of large artillery guns behind some trees as they expect the tripods to come from a nearby town that is currently under attack. This all happens close to the edge of the water and is full of really precise and specific vocabulary to describe the action that takes place.
XII. WHAT I SAW OF THE DESTRUCTION OF WEYBRIDGE AND SHEPPERTON. (extract)
We remained at Weybridge until midday, and at that hour we found ourselves at the place near Shepperton Lock where the Wey and Thames join. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack a little cart. The Wey has a treble mouth, and at this point boats are to be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On the Shepperton side was an inn with a lawn, and beyond that the tower of Shepperton Church rose above the trees.
Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet the flight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far more people than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross. People came panting along under heavy burdens; one husband and wife were even carrying a small outhouse door between them, with some of their household goods piled thereon. One man told us he meant to try to get away from Shepperton station.
There was a lot of shouting, and one man was even jesting. The idea people seemed to have here was that the Martians were simply formidable human beings, who might attack and sack the town, to be certainly destroyed in the end. Every now and then people would glance nervously across the Wey, at the meadows towards Chertsey, but everything over there was still.
Across the Thames, except just where the boats landed, everything was quiet, in vivid contrast with the Surrey side. The people who landed there from the boats went tramping off down the lane. The big ferryboat had just made a journey. Three or four soldiers stood on the lawn of the inn, staring and jesting at the fugitives, without offering to help. The inn was closed, as it was now within prohibited hours.
“What’s that?” cried a boatman, and “Shut up, you fool!” said a man near me to a yelping dog. Then the sound came again, this time from the direction of Chertsey, a muffled thud—the sound of a gun.
The fighting was beginning. Almost immediately unseen batteries across the river to our right, unseen because of the trees, took up the chorus, firing heavily one after the other. A woman screamed. Everyone stood arrested by the sudden stir of battle, near us and yet invisible to us. Nothing was to be seen save flat meadows, cows feeding unconcernedly for the most part, and silvery pollard willows motionless in the warm sunlight.
“The sojers’ll stop ’em,” said a woman beside me, doubtfully. A haziness rose over the treetops.
Then suddenly we saw a rush of smoke far away up the river, a puff of smoke that jerked up into the air and hung; and forthwith the ground heaved under foot and a heavy explosion shook the air, smashing two or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.
“Here they are!” shouted a man in a blue jersey. “Yonder! D’yer see them? Yonder!”
Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armoured Martians appeared, far away over the little trees, across the flat meadows that stretched towards Chertsey, and striding hurriedly towards the river. Little cowled figures they seemed at first, going with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds.
Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth. Their armoured bodies glittered in the sun as they swept swiftly forward upon the guns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer. One on the extreme left, the remotest that is, flourished a huge case high in the air, and the ghostly, terrible Heat-Ray I had already seen on Friday night smote towards Chertsey, and struck the town.
At sight of these strange, swift, and terrible creatures the crowd near the water’s edge seemed to me to be for a moment horror-struck. There was no screaming or shouting, but a silence. Then a hoarse murmur and a movement of feet—a splashing from the water. A man, too frightened to drop the portmanteau he carried on his shoulder, swung round and sent me staggering with a blow from the corner of his burden. A woman thrust at me with her hand and rushed past me. I turned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified for thought. The terrible Heat-Ray was in my mind. To get under water! That was it!
“Get under water!” I shouted, unheeded.
I faced about again, and rushed towards the approaching Martian, rushed right down the gravelly beach and headlong into the water. Others did the same. A boatload of people putting back came leaping out as I rushed past. The stones under my feet were muddy and slippery, and the river was so low that I ran perhaps twenty feet scarcely waist-deep. Then, as the Martian towered overhead scarcely a couple of hundred yards away, I flung myself forward under the surface.
The splashes of the people in the boats leaping into the river sounded like thunderclaps in my ears. People were landing hastily on both sides of the river. But the Martian machine took no more notice, for the moment, of the people running this way and that, than a man would of the confusion of ants in a nest against which his foot has kicked.
When, half suffocated, I raised my head above water, the Martian’s hood pointed at the batteries that were still firing across the river, and as it advanced it swung loose what must have been the generator of the Heat-Ray.
In another moment it was on the bank, and in a stride wading halfway across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the farther bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height again, close to the village of Shepperton.
Forthwith the six guns which, unknown to anyone on the right bank, had been hidden behind the outskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. The monster was already raising the case generating the Heat-Ray as the first shell burst six yards above the hood.
I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of the other four Martian monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearer incident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to dodge, the fourth shell.
The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The hood bulged, flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red flesh and glittering metal.
“Hit!” shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer. I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. I could have leaped out of the water with that momentary exultation.
The decapitated colossus reeled like a drunken giant; but it did not fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longer heeding its steps and with the camera that fired the Heat-Ray now rigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepperton. The living intelligence, the Martian within the hood, was slain and splashed to the four winds of heaven, and the Thing was now but a mere intricate device of metal whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straight line, incapable of guidance. It struck the tower of Shepperton Church, smashing it down as the impact of a battering ram might have done, swerved aside, blundered on and collapsed with tremendous force into the river out of my sight.
A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of the Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed into steam. In another moment a huge muddy tidal wave, almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw people struggling shorewards, and heard their screaming and shouting faintly above the seething and roar of the Martian’s collapse.
For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water, pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the confusion of the waves. The fallen Martian came into sight downstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.
Thick clouds of steam were pouring off the wreckage, and through the tumultuously whirling wisps I could see, intermittently and vaguely, the gigantic limbs churning the water and flinging a splash and spray of mud and froth into the air. The tentacles swayed and struck like living arms, and, save for the helpless purposelessness of these movements, it was as if some wounded thing were struggling for its life amid the waves. Enormous quantities of a ruddy-brown fluid were spurting up in noisy jets out of the machine.
My attention was diverted from this death flurry by a furious yelling, like that of the thing called a siren in our manufacturing towns. A man, knee-deep near the towing path, shouted inaudibly to me and pointed. Looking back, I saw the other Martians advancing with gigantic strides down the riverbank from the direction of Chertsey. The Shepperton guns spoke this time unavailingly.
At that I ducked at once under water, and, holding my breath until movement was an agony, blundered painfully ahead under the surface as long as I could. The water was in a tumult about me, and rapidly growing hotter.
When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw the hair and water from my eyes, the steam was rising in a whirling white fog that at first hid the Martians altogether. The noise was deafening. Then I saw them dimly, colossal figures of grey, magnified by the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over the frothing, tumultuous ruins of their comrade.
The third and fourth stood beside him in the water, one perhaps two hundred yards from me, the other towards Laleham. The generators of the Heat-Rays waved high, and the hissing beams smote down this way and that.
The air was full of sound, a deafening and confusing conflict of noises—the clangorous din of the Martians, the crash of falling houses, the thud of trees, fences, sheds flashing into flame, and the crackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up to mingle with the steam from the river, and as the Heat-Ray went to and fro over Weybridge its impact was marked by flashes of incandescent white, that gave place at once to a smoky dance of lurid flames. The nearer houses still stood intact, awaiting their fate, shadowy, faint and pallid in the steam, with the fire behind them going to and fro.
For a moment perhaps I stood there, breast-high in the almost boiling water, dumbfounded at my position, hopeless of escape. Through the reek I could see the people who had been with me in the river scrambling out of the water through the reeds, like little frogs hurrying through grass from the advance of a man, or running to and fro in utter dismay on the towing path.
Then suddenly the white flashes of the Heat-Ray came leaping towards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch, and darted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. The Ray flickered up and down the towing path, licking off the people who ran this way and that, and came down to the water’s edge not fifty yards from where I stood. It swept across the river to Shepperton, and the water in its track rose in a boiling weal crested with steam. I turned shoreward.
In another moment the huge wave, well-nigh at the boiling-point had rushed upon me. I screamed aloud, and scalded, half blinded, agonised, I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards the shore. Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end. I fell helplessly, in full sight of the Martians, upon the broad, bare gravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames. I expected nothing but death.
I have a dim memory of the foot of a Martian coming down within a score of yards of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel, whirling it this way and that and lifting again; of a long suspense, and then of the four carrying the debris of their comrade between them, now clear and then presently faint through a veil of smoke, receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space of river and meadow. And then, very slowly, I realised that by a miracle I had escaped.
Summary (AKA – what the hell just happened?)
The two men reach a chaotic scene in Weybridge as people crowd the railway station and the ferry in an effort to leave. Suddenly they hear gunfire and a large explosion, and four tripods come into view across the river. The narrator hides in the river. Six guns hidden in the woods fire on the nearest tripod. One shell strikes the tripod and gruesomely kills the Martian inside. Unguided but still moving, the tripod smashes into a church and falls into the river. The other Martians come to the fallen tripod, shooting their Heat-Rays at the village and destroying the opposition. The Heat-Ray from the fallen tripod heats the water in the river and scalds the narrator before he manages to escape.
Final comments and analysis
It’s possible to see various interpretations of this story, or subtexts to the story.
Here are some.
The complacency of humans As the dominant species on earth for hundreds of thousands of years, we have become complacent about our position in the natural hierarchy, and this is a mistake. Humans could easily be removed from this dominant position by things we aren’t even aware of. In the story this means intelligent creatures from another planet. In reality this could be something like the coronavirus or just something else we don’t usually think about.
How would human society cope with a crisis like this? This is a common theme in disaster movies, zombie films, science fiction etc. All it takes is for something to disrupt our carefully organised society and things can descend into chaos quite easily, and this often brings out the worst in people. Normal citizens can quickly become immoral and do bad things, when the structure of society collapses and we end up having to fight for our survival.
Treatment of Animals The story makes us think about the way we treat animals, which are below us in the power hierarchy on earth. Perhaps we should be more compassionate and kind to animals. In fact this is one of the only conclusions the narrator reaches in this story, as he suddenly understands what it means to be ruled over by a superior species.
The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
Microorganisms and viruses might be the most powerful forces on earth.
A sample from coursehero.com Technology The benefits, possibilities, and potential threats of technology—represented in the Martian tripods—make technology a pervasive theme in the novel. Following the Industrial Revolution, technology changed society dramatically—from travel, to work, to communication. Virtually no part of life was untouched by new inventions. The benefits provided by these new machines meant people could accomplish tasks faster, easier, and often independently.
But as ever with modern science fiction stories, there is an element of fear regarding advancements in technology and how we may ultimately be surpassed by technological innovations.
This is where we’re going to stop.
I seriously hope you enjoyed this!
If you’re still listening or watching, then “hello”. Thanks for sticking with this. I guess it must mean you’ve been enjoying it.
I’m sure it’s been challenging at times, but to be honest I also feel this is difficult to follow when I read it. There’s a sense that things are just beyond your imagination, and that your mind has to do quite a lot of work to understand the fairly complex descriptions being given. This is not quite the same as watching a film where everything is shown. Or maybe it’s like watching a really well-directed film where you never quite see clearly what is happening, and this adds to the drama and excitement.
Anyway – thank you for sticking with this and listening all the way through.
Let me know what you think of this, and I highly recommend reading the rest of the story. There’s a lot more action and a few more close encounters with the Martians and their tripods, and of course the ending is very clever. I won’t spoil it. The book is better than the film though, I assure you!
In terms of English, I hope you have found it interesting to hear some samples of old fashioned English from the 19th century. I would say it is broadly modern English, but with a more formal style. It’s really enjoyable though. I love the descriptiveness and the general command over the language is a joy to behold.
Don’t forget you can get the full text for this episode printed right there on the page for this episode, and there’s the YouTube video version as well to enjoy where you can see text on the screen as you read it.
Listen to LEP wherever you get your podcasts. Don’t forget to like and subscribe.
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And consider signing up to LEP Premium to get specific lessons on vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Continuing to read extracts from this fantastic science fiction story from the 19th century. Follow the plot and pick up some English in the process. Full transcript available, and a YouTube version too.
6 years prior to the main events of the story, explosions are observed on the surface of Mars, but scientists assume they are gas or volcanic eruptions and are nothing to worry about.
Then, one night, a meteor falls to earth in green flash. The astronomer who finds the fallen meteorite in a pit of sand in a nearby common discovers that the object is a cylinder, is making strange noises and is even beginning to open and assumes there must be people inside it.
A crowd gathers, including the narrator of this story. The cylinder opens slowly and people are shocked and horrified to see the hideous and frightening creatures inside. They seem slow and heavy, as if earth’s atmosphere makes things difficult for them. Their appearance is a huge shock to everyone.
One person has fallen into the pit and it’s possible that they have been killed.
The narrator, although terrified, is also intensely curious about these visitors, as are the other witnesses at the sand pits where the cylinder has landed.
V. THE HEAT-RAY. After the glimpse I had had of the Martians emerging from the cylinder in which they had come to the earth from their planet, a kind of fascination paralysed my actions. I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, staring at the mound that hid them. I was a battleground of fear and curiosity. I did not dare to go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing to peer into it. I began walking, therefore, in a big curve, seeking some point of vantage and continually looking at the sand-heaps that hid these new-comers to our earth. Once a leash of thin black whips, like the arms of an octopus, flashed across the sunset and was immediately withdrawn, and afterwards a thin rod rose up, joint by joint, bearing at its apex a circular disk that spun with a wobbling motion. What could be going on there? Most of the spectators had gathered in one or two groups—one a little crowd towards Woking, the other a knot of people in the direction of Chobham. Evidently they shared my mental conflict. There were few near me. One man I approached—he was, I perceived, a neighbour of mine, though I did not know his name—and accosted. But it was scarcely a time for articulate conversation. “What ugly brutes!” he said. “Good God! What ugly brutes!” He repeated this over and over again. “Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer to that. We became silent, and stood watching for a time side by side, deriving, I fancy, a certain comfort in one another’s company. Then I shifted my position to a little knoll that gave me the advantage of a yard or more of elevation and when I looked for him presently he was walking towards Woking. The sunset faded to twilight before anything further happened. The crowd far away on the left, towards Woking, seemed to grow, and I heard now a faint murmur from it. The little knot of people towards Chobham dispersed. There was scarcely an intimation of movement from the pit. It was this, as much as anything, that gave people courage, and I suppose the new arrivals from Woking also helped to restore confidence. At any rate, as the dusk came on a slow, intermittent movement upon the sand-pits began, a movement that seemed to gather force as the stillness of the evening about the cylinder remained unbroken. Vertical black figures in twos and threes would advance, stop, watch, and advance again, spreading out as they did so in a thin irregular crescent that promised to enclose the pit in its attenuated horns. I, too, on my side began to move towards the pit. Then I saw some cabmen and others had walked boldly into the sand-pits, and heard the clatter of hoofs and the gride of wheels. I saw a lad trundling off the barrow of apples. And then, within thirty yards of the pit, advancing from the direction of Horsell, I noted a little black knot of men, the foremost of whom was waving a white flag. This was the Deputation. There had been a hasty consultation, and since the Martians were evidently, in spite of their repulsive forms, intelligent creatures, it had been resolved to show them, by approaching them with signals, that we too were intelligent. Flutter, flutter, went the flag, first to the right, then to the left. It was too far for me to recognise anyone there, but afterwards I learned that Ogilvy, Stent, and Henderson were with others in this attempt at communication. This little group had in its advance dragged inward, so to speak, the circumference of the now almost complete circle of people, and a number of dim black figures followed it at discreet distances. Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a quantity of luminous greenish smoke came out of the pit in three distinct puffs, which drove up, one after the other, straight into the still air. This smoke (or flame, perhaps, would be the better word for it) was so bright that the deep blue sky overhead and the hazy stretches of brown common towards Chertsey, set with black pine trees, seemed to darken abruptly as these puffs arose, and to remain the darker after their dispersal. At the same time a faint hissing sound became audible. Beyond the pit stood the little wedge of people with the white flag at its apex, arrested by these phenomena, a little knot of small vertical black shapes upon the black ground. As the green smoke arose, their faces flashed out pallid green, and faded again as it vanished. Then slowly the hissing passed into a humming, into a long, loud, droning noise. Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it. Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire. Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run. I stood staring, not as yet realising that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine trees burst into fire, and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames. And far away towards Knaphill I saw the flashes of trees and hedges and wooden buildings suddenly set alight in the distance. It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir. I heard the crackle of fire in the sand-pits and the sudden squeal of a horse that was as suddenly stilled. Then it was as if an invisible yet intensely heated finger were drawn through the heather between me and the Martians, and all along a curving line beyond the sand-pits the dark ground smoked and crackled. Something fell with a crash far away to the left where the road from Woking station opens out on the common. Forth-with the hissing and humming ceased, and the black, dome-like object sank slowly out of sight into the pit. All this had happened with such swiftness that I had stood motionless, dumbfounded and dazzled by the flashes of light. Had that death swept through a full circle, it must inevitably have slain me in my surprise. But it passed and spared me, and left the night about me suddenly dark and unfamiliar. The undulating common seemed now dark almost to blackness, except where its roadways lay grey and pale under the deep blue sky of the early night. It was dark, and suddenly void of men. Overhead the stars were mustering, and in the west the sky was still a pale, bright, almost greenish blue. The tops of the pine trees and the roofs of Horsell came out sharp and black against the western afterglow. The Martians and their appliances were altogether invisible, save for that thin mast upon which their restless mirror wobbled. Patches of bush and isolated trees here and there smoked and glowed still, and the houses towards Woking station were sending up spires of flame into the stillness of the evening air. Nothing was changed save for that and a terrible astonishment. The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence, and the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely been broken. It came to me that I was upon this dark common, helpless, unprotected, and alone. Suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came—fear. With an effort I turned and began a stumbling run through the heather. The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror not only of the Martians, but of the dusk and stillness all about me. Such an extraordinary effect in unmanning me it had that I ran weeping silently as a child might do. Once I had turned, I did not dare to look back. I remember I felt an extraordinary persuasion that I was being played with, that presently, when I was upon the very verge of safety, this mysterious death—as swift as the passage of light—would leap after me from the pit about the cylinder, and strike me down.
Summary of Chapter 5: The Heat Ray
The narrator finds himself irresistibly drawn back toward the crater to see more. He observes a long pole with a circular disc on its end rising from the pit. Other people linger, seemingly rooted to the spot in a mix of horror and curiosity. Heartened by a lack of alien movement for a period, onlookers begin to slowly advance toward the pit. The Deputation (group of scientists) walks toward the pit with a white flag. The narrator later learns Ogilvy, Stent, and Henderson were part of the group. A flash of light, three puffs of green smoke, a hissing sound, and a dome-like object rise from the pit. With a droning noise, the group of men suddenly burst into flame. As the “invisible, inevitable sword of heat” rotates, everything it touches turns to flame, including grass on the common and trees in the distance. The rotating Heat-Ray stops before it reaches the narrator, and he realizes he was “helpless, unprotected and alone.” He flees in fear with the disturbing feeling he is “being played with.”
Although the Martians seem quite weak and immobile, their technology is far superiour to ours, especially the technology we had in the late 19th century (guns, horse drawn, cannons, pre World War 1 weapons). The heat ray is absolutely devestating. It burns or melts everything it touches instantly and can reach long distances.
Summary of the next few chapters
Nobody understands the technology the Martians are using. Whatever the heat ray points at, bursts into flame.
Plenty of people around the pit have been killed and there are burned remains of their bodies lying around. Horses have also been killed as well as numerous trees and buildings set on fire.
The group of scientists are all dead.
After the Martian attack with the heat ray the crowd of people stampeded in horror and a few people were crushed to death in the panic.
The Martians stay in the pit, and appear to be working on something as little puffs of green smoke can be seen rising from the hole, and there’s noise of work inside.
The narrator runs away in fear and eventually gets himself under control and then goes home, still not completely aware of what’s going on. He comforts himself with the knowledge that the military are now going to step in, and that one shell or bomb landing in the sand pit will be enough to stop the Martians. He sees his wife and has dinner.
The news of the Martians travels slowly. People seem sceptical of the stories they’ve heard. Even the newspaper editor chooses not to print the story as he doesn’t believe the account and it hasn’t been confirmed by any enough witnesses yet. So, news travels slowly. Meanwhile, the Martians still seem to be working on something within the pit.
Some people are still curious about what’s going on in the sand pit, but as they approach it they are instantly killed by the heat ray.
The narrator compares the cylinder ominously to a poison dart, whose poison “was scarcely working yet.”
That night several companies of soldiers with large artillery guns approach the pit.
During the night, a second cylinder falls nearby.
The next day is suspenseful. The military surround the aliens in their sand pit. The narrator is not allowed to go back onto the common. Soldiers tell him that nobody is allowed into the area.
That afternoon there are sounds of gunfire and explosions. The Martians keep using their heat ray which appears to be clearing out all obstacles in its path, creating a wider and wider circle of destruction and a bigger area that nobody can enter.
The narrator is at home with is wife and at one point a big explosion nearby causes him to go outside to check. He sees the top of the nearby church sliding off and crashing to the ground, the tops of nearby trees on fire and in fact the chimney stack of his own house falling to the ground. He realises that his house is nearly in range of the heat ray, which has taken out trees and buildings between the house and the sand pit.
The narrator and his wife decide to leave, and pack a horse drawn cart with as many possessions as possible they head in the direction of London, to Leatherhead. As they travel there is fire and smoke behind them and the sound of weapons. The Martians are burning everything within range of their heat ray.
The narrator’s wife is deeply concerned about the situation, but the narrator assures her that the Martians are severely disadvantaged by their weight and inability to move quickly or breathe properly in our atmosphere. They arrive in Leatherhead and have dinner.
Then the narrator has to go back to Woking in order to return the horse and cart that he borrowed (what a good guy).
As night falls a storm comes in with rain and lightning. As the narrator is travelling through the darkness he sees a third cylinder fall from the sky in a green flash. The horse is very spooked and is hard to control.
Then in the darkness and rain, lit up by the occasional flash of lightning from the storm he sees something monstrous that causes him to loose control of the horse and crash by the side of the road.
Extract from Chapter 10: In the Storm
X. IN THE STORM. (extract)
At first I regarded little but the road before me, and then abruptly my attention was arrested by something that was moving rapidly down the opposite slope of Maybury Hill. At first I took it for the wet roof of a house, but one flash following another showed it to be in swift rolling movement. It was an elusive vision—a moment of bewildering darkness, and then, in a flash like daylight, the red masses of the Orphanage near the crest of the hill, the green tops of the pine trees, and this problematical object came out clear and sharp and bright.
And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.
Then suddenly the trees in the pine wood ahead of me were parted, as brittle reeds are parted by a man thrusting through them; they were snapped off and driven headlong, and a second huge tripod appeared, rushing, as it seemed, headlong towards me. And I was galloping hard to meet it! At the sight of the second monster my nerve went altogether. Not stopping to look again, I wrenched the horse’s head hard round to the right and in another moment the dog cart had heeled over upon the horse; the shafts smashed noisily, and I was flung sideways and fell heavily into a shallow pool of water.
I crawled out almost immediately, and crouched, my feet still in the water, under a clump of furze. The horse lay motionless (his neck was broken, poor brute!) and by the lightning flashes I saw the black bulk of the overturned dog cart and the silhouette of the wheel still spinning slowly. In another moment the colossal mechanism went striding by me, and passed uphill towards Pyrford.
Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman’s basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.
So much I saw then, all vaguely for the flickering of the lightning, in blinding highlights and dense black shadows.
As it passed it set up an exultant deafening howl that drowned the thunder—“Aloo! Aloo!”—and in another minute it was with its companion, half a mile away, stooping over something in the field. I have no doubt this Thing in the field was the third of the ten cylinders they had fired at us from Mars.
For some minutes I lay there in the rain and darkness watching, by the intermittent light, these monstrous beings of metal moving about in the distance over the hedge tops. A thin hail was now beginning, and as it came and went their figures grew misty and then flashed into clearness again. Now and then came a gap in the lightning, and the night swallowed them up.
I was soaked with hail above and puddle water below. It was some time before my blank astonishment would let me struggle up the bank to a drier position, or think at all of my imminent peril.
Summary of Chapter 10 extract
On his way he notices a red glow in the sky and then a green streak, which happens to be the third cylinder.
It begins to storm.
The narrator suddenly encounters “a monstrous tripod, higher than many houses,” smashing through the woods next to the road.
As soon as it vanishes into the woods, another tripod appears heading right for the narrator.
He tries to change direction, but the cart overturns and the horse is killed.
The tripod passes by.
The narrator describes the two tripods bending over something in the distance, which he believes is the third cylinder.
He continues on foot with difficulty, happening upon the landlord’s dead body before he reaches home.
End of part 2
To be continued in part 3.
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Luke reads extracts from The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. This is a classic bit of science fiction writing from the Victorian era, with some thrilling passages and scary descriptions. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and I hope you enjoy it too and learn some English from it. Full transcript available and YouTube version too.
It’s story time in this episode because I’m going to tell you a classic English science fiction story.
The story is called War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells the classic storyteller who also wrote The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, and you have probably heard of War Of The Worlds because it is definitely one of the most famous and most influential science fiction stories ever written.
Now, I know that science fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do hope you stick around and listen to this story because I think this is just particularly good writing and the story is very exciting, immersive and memorable so it should be a really enjoyable way to pick up some more English.
I won’t be reading the whole book of course but I will be reading some selected extracts and giving you a summary of the key details in the first part of the story.
The aims of this episode
To entertain you with a really engaging story in English. Stories are a great way to get more English into your head and if they are exciting and immersive, then that’s even better.
To show you a slightly old-fashioned version of English, which is really rich in descriptive language and more formal in style than today’s English. It’s good to be exposed to diverse versions of the language. Old fashioned English is much more like modern formal English, so it’s a good lesson in style. This can really strengthen your English in various ways.
To help you notice some nice bits of vocabulary along the way. Having a broad range of vocabulary is essential in achieving truly advanced English. This story is very rich in descriptive language.
To inspire you perhaps to read the rest of the book. Reading is such an important thing to do for your English, and maybe you’re looking for interesting books to read. You could consider this one. It’s not too long.
This is also available as a video episode on YouTube and if you watch you can see me recording the podcast with the text on the screen next to my face. So you can listen and read at the same time and see me telling the story.
You can read the entire text I am reading from on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk.
Context of the story and the writing style
War of the Worlds has been adapted lots of times – in films (most famously the 2005 Stephen Spielberg film with Tom Cruise – which you might have seen) and another film version in the 1950s set in Los Angeles, an audiobook musical version read by Richard Burton and an infamous dramatised radio series by Orson Welles.
This is the original alien invasion story. This book was one of the very first stories to ever explore these themes and to describe these kinds of things in such a realistic way.
This is the one that has inspired so many others and in my opinion, none of the other versions of this story or copies of this story can compare to this original version from 1897.
The writing is very realistic and journalistic in style, written from the first person perspective of a guy just experiencing the events as they happened and describing everything in great detail.
A note about the language and the writing style
The language is pretty old fashioned (1897) but it’s really well written and it should be interesting for you and useful for your English to explore another version of this language. Exposure to different types of English makes your English stronger I think.
As we go through this I will point out particular words or phrases as we go and perhaps compare this to normal modern plain English.
Comparing the styles of languages actually gives you more perspective on normal modern English and how formal written English today still retains some aspects of old fashioned language.
There is quite a lot of language you might find in legal documents or other very formal situations.
Words like therein, hereby, forthwith and things like that are quite common, as well as certain structures, longer sentences and choices of words which mark this out in a particular style.
This is very descriptive literary language from over 100 years ago. It’s more complex than today’s English, more formal than today’s English and very specific in its descriptions.
This will probably be a challenge for you but I’m here to help and I will explain things as we go.
This is quite scary stuff
I have to add actually, that having re-read some of this story in preparation for this episode, I hadn’t realised just how terrifying this story is.
Personally I really enjoy the thrills you get from a story like this, but if you are feeling a bit force-sensitive today you might want to get a pillow or hide behind the sofa or something.
Useful Links & Sources
Here are a couple of links I have found useful in making this episode.
Project Gutenberg I have several paperback copies of this book, but I also found it on www.gutenberg.org – a website which shares stories and books which are now in the public domain.
These are the opening paragraphs of the book, which set the scene in which the events take place. Note the sombre tone and specific choice of language.
The story is told by an unnamed narrator.
He is a middle-class educated man who writes philosophical papers and is interested in science. That’s all we know. The story is written in the past tense, as if he is looking back on those events and has written a full account of what happened.
I. THE EVE OF THE WAR.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. [one sentence!]
With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.
No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.
It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise.
Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
Summary of the story up until Chapter 4: The Cylinder Opens
That opening chapter describes how a species of intelligent creatures on Mars had been observing us for many years before the events of this story. The opening chapter goes on to explain that the Martians were planning to invade earth because their home planet was steadily getting cooler year after year due to the fact that it is further from the sun than the earth. They faced extinction on their own planet, and so they set their sights on their nearest neighbour – Earth – with its warmer atmosphere and closer position to the sun, and with their superior mathematical knowledge and technology they decided they would colonise earth in order to survive. They spent years observing us and planning the invasion.
Note: I am using present tenses from now on to describe this story. This is a normal way to retell the plot of a book, film, or play. It’s because the events of the story are permanent because they never change, they are written that way. So we can use present tenses to summarise the story of a book or film.
Ogilvy the Astronomer
The narrator has a friend called Ogilvy who is a respected astronomer. He has a telescope and uses it to observe the night sky, including the surface of Mars, our nearest neighbour.
So Ogilvy is our friend and he’s an astronomer.
6 years before the main events of the story Ogilvy invites the narrator to an observatory to study Mars after another astronomer reported a dramatic explosion of gas on the surface of the planet, which seems to be directed toward Earth. The narrator observes a similar explosion as he watches through the telescope.
Ogilvy doubts the existence of life on Mars and speculates the phenomenon may be related to meteorites or volcanoes. Many other people witness the phenomenon, which repeats itself at midnight over a total of 10 days.
Nobody at the time is concerned or worried about the explosions on Mars.
6 years later some people see a falling star – a meteorite which flies through the night sky with a bright green flash and lands nearby on Horsell Common – a large area of grass, meadows and trees. Again, nobody assumes there is anything weird going on. Ogilvy the astronomer is interested in the meteorite and finds it on the common.
As it has landed it has formed a large crater of sand. So the object is lying at the bottom of a kind of large sand pit in the middle of an open area of grassland surrounded by buildings and trees.
The meteorite that he finds is quite odd. It’s in a cylindrical shape – like a long can of coke, but he thinks its made of rock as it is covered in a kind of crusty layer. It’s also extremely hot and he can’t get near it, but he notices there are weird sounds coming from inside it. He assumes these are noises caused by the object cooling, but as he continues to observe it he realises that something funny is going on.
The crusty layer is slowly falling off as the object cools, revealing a kind of metallic surface underneath, and even weirder than that, the end of the cylinder appears to be turning, as if it is unscrewing very slowly. Ogilvy suddenly assumes that the cylinder has people inside it and decides to get help, but nobody believes him.
Eventually he finds a journalist who is willing to check the cylinder. A crowd of people begins to gather as word spreads about “men from space stuck inside a cylinder on the common”. People don’t quite realise what’s going on but they are incredibly curious. Normal life continues, with people stopping by to have a look at the object in the sand pit, before continuing their normal routines.
The narrator goes down to Horsell Common to check out what’s going on. A larger crowd has gathered there. He manages to squeeze through the crowd which is getting more and more excited and agitated. A small group of scientists, including the narrator’s friend Ogilvy are in the pit attempting to work out what is happening.
The narrator observes what is going on and comments on how most people are not really educated about this kind of thing and they haven’t worked out what’s going on, but he assumes that the cylinder must be extra-terrestrial. He observes the end of the cylinder moving and as it turns it’s revealing a kind of shining metal thread.
The next chapter describes what happens when the end of the cylinder finally drops off, revealing what is inside.
Reading chapters 4 and 5 with comments and explanations
The narrator approaches the pit containing the cylinder. Crowds of people are all around the pit, trying to see what’s happening. They’re pushing each other a bit, and things are quite tense. (You know, when a large crowd forms, people start pushing and shoving and it’s stressful) Ogilvy and some other scientists are in the pit.
IV. THE CYLINDER OPENS. The crowd about the pit had increased, and stood out black against the lemon yellow of the sky—a couple of hundred people, perhaps. There were raised voices, and some sort of struggle appeared to be going on about the pit. Strange imaginings passed through my mind. As I drew nearer I heard Stent’s voice: “Keep back! Keep back!” A boy came running towards me. “It’s a-movin’,” he said to me as he passed; “a-screwin’ and a-screwin’ out. I don’t like it. I’m a-goin’ ’ome, I am.” I went on to the crowd. There were really, I should think, two or three hundred people elbowing and jostling one another, the one or two ladies there being by no means the least active. “He’s fallen in the pit!” cried some one. “Keep back!” said several. The crowd swayed a little, and I elbowed my way through. Every one seemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar humming sound from the pit. “I say!” said Ogilvy; “help keep these idiots back. We don’t know what’s in the confounded thing, you know!” I saw a young man, a shop assistant in Woking I believe he was, standing on the cylinder and trying to scramble out of the hole again. The crowd had pushed him in. The end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within. Nearly two feet of shining screw projected. Somebody blundered against me, and I narrowly missed being pitched onto the top of the screw. I turned, and as I did so the screw must have come out, for the lid of the cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing concussion. I stuck my elbow into the person behind me, and turned my head towards the Thing again. For a moment that circular cavity seemed perfectly black. I had the sunset in my eyes. I think everyone expected to see a man emerge—possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous disks—like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me—and then another. A sudden chill came over me. There was a loud shriek from a woman behind. I half turned, keeping my eyes fixed upon the cylinder still, from which other tentacles were now projecting, and began pushing my way back from the edge of the pit. I saw astonishment giving place to horror on the faces of the people about me. I heard inarticulate exclamations on all sides. There was a general movement backwards. I saw the shopman struggling still on the edge of the pit. I found myself alone, and saw the people on the other side of the pit running off, Stent among them. I looked again at the cylinder, and ungovernable terror gripped me. I stood petrified and staring. A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather. Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air. Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth—above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes—were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread. [It’s a bit like if you spend any length of time staring at a nasty looking insect, or even just staring at a picture of one] Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of the cylinder and fallen into the pit, with a thud like the fall of a great mass of leather. I heard it give a peculiar thick cry, and forthwith another of these creatures appeared darkly in the deep shadow of the aperture. I turned and, running madly, made for the first group of trees, perhaps a hundred yards away; but I ran slantingly and stumbling, for I could not avert my face from these things. There, among some young pine trees and furze bushes, I stopped, panting, and waited further developments. The common round the sand-pits was dotted with people, standing like myself in a half-fascinated terror, staring at these creatures, or rather at the heaped gravel at the edge of the pit in which they lay. And then, with a renewed horror, I saw a round, black object bobbing up and down on the edge of the pit. It was the head of the shopman who had fallen in, but showing as a little black object against the hot western sun. Now he got his shoulder and knee up, and again he seemed to slip back until only his head was visible. Suddenly he vanished, and I could have fancied a faint shriek had reached me. I had a momentary impulse to go back and help him that my fears overruled. Everything was then quite invisible, hidden by the deep pit and the heap of sand that the fall of the cylinder had made. Anyone coming along the road from Chobham or Woking would have been amazed at the sight—a dwindling multitude of perhaps a hundred people or more standing in a great irregular circle, in ditches, behind bushes, behind gates and hedges, saying little to one another in short, excited shouts, and staring, staring hard at a few heaps of sand. A barrow of ginger beer stood, a queer derelict, black against the burning sky, and in the sand-pits was a row of deserted vehicles with their horses feeding out of nosebags or pawing the ground.
Summary of Chapter 4
As the sun sets, the narrator returns to the pit, where a few hundred people have gathered. A boy warns the narrator that the end of the cylinder has unscrewed itself, and the narrator forces his way to the front of the crowd to get a better view. Ogilvy warns the people to stay away and reminds them of its unknown contents. One man is pushed into the pit by the jostling of the crowd. The end of the cylinder comes off and falls into the pit. The narrator and the crowd are horrified by the grotesque octopus-like appearance of an alien who slowly and painstakingly emerges from the cylinder. They seem heavy and struggling to breathe in the atmosphere. The narrator and the crowd run away from the pit, but many, including the narrator, stop to watch the aliens from the nearby tree line. The sun sets, leaving enough light to just see the silhouette of the shopkeeper as he tries and fails to get out of the pit alive.
Talking to Christian again about some of the themes and controversial opinions he talks about in his YouTube videos, plus some bits about men wearing thongs on the beach, an obsession with rabbits and if Christian was the Donald Trump of English teaching. Video version available.
How are you today? You are now listening to episode 732, and in this one I am talking again to Christian Saunders from Canguro English.
This is the second time I’m talking to him on the podcast. I previously interviewed Christian in episode 686 last year and got to know him a bit, but I wanted to talk to him again after having seen some of his most recent videos on YouTube about language and language learning.
In his videos Christian often challenges certain assumptions and myths about language learning, and so I thought it might be interesting to talk to him about those things, so I came up with some questions about language, learning language and teaching English on the internet.
There is a video version of this conversation on my YouTube channel too, so don’t forget to check it out and of course to like and subscribe while you’re there.
There’s no more for me to add here in the introduction. I hope you enjoy this conversation and get some good things from it. Once again, Christian’s YouTube channel is called Canguro English and his website is canguroenglish.com
Let’s get started.
So that was Christian from Canguro English. Thanks again to Christian.
And here we are, at the end of yet another episode. I wonder what you thought of the points which came up in that conversation? Feel free to let us know in the comment section or perhaps under the YouTUbe version of this. Where do you stand on things like comprehensible input, workbooks and clickbait titles? Let us know.
For me, this is one of the last episodes I’m recording before officially starting my summer holiday. As usual I have loads of stuff to record and publish before I go away, and I might end up recording some of it while I am back in the UK. But here’s a little overview of what’s in the pipeline right now.
A Summer Ramble
War of the Worlds
So I have my work cut out.
In terms of holiday – we’re going back to the UK to stay at my parents’ place and we will have to deal with the whole quarantine thing, and the day 2 and day 8 testing process and all that. It’s quite annoying. But after we quarantine we will be going to a posh camp site for some “glamping” and generally spending a couple of weeks in the UK.
Meanwhile our new flat in Paris is being demolished (on the inside) and remade to our specifications. Let’s hope that all goes according to plan.
I’ll talk more about this stuff in that rambling episode which is coming up.
Learn English with The Beatles as we explore lyrics from Beatles songs and pick out some idioms, descriptive language and other vocabulary for you to learn. Featuring Antony Rotunno from the Glass Onion: On John Lennon podcast.
In this episode you can learn English with The Beatles as we look at specific bits of English which appear in the lyrics of their songs.
I’m joined again by Antony Rotunno from the Glass Onion on John Lennon Podcast. Antony is also an English teacher and something of a John Lennon expert. He is also a musician, and a lot of the credit for this episode goes to him, because he did most of the preparation, going through lyrics of Beatles songs and picking out specific use of English, including certain phrases and idioms.
This is like a quiz actually. Can you name the songs when Antony plays them?
Can you beat me?
Can you name the songs from the lyrics and from the music?
There are a few references to The Rutles and Neil Innes of course, but for us those songs are all part of The Beatles extended universe.
I’ll chat to you again at the end of the episode and will sum up some of the bits of language that come up, but now let’s get started.
Phrases / Vocabualry
Using lots of pronouns, me, you, us, I etc
Using more imagery in the lyrics
I’m going to love her until the cows come home
A chip on my shoulder
My heart went boom when I crossed that room
Buzz, hum, boom (Onomatopoeia)
It won’t be long ‘til I belong to you
I don’t know why she’s riding so high
To be on your high horse
I’ll make a point of taking her away from you
I sat on her rug biding my time, drinking her wine
This bird has flown
Please don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away, and after all, I’m only sleeping
If she’s gone I can’t go on, feeling two foot small
Feeling 10 foot tall
Ouch, you’re breaking my heart
To upset the applecart
Where there’s a will there’s a way
He was like a wolf in sheep’s clothing
Or an iron hand in a velvet glove
Working like a dog
Sleeping like a log
Sleeping like a baby
If you need a shoulder to cry on
To give someone a shoulder to cry on
To open up the doors
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
It was anotherstring to their bow
There is a place, where I can go, when I feel low, when I feel blue
To feel blue
Everybody’s green because I’m the one who won your love
Green = 1. Jealous 2. inexperienced
Oh dear what can I do, baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue
When the sun shines they slip into the shade, and sip their lemonade
With tangerinetrees and marmaladeskies, cellophane flowers of yellow and green
No-one I think is in my tree
Nobody is on my wavelength
Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower
The clouds will be a daisy chain, so let me see you smile again
Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering, in the sun
My mother was of the sky, my father was of the earth but I am of the universe and you know what it’s worth
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Don’t need a gun to blow your mind
No longer riding on the merry go round, I just had to let it go
Hello listeners, here is an episode about English Tests like TOEFL and the Duolingo English Test which I hope will still be an interesting episode even for those who have no plans to take one of these tests. I’m joined by online English teacher Josh MacPherson. I guess you have heard of TOEFL, and the Duolingo English Test is a test made by Duolingo, that company which helps you learn languages on your phone, and which seems to be managed by a green cartoon owl, who is some kind of master of learning English. They make a test now, and it’s getting really big.
Some time is spent describing the tests but we don’t just spend an hour describing TOEFL. Most of the time we are doing samples from the test, commenting on my performance in a TOEFL speaking task, discussing testing methods in general and giving comments on ways to perform well, particularly in the speaking parts of a test like TOEFL and IELTS.
Also, tests should be reliable and having genuinely good English skills should (of course) cause you to get decent results, so a lot of the tips relating to getting a better score are also generally good tips for improving your level of English, so even if you’re not planning to take one of these tests, the tips and advice here should be applicable to your English anyway.
There is a video version of this episode on YouTube and you can see Josh’s screen and can observe our conversation as if you are taking part in a Zoom call with us. You can find the video on the page for this episode or on my YouTube channel.
Again, the audio is not tip top this time round and that was caused by things like microphone echo, which I have managed to fix, but in any case I think you can still hear everything clearly.
That’s it, I hope you enjoy it and you will find all the links you need on the page for this episode on my website.
Let’s get started
I am joined today by Josh MacPherson from TSTPrep.com and the TST Prep YouTube channel.
Josh is an English teacher who specialises in helping learners of English prepare for English tests, particularly TOEFL and also the fairly new DuoLingo English Test.
I thought I’d interview Josh to find out more about these tests and to get some tips from him about how to get the best result that you can.
Also, we’re going to do some test questions during this interview, so we can see how well I perform in these tests too.
Thanks again to Josh for his contribution to this episode.
Don’t forget, links are available on the page for this episode for all the things Josh mentioned there including test practice, sample answers, tips and videos.
Thank you as ever for listening all the way up to this point.
There’s not much more for me to add here. I haven’t played the guitar on the podcast lately, but I will be coming back to that soon, but for now I will just wish you a fond farewell and until next time, good bye bye bye bye bye