My dad has written a new book and he’s come on the podcast to tell us about it. The book follows the path of the river Avon as it flows through the middle of England, telling stories of key moments in British history, nature and the current condition of Britain’s rivers.
This episode is a history of The World Cup. You’ll see that it’s very long! I didn’t expect it to be this long. I hope you enjoy it! I covers all the World Cups we’ve had since 1930, focusing on the key events with a few dodgy jokes along the way. You can read 99% of the transcript on the page for this episode.
Transcript – A History of The World Cup
You’ve probably noticed that the World Cup is starting on 14th June. I’ve received a few requests to talk about it, so here we go.
I’d like to do a few episodes about the world cup over the next few weeks, if I can, because I’m sure many of you around the world will be watching the games and getting into it. On the other hand, I’m sure some of you couldn’t give a monkey’s about football. I hope you listen anyway, and don’t throw your phone into a lake or indeed any body of water. Or anywhere. Don’t throw your phone. Just listen to this episode, you might actually enjoy it because football isn’t just about kicking a ball. It’s also about other things like scandals, corruption and geo-political maneuvering … and of course the people of the world coming together over a shared love of goals.
The World Cup is the most prestigious association football tournament in the world as well as the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games; the cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was estimated to be 26.29 billion with an estimated 715.1 million people watching the final match, a ninth of the entire population of the planet.
20 World Cups so far in 16 countries and that doesn’t include this year’s tournament which is the 21st World Cup so far and is, of course, taking place in Russia.
2309 goals in total so far
More stats, including teams with most victories and all-time rankings http://www.fifa.com/fifa-tournaments/statistics-and-records/worldcup/index.html
This year it is being hosted in Russia. It all kicks off on 14 June. But what’s the story so far? Let’s go back in time to 1930 when the first World Cup ever happened, and then go through each competition one by one and talk about some of the highlights.
I’m attempting to deal with the main points, like who won and where the competition took place, but also I’m hoping to cover some of the more interesting events, scandals, shocks, surprises and also my own personal memories of world cups too.
The first World Cup took place in 1930 and was hosted by Uruguay. The first goal in World Cup history was scored by Lucien Laurent of France. Four days later, the first World Cup hat-trick was achieved by Bert Patenaude of the USA in the Americans’ 3–0 win against Paraguay, which just doesn’t seem right somehow – America taking part in the original tournament and a yank scoring a hat-trick? I mean, they call it soccer for goodness sake!
In the final, Uruguay defeated Argentina 4–2 in front of a crowd of 93,000 people in Montevideo, and became the first nation to win a World Cup. Well done Uruguay.
The 1934 World Cup was hosted by Italy. Uruguay, the title holders from 1930 boycotted the 1934 World Cup because they were upset that so many European teams hadn’t attended their original world cup in 1930. Obviously, I have no idea what I’m talking about but that does sounds a bit like a teenager’s temper tantrum. Nobody came to my party so I’m not going to yours.
Italy won the tournament, beating Czechoslovakia to become the first European team to win the tournament.
The 1938 World Cup competition was also held in Europe, much to the consternation of many South Americans, with Uruguay and Argentina both boycotting. The temper tantrums continued. To be fair though, it was probably a huge pain in the neck for South American teams to travel to Europe and I bet that FIFA was already following the smell of cash. Cynical? France hosted, but for the first time the hosts did not win the competition, as Italy retained their title, beating Hungary in the final by four goals to two.
Up until about 1950 the World Cup was beset by political disagreements, boycotts and of course WW2, which sort of got in the way. WW2 was a bit like the World Cup in a weird way, but a world cup of blowing each other up and dying, so not as good as the world cup at all, not even a little bit. WW2 had many many downsides, not least of which was the fact that the 1942 and 1946 World Cup football tournaments were cancelled. Everyone was too busy trying to shoot each other, let alone shoot a ball into a goal with their foot. It wasn’t until later that the World Cup managed to unite the world as it is known for doing today.
Competition resumed with the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, which was the first to include British participants. “Tally ho chaps! It’s us the bloody English! Pip pip and all that! We only invented the game of football and introduced it to the world to teach old Johnny Foreigner some good old British stiff upper lip discipline! Sorry we’re late by the way everyone, had a spot of bother over there on the continent with a rather naughty chap called Hitler. Silly sod thought he could take over the world, hahaha! Anyway, looks like the rest of you have finally learned how to play football by the proper rules. Right lads – time to show planet earth a thing or two about kicking an inflated pig’s bladder around a grass rectangle. Watch out world, here we come! Better fill that World Cup full of afternoon tea what? Hahahah” High hopes for the English entering their first world cup. And what happened? Did they beat everyone in a gentlemanly like way, while bringing values of fair play and democracy wherever they went? No. THey didn’t. The English failed to make the final group round in a campaign that included a 1–0 loss to the United States. Very humiliating, and very symbolic.
“Oh, jolly good America, right, of course, let the yanks have a crack at the old world domination so to speak – just, hand over the reigns there to old Dwight Eisenhower and his boys. Jolly good, carry on… yep, British Empire? What? No, we’re just clearing up a few things here, nothing to see. Carry on yes!”
Eastern European countries (such as Hungary, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia – yes, this Wikipedia article that I’ve adapted here does consider The Soviet Union to be “an Eastern European country”) did not enter. Title-holder Italy did take part, despite the Superga air disaster of 1949 in which the entire Grande Torino team (many who were national team players) were killed. Uruguay were surprise victors over hosts Brazil (in a match which would later be known as Maracanazo) and became champions for the second time. Another good result for Uruguay. If they keep up this level of form they might be in with a chance this year.
It must have been a nasty shock for Brazil, and the stadium must have been filled with Brazilian supporters.
When the match ended, people said the stadium was filled with “disturbing and traumatic absolute silence”, except for the euphoria and celebration of the Uruguayan players and delegation.
Apparently the defeat still haunts Brazil to this day. The term “Phantom of ’50” was later used to refer to the fear that Brazilians and Brazil national football team feel of the Uruguay national football team due to this loss. Each time Brazil and Uruguay play at Maracanã Stadium, the theme resurfaces.
India were also supposed to play in the 1950 World Cup but apparently they had to withdraw because they weren’t allowed to play barefoot. They had no boots and actually expected to play with completely bare feet, which, presumably, was how they used to play in India back then.
The 1954 World Cup, held in Switzerland, was the first to be televised. The Soviet Union did not participate because of their dismal performance at the 1952 Summer Olympics. I’m not sure why this meant that they couldn’t take part in the world cup. Maybe they briefly forgot how to run or something.
Scotland made their first appearance in the tournament, but were unable to register a win, going out after the group stage, setting a precedent for the rest of their international career, which is generally marked by nothing in particular except for a great goal by Archie Gemmill, but other than that Scotland’s international career has been quite crap, which is probably England’s fault somehow.
West Germany were the tournament winners, defeating Olympic champions Hungary 3–2 in the final, coming back from being 2-0 down. The match is known as the Miracle of Bern in Germany, although Bern actually is in Switzerland.
Well, I mean, in Germany it’s known as The Miracle of Bern.
Brazil made up for their crushing defeat in 1950 and won the 1958 World Cup, held in Sweden, and became the first team to win a World Cup outside their home continent (only 3 teams have done this to date – Brazil in 1958, 1970, 1994 and 2002, Argentina in 1986, and Spain in 2010).
The Soviet Union participated this time, most likely due to their win at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. It seems they had learned how to run and kick again. For the first (and so far only) time, all four British teams qualified for the final round – that’s England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Only Northern Ireland got through to the quarter finals and got smashed 4-0 by France. The tournament also saw the emergence of Pelé, who scored two goals in the final. French striker Just Fontaine became the top scorer of the tournament with a still standing record of 13 goals. Yes, “just” was his first name.
Who scored 13 goals in the 1958 world cup? It was Just Fontaine. What nobody else? No, Just Fontaine on his own.
Sounds a bit disappointing. So who was the top scorer?? It was just Fontaine. Oh… that’s a pity.
No, no. That’s his name. Just Fontaine.
Chile hosted the 1962 World Cup. Before play began, an earthquake struck, the largest ever recorded at 9.5 magnitude, prompting officials to rebuild due to major damage to infrastructure. It’s hard to play football when there’s no floor to play on.
It must be tough living in a country where the earth shakes every now and then. It would be scary. Honestly, that’s one of the things I like about living in England and in Northern France. OK, the weather isn’t great, but the earth pretty much stays in one place.
When the 1962 competition began, two of the best players were in poor form as Pelé was injured in Brazil’s second group match vs Czechoslovakia.
Also, USSR saw their goalkeeper Lev Yashin show poor form including a 2–1 loss to hosts Chile as that team, inspired by team spirit captured third place. The competition was also marred by overly defensive and often violent tactics.
This poisonous atmosphere culminated in what was known as the Battle of Santiago first round match between Italy and Chile in which Chile won 2–0. Prior to the match, two Italian journalists wrote unflattering articles about the host country. In the match, players on both sides made deliberate attempts to harm opponents though only two players from Italy were sent off by English referee Ken Aston.
What happened in more detail. (Come on, we want a blow-by-blow account don’t we?)
The first foul occurred within 12 seconds of kick-off. 12 SECONDS. Italy’s Giorgio Ferrini was sent off in the twelfth minute after a foul on Honorino Landa, but refused to leave the pitch and had to be dragged off by policemen. HE HAD TO BE DRAGGED OFF BY POLICEMEN.
English referee Ken Aston did not see a punch by Chilean Leonel Sánchez to Italian Mario David, which had come in retaliation for being fouled seconds earlier. BRUCE LEE? When David attempted to kick Sánchez in the head a few minutes later (he missed), he was sent off. [Was he sent off for being pathetic?]
In the violence that continued, Sánchez broke Humberto Maschio’s nose with a left hook, but Aston did not send him off. [Right, because kicking the air is obviously worse than breaking a man’s nose with your fist! Although maybe at this point the referee decided that staying on the pitch was the greater punishment! “You broke this man’s nose with your fist. This kind of violence will not be tolerated. I’m sorry but I’m forced to make you stay on the pitch until the end of the game.” “No no!” etc) The two teams engaged in scuffles and spitting, and police had to intervene three more times. Chile won the match 2–0. But if it had been a boxing match, Italy would have won.
When highlights from the match were shown on British television a couple of days later (not the same night, because film of matches still had to be flown back), the match was introduced by BBC sports commentator David Coleman as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”
In the end, the Italian team needed police protection to leave the field in safety.
When the final whistle blew in the final, Brazil beat Czechoslovakia for the second World Cup in a row by a final score of 3–1 led by Garrincha and Amarildo, in Pelé’s absence, and retained the Jules Rimet trophy. In this tournament, Colombia’s Marcos Coll made World Cup history when he scored a goal direct from a corner kick (called an Olympic Goal in Latin America) the only one ever made in a World Cup and against the mythical goalkeeper Lev Yashin. [Mythical goalkeeper – I think he actually did exist, didn’t he?]
The 1966 World Cup, hosted by England (UK), was the first to embrace marketing, featuring a mascot and official logo for the first time. Yes, that’s what England brought to The World Cup – annoying marketing. We (arguably) invented the game – or at least wrote a lot of the rules or something, and probably gave football to the world (or so we like to believe) and then decades later, we gave another precious gift to the world – irritating World Cup mascots! The World Cup was never the same again.
The trophy was actually stolen in the run-up to the tournament but was found a week later by a dog named “Pickles”. North Korea, became the first Asian team to reach the quarter-finals, eliminating Italy in the process. It says “Eliminating” – I think this just means they knocked Italy out of the tournament. They didn’t blow the country up and kill all Italian people or anything. Eliminated… just a slightly dramatic word choice there, by whoever wrote this article on Wikipedia. John Wikipedia.
England won the tournament, and Geoff Hurst became the first and to this day the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final. Yes, England won and ever since we have been officially known as “Best Country in the World Ever” (in our heads). The rest of the world is just not bothered.
Eusébio, whose team Portugal were taking part in their first World Cup, was the tournament top-scorer, with 9 goals to his name.
*Did the ball cross the line (no)
Joy for England in a pretty special year/decade for the country – well, there was this and The Beatles recorded Revolver, which on balance I am more proud of. Anyway, well done chaps! Now, let’s see if we can do it again. Oh, you’ve forgotten how to use your legs. What happened?
In 1970, The finals were held in Mexico. The group stage clash between defending champions England and Brazil lived up to its billing, and is still remembered for England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ save from a Pelé header on the six-yard line, arguably the best save ever, although once my brother nearly dropped a glass of wine on my parent’s carpet but I managed to dive and catch it at the last minute. I still think this is better than anything Gordon Banks ever did.
The tournament is also remembered for the semi-final match between Italy and West Germany, in which 5 goals were scored in extra time, and Franz Beckenbauer played with a broken arm (not for fun, or because he was bored, I mean he wasn’t just playing with someone’s broken arm like “ooh it’s all floppy! Does it hurt when I do that? What about when I swing it round? – stop playing with my broken arm! – No, he had a broken arm and he played football with it – I mean, he wasn’t hitting the ball with his broken arm, he just carried on playing while he had a broken arm – is that clear?)
Germany had used up all their allowed substitutions so Beckenbauer had to carry on even though he had a broken arm. Football players were much tougher back then. These days if you sneeze on a footballer’s arm they’ll leap into the air like a salmon and then roll around holding their face in agony like a child having a tantrum in a supermarket.
Italy were the eventual 4–3 winners, but were defeated 1–4 in the final by Brazil, who became the first nation to win three World Cups, and were awarded the Jules Rimet trophy permanently for their achievement. Basically, the world said to Brazil – ok you can have the world cup forever, you’re amazing. You now own football and your country will be forever associated with the game and whenever you meet people from other countries they will just say “Hey, you’re a Brazilian guy? So you love football huh?” a bit like the way when people meet an English person they typically will say “Hey, you’re an English guy huh? Cool! We don’t understand your food, your humour, your accents or your inability to score penalties, or in fact normal goals too! But please teach me your language, lol”.
This was a legendary Brazilian squad in 1970, including players like Pele, captain Carlos Alberto Torres, Jairzinho, Tostão, Gérson and Rivelino. For me this was when the World Cup entered a new era, with superstar players, in colour, with television in many people’s homes.
A new trophy was created for the 1974 edition, held in West Germany. Some people make jokes about its appearance. I’ll let you imagine what those jokes are. The West German hosts won the competition by beating the Netherlands 2–1 in the final, but it was also the revolutionary Total Football system of the Dutch that captured the footballing world’s imagination.
In Total Football, a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team’s intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a predetermined role; anyone can successively play as an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.
The only player who must stay in a specified position is the goalkeeper, because the whole thing would fall apart if the goalie suddenly decided to just become a midfielder. It’s not “rush goalie” which is a rule we used to play in the park when we were kids. Rush goalie means that basically anyone can be the goalkeeper – if they’re in the goal area, they’re the goalie. But generally what happened is that nobody wanted to be the goalie so quite often the goal would be left unattended while the members of the team looked at each other and argued about why nobody was in goal. Everyone was a glory hunter. An indictment of the English game there.
The very well-playing Poland finished third, after defeating Brazil 1–0 (and after defeating Argentina 3–2 and eliminating Italy 2–1 in the initial group play). Wow, another country, just eliminated. They lost in terrible rain in the semifinals to West Germany 0–1. Ouch, I bet that hurt. Germany basically said, “The Polish are proving to be rather problematic. Eliminate them, immediately.”
Johan Cruyff was one of the stars of this competition, showing off close ball control and dribbling skills (my daughter has some pretty good dribbling skills – better than Johan Cruyff I can tell you), including the legendary “Cruyff Turn”. T
The 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina, causing controversy as a military coup had taken place in the country two years earlier. Tunisia won their first match against Mexico 3–1 and became the first African team to ever win a world cup game. There was some on-field controversy as well. During the second round Argentina had an advantage in their match against Peru since the kick off was several hours after Brazil’s match with Poland. Brazil won their match 3–1, so Argentina knew that they had to beat Peru by four goals to advance to the final. Trailing 2–0 at half-time, Peru simply collapsed in the second half, and Argentina eventually won 6–0. Rumors suggested that Peru might have been bribed into allowing Argentina to win the match by such a large margin. Just rumours. Bribery and corruption in football, surely not? (please add irony and sarcasm) Argentina went on to win the final 3–1, Mario Kempes scoring twice, with the Dutch being runners-up for the second time running. Obviously it was a fantastic result for Argentina. The Netherlands still haven’t won the World Cup, despite being one of the great footballing nations of all time.
Spain hosted an expanded 1982 World Cup which featured 24 teams. The group match between Kuwait and France was stage of a farcical incident. As the French were leading 3–1, the Kuwaiti team stopped playing after hearing a whistle from the stands which they thought had come from referee, as French defender Maxime Bossis scored. As the Kuwaiti team were protesting the goal, Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, president of the Kuwaiti Football Association, rushed onto the pitch and gave the referee a piece of his mind, who proceeded to disallow the goal. Bossis scored another valid goal a few minutes later and France won 4–1.
Wonderful! Imagine the Sheikh running onto the pitch. “This goal must be disallowed. The whistle was blown!!” “Not my whistle sir” “I don’t care! A whistle was blown. Maybe not your whistle but it was a whistle!!! This goal must be disallowed!! May I remind you that I am a very powerful muslim and it would be very unwise to disagree with me!” “Oh really, that’s not necessary, that kind of off-colour anti-muslim joke has no place in an international tournament like this…” “Please just think about what I said and remember, god is watching you, and I have a lot of money and I’m sure we can sort something out.” “OK, goal disallowed!” “Thank you please Mr Referee, thank you you are very kind man”
A few minutes later France score again. “Oh shit”.
Also during the group stages Hungary beat El Salvador 10–1, which has been the only occasion to this day that a team scored 10 goals in a World Cup match. To be fair to El Salvador, their country was in the midst of civil war at the time which might have made training a bit difficult because apparently players were often late because they were helping the wounded on the way to the training ground.
The final was won by Italy (against West Germany), making Italian captain Dino Zoff the oldest player to win the World Cup. Italian striker Paolo Rossi, who was making his comeback after a match-fixing scandal and the ensuing ban, was the tournament top-scorer with six goals including a classic hat-trick against Brazil.
Mexico became the first nation to hold two World Cups by hosting the 1986 World Cup. José Batista of Uruguay set a World Cup record being sent off after a mere 56 seconds into the game against Scotland. To be fair it was a very nasty and dangerous tackle and this decision by the referee helped to establish the idea that dangerous tackles like that should be outlawed.
The quarter final match between England and Argentina is remembered for two remarkable Diego Maradona goals, later regarded as player of the tournament, the first, the controversial handball goal, and the second, considered to be the Goal of the Century, in which he dribbled half the length of the field past five English players before scoring.
I remember watching it on telly with my family when I was 9. We were furious, because Maradona blatantly cheated. Nowadays this is seen as being a sort of revenge for the Falklands War or something, and generally it’s part of the colourful career of Diego Maradona. A big spectacle for sure, but some people reckon that if we hadn’t lost that game we could have won the tournament, but anyone can be chairman of the hindsight committee.
The fact that Maradona also scored that goal of the century kind of makes up for the handball, I suppose. Maybe in some countries that kind of thing is fair as long as you can get away with it. In England that sort of cheating is frowned upon.
In the final, Argentina beat West Germany 3–2, inspired by Diego Maradona, who set up Jorge Burruchaga for the winner. Maradona was undeniably amazing.
The 1990 World Cup was held in Italy. Cameroon participating in their second World Cup, made it to the quarter finals after beating Argentina in the opening game. No African country had ever reached the quarter finals before. England put a stop to that. Sorry Cameroon. Roger Milla was an entertaining player. I think he invented the post-match celebratory dance.
An unpleasant episode marred the South American preliminaries: during the match between Brazil and Chile, a firework landed close to the Chilean goalkeeper Rojas, who then pretended to be injured by cutting his own face with a razor blade he had hidden in his glove. His team refused to continue the match (as they were down a goal at the time). The plot was discovered and resulted in a 12-year suspension for Rojas and Chile being banned from the World Cup in 1994.
The final featured the same teams as in 1986. After finishing runners-up in the two previous tournaments, West Germany beat Argentina 1–0 in the final to record their third title. The Republic of Ireland also made their first appearance in the tournament, reaching the quarter-finals without winning a single game (4 draws, with a penalty shoot-out win over Romania in the second round). This is the furthest a team has ever advanced in the World Cup without winning a game. Somehow it seems entirely appropriate that the Irish could get through to the quarter finals without actually winning any games. It’s as if the world said to them – Ireland, everyone likes you, your accent is adorable and Guinness is amazing – you can go through. The luck of the Irish?
I was 13/14 years old and obsessed by football at the time. I watched the tournament on TV and I had the fully completed Panini sticker album which my Dad bought for me one day. I loved that England team, and we nearly got to the final! England actually did quite well and fought hard against Germany in the semi final. Paul Gascoigne was a great player during that tournament and he cried when he got a yellow card that would ban him from the final. The match went to a penalty shoot out, which of course we lost.
The 1994 World Cup, held in the USA, was the first tournament to be held in a country that largely didn’t understand either the rules of the game or the idea that other countries even existed in the world. “The World Cup, huh? So who’s playing who? Pittsburgh versus Cleveland?” Joking. This was the first World Cup final to be decided on penalties, with Brazil edging out Italy.
Yugoslavia was excluded due to UN sanctions in connection with the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Russia (taking the place of USSR which had broken up over 1990 and 1991) played their first World Cup competition as a new country, with Greece, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as the other first-time team.
Diego Maradona was banned mid-tournament after testing positive for recreational drugs. I think he was coked up (allegedly) during some of the games, which was obvious when you saw the way he reacted to scoring an admittedly amazing goal at one point. They guy was bonkers and off his head. Without him, Argentina were eliminated in the last 16 by Romania — the tournament also saw tragedy when Colombian defender Andrés Escobar was murdered 10 days after scoring an own-goal against the hosts in their first round match that eliminated Colombia.
This is a tragic story. There’s no other way of putting it. It’s just sad. This guy was just the victim of a gang-related culture that existed in Columbia at the time. Come on, let’s get the story.
Escobar’s infamous own goal occurred in a match against the United States on June 22, in the second match for Colombia at the 1994 World Cup. Stretching to block a cross from American midfielder John Harkes, he inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net. The United States won the game, 2–1.
After the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Escobar decided to return to Colombia instead of visiting relatives in Las Vegas, Nevada. On the evening of July 1, 1994, five days after the elimination of Colombia from the World Cup, Escobar called his friends, and they went to a bar in the El Poblado neighborhood in Medellín. Then they went to a liquor store. Shortly afterwards, they arrived at the El Indio nightclub. His friends split up. At approximately 3:00 the next morning, Escobar was alone in the parking lot of El Indio, in his car, when three men appeared. They began arguing with him. Two of the men took out handguns. Escobar was shot six times with a .38 caliber pistol. It was reported that the killer shouted “¡Gol!” (“Goal!”) after every shot, once for each time the South American football commentator said it during the broadcast. The group then drove away in a Toyota pickup truck, leaving Escobar to bleed to death. Escobar was rushed to the hospital where he died 45 minutes later.
The murder was widely believed to be a punishment for the own goal.
Escobar’s funeral was attended by more than 120,000 people. Every year people honour Escobar by bringing photographs of him to matches. In July 2002, the city of Medellín unveiled a statue in honour of his memory.
Humberto Castro Muñoz, a bodyguard for members of a powerful Colombian drug cartel,[clarification needed] was arrested on the night of 2 July 1994, confessing the next day to the killing of Escobar. Muñoz also worked as a driver for Santiago Gallón, who had allegedly lost heavily betting on the outcome of the game. He was found guilty of Escobar’s murder in June 1995. He was sentenced to 43 years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 26 years because of his submitting to the ruling penal code in 2001. Humberto was released on good behaviour due to further reductions from prison work and study in 2005 after serving approximately 11 years. His three accomplices were acquitted.
The murder of Andrés Escobar tarnished the image of the country internationally. Escobar himself had worked to promote a more positive image of Colombia, earning acclaim within Colombia.
Escobar is still held in the highest regard by Colombian fans, and is especially mourned and remembered by Atlético Nacional’s fans. Escobar is known for his famous line “Life doesn’t end here”.
After Escobar’s death, his family founded the Andrés Escobar Project to help disadvantaged children learn to play football.
Oleg Salenko of Russia became the first player to score five goals in a single World Cup finals game in his country’s 6–1 group stage win over Cameroon. The same match, 42-year old Roger Milla scored the only goal for Cameroon, becoming the oldest player ever to score in a World Cup match. England didn’t qualify for this competition, but I watched a lot of the games anyway. I was 17 and one of my friends had a free house during the final week of the tournament. His parents were away. We all hung out there and watched a lot of games together. Fun times.
The 1998 World Cup was held in France. Iran beat the Maldives in qualification by the widest margin in World Cup history – 17–0. Hosts France won the tournament by beating Brazil 3–0 in the final. What a great moment for the French! There was a lot of hype around the Brazilian squad going into the competition, especially around the star player Ronaldo. As the scorer of four goals in the tournament, Ronaldo appeared to be less than a hundred percent in the match, and was unable to make any impact.
This is from The Guardian:
Hours before the final at the Stade de France, Ronaldo suffered a mysterious seizure and was whisked to hospital and out of the starting line-up. Then he made an apparently miraculous recovery and was hastily returned to the team sheet, only to underperform in Brazil’s heaviest defeat in 68 years of World Cups. Not surprisingly, the match soon transcended its sporting importance to become one of the resonant events in the country’s contemporary history.
Whereas the world’s media soon moved on to other subjects, Brazil’s did not.
Within weeks, a lawyer began a civil action in a Rio court, demanding explanations. Concurrently, the Rio regional medical council started a professional ethics action against the two team medics (they were both unanimously absolved).
But the most detailed investigation happened in Brazil’s national congress. And because the main protagonists all gave testimony, the public was offered unprecedented insight into what really went on behind the scenes on the day of the final. The details that emerged were riveting.
The squad had lunch at the Chateau de Grande Romaine in Lésigny, near Paris, then went back to their rooms, which they were sharing in twos. Ronaldo was with Roberto Carlos, next to a room with Edmundo and Doriva.
Suddenly Ronaldo started to have a fit. His entire body convulsed, he frothed at the mouth and began to shake uncontrollably. Roberto Carlos, overwhelmed by panic, started screaming for help. “When I saw what it was, I despaired,” Edmundo told congress. “Because it was a really strong and shocking scene.” He ran through the hotel hitting on all the doors and shouting for everyone to come.
A congressman asked the striker for more details. “Was Ronaldo hitting out or shaking?”
“Hitting out a lot,” replied Edmundo.
“Lying down and hitting himself with his hands like this, with his teeth . . . “
“Locked together and with his mouth foaming.”
“His whole body hitting itself?”
“The whole body, yes.”
Cesar Sampaio, the defender, was the first person to administer first aid. He got to Ronaldo before the doctors did and, with Edmundo holding him down, put his hand in Ronaldo’s mouth to unravel his tongue and prevent him swallowing it.
Ronaldo, still only aged 21, then fell asleep. According to Edmundo, the team doctors decided that the best course of action would be to pretend that nothing had happened when he woke up.
“We went back to our rooms, we rested,” said Edmundo. “But, you know what I mean, everyone was worried. My room was linked, so I saw everything. Every five minutes someone came and stared, and Ronaldo was there, sleeping like a baby.”
Ronaldo woke up and went for tea. But he was subdued. Leonardo, in a distressed state, insisted that Ronaldo be told what had happened. The doctors broke the news and said he would be taken for tests. Only if the tests were fine would he be able to play the final.
When the squad took the coach to the Stade de France, Ronaldo instead went to the Lilas clinic in Paris. Forty minutes before the kick-off he showed up with the all-clear, insisting he should play. “Faced with this reaction,” said Zagallo, “I chose Ronaldo. Now was it his being chosen that caused Brazil to lose? Absolutely not. I think it was the collective trauma, created by the atmosphere of what had happened.”
Conspiracy theories came out
Nike and the CBF forced Ronaldo to play
Ronaldo had a fit shortly before the game and was not well enough to play. The CBF (Brazilian Football Association) intervened and forced him to play, since there was a hidden part of the Nike-CBF contract that dictated he had to play in the World Cup final. This was because Nike had invested so much in him for its marketing campaign.
Brazil sold the World Cup
Brazil’s players received a total of $23m (£15m) in bribes, the promise of Brazil hosting the 2006 World Cup, and an easy passage in the 2002 World Cup to throw the game. Ronaldo refused to have any part in this, hence Edmundo’s name was in the list in his place. But Ronaldo changed his mind after Nike threatened to withdraw his sponsorship money. The idea was for Brazil to lose on a golden goal, but since they were so shaken by the deal, France – who were unaware of the plot – scored three times in 90 minutes.
Ronaldo was drugged
The striker’s indisposition on the day of the final was the result of sabotage by France, who wanted to put out Brazil’s best player.
Ronaldo was unwell
Ronaldo had a secret medical problem which he had kept hidden all his life.
The blue pill
The doctors gave him a “blue pill” as a painkiller. But it had tranquilizing effects that made him “sleepy”.
Alex Bellos is the author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (Bloomsbury, £9.99)
None of those theories are true, according to the official narrative. Ronaldo just had a fit, it shocked the team, he was given a clean bill of health, he was rushed back into the team just minutes before the game, but he was subdued and the team were a bit shocked by it. Also, it was France’s time to shine – they were playing at home and this usually makes a massive difference in terms of the atmosphere in the stadium and the country as a whole.
Even if the Nike conspiracy theory isn’t true, it’s certainly true that there was a sense that the World Cup had become way too commercialised and more about money-making than the true values of the World Cup.
Debutants Croatia finished a commendable third.
I watched many of the key games at home, on my own :( This is when I was on summer holiday from university, living at my parents house, in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t have a car, so I had to try and persuade my mates to come and collect me so I could watch games with them. A lot of the time I was just stranded on my own, shouting at the TV. I was 21. England got knocked out by Argentina, yes, on penalties.
The 2002 World Cup was the first to be held in Asia, and was hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan. Australia defeated American Samoa 31–0 in a preliminary match – a new record for the margin of victory, and the highest-scoring match ever. The tournament was a successful one for teams traditionally regarded as minnows, with South Korea, Senegal and USA all reaching the last eight. Brazil beat Germany 2–0 in the final for their fifth title. I was in Japan during this competition. I was 25 years old. Japan went a bit nuts for football, as you’d expect. The Koreans went even more nuts though because their team did really well, getting to the semi-finals and eventually finishing third. World Cup fever gripped South Korea and I heard reports of people going crazy and jumping into rivers. That’s all I remember about that, that a lot of people jumped into rivers. I suppose that is a good way to react to your country doing really well in the World Cup. Waaah! We won! We won!!! Quick, find a river! Just jump into a river!!
There were some allegations of corruption and some rather questionable refereeing decisions that seemed to favour the hosts Korea. I remember a lot of Japanese people saying that the referees in the Korean games were obviously biased. But I don’t want to stoke up any tensions so, la la la, everything’s ok – happy happy happy.
Oh, England got knocked out by Brazil in the quarter finals by the way. Not on penalties this time. We just got beaten normally. Ronaldinho happened, basically.
And I went to one of the games – England vs Sweden in the Saitama Stadium and then went drinking in Tokyo with loads of Japanese people who were nuts about David Beckham and his haircut, which was described as a “soft mohican” or “soffuto mooheekanu”. A lot of my students were obsessed by David Beckham for about 2 weeks.
The 2006 World Cup was held in Germany. By this point it had become normal to have loads of corruption scandals in the run up to the tournament, and I must say that the general atmosphere of the World Cup was all about making money for anyone with a vested interest in, well, making money from things. Having the World Cup in your country can bring in loads of money. Where that money actually goes, is not entirely clear. The World Cup is so huge and it’s privately owned, so it’s all about doing deals and those deals are made between states and companies. Public and private interests mingling in a very seedy and suspicious manner.
The way the host country is chosen is based on national delegates casting votes. These delegates represent different countries. The suggestion is that countries hoping to host the Cup, might try to ‘persuade’ the delegates, perhaps by doing dodgy little trade deals and offering kickbacks and other benefits in return for a vote.
To give you a taste of some of the shenanigans going on, here’s a paragraph from John Wikipedia’s page about the 2006 World Cup.
[A number of] …irregularities surfaced, including, In the months leading up to the decision for who should host the tournament, the sudden interest of German politicians and major businesses in the four Asian countries whose delegates were decisive for the vote. Just a week before the vote, the German government under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder lifted their arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and agreed to send grenade launchers to the country. DaimlerChrysler invested several hundred million Euros in Hyundai, while one of the sons of the company’s founders was a member of FIFA’s executive committee. Both Volkswagen and Bayer announced investments in Thailand and South Korea, whose respective delegates Worawi Makudi and Chung Jong-Moon were possible votes for Germany. Makudi additionally received a payment by a company of German media mogul Leo Kirch.
FIFA deny these things. As far as I know they remain just allegations at this stage. I think proceedings were opened into the bid, but I don’t know the outcome.
First seed (seeded teams are the ones which are expected to do well – so the ‘first seeds’ are favourite teams and ‘second seeds’ are in the next category down, probably due to their performance in the qualifying stages) and WC holders Brazil and second seeded England were initially English bookmakers’ favourites. God knows why England were favourites to win. Presumably it was because of our performance in preceding games. We were knocked out in a quarter final against Portugal. Yes, on penalties.
A strong performance by Germany brought them as far as the semi finals. However, the final match-up was between Italy and France. This is the game in which French captain Zinedine Zidane was sent off in the last 10 minutes of extra time for a headbutt to the chest of Italian central defender Marco Materazzi.
I think this was both one of the ugliest moments in World Cup history and one of the most awesome.
So, on the ugly side – this kind of violence should not happen in football. Loads of children would have been watching, all around the world. There’s no excuse for headbutting someone in the chest and knocking him down like that.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help being impressed by how badass Zidane was. Apparently Materazzi had been saying some extremely insulting things to him throughout the match. I expect the red mist descended and Zidane lost control… although it didn’t look like he lost control. That was one of the fascinating things. He looked like he was completely in control and it was such a devastating headbutt. It must have hurt Materazzi quite a bit. France lost the game, but again, if it had been a UFC Fight, France would have won.
Italy won 5–3 in a penalty shootout, the score having been 1–1 after 90 minutes and extra time. I watched this game in my flat in London, joined at half time by a Polish friend called Marek who brought a plastic bag full of beer, and who might be listening to this. I was 29 years old.
The 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa. It was the first cup hosted on African soil, and the cup was won by Spain.
The tournament was noted for its highly defensive opening matches (i.e. utterly boring games), controversies surrounding goal-line technology, and the introduction of vuvuzelas, which some people believe destroyed the atmosphere at many of the games. The noise was pretty annoying. Do you remember? It was like watching football during an invasion of killer bees. It was rubbish. They drowned out all the noise and sounded like a tiresome droning sound that never stopped.
Though considered as one of the tournament favourites, the Spaniards won the cup despite scoring only 8 goals in 7 games and losing their opening match to Switzerland. David Villa led the squad in scoring with 5 goals. In a final which saw a record number of yellow cards distributed and what some considered violent play from the Dutch side, the 10-man Netherlands squad were defeated 1–0 in the 116th minute of extra time by an Andrés Iniesta goal. I watched a lot of this in London with my girlfriend. I was 33. England were pretty rubbish. We got smashed by an amazing German team 5-1. They completely took us apart in very embarrassing fashion. Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed by the referee, although it did cross the line. Perhaps this was justice for the non-goal which was allowed back in the 1966 final when England beat West Germany.
The 2014 World Cup was held in Brazil, marking the second time that Brazil hosted the competition. I did quite a few podcasts about it back in 2014. They’re all in the episode archive. One of them is a conversation with my dad about his memories of attending the World Cup in 1966 when it was hosted in England.
As ever there were scandals and allegations of corruption, and criticisms that the money generated by hosting the world cup was not going to be re-invested in order to help local Brazilian people, many of whom really needed (and still need) support. Whether the WC was good for Brazil overall is debatable. Certainly it brought the attention of the world to Brazil. There were protests, but also big parties and celebrations.
The cup was won by Germany, who beat Argentina 1–0 in the final. The Netherlands defeated Brazil 3–0 in the bronze medal game. There was also a famously humiliating defeat for Brazil by Germany in the semi final, when the Germans thrashed the Brazilians 7 -1 and nobody could believe their eyes. That must have hurt a lot. Brazil, if it makes you feel any better – England got eliminated in the group stage after just two matches.
This was also the tournament in which Luis Suarez (Uruguay) bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. The 3rd time he had done it in his career. Luis, it’s called football for a reason. Foot-ball. Not tooth-head. Or tooth-arm… or … just don’t bite anyone OK?
2014 was the first time that three consecutive tournaments saw the winning side come from the same continent (Europe: 2006 Italy, 2010 Spain, 2014 Germany).
And that brings us to 2018, Russia!
Who’s going to win? What’s going to happen. I have no idea, but hopefully it will be fun finding out in just a few days.
I’m hoping to do one or more episodes about this year’s tournament, if I can manage it. I will be watching.
Talking about punk music and culture from the UK with James.
A bit of pop culture history in this episode, talking about the musical movement of punk and the social situation in which it happened.
This year we have several anniversaries in British music.
50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper by The Beatles
40th anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks by The Sex Pistols
A lot changed in British music between the release of those two albums. 1967 was the height of the peace and love movement but 10 years later music was much more gritty, cynical and realistic. In this episode we’re looking at the whole punk movement, understanding what it was all about, what the music was like, who was involved and how the whole thing has now become a sort of pop culture myth.
I’m joined by my brother James who has been a fan of punk music ever since he borrowed a tape of The Sex Pistols from a chef when he was a teenager (I don’t think the fact it was a chef has any significance to the story, but I just like saying he borrowed the tape from a chef. I can imagine a man in a chef’s hat giving James a tape. Just me? Ok) So he discovered punk music later, in the early 90s. He wasn’t actually there at the time the music was made in 1977, he was too young, but he’s collected a lot of records by punk bands, read all the books, seen all the documentaries and even played drums in a few punk bands himself. I think he knows more about punk than anyone else I know, so I think he’s a good person to talk to.
Check out the page for the episode where you’ll see video playlists chosen by James and also a musical punk mix that he did from his vinyl record collection.
But without any further ado, you can now listen to my conversation with James about punk rock music and culture.
- 40 years since Never Mind the Bollocks by The Sex Pistols was released. Is that the seminal punk album?
- Why are we talking about punk in this episode?
- What gives you any authority on the subject? Why should we listen to you?
- Importance of punk for understanding culture
- What is punk?
- Origins of U.K. Punk
- Youth subculture
- Musical context
- Political context – state of the country
- American punk
- Main bands
- The Damned
- The Damned
- What was the era like / music scene of the time
- Spirit of punk
- Purpose of punk music
- Reaction to punk – tabloids
- Punk art / design / fashion
- 2nd wave / post punk / punk influence
- Reality vs legend / absorption into the culture / establishment
Some Words & Phrases
- DIY – Do It Yourself
- Back to basics
From the archives: Other episodes you might like
Leave us your thoughts
- Is or was punk popular in your country?
- Is or was there a punk movement where you come from?
- When did it happen?
- What was it all about?
- What was the music like?
- How did they dress?
- Is it similar or different to British punk?
- Are British punk bands popular where you’re from? Which ones?
End song clip: 17 by the Sex Pistols
Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy (the unedited version)
Sex Pistols Christmas 1977 – A must see to show what a weird time / place England was in 1977 – click the video, it should work.
The gig that changed the world (24 Hour Party People)
Classic Albums – Never Mind The Bollocks
The Filth and the Fury trailer
The Sex Pistols absorbed into the mainstream establishment
Brilliant documentary about Joy Division
Cliched memories of punk (parody)
The Damned – New Rose (typical punk song)
Jim’s punk mix
Jim’s Punk Mix
Everything you need to know about the culture of tea-drinking in the UK, including a full guide to how to make a nice cup of tea, English style.
In episode 420 I have chosen to talk about my favourite herb, which like millions of other British people, and countless others around the world, I consume on a daily basis. It calms my nerves, it raises my morale, and it helps me to socialise. Queen Victoria famously used it, and the Beatles took it regularly during the recording of their most inspired music and even sang about it in a few of their songs. I’m talking of course, about tea.
As everyone knows, tea is very popular with people all over the UK, from all regions, backgrounds and social classes, whether you’re the Queen herself, or you’re the guy who cleans the road outside her massive house, everyone loves a brew. The British Empire was built on tea, wasn’t it? Goodness knows I’ve made enough references to it in my episodes – I’m even drinking a cup right now. Mmm.
Why an episode all about tea?
I just want to celebrate tea, but also I want to tell you everything I think you need to know about this subject including these things:
– Stereotypes about tea drinking in the UK
– Different ways to make and drink tea – Afternoon tea vs just having a cuppa
– My personal way to make a nice cup of tea
– The history of tea in the UK
– Facts about tea, including its health benefits
– George Orwell’s essay on tea – considered a kind of reliable guide to the ins and outs of the potentially controversial subject of how to make tea.
– References to tea in Beatle music
What are the stereotypes about drinking tea in the UK? Are they true?
Smashing a few stereotypes – let’s talk about how most people drink tea in the UK these days, not how people seem to think we do it (that’s quite hard because it depends who you are).
*Tea is for the upper classes and is a posh affair full of uptight rules – nope, all types of people drink tea and it’s often a very casual and informal moment.
*Drinking tea is a mystical, spiritual kind of experience that takes you on a journey into a colonial dreamland where you have a profound moment of higher understanding while visiting the distant lands full of oriental mystery – nope, we’re not that pretentious about it! It’s just a nice hot drink!
Here’s that annoying advert for Special T with Diane Kruger
*Tea is only drunk at tea time – nope, people drink it at all hours of the day
*All British people like tea – not everyone likes it, of course
*Tea contains more caffeine than coffee – see below
Does tea contain more caffeine than coffee?
Unmade tea contains more than unmade coffee – but when you brew the tea most of the caffeine is not transferred to the water – it’s discarded with the leaves. With coffee the caffeine is transferred to the water more, so the drink is more caffeinated. https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-25502,00.html
What’s your specific method for making a good cup of tea, Luke?
I’ll tell you about 3 typical situations in which make tea, and the different ways I do it.
- A quick cuppa when I’m on my own.
- Making a pot of tea to share with a couple of friends.
- Preparing tea for a special occasion, like when grandparents come to visit.
What are your preferred tea brands?
PG Tips (pyramid bags), Yorkshire Tea (“like tea used to be”), M&S Gold, or fancy brands that you find in Wholefoods or little cafes – never Lipton and not Twinnings either.
Apparently it’s best to use loose leaf tea, but I usually just use tea bags. I use loose leaf tea for making sencha in a Japanese tea-pot.
Why do people drink tea so much in the UK? What’s the history of Britain and tea?
It’s all to do with our colonial past and the East India Trading Company! If you want to know more, just Wikipedia it! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_in_the_United_Kingdom
What do people eat with tea?
Biscuits or cake!
What are the health benefits of tea?
There are loads of benefits, apparently. Have a look: The Evening Standard – “5 Reasons Why Drinking Breakfast Tea is Scientifically Good For You”
George Orwell – A Nice Cup of Tea
George Orwell’s well-known essay about how to make a good cup of tea, first published in the Evening Standard in 1946. It’s hard to argue with his approach and the clear and lucid way it is described. http://www.booksatoz.com/witsend/tea/orwell.htm
References to tea in songs by The Beatles
“Without doubt tea was the Beatles’ top tipple of choice! In one 3-month period in 1967 when they were ostensibly at the height of their drug period – they actually recorded no less than five songs referring to this most English of habits! (“Lovely Rita,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “A Day In The Life,” “All Together Now” and “It’s All Too Much.”) They actually recorded more overt references to tea than to drugs!” [Martin Lewis, Beatles scholar and humourist]
The Rutles – Wild Tea Parties
Talking with Richard McNeff about making a perfect cup of tea – recorded 6 years ago before I had a tea-pot!
Do you prefer tea or coffee? How do you like to make it?
Hello and welcome back to the podcast. In this episode I’m talking to my friend Alex Love. We started this conversation in the previous episode and here is part 2. In this conversation Alex is in Edinburgh in Scotland and I’m in Warwick in England. In the previous episode we talked about pub quizzes and how they’re a common part of pub culture in the UK, so in this episode I thought we would play a kind of pub quiz with each other. The only problem is that neither of us are in a pub, but that doesn’t matter – this is a podcast and you can use your imagination.
The rules of the game are pretty simple. Alex and I have prepared 5 questions each and we take it in turns to ask each other the questions. A correct answer gains one point, an incorrect answer gains nothing. All my questions are related to the English language, and all Alex’s questions are random trick questions and much more difficult than my ones. I’m not hinting at who wins the quiz there. No, not at all. You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to find out who wins, but I should point out that Alex’s questions are not proper questions and they’re designed to make me fail, a bit like my Dad’s questions in our recent game show. But I’m not making excuses or giving away the result of the quiz. No, of course not.
As you listen I think you should try to answer the questions too. You might need to pause the recording in order to give yourself a bit of time. Alex and I both explain our thought processes while answering the questions, and you could do that too. Try pausing the recording when you hear the question and then talking out loud while you think about the answer. Then continue listening and you’ll hear Alex and me doing the same thing – talking about our thought process before giving our answer. You can compare the way you talked about your thoughts and the way we did it. That can be a good way of comparing the language you and we are using.
Either that, or just sit back, brew up a cup of tea, or continue travelling on the bus like a normal person, and just listen to the magic of another episode of this podcast, recorded, produced, edited and published by the very modest me.
Right, without any further ado, let’s start the LEP Pub Quiz.
Questions (Listen to the episode to get the answers)
- Where was the lawn-mower invented? (which town)
- What is the most common noun in the English language?
- Which creature has the largest eyes in the world?
- What is the word for when two words come together to create a new word? e.g. ‘spork’
- Which mammal can go longest without water?
- What is the shortest possible sentence in the English language.
- How long was the 100 years war?
- What is the only planet in the solar system not named after a god?
- Translate this from German into English – Ich habe keine Ahnung
- Name the only two words in the English language that end in the suffix -gry.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Britain, and since this is such a pivotal moment in British history, I thought it would be appropriate to cover it in some way in an episode of this podcast. Also, I was asked recently by a listener in the comments section of my website to talk about the story of the Battle of Britain, specifically the role of one particular group of Polish pilots known as Squadron #303. So, here it is – the story of one of the most important moments in modern British history – The Battle of Britain, and the contribution made by a small group of pilots from Poland.
The Battle of Britain is often cited as a proud moment in British history, particularly by nationalistic Brits who also believe that we shouldn’t let any immigrants into our country. Squadron 303 killed twice as many German fighters as any other squadron, and one pilot in particular became something of a flying legend, with a record number of kills. But the thing is, these heroes of the Battle of Britain weren’t actually British, they were foreigners, fighting in British made Hurricanes and Spitfires. Where did these brave and skilful pilots come from? Poland. So, this episode is not just a history lesson about Britain, but also a bit of a shout-out to my Polish listeners out there – I know there are quite a few of you. If you’re not Polish, then I hope you appreciate the telling of this story of danger, bravery and global warfare.
The Battle of Britain
First of all, this is Churchill speaking, before the battle of Britain begun.
*Churchill speech 1 – “Their finest hour”
So, what was the situation?
It was 7 September 1940.
Northern France was occupied by the Germans, and airfields everywhere were covered in bombers, loaded up and ready to begin bombing raids on strategic targets all over the UK. Hitler was about to take a bit crap all over Britain.
This was a year after Britain had declared war on Germany after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and then Poland. It had been a pretty good year for Hitler. He’d basically marched across most of Western Europe and seized it, just like Napoleon and the Romans had done before. Hitler had a pretty effective strategy which we now call Blitzkrieg, or ‘lighting war’ which involved using planes to bomb the crap out of an area before sending in infantry and tank divisions to quickly mop up enemy troops. It was devastatingly effective as it took advantage of speed, mobilised mechanical heavy weapons, surprise and the general disorganisation of the enemy as a result of the air bombing. He used this approach to great effect in the invasion of Poland and then The Netherlands, Belgium, and France. In just one year Hitler’s troops were in control of large parts of mainland Europe.
British forces had been forced to evacuate the continent after effectively being chased away by the Germans. There was a big retreat and escape from France at Dunkirk. It was a military defeat for the Brits who ended up in a pretty desperate situation. The Nazis controlled the continent. The USA wasn’t in the war yet so we couldn’t rely on their full assistance. Britain was basically alone, cut off from the mainland, just separated from the enemy by a few miles of water, waiting to be attacked and invaded by the Germans. Not a good position to be in.
Perversely, this is often the moment that many Brits feel very nostalgic about. As I said, it’s often referred to as our finest hour. I think there may be something in the British consciousness that actually enjoyed the idea of being completely separated from the rest of the continent, as if it clarified the ‘us against them’ attitude of some people. This was perhaps our darkest hour. We faced total oblivion and invasion by the nazis. Certainly, thousands of Brits were going to be killed. Beloved properties and national monuments would be destroyed in the bombing, but for some Brits looking back on the Battle of Britain, this was a moment to be proud of, like it made us a great nation. I suppose the reason people say that is because it was a time when Britain showed some character and spirit. The whole country sort of pulled together and formed a united front. Churchill made his famous speech.
*Churchill Speech 2 – “We shall fight them on the beaches”
It was rousing stuff. Ultimately, Britain survived the invasion attempt. People feel proud of that.
But, it’s ironic that many of the people today who are still nostalgic for that moment are also the ones who preach a certain kind of politics – anti-immigration, nationalistic values, something approaching a kind of English or British fascism. They’re the ones who love that moment when Britain was alone, facing the invading hoards from the continent. It’s ironic because during that battle we were fighting against fascism. Now it seems that it’s the fascists at home who like to remember it.
Anyway, it looked pretty bleak for Britain.
Hitler decided that before attempting any kind of land invasion, he would attempt to thoroughly smash The UK from the sky. He planned to target industrial centres in the big cities, key points of infrastructure and even some national monuments and residential areas. The aim was to cripple the country, both physically and mentally. Ooh, scary stuff.
So, on 7 September 1940 the Luftwaffe were all ready and prepared to launch operation.
Britain at this moment was steadily making weapons from anything they could get their hands on. All heavy metals were being thrown into factories. All the money was being spent on defence and weapons. A lot of Brits felt the squeeze. Obviously it wasn’t as bad as in the occupied countries, I imagine. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But I imagine having a bunch of nazis from another country marching around your home town making themselves comfortable was rather difficult to take. So the Poles, the Czechs, the Belgians, Dutch and French (well, most of them anyway) were no doubt having a pretty awful time too, not to mention any other nations that I haven’t mentioned. This was a world war of course – so if I don’t mention your country in this episode I am sorry. This is after all the Battle of Britain.
Anyway, Britain was preparing itself for a rather bad time. A lot of planes were being constructed, men were being trained to fly and fight in the air.
The Germans were feeling pretty good about themselves. Morale was high. They’d just walked all over Europe and felt on top of the world. They basically felt absolutely superior. Whipped up by the rhetoric of their charismatic (albeit completely insane) leader, they’d been led to believe that the world was theirs and this was the natural order of things. Wrong.
So, the nazis were pretty chuffed and probably couldn’t wait to have a go at Britain, this global superpower of the time.
This was the biggest aerial attack of World War 2 so far. At 5pm on 7 September the first wave of bombers reached their targets in London. Apparently the sound they made was pretty scary. A kind of low, depressing drone sound. Ominous.
It was a Saturday afternoon in London. When I think of Saturday afternoons back home I think of tea, sandwiches, football with my Dad. I don’t imagine death from above, or death from any direction for that matter. The planes targeted the industrial areas, but a lot of workers lived right next to them and their homes got bombed too.
But that was just the beginning. What followed was a rain of bombs that no other city had ever seen in history. 12 hours of bombing without a break, continuing through the night. A lot of people died, and others were convinced they would follow.
How did the pilots feel? According to interviews they just hoped that they’d hit their targets, but they knew that civilians were probably getting killed. Really, they were a bit cut off from what was happening on the ground. I expect they didn’t feel too proud of themselves.
For the British people, particularly Londoners I think this bombing created hopelessness in some, but also a gritty determination in others, as well as a visceral hatred of the germans.
The fires caused by the bombing lasted for 57 nights, and in fact these fires were more damaging than the bombing raid.
The Nazi strategy was to continue to bomb, terrorise and demoralise the nation. Hitler expected Britain to give up and surrender to Germany, so he could then turn his attention on the East. He knew that it would be unwise to attempt to invade Russia (correction: The USSR) while also fighting on the Western front. So victory in the west was a crucial part of his plan. He expected Britain to surrender. He underestimated us.
It became a battle of wills, embodied by two men – Hitler and Churchill. It was Churchill who rallied the British people. He inspired them to carry on. He echoed the sentiments of the nation, that they would never ever surrender.
*Churchill Speech 3 – The Blitz*
Hitler didn’t expect Churchill to refuse to deal with him. This may have been a bit of a surprise. Britain was not going to be a walkover.
The German air force had already knocked out a lot of our warships in the English channel and planned to launch surprise air attacks on England, but England had a technological advantage: radar. This is now used in airports all over the world. It’s a kind of tracking device to monitor the skies. Radar was used as an early warning system, to let the RAF know if German bombers were on their way to England on missions. This allowed the RAF to scramble fighter planes into the skies in order to engage the German parties in combat. The Luftwaffe had no idea that radar even existed, so when RAF planes suddenly turned up to meet them in the skies it must have been a bit of a surprise. The fighting in the sky was essentially a duel of fighter pilots in single-man planes. Dog fights, one on one battles. Tracers from bullets flying through the sky. Chaos and destruction in the air.
It must have been incredibly frightening for the pilots. So many people were killed. Dogfights lasted seconds. It was a question of being aware of your surroundings and planning your attacks. If you had the right strategy you’d have the advantage and you’d find the enemy in a vulnerable position from which you could open fire and take out the plane. If your strategy was bad, you’d leave yourself open to attack.
The Germans were flying Messerschmitt 109s, the Brits in Hurricanes and Spitfires.
There were so many deaths during these fights that the pilots accepted that they would almost certainly die sooner or later. Everyone just expected to die. Imagine how that felt for these men. Living like that, in the knowledge that tomorrow or the next day, would be your last. What would that do to your mind? I’m sure it was the same for both sides. For the Germans there was the added fear that they would run out of petrol, or that they would be forced to crash land in enemy territory and then taken captive. The German pilots were forced by their superiors to always accompany the bombers, even if their smaller planes were running out of fuel. Sometimes these amounted to suicide missions for the fighter pilots who simply didn’t have enough fuel for the whole mission. Many pilots drowned as they had to bail out of their planes, landing in the English channel, miles away from the land.
Many wives, mothers, sisters and girlfriends lost men who were close to their hearts, again on both sides.
Women didn’t all stay at home worrying though. In the RAF the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force were an integral part of the British defences. They worked in the operations room and helped to coordinate the fighters.
So, in the summer of 1940 the Germans failed to break the RAF. That’s when Hitler decided to launch the large scale bombing attacks on London and other locations, and that was the true beginning of the battle of Britain.
Like on 7 September, waves of German bombers came across the channel, and RAF planes took off to meet them, engaging them in mid-air. The German bombers were well armed with machine guns, and also flanked by fighter planes too, which engaged the RAF in more one-on-one dogfighting. There were a lot of bullets in the air. The German escorts managed to keep the RAF at bay, allowing the bombers to continue to London. Large parts of the city were reduced to rubble. To this day, it remains one of the characteristic things about the city – there are gaps in the old buildings in which more modern buildings have been constructed. It doesn’t have the consistency of a city like Paris, because large parts of the city were completely destroyed during the war and then re-built later. Of course it wasn’t just London. All the main industrial cities took a beating, particularly Coventry in the midlands which got absolutely smashed in a huge bombing raid. It’s very sad. It was a beautiful and proud city with a magnificent cathedral. That’s now gone and is replaced by more modern structures, but something essential was lost, and for years Coventry was like a ghost town for the people growing up there in the aftermath of the war.
Londoners had to hide from the bombing in cellars under houses, or in specially made bomb shelters, even in underground stations like Oval in South London.
Between September and November 1940 London was bombed over 300 times. Thousands of individual bombs were dropped. London’s children were evacuated, meaning they were sent away for their own protection. Most of them went north into the countryside, away from the industrial targets. That must have been a very emotional moment, having to say goodbye to children and parents. I expect many of the parents thought they’d never see their kids again. Some children were taken all the way to Canada from Liverpool, and many were killed when their ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.
Back in London, the RAF with their radar and the brilliant Spitfire fighter plane had something of an advantage in the air, although it was a very slight advantage. Goering the military commander did not achieve the results he’d hoped for and decided to carry out all his bombing raids on London at night. The skies were lit up with fire as London burned, and with the lack of accuracy in the dark many residential areas all around London were hit and many civilians were killed. Nevertheless, Londoners kept their morale and managed to carry on as normally as possible during the day. Clearing up bomb damage but also attempting to go about their daily business. This is one of the things that kept the Germans at bay. The spirit of the people of Britain. Perhaps that’s what makes people so proud and causes them to say that this was Britain’s finest hour.
But the normality of daily life came to a sudden stop at approximately 5pm every day when everyone got into bomb shelters and the raids began again. Even though many people managed to carry on, I’m sure that many of them were basically walking around like zombies, expecting it all to be over by the end of that day. Many of them were ready for surrender, but they didn’t.
*Audiobook recommendation – “The Battle of Britain: From the BBC Archives”
The bombing continued all the way into the next year, until May 1941. Hitler called off the attacks on Britain, choosing instead to focus his attention on the east and Russia (Correction: USSR). However, that proved to be a problem for him because it left him open in the West, and later when America joined the war, Britain became a vitally strategic position for the allies. It was from the south coast of England that the allies launched their major counter attack against the Nazis with a land invasion in Normandy, Northern France which ultimately led to allied forces getting all the way to Berlin. Despite being a hero to the Brits, Churchill didn’t emerge from WW2 completely clean. There were large scale bombing raids on Germany from Britain, including the destruction of Dresden and massive damage to Berlin, largely as a response to the attacks on British cities.
In the east the Nazis struggled through bitterly cold and tough conditions fighting against the Russians (I mean Soviets). Many many Russian (Soviet) lives were lost as well as Germans. Ultimately Hitler couldn’t sustain a war on two fronts. The size and resilience of the Russian army (Red Army) in the east proved too difficult for Hitler, but also his inability to crush the spirit of the Brits left him open on that side too. The Battle of Britain proved to be Hitler’s first major defeat and was a decisive moment in World War 2, representing a turning point in favour of the allies. Nazi soldiers didn’t put a foot on British soil. The invasion never happened.
But that’s not the end of the story, because I’d like to turn my attention to a particular squadron of pilots who made an extraordinary contribution to the Battle of Britain, a contribution that could have made all the difference. During the battle, Britain was hanging on by its fingernails. Every single day of combat, British resources were stretched to their absolute limit. Dozens of pilots and planes were lost every day over British skies. They couldn’t have carried on much longer. If Hitler had continued, he would probably have crushed the British spirit, but he didn’t and Britain managed to hold on just long enough to keep the Germans at bay.
Churchill called it Britain’s finest hour, and famously said that “Never was so much owed by so many to so few”.
*Churchill Speech 4 – “Never was so much owed by so many to so few”
What gave Britain the edge? Well, it was partly radar, partly the brilliantly engineered Spitfire – which was specifically made as a bespoke fighter to keep up with and out-speed the German planes, while holding extra fuel to keep pilots in the air longer. The Spitfire is now a national icon, and it has to be said, is a rather beautifully designed plane, with its rounded and curved wings and fuselage.
But also it was the individual pilots involved in the fighting. There was one squadron which stood out, the 303rd. You might imagine them to be a band of plucky young British gentlemen, but in fact they weren’t. These men who may have saved Britain were in fact foreigners, from Poland.
303 squadron was one of 16 Polish squadrons who flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain. They were pilots who had flown against the Germans previously, but who had escaped to England when Poland was invaded. They turned out to be the highest scoring RAF squadron during the Battle of Britain. One of the pilots in particular was not in fact Polish but of Czech origin and was called Josef František. He is perhaps the most famous member of the squadron and is famous for being one of the highest scoring allies in the Battle of Britain.
The squadron chose its own name, The Kościuszko Squadron – named after another flying squadron that had taken part in the Polish/Russian war of the 1920s. In fact the 303 contained some members of that squadron. So they were already a pretty distinguished flying team. It was made up of about 21 pilots and a number of ground staff, and what was the prime reason for their success during these air battles? Anger and a vicious hatred of the nazis. This was like a high-energy fuel for these men, who just couldn’t wait to take down Nazi planes at the earliest opportunity.
But their opportunities were slow to come. The team was based in Northolt in England, and were assigned two RAF officers to look after them. The officers were responsible for training the Polish pilots in RAF protocol, but also in the basic English necessary to follow orders and instructions. So, before the pilots even got a chance to take to the skies, they were forced to sit through weeks of English lessons, and I imagine in those days it was pretty mind numbing stuff! There was no LEP that’s for sure.
Apparently the Polish pilots were so desperate to get at the Germans that during a training flight, when a party of German planes was spotted in the vicinity, one of the Polish pilots, called Ludwik Paszkiewicz, broke formation and tore after the German planes engaging them in combat. He shot down a German Messerschmitt Bf 110. The RAF officers were convinced and the next day the squadron was immediately put into action. This was the beginning of an incredible run of missions in which the 303 squadron scored a record breaking number of kills in the air. Apparently, these guys were absolutely incredible. Again, fuelled by a bitter hatred of the Germans, the pilots just pushed everything that bit further, going out of their way, taking incredible risks to take down as many planes as possible. But also, their use of British Hurricane fighter planes was a big advantage for them too. Previously they’d flown planes that were less powerful and less well-engineered. This had honed their flying skills considerably. IN their previous planes they’d been used to having to fly much closer to the enemy in order to get accurate hits. In the Hurricanes, with their increased speed and firepower the pilots continued to fly very close to enemy planes like they had done before, but this time the results were devastating. The German planes didn’t stand a chance. Later the squad were equipped with Spitfires and this made all the difference.
No. 303 Squadron claimed the largest number of aircraft destroyed of the 66 Allied fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it joined the fray two months after the battle had begun.
Josef František was a particularly successful pilot. He was considered by his commanding officers to be ill-disciplined and a danger to other pilots when flying in formation, but he was devastatingly successful at taking down Germans. In the end, he was given the right to break formation and go out on solo missions to pick off as many enemy planes as he wanted. In this way František was able to fight his own private war against the Germans, allowing him to take down at least 18 planes in one month, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.
Sadly, on 8 October 1940, František’s Hurricane crashed in Ewell, Surrey during a landing approach after a patrol. Reasons for the crash are not known, but according to some theories, he may have been making aerobatic figures to impress his girlfriend, or it might have been a result of battle fatigue and physical exhaustion. So he never lived to see the end of the war.
The success of 303 squadron in combat can be mainly attributed to the years of extensive and rigorous pre-war training many of the long-serving Polish veterans had received in their homeland, far more than many of their younger and inexperienced RAF comrades then being thrown into the battle. Tactics and skill also played a role, as well as a daring commitment to bringing down the enemy; on one occasion, No. 303’s Sgt Stanislaw Karubin resorted to extreme tactics to bring down a German fighter. Following a prolonged air battle, Karubin was chasing a German fighter at treetop level. As he closed in on the tail of the German fighter, Karubin realised that his Hurricane had run out of ammunition. Rather than turning back to base, he closed the distance and climbed right above the German fighter. The German pilot was so shocked to see the underside of the Hurricane within arm’s reach of his cockpit that he instinctively reduced his altitude to avoid a collision and crashed into the ground.
After World War 2, Poland was occupied by Soviet forces and its borders were redrawn as part of the 1945 Potsdam Conference. Poland became enveloped in the Soviet Union (correction: Not the Soviet Union, but the Soviet controlled Eastern Bloc), behind the iron curtain. I’m not sure how many Polish people feel about what happened after world war 2. I understand there is some bitterness at the allies, and probably Britain in particular about this, that perhaps we sold-out the Polish or forgot them, or betrayed them by not securing their freedom. Many sad things happen at an international diplomatic level during or in the aftermath of war. They’re regrettable. I wonder how the Poles generally view Britain these days. Is there resentment there? Or is that just a thing of the past. I hope we can all let bygones be bygones.
Nowadays a lot of Polish people live and make their living in the UK. In London for example there is a very large Polish community. Where I used to live in Hammersmith there is the Polish cultural centre just up the road, and many Polish people live in the area. I guess for many of them it’s a chance to get more opportunities for living in the UK, and I’m pretty proud to be part of a country that offers opportunities for people from other countries, and it’s clear to me that residents from other nations can bring a lot of skills and benefits to the country they move to. I’m not one of these people who complains about immigrants stealing people’s jobs. Immigrants are often skilled people who can contribute a lot, as we saw from the example of the 303 Squadron, who might have given the RAF an edge over the Germans in the Battle of Britain. Maybe they saved the day and helped Britain stay free, allowing us all to indulge in these nostalgic memories about our “finest hour” in which we stood up to the Nazis when all hope was lost.
That is the end of the story and that’s the end of this episode. Please leave your thoughts on the page as usual. Have a good day.
7 Reasons Why The Brits Should Love the Poles (Thank you Piotr Perliński)
Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.
If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.
In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.
A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. Look for episode 294.
*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*
Let’s get straight into it.
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.
Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.
I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.
That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).
It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.
Earthquake Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts about earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Society website.
San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.
My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.
History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?
There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.
This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.
We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.
The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.
Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).
The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.
The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark
The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.
The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.
How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.
Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.
George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968
What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.
Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.
I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.
I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?
Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.
What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…
I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.
I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.
In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.
Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.
More Audiobook Recommendations – www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
Let’s continue to look at a few recommendations for California-related audiobooks you could download free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.
“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on audible.com: Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.
Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.
End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Here’s the next part of my description of my recent trip around California. This is a description of my honeymoon, but I’m also going to tell you about the cultural, geographical and historical context of the places we went to, and I’ll give you some practical tips and teach you some British and American English too. This is part 2 of the California series. Let’s carry on.
In part 1 I told you about the itinerary for our trip, some of our first impressions of arriving in L.A., some notes and advice on customer service and dealing with waiters & staff, some stuff about the car, an audiobook recommendation and California’s marijuana laws. So, let’s carry on in this episode. First of all, I’d like to give you a brief history of California, because it helps to understand what the place is all about when you learn about its history.
A Very Brief History of California Source: http://michaellamarr.com/cahistory.html A paraphrased and reduced version.
California is known as the golden state, because of the sunshine but also because of the gold that was found there in the mid 19th Century. But let’s go further back to consider the first people to have populated California, a long long time ago (but not in a galaxy far far away this time).
People arrived in California about 12,000 years ago. They were descendents of the people who travelled across the Bering Strait from the Asian continent about 40,000 years ago. They travelled into North America to follow food – migrating herds of animals probably. At that time it seems that Alaska and what is now Russia were connected by an exposed stretch of land which later was covered over when the sea level rose, separating America and Russia (or the Asian continent). Those people became the first Native Americans. They eventually found their way to the area we now call California. They lived there in various tribes in different parts of the state, undisturbed for a long time.
Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans began travelling across the Atlantic and America was ‘discovered’. It was the Spanish, with Hernando Cortez initially, and then other explorers who were the first Europeans to enter the area that we now know as California after fighting the Aztecs and developing a Spanish colony in Mexico. The Spanish attempted to settle in California and find a route they could use to sail their ships from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, but they the failed to find one after lots of attempts, with some competition from Sir Francis Drake who to the English is a great explorer, but to the Spanish is a pirate who raided early Spanish settlements, stealing lots of their silver. The Spanish found it hard to settle in California because of the difficult access from the Atlantic side and because of clashes with the native people so they ignored California for about 150 years, although they had named the areas of America that they’d ‘discovered’ and claimed “New Spain”.
It’s not entirely clear how California got it’s name but it seems that the most popular theory is that it comes from a romantic adventure story by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo called “Sergas de Esplandian” or “The Adventures of Esplandián” (1510). This story tells of a mythical island called California, which is populated by a race of beautiful and powerful Amazonian warrior women called the Califia who are ruled by the formidable Queen Califia. In the story, which was a very popular and well known one, the Califia were warrior women “of vigorous bodies and strong and ardent hearts and of great strength.” The queen and her warriors would go on adventurous missions, fly around on griffins (griffins are legendary creatures with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet) that lived on the island and would capture and kill men they come upon during their travels. Any man found in their domain they would eat. Califia or California in the story is presented as a mythical place near the real world. The island is described as a kind of paradise filled with gold and precious stones.
The original Spanish settlers who came to the area first thought that California was an island, and perhaps it was similar enough to the mythical island in this story that the settlers were inspired to use that name. The story was well known and popular enough, and some believed it was based on an older myth which was part of an oral Spanish tradition. Some people may have believed it was true and this place really existed. Maybe they thought they’d arrived there for real, or maybe they were just inspired by a good story. It’s not entirely clear, but what we do know is that, essentially, California is named after a beautiful and powerful Amazonian warrior queen, who used to fly around on a griffin and eat men for breakfast. Pretty crazy, right? It sounds like something from an Arnold Schwarzenegger film from the 80s or something. It just shows that California has had a fairly long tradition of grand, glamorous and sexy myth making and story telling associated with it.
In 1765 a man named Jose de Galvez, who was an official to the Spanish king decided it was a good idea to have another go at claiming New Spain properly, before the English or the Russians did it. He managed to convince the King to let him go on a mission there, with the intention of claiming the land and spreading the Romain Catholic faith. Although it was a very difficult mission with lots of hardship, ultimately it was successful and several missions (Christian bases) were set up on the Californian coast, including Monterey Bay and San Francisco. The Spanish missionaries managed to convert a number of the local natives into Catholicism, but this was largely due to the threat of violence or because they pacified the natives with offerings of supplies and tools that they’d never seen before, although saying that I’m sure the natives were also genuinely impressed by these new people who had arrived and may have seen them as being sent by god. Again, things didn’t go completely smoothly because there was resistance from the locals who did fight back, but in the end the Spanish were numerous enough and powerful enough to withstand these resistance movements from the Native Americans, even though unfortunately this meant that a lot of native people were killed and severely punished in the process. This is all part of the story of how the Native Americans were eventually almost completely wiped out in the long population of America by Europeans.
The Spanish settlers and missionaries built forts at strategic locations up the California coast. These were basically protected bases which helped them defend their territory against angry natives or possible invasion by other countries wanting to take this beautiful and rich land that they had managed to claim. To provide food for the people in these missions or forts, pueblos were created around them. These were basically towns with farms that could produce food. These places eventually grew and developed to become cities like Los Angeles, Monterey and San Francisco.
Then there was a war of independence in 1810 which ended in 1821. This is a similar story to the war of independence against the British which was fought on the other side of the country. The colonies in New Spain were fed up with the way they were being ruled from Spain and felt they didn’t have enough freedom or independence. The people of New Spain won that war and set themselves up as an independent government under the name of Mexico. The Mexican government took control of New Spain and decided that the missions had too much power, and closed them, freeing up the land previously owned by the missions. The priests in the missions were still allowed to operate churches there, but the land was to be divided between Mexican settlers and the Native Americans. The thing is though, the Native Americans had no real understanding of the concept of land ownership so they either didn’t want the land, didn’t understand that it could be given to them, or didn’t know how to deal with it because they’d been living in the missions so long that they were now dependent on the Spanish and Mexican settlers who ran the place. Some native Americans managed to return to their way of life, and some tribes of natives in California had managed to avoid being captured by the missions so there were still Native Americans in California at the time, but the coastal colonies continued under Mexican control. The Mexicans in California did lots of trade with people from many other places during this period, which enriched the area with the influence of different cultures. Presumably these traders came from Russia, Asia or Europe.
Some people, mainly fur trappers, managed to make the very difficult journey from the East coast by land. Remember that it took me 6 hours to fly from New York to LA? Well in the early 19th century it would have taken years to make the journey and in the beginning only the toughest and wildest people could make the journey, which was essentially a massive exploration into unknown wilderness populated by native tribes and dangerous wildlife like grizzly bears. But, some fur trappers made it to California in the first half of the 19th century. These fur trappers were really tough explorers who travelled west in search of valuable fur pelts – basically the skin and fur of different animals. Beaver was perhaps the most sought after pelt. Why? Because beaver fur was used to make top hats in Europe. You know those tall hats the Victorians used to wear? They were made from beaver fur. It’s light, strong, glossy and warm. Perfect material for a good hat, so there was plenty of demand for beaver fur as well as other animals. The first fur trappers must have been very tough guys who were almost as wild as the natives they met along the way. In fact many trappers got to know the natives and learned a lot of their knowledge to help them survive in the American wilderness. Imagine the challenge of crossing rivers, mountain ranges, deserts, canyons and forests. We’re talking about epic journeys.
By the mid 1800s the independent Nation of the USA was very keen to extend its territory to the west, in order to populate and claim that whole stretch of North America from east to west. In fact the prevailing ideology of the time was a strong feeling that the United States had almost a god given right to claim the land, and that it was the destiny of the USA to do so. This is the idea of manifest destiny – That the USA felt the land was theirs for the taking and that they had the god given right to take it. James Polk was the president at this time and he decided that he wanted to take the lands of Texas, New Mexico and California. Texas was a country in its own right at the time after having broken away from Mexico, and New Mexico and California were still owned by Mexico.
By this time – about 1840. More and more settlers had followed the fur trappers west and had settled in California. This included a man called John C Fremont who was an officer in the US army. He led a brigade of 60 men into California and met Colonel Jose Castro of the Mexican army in Monterey. Castro (no relation to the Cuban leader who came much later, I think) sent the US soldiers out of California, but this army brigade were determined and later re-entered California, gained the support of some of the settlers there and started a revolt in Sonoma, flying the flag with a star and a grizzly bear – the flag of California, and they pronounced it “The California Republic”. This coincided with the general aggressive movement into Texas and New Mexico by President Polk’s US army. Fighting between the USA and Texas had started along the Rio Grande river and this fighting eventually reached California. The bear flag rebels joined the US army during this war and fighting continued into 1848 when when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the war. The treaty brought peace to California and also stated that Mexico had to give more than 525,000 square miles of land to the USA. This included the areas between Texas and California, and marked the extension of the USA’s territory from east to west coast.
What happened next was that gold was discovered in California and this changed everything. The first discovery of gold was in 1848 in the Sacramento valley, which is between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and that caused a few hundred local Californians to move there, and a thousand or so outsiders. A lot of them struck gold and became very rich. Word of this travelled quite far, and fairly quickly. By early 1849 many people around the world had heard the news about gold being discovered in the new world in California and instantly thousands of people were infected with gold fever. “There’s gold in them there hills!”
1849 was the big year for the California gold rush. Something like 100,000 people travelled to California in that year. The people who travelled there are known as the 49ers (which explains the name of the American Football team from San Francisco). About 60% of the 49ers were from America, but the rest came from other countries all around the world and many of them settled in California long term, again adding to the diverse culture of the place. The Chinese certainly moved there in large numbers. Something like 20,000 in total, and many of them settled in the nearest port – San Francisco, which is why there is a large Chinese community there in Chinatown today. 100,000 people is a massive influx in just one year, and the gold rush is certainly one of the most significant moments in American history. By the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory was some 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852. The non-native population grew by about 1000% in about 18 months following the discovery of gold. This represented a massive injection of culture, development and wealth into California. San Francisco for example, quite quickly became a large metropolis.
What about the native Americans? It wasn’t a good time for them. Essentially, The USA’s expansion west, particularly in search of gold and land just didn’t fit in with the way of the life of the natives. The two cultures just couldn’t live together, and because the American settlers were more numerous, had better technology and weapons, and because the Native Americans were vulnerable to diseases carried by the settlers, the natives just couldn’t hold on to their way of life and were either killed or forced to live in limited areas known as reservations. It’s sad, because the Natives were people who had learned to live in harmony with their environment, and then they basically got wiped out or forced off their land, and treated like animals. It’s heartbreaking really.
By about 1852 even though the surface gold had basically disappeared, lots of people continued to make the journey west in search of their fortune and a better life, and they continued to make that journey for decades as California continued to be seen as a place where people could have a better quality of life.
The 1930s saw another fairly big movement of people into California in search of a better life as a result of the great depression and the dust bowl across the midwest. The dust bowl was basically a huge drought in the early 30s in large farming states from Texas to South Dakota – a big stretch all the way up the middle of the country. There was a huge drought (no water) and so all the crops failed and the earth turned to dust. Within a couple of years there were huge storms that carried the dust into the sky and far along the ground. This made it almost impossible for families to live and grow crops so many of them just left the area and made the arduous journey west towards California in search of a better situation.
Another Audiobook Suggestion
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck lived in Monterey, so I thought I’d pick one of his books, and I think this one is probably his most celebrated work. It has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 on audible, which is really high, and the book is widely considered a great classic of American literature. Written in 1939 after the great depression of the 1930s the book follows the story of a family from Oklahoma who are forced to make a long journey across America to live in California. It tells their personal story of the difficulty of the journey, but in doing so it manages to capture the epic narrative of a whole migration of people into the American west. Steinbeck creates a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity. Here’s a quote from a listener’s review: “From start to finish each one of the characters, because they were so well formed and realistic, evoked empathy but never to the point of pity. Every character bore their share of hardship. You walk away from this experience feeling stronger for having been in their company. These were people to be admired.” R. Solomon from New Hampshire.
www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Pick the version read by Dylan Baker. It’s unabridged.
A Brief(ish) History of California (continued)
The gold rush was a really important time for America, and the great depression of the 1930s. The migration into the west which was involved in both situations, and to a larger scale across the whole previous century of American history at that point was the embodiment of the American dream. The idea that anyone was free to start from the bottom and if they had the strength and courage they could make their own fortune by driving west, claiming their own plot of land, and delving into the rich American soil to produce shiny gold and riches, or an escape from hardship into liberty! These days people still go west in search for a fortune or some sort of everlasting freedom, but not because of gold, but in search of stardom on the silver screen. Los Angeles and the Hollywood star machine continue to be an attractive goal for many people, although it’s nowhere near the same scale as the original gold rush.
Nevertheless, California maintains its image as the golden state and is still considered to be a golden land where fame and riches can be found. Generations of immigrants have been attracted by the California Dream. California farmers, oil drillers, movie makers, airplane builders, and “dot-com” entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have each had their boom times in the decades after the Gold Rush. California is also a very popular destination for tourists, holidaymakers and honeymooners, and dreamers. It’s still associated with the American Dream and all that it offers.
But that vision of America may eventually have its downside when you’ve basically made it across the country, you’ve made it to the golden land, the gold has run out and yet the dreams remain. What seems to happen is that people lose it a a little bit, or feel that their idealism and perhaps naivety are challenged by the final frontier – the frontier of inner space or spirituality or just general meaning to life. That may be why people are pretty ‘far out’ here – there’s lots of spiritualism, yoga, new age thinking and so on. Perhaps that’s why they’re into movie making too. It’s the dream factory. Also, there’s plenty of entrepreneurialism in business technology, especially into another frontier – cyberspace, as I mentioned earlier with Facebook and other software and social networking companies. In fact here’s a list of companies in the bay area of San Francisco: Facebook, Pinterest, Tesla, Hewlett Packard, Quora, TuneIn Radio, Google, Skype, PayPal, Logitech, LinkedIn, Groupon, Uber, Android, Intel, Apple, EBay, AOL, Yahoo.
We drove downtown to have a look around, get some food, get used to the place, take it easy a bit, do some shopping.
Driving in the car in traffic.
One thing we noticed was the huge paintings and murals on the walls. There’s some really fantastic and very large artwork on the sides of buildings. It’s more sophisticated than graffiti. It’s really excellent. Check out this link to see some of the murals http://www.laweekly.com/arts/10-best-la-street-art-murals-of-2014-5279399
In fact there are murals in many places in California, especially the cities like LA and SF.
Grammy Museum – amazing music exhibition, particularly the interactive screens which allowed you to take a journey though all the interconnected musical genres.
Huge Taylor Swift exhibition, probably because she was due to perform a number of concerts nearby. In fact, Taylor Swift followed us around California. Wherever we arrived she seemed to be doing a concert and we kept hearing her hit song “Shake It Off” all the time, including in the museum shop where it appeared to be playing on a loop, all day. I can’t imagine what that did to the brains of the staff working there. I quite like the song actually. I think it’s a great pop song – and is commercial, super catchy and full of hooks and so on. I’m not sure about Taylor Swift herself. She started out as a country artist, and then recently she sort of switched over into R&B a little bit and it’s worked out for her. I don’t really like any of her other songs, but Shake It Off is just a perfect little pop song.
Hollywood Improv. for comedy + food.
Fighting jet lag.
Back to the hotel to watch a bit of American TV and then pass out.
American TV – just commercial break after commercial break, and many of them are about treatments for health conditions. So many adverts for health insurance and medical solutions. It’s really weird. It’s hard to actually find any content on TV because it feels like about 50% adverts. You flick through the channels and it’s just ad after ad after ad. Still, some of the late night comedy and chat shows are pretty good. FOX News is a total joke. CNN doesn’t seem that much better to be honest. It’s all way too glamorous and just doesn’t feel objective or incisive enough.
There’s a presidential campaign going on. Donald Trump is dominating the news. He’s basically a right-wing free market capitalist who says whatever the hell he likes and appears to be running for president purely because his ego is in overdrive. His skin is more orange than the sun, his hair looks like it should be captured and studied by scientists, and his views on immigration are pretty disgusting. For example, he recently said that Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves and that if he was president he would start by building a huge wall between the USA and Mexico, and that the Mexican government will have to pay for it. Right. Is this the man we want to be in charge of one of the biggest and most potentially lethal countries in the world. No. Please no. Hilary Clinton will probably win, but I wonder about her connections to all those corporations. Bernie Sanders is a pretty reasonable left-wing candidate. The other Republicans don’t seem to be any different to each other. Jeb Bush is, well, he’s another Bush! But even he seems pretty normal compared to Trump. American politics is fascinating, entertaining and also a little grotesque and a bit scary. What a country.
End of Part 2. Part 3 coming soon…
This episode is an attempt to understand The USA in more detail, getting beyond the made-up version that we see in movies and on TV in order to get a proper understanding of the country, its culture and its people. I’m joined by an American friend of mine called Sebastian Marx, and during our conversation we go through most of the main events in the history of the USA and discuss some of the most important principles in the story of the country. The ultimate aim: to understand The United States of America. [Download]
As well as being a relaxed conversation between friends, this episode is a summary of some of the main ideas and topics that I’ve covered this semester in my university classes, and in fact our conversation deals with some of the most important issues and concepts that will help you to get a proper understanding of the USA – and you’re getting it all for free in this episode! You’re welcome of course… if you fancy making a donation to support my work you can just click this button here!
Speaking to Sebastian in this episode allows me to check some of the thoughts I had about the USA with a genuine American guy, as a way of getting the inside story. Ideally I would like ask all the people of the USA for their opinions, but as I can’t do that I have decided to just ask one American guy for his input, and he isn’t even in America at the moment – but that’s more than good enough for me!
You probably know Sebastian from previous episodes of LEP. He was in 130. A Cup of Tea with Sebastian Marx and also 183. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 1). He’s a stand-up comic who performs a one-man show in English and French, entitled “A New Yorker in Paris”, and he’s a very funny and interesting bloke. For more info on Sebastian go to www.sebmarx.com.
As usual, I would like to know your opinions, so if anything occurs to you, please leave your comments below this episode. I’m actually quite pleased with the outcome of this one because I think there is some genuine insight in this episode, even if it is delivered by two guys just having a chat.
“Luke’s Film Club” continues with one of my all-time favourites: Star Wars! In this episode I’m going to ramble on about the Star Wars franchise, including the original trilogy (episodes 4-6), the prequel trilogy (episodes 1-3) and the upcoming new trilogy (episodes 7-9). If you’re a Star Wars fan, this one’s for you! If you don’t like Star Wars, I hope this episode will give you some idea of why people are so crazy about these movies. [Download]
In this episode I talk about these things:
– The new Star Wars Episode VII Trailer
– A history of the Star Wars films
– An overview of the storyline for the original trilogy and prequel trilogy
– Some reasons why I like the original films so much
– Some sound effects from the films!
Here’s the Episode VII Teaser Trailer
Here are some must-see video reviews of the prequel trilogy by RedLetterMedia. For me, these explain (in a very funny way) exactly what is wrong about episodes 1-3. They’re genuinely brilliant reviews, which must have taken a long time to make.