A conversation with Paul Taylor involving several cups of tea, recipes for French crepes, our terrible rap skills, a funny old comedy song about English workmen drinking tea, some improvised comedy role plays and a very angry Paul ranting about bad customer service in France! Your challenge is to listen to this episode in public without laughing out loud, especially in the second half of the episode. Good luck, may the force be with you. Vocabulary list, song lyrics, definitions and a quiz available below.
I’m going to keep this intro as brief as possible so we can get straight into it!
This one is a conversation with friend of the podcast, Paul Taylor. It was lots of fun to record, I hope it’s also lots of fun to listen to.
There are links, videos, word lists and song lyrics with vocabulary and definitions on the episode page on the website that can help you to understand and learn more English from our conversation.
There is some swearing in this episode – some rude words and things. Just to let you know in advance.
Try not to laugh on the bus while listening to this. That might be embarrassing. That is a challenge from me to you. Try not to giggle – because everyone will look at you and will feel either jealous or confused at your public display of the joy which will be bursting forth from your heart as you listen to Paul’s infectious laughter. No giggling or cracking up in public please. Get a grip on yourself for goodness sake.
Where’s Amber? All will be revealed.
Keep listening until the end of the episode for more additional extra bonus fun.
Alrighty then, that’s all for the intro, let’s go!
A crepe = a thin french pancake made from flour, milk and egg – all whisked together and then cooked in a pan
To whisk = to mix ingredients quickly with a fork or a whisk
To kneaddough to make bread
To knead = to work/press/mix/fold dough with your hands when making bread
Dough = flour, water, yeast combined to make a soft paste, used for making bread
Cats go to the litter box, shit and then lick their paws
The litter box = the tray or box in your house that cats use as a toilet. It’s full of small stones, sand or something similar.
Paws = the hands and feet of a cat (or similar animals)
The Luke’s English Podcast Challenge – if you don’t know what a crepe is, leave a comment! You *might* get a picture of Paul as a prize.
Talking bollocks* = talking nonsense ( *bollocks is a rude word meaning testicles, or bullshit)
‘owzit gaan? = How’s it going?
It’s the first day back at school in France so everyone’s going mental
Going mental = going crazy, getting stressed
Anti-nuclear pens? = I suppose these are pens which somehow resist the effects of a nuclear attack. They don’t exist, I think.
Losing your friends when they have kids – How having kids is like the zombie apocalypse (according to Paul)
“To put the kibosh on something” = phrase
If someone or something puts the kibosh on your plans or activities, they cause them to fail or prevent them from continuing.
[mainly US , informal]
E.g. “Rattray, however, personally showed up at the meeting to try and put the kibosh on their plans.” “…software that puts the kibosh on pop-up ads if a user doesn’t want them.”
I’ll be tutoring my child in the ways of righteousness
A voice-over = some recorded speech used in advertising, TV, radio etc.
“Right said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins
A 1960s comedy record featuring some cockney workmen moving a heavy object and drinking lots of tea.
Lyrics [vocab explained in brackets] “Right,” said Fred, “Both of us together One each end and steady as we go.” [be careful, do it steadily] Tried to shift it, couldn’t even lift it [move it] We was getting nowhere [yes, it’s grammatically incorrect] And so we had a cuppa tea and [ a cup of tea]
“Right,” said Fred, “Give a shout for Charlie.” Up comes Charlie from the floor below. After straining, heaving and complaining [making lots of physical effort] [complaining] We was getting nowhere [also grammatically incorrect] And so we had a cuppa tea.
And Charlie had a think, and he thought we ought to take off all the handles And the things what held the candles. But it did no good, well I never thought it would
“All right,” said Fred, “Have to take the feet off To get them feet off wouldn’t take a mo(ment).” [those] Took its feet off, even took the seat off Should have got us somewhere but no! So Fred said, “Let’s have another cuppa tea.” And we said, “right-o.”
“Right,” said Fred, “Have to take the door off Need more space to shift the so-and-so.” [the thing] Had bad twinges taking off the hinges [sharp pains] [metal parts that attach the door to the wall] And it got us nowhere And so we had a cuppa tea and
“Right,” said Fred, “Have to take the wall down, That there wall is gonna have to go.” Took the wall down, even with it all down We was getting nowhere And so we had a cuppa tea.
And Charlie had a think, and he said, “Look, Fred, I got a sort of feelin’ If we remove the ceiling With a rope or two we could drop the blighter through.” [an annoying person or thing]
“All right,” said Fred, climbing up a ladder With his crowbar gave a mighty blow. [a heavy metal tool] Was he in trouble, half a ton of rubble landed on the top of his dome. [broken pieces of rock] [head] So Charlie and me had another cuppa tea And then we went home.
(I said to Charlie, “We’ll just have to leave it Standing on the landing, that’s all [the hallway on an upper floor] You see the trouble with Fred is, he’s too hasty [in a hurry, rushing ;) ] You’ll never get nowhere if you’re too hasty.”)
Getting queue jumped and dealing with unhelpful staff = when people skip ahead of you in a queue [a line of people waiting]
Luke struggles to understand how to deal with waiters and shop assistants who say “c’est pas possible” (French = it’s not possible)
Listen to Alexander Van Walsum talk to Luke about how to deal with “c’est pas possible” in this episode from the archive
That’s nearly the end of the episode, I hope you enjoyed it and you managed not to laugh out loud on the bus.
Don’t forget, you can see a list of vocabulary and expressions from this episode all on the website, including the lyrics to that song that you heard. There’s also a YouTube video of the song if you want to hear it again and make sure you’ve understood all of it. So check that out.
By the way, the mobile version of my site has now been improved thanks to a helpful listener called Sergei who gave me some CSS coding advice. So if you check the site on your phone now it should look much better than it did before, which will make it easier for you to check vocab lists, transcriptions and other content from your mobile device. Try it now – teacherluke.co.uk. You will find the link for this episode and all the others in the episode archive – just click on the menu button and then EPISODE ARCHIVE.
Don’t forget to join the mailing list on the website so you can get a link to each new episode page in your inbox when it’s published.
As I said, it’s nearly the end of the episode – but it’s not actually the end yet. There’s more. In fact, I’ve decided to give you a bonus bit at the end here, because I’m nice.
So, what’s the bonus bit?
The Bonus Bit – “The Expat Sketch Show”
On the day that Paul and I recorded this episode (and in fact the next one too) we also recorded ourselves improvising a short comedy sketch. I’m now going to play you that sketch.
The idea of the sketch is that I work in an office in Paris and my job is to interview ex-pats (foreign people who have moved to Paris) – I interview ex-pats for a position on a kind of scholarship programme where we subsidise their living expenses and help them integrate into the Parisian community and in return they contribute something to community in terms of work, taking part in cultural events or making any contribution that will benefit the cultural mix of Paris.
Paul plays 3 different ex-pats who have come into my office for an interview, and let’s just say that they’re not exactly the ideal candidates.
The whole thing was completely improvised, it’s full of rude language and it’s all just a bit of a laugh so here is the Ex-pat Sketch show with Paul. Have fun!
Thanks for listening to the episode everyone.
Have a good day, night, morning, afternoon or evening!
My friend Moz, who runs a murder-themed tour company in London, is back on the podcast to talk about some more creepy stories of crimes from London’s history and his new podcast. Vocabulary list and quiz available below.
Moz (aka Michael Buchanan-Dunne) has appeared on the podcast a number of times before, for example in the Brighton Fringe Festival episodes, the drunk episode, the episode recorded on Moz’s narrowboat and also the episode from last year called “Murder Mile Tours”.
If you haven’t heard those episodes, let me bring you up to speed as it might help you understand some of the things we talk about in this conversation.
I first met Moz and made friends with him about 8 years ago while doing stand-up comedy in London.
He used to work for the BBC, making comedy television programmes, but then a few years ago he decided to set up a tourism company and bought a narrowboat which he now lives on. Narrowboats are boats that can be used on the UK’s canal system. They’re long and narrow and they’re boats, hence the name “narrowboats”.
Moz now lives on his boat which he usually moors at different locations throughout London’s canal network (there are lots of canals running through London).
He also runs a successful tour company in London, called “Murder Mile Tours”.
His most popular tour is called the “Murder Mile Walk” which currently takes place in Soho in central London every week. The walk takes in various sites where murders have actually occurred. Some of those murders were the work of serial killers and they all have gruesome stories connected with them, stories which Moz has painstakingly researched by looking up lots of archived material including court records from courtrooms in London.
Last year I invited him onto the podcast to tell us some of those stories. That proved to be one of the most downloaded episodes of the podcast last year. Since then his tours have gone from strength to strength – not directly a result of being on this podcast of course, although that has helped because quite a lot of LEPsters have been on the murder mile walk with Moz, no, the tour seems to be going really well because it seems really fun, it’s original, the stories are fascinating, and the tour has had loads of 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor.
In fact just recently Murder Mile Tours received a TripAdvisor certificate of excellence, which is a really great achievement. TripAdvisor describe it as one of the 150 best things to do in London and Time Out Magazine described it as one of the top 3 themed tours in the city.
Now Moz has decided to start up his own podcast in which he will regularly share some of the stories he has discovered while doing his research. His podcast, called “The Murder Mile True Crime Podcast” will be available from 1 October (you’ll be able to find it on iTunes – or just check www.murdermiletours.com/podcast).
So, I’ve invited Moz to come back onto the podcast to talk about all of this.
Moz and I are friends, so this isn’t just an interview, it’s also a light-hearted informal conversation and a chance for the two of us to catch up on each other’s personal news and just have a bit of fun while we’re doing it, and you are invited to join us.
You should know that this episode contains some graphic content and explicit language
including some fairly detailed descriptions of violence and murder
and some other things that you might find disturbing or disgusting.
I feel I should let you know that in advance, just in case you’re squeamish and you don’t like that sort of thing – but to be honest the content of this episode is no worse than what you would see in the average episode of a TV show like CSI or Game of Thrones.
But still – there are some creepy and gruesome details in this episode, so – you have been warned.
By the way, if you’re interested in some of the items of vocabulary that you can hear in this conversation, you should check out the page for this episode on my website. You’ll see a list of words and phrases there which you learn in order to add real strength and depth to your English.
OK so here is part one of my conversation with Moz, the guy from Murder Mile Tours.
“Sacre bleu!” (French – used to express surprise or amazement)
“There’s lovely” (this is what Welsh people apparently say a lot – it means “that’s nice”)
“Zoot alors!” (an old-fashioned French phrase – it’s used to express surprise, shock etc)
More excuses for my lack of improvement in French. [absence of]
I’ve got to pull my socks up, pull my finger out and turn over a new leaf. [all these phrases are ways of saying “improve my attitude and approach”]
I don’t have long to get the French up to scratch. [improve it to an acceptable level]
Rutting [when animals, such as deer, have sex – but also when the male deer fight with each other during the mating season]
“During the ruttingseason the male boars have terrible mating battles”
It’s a scratchyhowl [a howl is the sound an animal makes – usually a dog or wolf at night, e.g. ‘to howl at the moon’. ‘Scratchy’ describes the rough sound of the howl]
Foxes, when they’re mating, make a high-pitched scream which sounds like someone being murdered
I’m not registered for council tax [tax you pay when you live in a house or flat]
I’ve got a P.O. Box [a post office box where you can have post delivered if you don’t have a fixed address]
I’m not condoning mass murder [promoting it, saying I agree with it]
The police had sectioned off the walkway [used plastic tape to prevent people from accessing that part of the walkway]
Someone may commit suicide and the body floats down (the canal) [commit suicide = kill yourself / float = not sink, but stay on the surface of the water]
Grisly details [unpleasant, involving death or violence]
People think that a canal is a good place to dispose of a body [to get rid of a dead person]
The canal has been used for dumping rubbish, but also corpses [dumping = throwing away, getting rid of, disposing / corpses = dead bodies]
They decided to take this guy’s card and start withdrawing money [taking money out of the bank]
The culprits were found guilty of ‘denial of a proper burial’ [culprits = people who committed a crime / ‘denial of a proper burial’ = a criminal charge which is given in a court – it means when someone didn’t bury a dead person properly, or perhaps didn’t dispose of the body in the legal way]
That was the main charge that they could definitely pin on them [a statement by prosecutors in court that someone committed a crime]
Eastenders is a soap opera that’s been on TV for years [a TV drama which is about ordinary people, shown on television on a regular basis]
“My auntie’s brother’s sister left me 10% of this pub in her will!” [a will = a document which explains who should receive someone’s property when they die]
He smoked skunk all the time [a strong and smelly form of marijuana]
He had an argument with her, killed her, chopped up the body [cut the body into pieces] and then wrapped up [put inside a sheet or some clothing] her limbs [arms and legs] and her torso [the body, but without the arms or legs], put them in a suitcase and dumped [threw away, disposed of] them in the canal
He bought loads of bin bags [bags for rubbish] and saws [tools for cutting something up]
Things got out of hand, they had an argument [things got out of control]
He dragged her down to the canal [pulled her along the ground]
The suitcase floated for about two miles [didn’t sink]
Poking out of the top of the suitcase was hair [you could see part of it coming out of the top of the suitcase]
I like having a good poke around [looking and investigating, perhaps by looking into something and moving things around] different streets and digging into [going deep into something] murders
Most murders are just men having fights, but occasionally you come across [find] a really good one
Don’t worry, we’re hung over! [feeling sick because they drank alcohol the night before]
I was a cannibal, [someone who eats human flesh] I’d eaten my girlfriend and her body was slowly working its way through my bowel (yuk!) [moving slowly through the lower part of the digestive system] yuk yuk!
It was one of the darkest jokes I’ve ever pulled off [managed to succeed bit it was difficult]
It didn’t get a laugh it just got a gasp [a shocked sound when people breathe in suddenly
😱] and for me that was enough
It certainly got the evening off to a different start [to get something off to a start = to make something start]
Often the murderers are like slapstick movie idiots [a form of comedy involving funny physical movements, like people falling over or hitting each other]
Can you remember the vocabulary in the list?
Were you listening carefully? Take the quiz to find out.
This episode includes anecdotes and descriptions of our short visit to Las Vegas, including stories of more rental car issues, Las Vegas craziness, winning and losing $$$ and 11 English idioms that come from gambling.
⬇️ Episode script and notes (Idioms list below) ⬇️
It was just as a stopover between L.A. and other areas, and to have a one look in your life, see what all the fuss is about sort of experience.
Take the rental car back to the car rental company.
Remember them, from part 1 of this?
When we picked up the car in LA – just a Nissan hatchback by the way, nothing fancy, at the start of the trip we had to go and wait in a boiling hot car park in Inglewood or somewhere, where I stood waiting on my phone for ages waiting to get through to someone to tell them we had arrived, standing there on hold with my arm going numb and the sun beating down on both me and my pregnant wife, and after about 40 minutes a guy in a rental car came and picked us up, and told us “oh yes, the shuttle busses are in the garage – they broke down on Tuesday”.
We drop off the car, pay the money, ask about the difference in price between the bill and the receipt –
“Sorry Mani, isn’t here today.”
“Can you do it?”
“Sorry, I can’t. He’s the manager.”
(We got fobbed off by the girl behind the counter)
There’s supposed to be a shuttle (bus) service back to the airport.
But it’s obvious that this is a crappy little rental car company that is cutting corners and fobbing everyone off with this talk of the “shuttle” that is mysteriously always in the garage.
Again we’re told that the shuttle is in the garage so we squeeze into another rental car with a German couple this time.
My wife is in the front, and I’m squeezed in with the Germans.
The Germans are quite nice, but it’s pretty clear they didn’t have the best experience with their car and they’ve driven a really long distance, without cruise control (which is standard for rentals usually) and they’re saying to the driver,
“Do you not have cars with cruise control? Because it’s very uncomfortable to drive 4,000 miles without cruise control, you know?”
I’m thinking – 4,000 miles! Without cruise control. His leg must be knackered.
The driver goes “Cruise control? Yes, there is cruise control.”
“No, there is no cruise control in this car.”
“This was your rental?”
Turns out the “shuttle” is just the same car the Germans just rented.
“Yes, there is no cruise control in this car. It was very difficult for us. Do you not have cars with cruise control?”
The driver is not interested in taking questions. He says “Some of them do and some of them don’t.”
“I think it would be good if your cars have the cruise control”
“I’m just the driver man”
I note in my head that our car had cruise control, and I never used it, not once, but I don’t say anything. I don’t think it would have helped.
“Well, our car had cruise control, and guess what we never used it! Ha ha, it would have been useful if we’d swapped, right? I bet you would have appreciated that after the first 3,000 miles!!”
But I didn’t say that. I just ‘enjoyed’ the really awkward vibe in the car, and the knowledge that my wife was pretty much steaming, but keeping herself under control.
After the Germans got out my wife chose to cross-examine the driver.
“So, where are the shuttles?”
“Oh, they’re in the garage, we had some trouble with them.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes, it’s just a coincidence.”
“OK. When did they go in the garage?”
“Oh just on Friday.”
“Well last week you said they broke down on Tuesday.”
“I’m just the driver”
“I know you’re just the driver but…”
“You’re getting driven there, I’m driving you personally…”
“I know but we just don’t appreciate being lied to, that’s all…”
At this point he got really angry and started making it personal.
“OK, you’re getting personal with me now, and I don’t appreciate you making personal attacks against me, ok?”
As I was taking the bags out of the back, I was trying to say, “Look, it’s not personal we’re just commenting on the service. We were told one thing, we get another thing. It’s not you, right? it’s your management, right?”
He just went “Well I deliver you to the airport and you make it personal” and he just got in the car and drove off.
I couldn’t help feeling bad for the guy. I think he probably has no choice but to lie about the shuttle thing because the crappy management of this company keeps telling their customers there will be a shuttle. It’s written in their emails and stuff. I imagine he’s just trying to keep his job.
He couldn’t really say “Yes, well to be honest sir our company is lying to you. We don’t have any shuttles, it’s not worth it – you know? Because we don’t get enough customers to justify using a whole bus, and there’s obviously nowhere for us to park one anyway, so we just use these cars and I’m always dealing with these problems, but it’s because the management keep lying.”
He can’t admit that the company lies or is wrong. It’s unfair on him. I know, I’m making excuses for the guy, but what can he do?
The management should just say they have a personal car service, it would solve the problem.
That’s the solution. We don’t care about shuttles. Just say there’s a personal car service. The driver can introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Carlos, I’m your driver, where are you guys from?” Etc. That would solve the problem. Instead, Carlos (or whatever he’s called) is on the defensive and can’t start talking to the customers because he knows they’re not happy. Poor Carlos, and poor customers.
I wonder what’s really going on there – at this particular franchise of Wrong Cars™.
Anyway, after that we got on our plane for the short flight to Vegas. We could have driven but we planned this to make sure there was as little driving as possible, because when you’re pregnant it’s not good to sit in a vibrating car for hours on end, and anyway it sucks to be stuck in a car all the time.
We arrive in Vegas
It’s in the middle of the Mojave Desert for goodness sake.
We rent a car from another company this time – more established. Enterprise. Admittedly, it’s a bit more expensive but we don’t want to risk it because we’ll be driving in some fairly deserted spots and we want a car that will not break down and that has customer service that’s actually available by telephone.
So we get to the car rental area – a massive building in airportland. Dazzling service. We’re in the car in a matter of minutes and it looks brand new. We rented a small SUV. The main thing was that it was comfy and could deal with bits of rough terrain if needed. We get a Jeep Renegade. It’s pretty cool. Wife is happy and in comfort. OK.
Staying at New York New York Hotel.
Vegas is completely insane and, honestly, not a great place. In fact it’s the most tawdry, sleazy, tacky place ever.
Pick the most touristy part of any town and amplify it by 1000. It’s like that.
It’s boiling hot outside but inside it’s freezing, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build this massive place with all these things like swimming pools, hotels and golf courses in the middle of the desert.
God knows how they get their water.
And it’s just a weird place cut off from reality in which you are constantly being seduced and distracted by flashing lights and big things and encouraged to gamble your money away. It’s like one huge sales pitch in the form of a city.
Inside the casinos there are no windows. They’re like huge circus tents on the inside, with big restaurant facades around the edge, tables for gambling – playing poker or roulette or the one where you throw the dice and there are loads of different numbers and letters and it’s a bewildering illusion of choice, big individual gambling machines, lamp posts (inside the hotel), fake little streets, massive Irish pubs (which is never really a bad thing in itself) but all this stuff and you look up to the sky and it’s the black ceiling of the hotel above you, quite high and in the background. It’s probably daylight outside, but you can’t see the desert sun. Inside the hotel’s gambling area there’s this black canopy of the ceiling above all this trashy fake stuff.
It’s so weird to come to the desert and then find yourself in this totally synthetic place all set against a black backdrop.
This is some people’s idea of a wonderful place – a vast plastic playground with so many attractions, but there’s something very unnatural and twisted about it.
People smoke indoors and this feels wrong now after 10 years since the smoking ban. No big deal, but still… I think the reason is that they prioritise the gambling, so even though it fills the air with harmful smoke, it means people stay at the tables and don’t go outside to smoke their cigarettes.
There are tourists wandering around, families and stuff but also you spot these grizzled gamblers losing fortunes.
You see some old people who have travelled for miles to spend their money because they don’t really know what else to do with it, so it all goes in these machines.
There are some really drunk people, sitting at the bar.
But also families with kids walking around.
Even some bars have gambling machines built into them, so you can lose money (or maybe win) while you’re taking a break from the bigger tables.
In one casino, where we went to the theatre – there was a girl in suspenders dancing erotically on a table, and kids were wandering around.
It was like a strip club in Disneyland. It was like a cross between Disneyland and a lap dancing club. Adult Disneyland, but with families wandering around in it.
Our hotel had a rollercoaster going around it.
Yep, a rollercoaster, with tracks that actually went around the outside of the hotel.
You can stand in the bedroom and every now and then you hear the rumble of the rollercoaster and the muffled screams of people outside the window. This is from inside your hotel room..
If you part the curtains and look out you can see part of the track twisting around past the window and eventually you’ll see the rollercoaster race past, people screaming.
Take a look into the distance and there are the mountains, some desert and then closer to you just weird, big shiny bright buildings and Trump tower. A massive tower with his name at the top in huge gold letters.
“We’ve got the greatest buildings folks, all the best casinos. You’re gonna have fun, and you’re gonna make so much money. We’re gonna Make America Great Again. Believe me folks.”
And the house always wins.
That’s the thing with these casinos.
You have to enjoy the process of it, because you’re basically paying money to experience the excitement of possibility of having more money, even if the probable outcome is that you’ll end up with less.
You’re paying for the excitement of losing, it’s exciting because there’s a possibility that you won’t lose, but the fact is you will probably lose.
So the chances are that you’re going to lose
but you might win
and that’s what makes it exciting
to throw your money away.
The house always wins.
Sometimes somebody wins.
But most people are losing.
And the house is always winning.
Fair enough though, people choose to gamble and they probably enjoy it. People seem to enjoy it – that’s their choice, but it doesn’t appeal to me very much, beyond just having a go to see what the fuss is all about.
But there are some good things about Vegas, ok!
It’s not all awful! It’s fun for a night or maybe two, depending on what you do.
It is a big spectacle – some of the hotels look amazing and massive, and also there are some spectacular shows that you can see – like dance shows such as Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group and magic shows like David Copperfield or Penn & Teller.
We chose to go there as a stopover but also to experience it and we did have a laugh!
You have to just go with it a bit and just go ‘ wow, look at that, that’s ridiculous!’
A lot of the time we were walking around, couldn’t believe our eyes, saying “this is insane” “Look at that! It’s a massive Egyptian pyramid!
Our hotel was basically a recreation of the New York skyline. Other hotels have things like an Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian Sphinx, massive fountains and light shows.
It was pretty weird to see the Eiffel Tower considering we see it every day in Paris.
Also, it’s a very convenient place – in the sense that it’s really easy to access the airport, it’s not all that big, things are open 24 hours a day.
People are helpful and friendly.
There was a wholefoods there. In fact there are a few Wholefoods supermarkets there – say no more!
We played some one of the “one armed bandits” – the fruit machines. It’s like one dollar to pull the arm and watch some things spinning around. We put aside about 50 dollars for fun. My wife enjoys the one armed bandits and she’s actually very lucky. I’m a lot more sceptical about it.
But she thinks she’s blessed with luck or something.
(Actually she’s blessed with Luke, but anyway… I’m not sure “blessed” is the right word – “married to” is probably better)
In England, when we had first met each other, we took a trip to Brighton, on the south coast, and we went to the pier (a wooden walkway that stretches out over the sea, wooden legs supporting it – a pier) where there are lots of arcade machines and gambling machines and other attractions, and she was convinced she would win money on the machines and I was going “ but the house always wins” and she was saying “no I’m magic!”.
I was shaking my head thinking “there is no magic, only the force” and she put one pound in a slot machine and promptly won £20, and said “I told you I was magic”. We walked away £20 richer. We didn’t continue gambling. I think she’s smart enough to know that you quit while you’re ahead.
The same thing happened years later, we were in a little resort in the north of France where you find some casinos. She’s not a gambling addict or anything. She just likes playing the machines a few times when we’re on holiday sometimes.
We went to a casino and chose to spend no more than 50E. A 50E limit. Ooh, big bucks, right?
We were walking around trying to find a good machine. There were some slightly sad looking people just sitting there plugged into these persuasive light shows – it’s a sort of low level basic addiction (or high level for some people) – an addiction to the sales pitch, basically.
I was being very sceptical, and making various sceptical noises.
We ended up leaving with 80E, 30E up from when we went in.
We quit while we were ahead.
In Vegas we did some gambling on the machines. I was thinking, “Well, she is magic. Maybe we’ll win enough to get a half decent dinner.”
We lost all the money we took in. All of it.
It was a steady one directional flow of us putting money into the machines and getting nothing in return. Las Vegas just ate our 50 dollars like a crocodile eats a chicken. One gulp, all gone, didn’t even chew. It didn’t even touch the sides as it went down.
We won nothing.
Well, almost nothing. We always seemed to win a few credits just before our money ran out, which I’m sure is a little trick to encourage you to put more money in because you think the machine is going to ‘start paying out’ at some point.
Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing. We had no clue and I’m sure those machines were the wrong ones to be playing, and some of the casinos are better than others, but anyway we weren’t really there for the gambling. We were more interested in playing it safe.
11 Gambling Idioms (that don’t just apply to gambling)
to be on a winning streak (when you’re winning)
to be on a losing streak (when you’re losing and nothing is going your way)
to break even (when you take the same amount of money that you spent – in gambling or in business. No profit, no loss.)
to quit while you’re ahead (stop when you’re winning)
the house always wins
to bet (to gamble) “I bet you £20 that Arsenal win the game” or (a challenge) “I bet you can’t throw this paper ball in the bin from there!” or (an expectation) “I bet all the tickets are sold out”
to show your hand (show the cards in your hand / reveal your position)
a poker face (a facial expression which reveals nothing – used while playing poker, or in any other situation where you keep a straight face)
don’t push your luck (take a big risk and try doing something that could end in failure – it’s a bit like saying “watch what you’re doing” or “be careful”)
to raise the stakes (the stakes = the money which you have to gamble in a round of poker. The expression is used to mean to increase the amount of money you can win or lose in a gambling game, but also to raise the general level of what you can win or lose – e.g. this line from a recent Daily Mail news article “Mr Trump raised the stakes in the escalating crisis over North Korea’s nuclear threats, suggesting drastic economic measures against China and criticising ally South Korea.” www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-4847836/North-Korea-conducts-nuclear-test-making-hydrogen-bomb-claims.html
the chips are down (chips = the plastic coins you use while gambling. The expression means – when you’re feeling bad, or when the situation is bad) E.g. in cricket – “When the chips are down for England, Moeen is often the side’s most useful player.”
I once saw a great documentary by Louis Theroux about high stakes gamblers in Vegas. Some of them lose thousands of dollars, but they keep gambling because they think they’re going to eventually start winning it all back. I’ve put some videos from the documentary on the page for this episode. I love Louis Theroux’s documentaries. They’re fascinating.
The phrase that I take away from one of the videos: Louis and a high-stakes gambler are standing in the biggest hotel suite in the city, looking out of the window at the huge hotels and Louis says “Vegas – they didn’t build these casinos on winners you know” and the guy says “I think in the lifetime, everyone’s a loser. But the thrill of being able to win today, lose next month, win the year after. I think it’s the challenge. I think it’s the thrill. I think it’s the entertainment in this city.”
Louis Theroux Gambling Documentary – video clips
Louis hangs out with a high-stakes gambler in a very expensive hotel suite in Las Vegas
Here’s the same guy, after losing about $400,000 dollars in 3 days
Louis gambles with a couple of gambling “enthusiasts” (addicts?)
Louis plays the “one armed bandits” with Martha (these are the machines that took our $50 in just a few minutes) Martha says “I lost 4 million dollars in the casino in 7 years.”
Louis gets lucky playing Baccarat
“Because I resigned myself to failure that night, Lady Luck had decided to tantilise me by making me win.”
How gambling can be dangerous
It seems that this is how it goes:
You might begin by winning some money. Then you feel lucky so you bet bigger, but you lose it.
You then start digging yourself in deeper and deeper, expecting your luck to change but there is absolutely no certainty that it will.
Some people talk about ‘the law of averages’ – suggesting that in time any sequence will balance out. E.g. you might spend a certain amount of time losing, but ultimately this will be balanced out by the number of times you win.
But that’s assuming that gambling in a casino is random. Usually it is subtly weighed in favour of the casino so that the pattern is that the casino wins more often than you. Even if you win a lot, the casino can afford it because more people have lost overall.
Often these high stakes gamblers keep betting because they think they’ll eventually start winning. They often don’t and then leave utterly devastated by the loss.
The house always wins.
Then what might happen is that you’ve lost, you’re dejected. You resign yourself to failure but play another game because why not, and then you hit a winning streak.
What a powerful combination of defeat and then victory, all out of your control. You’re at the mercy of this external force, playing around with “luck”. (Not Luke)
And the house always wins.
We drove along the strip. It’s madness out there! Just all the flashing lights and the spectacle, it’s like Picadilly Circus on steroids and the steroids are also on steroids.
Unbelievably massive plate of pancakes for breakfast.
Then we got out of town.
I told you I would talk about nature and canyons, and big rocks! All that stuff I really loved seeing, but I got carried away – distracted by tales of gambling in Vegas.
Las Vegas – a place that seems diametrically opposed to somewhere like Bryce National Park or The Grand Canyon.
I’m glad we only spent an afternoon, one evening and a night there.
Natural beauty is so much more real.
Well, anything is more real than Las Vegas, I suppose.
Thanks for listening.
Join the mailing list.
Thanks to the Orion transcription team and Andromeda proofreading team.
Shout out to the comment section crew.
Shout out to the Long-Term LEPsters, you know who you are.
Shout out to the new listeners, I hope you stick with us.
Shout out to every single one of you all around the world, listening to this right now and united by the fact that you are all citizens of LEPland or Podland or whatever we are calling this community which crosses international boundaries.
Be excellent to each other and party on!
The holiday diary continues and in this chapter we visited Bel Air in L.A. and so here is an analysis of the lyrics to Will Smith’s rap from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, a famous TV show (and a very serious piece of work, haha) from the 90s which was set in Bel Air itself. Topics covered: TV pop culture, racial politics, slang English.
By the way, these are flapjacks, just in case you were wondering. Yum.
Flapjacks (these ones are made with honey, oats and peanut butter) Click the pic for the recipe.
Did you get The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV in your country?
I used to watch the TV show a lot when I was younger (in the 90s).
Yes, the Fresh Prince is American English but I consider it also to be global English and you should too. Also, I think everyone should know or at least be able to repeat one or two of the lines from this rap, right?
So let’s listen to it and analyse some of the lyrics.
It’s not even a great rap, that’s the thing! It’s just a laugh! It’s not exactly the Wu Tang Clan or anything… Anyway…
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – language analysis & cultural commentary
Summary of the story
This rap basically sets up the scenario of the show. Did you work out the details of the story?
Will Smith is an ordinary guy from a rough part of Philadelphia. The area where he lives is too rough and dangerous, so his mum decides he has to move in with his aunt and uncle, who happen to live in Bel Air, in Los Angeles. The aunt and uncle are rich and successful. The uncle (Uncle Phil) is a top lawyer. This is obviously possible, but quite rare.
Is it just a funny TV show, or is it about race relations and racial politics in the USA?
I’m not sure I am fully qualified to talk about racial politics in the USA. The fact is, despite the American dream which says anyone can make it, it appears to be much harder for a black guy to become a millionaire than for a white guy to do it. I’m not saying why that is, I’m just saying it. In fact, I’m reporting it as something I’ve heard Chris Rock say, so fine – not my words, the words of Chris Rock.
“Don’t hate the player, hate the game”.
“You don’t get plaques for getting rid of plaque.” (two meanings of the word ‘plaque’ – listen to hear the explanations)
“The black man gotta fly to get something the white man can walk to.”
“I had to host the Oscars to get that house.”
Listen to the episode to hear my language analysis and some comparisons with British English.
I’ll tell you which bits of vocab are “standard” (i.e. not specific slang – the stuff everyone should know) and “slang” (i.e. the stuff that’s more specific to the informal English you might hear from Will Smith or the social group of the time)
Fresh Prince of Bel Air – Rap, Long version Now, this is a story all about how My life got flipped, turned upside down And I’d like to take a minute So just sit right there I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air
In west Philadelphia born and raised On theplayground was where I spent most of my days Chilling out, maxin‘ relaxin’ all cool And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school When a couple of guys who were up to no good Started making trouble in my neighborhood I got in one little fight and my mom got scared [UK – mum, USA – mom] She said ‘You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air’
I begged and pleaded with her day after day But she packed my suit case and sent me on my way She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket. I put my Walkman on and said, ‘I might as wellkick it‘.
First class, yo this is bad Drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass. Is this what the people of Bel-Air living like? Hmmmmm this might be alright.
But wait I hear they’re prissy, bourgeois, all that Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat? I don’t think so I’ll see when I get there I hope they’re prepared for the prince of Bel-Air
Well, the plane landed and when I came out There was a dude who looked like a cop standing there with my name out I ain’t trying to get arrested yet I just got here I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared
I whistled for a cab and when it came near The license plate said “FRESH” and it had dice in (on) the mirror If anything I could say that this cab was rare But I thought ‘Nah, forget it’ – ‘Yo, holmes to Bel Air’
I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8 And I yelled to the cabbie ‘Yo holmes, smell ya later‘ I looked at my kingdom I was finally there To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air
In this episode I talk about visiting the fantastic Griffith Observatory and then ‘go off on one’ about Astronomy vs Astrology and ludicrous flat earth conspiracy theories. Includes various bits of vocabulary throughout the episode.
Just before we start I just realised that I forgot to mention some of your responses to the episode with my Dad about cricket which was uploaded in August.
Cricket episode (#473) comments
In general, the responses seem to be along these lines: I love listening to you talk to your Dad, it’s always nice to hear his voice and his descriptions of things, but this was the most difficult episode of the podcast ever! You broke my mind! You destroyed my brain!
Hi Luke, I do really love episodes with your Dad, but this particular one, completely destroyed me. ;) Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to listen to your Dad, as always, and I liked the cricket related phrases, so I’ll cut you some slack for making my brain hurt a bit. Cheers!
Holiday Diary part 3
Here we go with part 3 of this series which is based around some of the things I saw while I was away on holiday last month.
You should listen to parts 1 and 2 before hearing this, because that will put this episode in the right context. In a nutshell the context is that my wife is preggers, she’s got a bun in the oven. By the way, I just wanted to say that I chose to reveal this personal news because it would be impossible to keep it secret, right? For example if my uploading becomes a bit erratic when the baby arrives, you’ll understand why. Perhaps you can manage your expectations a bit if you remember that I’ve “got a lot on my plate“. Having a child will be wonderful but probably quite disruptive, but I certainly don’t plan on halting this project as a result. We went on hols to the USA for a “babymoon” (our chance to enjoy a fairly big holiday together while it’s just the two of us), we saw some really interesting things and it gave me inspiration to talk about some topics on the podcast.
What’s this episode all about?
In this one the plan is to talk about astronomy, astrology and flat earth conspiracy theories. I hope there will be enough time! Let’s see. If I run out of time, some of those things will no doubt turn up in the next episode.
I expect the main questions for this will be:
What is the Griffith Observatory and what did we see there? )And how do you pronounce Griffith Observatory?)
What is the difference between astronomy and astrology?
Is astrology a load of old nonsense, or is it all right?
What is the flat earth theory all about?
Why do people think the earth is flat?
Is the earth flat or is it round (I’m pretty sure it’s round or globe shaped)?
What words can you pick up from all of this to help expand your vocabulary, improve your listening and develop your English in general?
We will see as we go through the episode.
Vocabulary for you to learn (check the notes and script)
On the subject of the English you’re going to hear, I will try and define some language as it comes up, but also you should check the page for this episode. In the episode archive search for episode 476 (oh that’s this page- you’re already here). On that page you’ll see some notes and some transcriptions, and there you can see the words and phrases, see how they are spelled, copy/paste expressions to your word lists or flashcard apps and so on, or just enjoy listening to the episode.
Griffith Observatory and a hike in the park
There was lots of geology and astronomy on this holiday. The geology because of the National Parks and all the rock formations with their stories of history, and astronomy because we visited the Griffith Observatory (this place dedicated to observing the sun and the night sky). Also, in a hotel one evening while zapping between the many TV channels I came across a long interview with famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which was absolutely fascinating and also quite mind blowing – as he usually is.
You can listen to that conversation with Neil Degrasse Tyson on the Nerdist podcast here.
And then near the end of the holiday there was the total solar eclipse over some parts of the USA and every single person was talking about it. We didn’t see the full eclipse, but experienced some of it. So, lots of big things like the moon, the stars, the earth, our place in the universe and also the value of proper critical thinking and science in general.
We had a nice hike (not too demanding but not too easy) through Griffith Park up to the observatory. Hiking…
Walking up through the park we had views of Griffith Park and the Hollywood hills and the Hollywood sign. You get views over LA including the high-rise buildings in the downtown area.
It’s cool to be doing some hiking in what feels like the countryside and then to turn around and see the skyline of the city.
Hiking to Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park are named after the man who donated the land (about 12 km squared) and paid for the observatory and theatre.
His name was Griffith J. Griffith. What a name!
Imagine calling your son Griffith Griffith!
Interesting bloke. Here’s the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s page about him:
Anyway, (despite that horrible crime) it’s cool that this guy clearly believed in the importance of having a space dedicated to teaching ordinary people about how the earth fits into our galaxy, how it interacts with the sun and the moon, and all that stuff.
Astronomy is fascinating, I think.
Astronomy vs Astrology (the difference)
Astronomy – the scientific study of stars, planets and natural objects in space
Astrology – the study of movements of stars and planets and the belief that these movements can affect the lives of humans on earth. So that includes the predictions written into horoscopes, the system of star signs and how they are said to dictate our personalities and the things that will happen to us.
I don’t believe in astrology.
How could the movement of stars and planets affect whether your boss will give you a pay rise or if you’ll have an awkward encounter with a possible lover?
Who knows, maybe our lives are totally subject to astrological forces out there and everything that happens has already been written in advance, but I don’t think there’s much reliable evidence for it.
But that’s not the point for people who believe in horoscopes. I think for them it’s not about looking for the most reliable theory to understand the universe. It more about finding the one that makes you feel right about yourself.
We’re not the centre of the universe. We’re part of something much larger than we can possibly imagine. (I sound like Obiwan Kenobi)
Sure, Saturn is a huge thing out there in space and it does have forces of gravity, probably radiation that come from it, but my iPhone probably produces more radiation than Saturn, because it’s so much closer to me than Saturn. I get it, Saturn is big, but it’s also very very far away. The mass of the table in front of me exerts more influence on me than the mass of Saturn at this distance.
And, if horoscopes can predict the future, why aren’t they front page news?
Maybe they don’t want to seem arrogant.
Yeah we can predict the future, we know what’s going to happen to the money markets, to the environment, to each individual person, but we don’t like to make a big deal out of it.
Horoscopes are never on the front page, they’re always printed in the middle of the newspaper, next to the crossword and the sudoku. “Yes, we know the future of your children, but let’s just print it down here in the corner next to these puzzles.”
Anyway, at the Griffith Observatory, it was nice to get a dose of space stuff – some astronomy. It’s great to see that this building is devoted to educating people about astronomy and that loads of people were there, families with their kids (even if they were annoying “Mommy look this is awesome!” etc) it’s good to see that these kids are being educated about science.
They have cool interactive models and presentations about the earth’s orbit around the sun, with live telescope footage of the sun itself (through loads of filters of course), the moon’s orbit around the earth, the way the moon and the sun together affect the tides in the oceans. It was really cool.
And the earth is round, by the way.
Flat Earth (Conspiracy) Theory – Some people still believe the earth is flat
These days Flat Earth theories seem to be quite popular again, especially on the internet.
I didn’t meet anyone or at least speak to anyone in the USA who believed in flat earth theory, but I’ve seen a lot of talk of it online.
There are quite a lot of youtubers and even famous musicians and celebrities who spread the idea that the earth is flat and that there’s a global (although I guess they wouldn’t use the word “global”) conspiracy to convince us all that it’s in fact round, or a ‘globe’.
Most of these people are Americans of course, because as far as I can tell the USA is the world’s #1 place for conspiracy theories.
I’m quite interested in conspiracy theories and I’m willing to hear the arguments. Some of them are fairly convincing (e.g I’m a bit sceptical about the official story of the JFK assassination but I don’t pretend to know what really happened) and other theories are completely ridiculous.
I think the flat earth theory is in the latter category.
I think it’s ridiculous believing the earth is flat because it means you have to also reject:
Pretty much all the basic understandings that we have of the way the world works, including the laws of physics, which are tested time and time again, scientifically (which means subject to the most reliable forms of objective testing and scrutiny possible). You have to reject the big bang theory, and even the basic law of gravity.
And you have to believe that all the governments, shipping and airline companies, scientists in different communities around the globe and in fact all those underpaid science teachers – you have to believe they are all part of a huge organised conspiracy to maintain the idea that the earth is round, when in fact it is flat.
What would be the purpose of doing that?
And anyway, it’s impossible! We’re just not competent enough to do that.
As a species we’re not even able to keep a sex tape secret, so what chance do we have of maintaining a lie that big?
I think we have to look at why people choose to believe in this kind of thing anyway.
I think it goes together with a general sense of distrust in authority, a feeling of individual empowerment that you get from believing something like that and the simple human ability to get stuck in a certain worldview and then block out anything that contradicts it, even if it’s rational evidence that has been proven over and over again.
I think once a person has invested themselves in a certain belief system for whatever reason, it’s very hard to get them out of it.
For example, you might hear a conspiracy theorist say “I believe the earth is flat and nobody can convince me that it’s not”.
That’s all you need to know really. They’re not interested in being convinced with evidence.
They’re more interested in pursuing their belief and maintaining it. Why? I don’t know. I think it’s an aspect of human nature that is very powerful and you can see it in lots of other situations too – like for example the way people end up getting involved in religious cults or the way people do very bad things because they believe they’re carrying out some kind of divine plan.
Flat earthers are not as bad as people like that, I suppose, but what would happen if the President came out as a flat earther? Then what? Would flat earth theories start to enter schools? Would more and more people start to believe it? If the flat earthers eventually outnumbered the scientific community, the round earth community, would flat earth become the dominant idea? Hundreds of years of history could be wiped out by a belief system like that. It’s actually possible, that’s the thing.
Let’s listen to a couple of YouTubers talking about it.
If you disagree and you think the earth is flat (which is very trendy at the moment by the way) write your ideas in the comment section. Why do you think the earth is flat? What’s your evidence? How do you deal with things like the laws of gravity or the fact that shadows are at different lengths on the ground in different places at the same time of day?
Thanks for listening! Leave your comments below with any thoughts from this episode.
Did you notice any good bits of vocabulary? You could copy&paste them into the comment section.
Talking about some modern art which I saw while visiting several galleries in Los Angeles. Includes descriptions of different movements in modern art, details about some famous artists and their work, some thoughts about whether modern art is really amazing, or maybe just a load of pretentiousrubbish! (Spoiler alert: it depends)
Hi everyone, here’s part two of my holiday diary and in this one I’m going to continue describing things I saw and did on my recent holiday in the USA. The plan is not just to describe our trip but also to use it as a springboard to talk about some other subjects in a bit of depth, and in this episode that includes things like modern art (describing some different types of art from the modern period and giving my thoughts on some art work that we saw in a couple of galleries) astronomy and astrology, flat-earth conspiracy theories and probably some other things too, depending on how long this takes! It looks like this is going to be a series of episodes with what I hope will be an interesting variety of topics beyond just me talking about my holiday.
I’m recording this on the same day as I uploaded the last one. So I’m already seeing some messages coming in from people on Twitter and FB and stuff (in response to part 1), so thanks a lot for your kind messages saying congratulations for the fact that we’re going to have a baby.
Ok, let’s carry on!
Just to recap
We went to USA to have a blow-out before the arrival of our baby in December. A final trip just the two of us. Los Angeles via Montreal, then the canyons and Navajo Nation, then back to LA and home again.
Downtown Los Angeles
Tried to go to an art gallery called The Broad. This is a flashy-looking new art gallery. We went to see an interesting installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, but there was a huge queue outside – probably attracted by the installation, which is proving really popular. Apparently it’s called “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” which is…
“a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. This experiential artwork has extremely limited capacity, accommodating one visitor at a time for about a minute” The Broad website.
An installation =a work of art constructed within a space in a gallery.
We ended up in The Museum of Contemporary Art LA, just down the road from the broad.
Also went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) at one point during the trip.
Artists whose work we saw
We saw work by some celebrated artists from several important movements in modern art.
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Cubism, surrealism – mainly in the first half of the 20th century and middle of the 20th century) Jackson Pollock (American, Abstract expressionism – late 1940s) Rothko (American of Russian Jewish descent, Abstract expressionism, 50s and 60s) Franz Kline (American, Abstract expressionism, 50s and 60s) Roy Lichtenstein (American, Pop art, abstract expressionism, 60s) Andy Warhol (American, Pop art, most well-known stuff is from the 60s)
And lots of others too.
Movements in Modern Art
Here’s a timeline of art movements in history from www.dummies.com
I’m describing art movements from the early part of the 19th century.
Contemporary art = art being made now Modern art = art from the modern era – late 19th Century and through the 20th century. Arguably we are now in the post-modern era Cubism (n) = an art movement in which artists went away from realistic representations of things and instead used geometric shapes, different kinds of perspective, lines, as if objects could be viewed from a number of different points of view all at the same time. Things exist in a kind of prism of perspective and the way you or the artist looks at something, changes its form. Surrealism (n) = an art movement in which objects or ideas are presented in a strange way, as if in some kind of dream or perhaps representations of the subconscious mind Abstract (adj) = this concept refers to things that aren’t real or tangible, but which exist in the world of the mind or outside reality as we usually see it (e.g. not just illustrating a bowl of fruit) Expressionism (n) = representing feelings or emotions rather than objects or things Abstract expressionism (n) = the name of the post WW2 art movement that combined the freedom of expression from expressionism and the use of abstract forms Pop art (n) = the name of another art movement, this one involved techniques, methods and styles from popular culture like product design, comic book style or photos of celebrities.
What do you think of contempary art, or modern art?
You might think:
“It’s just a bunch of colours or shapes!”
“Anyone could do that!”
“It’s just a load of pretentious nonsense!”
Very common reactions. I think like that too, quite often, especially if I think it’s not very good art.
What makes art good or bad?
You just know it when you see it. If it really doesn’t move you, please you or interest you, you might say it’s bad art, because ultimately it’s in the eye of the beholder – but not completely, because you also have to invest a bit of time and effort into it and also it helps to understand how the work fits into the overall history of art. You have to have some respect for it in order to start appreciating it as work, and ultimately then it can start to enrich your life in some way, but I think art is quite pretentious, which many people have a problem with.
What does pretentious mean Luke?
Something is pretentious (spell it) when it’s trying to seem important, clever or sophisticated, but it isn’t really.
E.g. talking about a work of art like it is the grandest, most important, most emotionally resonating work of genius in human history, and it’s just a blank piece of paper, or a picture of a willy or something.
I think it’s more than just a willy, it’s a statement about… blah blah blah…
So you might think modern art is rubbish.
Or maybe you’re a fan and you think “I love the way the artist plays with different forms and colours. It’s incredibly liberating and fascinating to experience it. I find it inspiring, moving and fascinating.”
It’s quite difficult to talk about art without sounding pretentious, to be honest.
I have mixed feelings about it. Only the really good stuff tends to move me. I mean, it’s rare that it works on me. But I do enjoy the experience of going around a good gallery, looking at work which has stood the test of time.
I also like talking about it. I like the way modern art or abstract art is so open. You feel like you’re interacting with it, but I always need to talk about it. It’s a chance to be totally open-minded and to try and put it into words.
But it’s not something I’m thinking about all the time.
I’m more moved by music (most kinds), acting, films, TV, books, photography (with real stuff in them – like people’s faces or moments in time captured) but when it’s right modern art can be great. Also it works as decoration, but it’s something you can also look closely at and let your mind wander. (wander like go for a walk, but also wonder meaning think about things, but “let your mind wander” is the right expression”.
Expressionism or abstract expressionism – what’s it all about?
This is just me having a stab at describing abstract art.
It seems to me that it’s about creating abstract spaces with no rules at all.
It’s a system with no external reference points (unlike films) it’s just a series of shapes or forms arranged in space which are designed to create certain emotions or feelings in you at a kind of elemental level, or gut level, or sensory level.
Sometimes thinking about it is what you’re not supposed to do, you just have to experience it. It can be something as simple as how it feels to experience these colours and shapes arranged in a certain way.
It could be the way the colours blend together, or certain forms stand out, or the basic gut reaction you have when looking at the canvas.
It’s supposed to be moving at a very natural level, just the interactions of forms in a physical space.
When you realise that it can be liberating and you feel like you’re entering into a conversation with the artist which is free from the constraints of language.
That’s the idea, but to be honest I often find myself getting absolutely nothing from it.
Art vs the art of nature (pretentious, moi?)
OK, so this is where I’m going to get really pretentious and talk about rocks like they’re works of art, but what are you going to do, sue me?
Some of these work of art were or are created in a way that seems to allow the hand of nature to guide the artist somehow, like Pollock who would often drip paint onto the canvas – he wouldn’t always touch the canvas with his brush, but would somehow involve an element of chance or nature in the way the paint splashed as it fell, combining his own judgement and an element of chaos in terms of how the paint ended up falling on the canvas.
The result is like looking inside the emotional space of the artist and you can feel his experience somehow in a way that you can’t put into words – at the moments of rage, passion, serenity or terror, or just the sense that he was experiencing a lack of control in his life or he was subject to emotions or experiences that he didn’t necessarily have a grip on, and yet experienced in the form of emotion. That sounds really pretentious, I know. But when you look at his work, you can choose to say “this is just bollocks” or you can decide that the guy clearly was very serious about what he was doing so there must be something in it. What was he looking for? Something to do with the balance of colours, the texture created by the many drops of paint and the overall sensory effect it creates.
It’s like entering a mood, and with Pollock that mood isn’t entirely happy.
I have the same feeling with Rothko. He managed to paint these pieces that look like just large blocks of colour, but as you stand in front of them and absorb them, the colours seem to blend slightly and become luminous or darker and you get this sense of depth or space and it fills you with a certain emotion. Often it’s a sadness, wistfulness or even a slight sense of stimulation. It defies description, it’s more of a gut feeling.
And by the way, looking at the real thing is far better than looking at a print or poster version in a frame on the wall of your house.
The real thing is a certain size, presented in certain conditions, proper lighting, you’re seeing the actual strokes of his brush or some sense of how he did it, you see the texture of the finished thing, which is important too.
Going back to Pollock – he would work on these big canvases on the floor and would start from scratch letting the painting develop as he added more and more layers but other artists took a different approach like Franz Klein who would plan his abstract work on a small-scale, just sketching it by hand, before recreating the sketch on massive canvases. What was a few scratched lines on a piece of paper becomes a huge striking piece of work. The effect is a bold mix of broad straight lines that combine in haphazard fashion. We kept thinking his paintings looked like close up images of plane crashes done in black and white, like the vague sense that it looked like a WW1 biplane had crashed. That’s not what they were of course, they were just lines, but the point is that the work has this dynamic urgency. They’re violent, bold and stark. Our brains just interpreted them as somehow like a plane crash.
Those are abstract expressionists.
There are lots of loads of other kinds of art, like pop art (Andy Warhol) which sort of consumed aspects of consumer culture with the idea that art could be mass-produced and that every day consumer objects could be works of art too if presented in that way, and I think we’re still experiencing the influence of that today with things like t-shirts with cool designs on them or the fact that we consume logos and brands as a form of art – on t-shirts, even on posters to decorate our homes. Pop art was also a comment on consumer culture – for example Andy Warhol’s famous work with lots of virtually identical screen prints of movie stars with different coloured backgrounds, or just a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup. It’s like examining everyday branded objects as works of art.
I don’t really understand it all, but it is fun to go to an art gallery, drink a load of coffee and then just stare at this stuff and see what it makes you think about and feel.
Anyone can do art, but to do it well is actually really difficult.
It’s not just a bunch of colours on a canvas, it is backed up by intention, technique and a general appreciation of the aesthetics of shape, colour and texture.
So, we saw some modern art, and it was pretty cool.
But honestly, the art we saw just could not be compared to the truly stunning works of nature that we saw later on in our trip in places like The Grand Canyon – objects and environments that had been formed by natural processes over millions of years.
It seems to me that from the point of view of the observer, the exact same forces are at work.
When you look at art or when you look at a mountain or a rock formation you get the instant emotional and intellectual reaction of seeing these incredible shapes, colours and textures, and you experience the wonder of imagining exactly how they were created and the story that they tell.
I must say I was blown away by the geology we saw on this trip, which I’ll describe in more detail later. It was so stunning that at times I was lost for words and it all resonated with us so much that it was quite hard to come to terms with it.
You might think – oh come on it’s just big rocks. And it is just big rocks of course, but I think we all find these things impressive and I’m just trying to capture that feeling in words.
So, I know this sounds pretentious or something, but literally every day we would arrive at a different location to be greeted by ever more impressive natural spectacles. After spending time in each place, doing some walking, getting quite hot in the sunshine, we would be quite exhausted at the end of each day and we’d have this stunned by stimulated feeling during dinner – trying to comprehend what we’d just seen. We also couldn’t sleep during the night. It was like our brains couldn’t rest until we’d somehow compartmentalized the things we’d seen.
The Grand Canyon is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s so big it makes you feel so insignificant, like a blink in the eye of history.
In some parts of these national parks you’re looking at geological formations that go back something like 500 million years.
And they’re so big that you feel completely dwarfed by them.
This was far more impressive than the modern art we saw, and it made the modern art just look like primitive cave paintings by humans trying to get a grip on the power of basic shapes and colours.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that nature is the most powerful artist out there.
And I say nature, because the whole story of nature is in these rocks.
The whole thing has been created by different natural forces over hundreds of millions of years.
It makes total sense that water, over such a long period, could erode the rock into these unbelievable shapes. That ice would break up the rock, forming bizarre shapes, that what was once a crack in the ground could become a huge open canyon with a river at the bottom.
So, nature is what formed these things, simply through the presence of certain elements on earth and the actions of the laws of physics.
Pretty mind-blowing stuff. But the modern art was a good way to get into the mindset of appreciating the aesthetics of things.
Let me know your thoughts on modern art. Is it amazing, or is it rubbish? Leave your comments below.
…and thanks for listening.
Want to see some examples of the art I described in this episode? Click the links below.
Hi everyone, I’m back from my holiday so here’s a new episode of the podcast. In this one you’ll hear me talking about some recent news (including quite a big announcement) and then an account of what we did on holiday including some descriptions, opinions and stories. There’s talk of disturbing political events, dodgy car rental experiences, and a couple of beautiful cities where urban life meets wild nature. Enjoy!
Some of this text (below) is a full transcript of what I say in the episode, and other parts are just basic notes which I used while recording. So it’s not a 100% complete script.
Hello! I’m back from holiday!
How are you? Did you have a good August? Did you go anywhere?
Let us know in the comment section what you’ve been up to.
In this episode I want to just tell you about my holiday.
As you know, I’ve been away and it’s become sort of customary for me to give you a sort of holiday report whenever I come back from a trip away, so that’s what I’m going to do in this episode.
I’m going to describe places we visited, things we saw and I’ll tell a few little anecdotes along the way and give you my opinions on some things.
You will find some notes and transcriptions on the page for this episode if you want to read some of the words I’m saying, for example if you hear me say something in particular and you’re not sure what it is, check the episode page it will probably be there.
I don’t know how long this is going to be. I might divide it into a couple of episodes. It’ll be as long as it takes for me to just feel like I’ve told you the things that are on my mind and were on my mind while we were away.
Just before we start
Andy interview part 2 (Episode 472) – it seems a lot of people were quite moved by Andy’s story. It was an emotional one. Andy deserves some respect for sharing it with us and for managing to get through such a terrifying experience when he was relatively young. It’s also interesting to see in the comments that many of you have had similar experiences to Andy or your lives have been affected by cancer in some way, and you have used running as a way to deal with it and so you found his account to be particularly poignant. Unfortunately cancer touches many people’s lives in one way or another. But a story in which someone beats it is always a reassuring boost to anyone who knows about it.
Website only stuff – I hope you enjoyed some of the website only material I uploaded while I was away. There are three things in the episode archive that you won’t know about if you just subscribe to the audio podcast. One is an episode of Zdenek’s English Podcast in which he recorded us speaking in London when we met there and we had fun teaching some crime-related idioms and just making up some stuff about my supposed criminal past. The second thing is a DVD commentary track that I recorded with James for Star Wars Episode 4. We just sat down in his flat one evening, put on his Star Wars DVD and recorded our own commentary. That’s just for the Star Wars fans I suppose. You can just listen to it, or watch the film and listen at the same time and you’ll hear James and me discussing the various scenes, making fun of the film, doing some impressions of the characters and generally messing around over the top of the film. Then the third thing is a long musical mix that James and I did using his vinyl record collection. He has a lot of vinyl records, many of them original 7inch and 12inch singles from the 60s, 70s and 80s. We went through his records in a long mix and the plan was to go through a history of British music. THe mix has some speaking between the records and you’ll hear music all the way from 1961 to the mid 90s when we ran out of time. If you like music and you’d like to learn a bit about the UK’s musical history, check it out.
Transcript projects – The Orion Team and Andromeda Team have been busy producing more and more transcripts. You can now find over 250 finished scripts and also many scripts which are 100% proofread. Go to the transcripts page on my website for more info. I’ll be updating that page soon to make it easier for you to find the transcripts.
So, the holiday.
Where did we go? And why?
We wanted to have kind of a blowout – that’s a fairly big holiday as a celebration because my wife is pregnant. Yes, she’s pregnant, we’re going to have a baby so we wanted to go on another big trip while it’s just the two of us before the baby arrives.
That’s right – my wife is pregnant. We’re going to have a baby in December.
That’s kind of a big deal isn’t it?
If you are now thinking of writing to me by email or in the comment section to send me a message about this, and you’re wondering what to write exactly. Here are some things that would be appropriate.
Congratulations! Very happy for you! Fantastic news! That’s great! When is it due? Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Do you have any ideas for names? Are you ready?
Those are some appropriate things.
Basically, congratulating us and wishing us well.
Needless to say, anything other than that would be inappropriate, right?
No doubt some of you will choose to think about the podcast and how that might be affected by this oncoming change in my life.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop doing the podcast because I’m having a baby (correction: my wife is actually the one who is going to have the baby, I’m just going stand there, let her dig her fingernails into the back of my hand and hope for the best.)
It’s true, things are bound to change in my life because of this and certainly at the beginning when the baby is newly born it might be hard to record and upload episodes as regularly as normal, but I definitely plan to carry on the podcast because honestly, this podcast is like my job these days – it is a job because I get income from sponsorship. It is a job I thoroughly enjoy and that I chose for myself.
Confucius: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
But it is a job nonetheless.
So there are several reasons why I plan to continue doing it. I’m not about to just abandon it.
So we chose to have a big trip to celebrate our last summer holiday just the two of us.
This would be our last holiday just the two of us! We kept saying, “It’s our last summer together!”
We’ve always gone abroad for our recent holidays – it seems alternating between parts of Asia and North America. Indonesia, California, Thailand, Japan.
But we think that with kids it would be easier and also safer to go on holiday in France or the UK.
So, this year we wanted one more fairly big trip!
2 years ago we had our honeymoon in California – we had an amazing time and had a few mini adventures involving bears outside tents and injuries on hiking trails (I made something like 8 podcast episodes about it! Called California Road Trip)
But there were things we didn’t manage to do or see on that trip and we always said “We’ll come back and do it next time” – at the time it helped deal with the disappointment of knowing were missing something, like for example the Grand Canyon or something else we really wanted to experience. “We’ll get it next time” we would say.
You can’t always see everything you want.
So this time we decided to have what we’re calling a ‘babymoon’ by going back to that part of the world to do the things we missed out on last time, just as a big final holiday just the two of us.
So, we went back to the USA – to Southern California for some days and then quite a lot of time exploring the National Parks and areas within the Navajo Nation territories. Places like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Monument Valley, Lake Powell and The Grand Canyon. Incredible landscapes, natural scenery and wild beauty – but also the kind of infrastructure that would make it possible for my pregnant wife to see all that stuff without it being too inconvenient or risky.
So this is like the California Road Trip 2 but this time we went to lots of other states too, including Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Back to the USA and for some reason I feel slightly sheepish about telling you that.
Feeling sheepish = slightly embarrassed, uncomfortable or unsure about something.
Maybe because of the political situation over there which is throwing a weird shadow on everything. It feels like a controversial time to go over there, as if you’re somehow taking part in it, validating it or making a statement about it.
There was nothing political about our trip so that has nothing to do with it.
It was hard to escape the politics there though, but only on the TV, mostly.
In our everyday experience we didn’t see any trouble, unrest, no anti-Trump rallies, no white nationalists marching around. We saw a couple of bumper stickers saying MAGA and also a poster that said “Hillary for Prison 2016” but that was it. A couple of people we met talked about how ashamed they were that Trump was their president and seemed surprised that we still wanted to visit the country.
But generally speaking, everyone we met – including people I imagine had voted for Trump and others who hadn’t – everyone was very polite and nice to us and apparently to each other too.
On the TV though, there were scenes of violence and chaos as fighting broke out between white supremacists and anti-facists in Charlottesville Virginia, on the other side of the country.
On TV it was fighting, chaos, debates, angry tweets, all kinds of drama. I took a look at Twitter a few times and there was a lot of quite angry debate on there with strong opinions on both sides – those who were clearly against the white supremacist groups and those who defended them. It felt at times like the country was in turmoil.
Then we looked out of the window and it was just silence, maybe a car driving by.
It just showed me the sharp contrast between the reality of TV and the internet (because I think the internet is the new mainstream media – despite what all the YouTubers think – it’s fast becoming the mainstream media, especially when they get more views than many TV shows). It showed the contrast between what you get in the media, and what you actually experience, but then again we were just tourists and were probably just scratching the surface.
I could go into all the complicated politics of what happened in Charlottesville but I think I won’t, in this episode.
I could describe the reasons why white nationalists were marching through a town in Virginia (on the other side of the country to California), why they were waving confederate flags, why some of them had swastika flags, why they were shouting Trump Trump Trump and MAGA. I could go into how they fought with anti-facist protestors, and how we’re not sure who started the fighting. I could talk about how someone from the white supremacist side drove a car into the anti-facists, killing a woman and injuring 20 others, and I could go into why many people feel so upset and angry with their president for not taking a clear position on these people who some describe as fascists and neo-Nazis, and how lots of people believe Trump is somehow encouraging these people.
I could go into all of that, but this episode is supposed to be about a travelling experience, not about a fight in a town on the other side of the country.
I might come back to it in another episode. I’ll see how I feel.
Paris – Montreal (half a da) – L.A. (a few days) – Vegas (one evening is enough!) – National Parks & Canyons – Vegas (for about 2 hours) – L.A. (a few more days) – Paris – Bed!
Cities and national parks. Urban areas with metropolitan life and amazing geological features in desert canyons.
One afternoon and an evening.
We hung out mainly in the Mont Royal area and the old town.
Reasons Montreal is an awesome place
People are really friendly and polite.
Everyone’s bilingual, which is amazing. It’s shows that it’s totally possible for a whole city to be bilingual. No need to panic and freak out about several languages being spoken in a city at the same time.
It’s really diverse and in a good way because everyone’s really chilled out and there seems to be a lot of mixing between ethnic groups and not a lot of tension or anything.
They have this food called “poutine” which is basically French fries covered in cheese and gravy – not that healthy but it is seriously tasty.
The city has this nice colonial vibe to it and there’s loads of greenery everywhere. In the streets we walked down there were leafy trees, big bushes outside people’s houses, just plants growing everywhere – some of them planted, some of them weeds, but it felt like there was lots of plant life almost taking over the city, which is great. In Paris, it’s all stone and as a result it can feel a bit brutal. The greenery adds some much-needed calm to the place and also oxygen.
The buildings are really cool-looking, with really interesting looking staircases outside them and awesome wrought iron balconies and verandas.
Montreal has access to some amazing wilderness areas like local mountains, lakes and forests so you can get into nature really quickly while also enjoying the benefits of living in a city.
We were walking around going, “oh my word this is the perfect city for us”.
But, the bad side is that in winter it’s totally freezing and everything gets covered in 4 feet of snow, which makes life really inconvenient.
I know some of you listening to this live in similar places. What’s that like? How bad is that really?
Anyway, I loved Montreal and would gladly return there one day.
I like all the space, the convenience, the feeling of being in the ‘new world’, the vast natural landscapes and all that, but it’s Canada so you don’t get the feeling you’re in a completely crazy country where people shoot each other and stuff like that. I’d love to go back to Canada again one day. I did travel there for a month when I was 19 with my cousin Oliver and we had an amazing time then too. We’d very much like to go back there. We were even talking of moving there, but we don’t want to leave our family and friends behind.
Left Montreal and Flew to Los Angeles
Nightmare rental car experience with “Right Cars”.
Arrive and the woman at the info desk doesn’t know the company. Not a good start.
We work out that we need to get a shuttle to a car park a couple of kilometres away from the airport. A car park.
Everyone else is getting out of the shuttle at the proper rental places, getting greeted with smiling service agents from Enterprise and Avis.
We’re the last ones on the bus. Dropped off and told to go around the corner. “Round the corner! Round the corner! Just go on round the corner sir.”
At least they called me sir.
Tried to call them. Call centre hell.
Now I’m on hold in blazing sunshine in a car park, or parking lot.
It’s even called the cell phone lot. There’s no chance of not standing there on your cell phone, that’s the name of the place.
Finally get through to someone. There’s a driver coming.
We’re expecting a shuttle.
Dude turns up in a rental car.
We get in, asking questions. He tells us the shuttles are in the garage. Both of them just broke down this week.
We pick up the car, they add some other charges we didn’t know about like a toll road charge. Never went through a toll road.
And the bill and the receipt didn’t match but we were told it would be sorted out because the guy wasn’t there.
I’d ordered a GPS with it too and he said “Do you still want the GPS?” after we’d already paid.
Nah, that’s fine I took a good look at the city from the plane window, I think I’ve got it all worked out. I’ve played a lot of GTA5 I think I know my way around this city.
I watch a lot of movies, I know LA like the back of my hand, I’ll be fine.
Of course we wanted the GPS. “Do you still want it?”
No it’s ok, I’ve decided to just use the force. Thanks.
What’s it like walking around in LA? (I talked about this a bit in previous episodes)
Like being in a movie
Cool looking little shops and bars.
Hippie stuff everywhere.
Shops selling jewelry and cool clothes.
Constant smell of vaping, but not seeing where it came from.
Vegan coffee shops and stuff.
Amazing sunshine, lazy cars drifting past.
50s style burger joints and dudes on cool bicycles.
Tattoo’d people, bikers.
Stopped at a sports bar.
First hearing of Hotel California (this ubiquitous song that you hear everywhere)
Los Angeles is a big city with millions of people, an urban place where everyone drives, but there is a surprising amount of nature there with lots of wild plants, cactuses, trees, animal life, and hills with tree-filled canyons. You feel like it’s not difficult to get into nature quite easily. It’s not exactly like it is in the movies. In many ways, it’s better.
To be continued in Part 2 with some content about: Modern art, astronomy vs astrology, flat-earth conspiracy theories and more descriptions & stories!
Thanks for listening.
Oasis of calm – in the middle of Silverlake, Los Angeles.
This episode was originally recorded in February 2017 and is being uploaded in August 2017. In this episode I’m going to answer several questions from listeners about accents, including how regional accents occur in the UK and why there are so many accents there. Video available.
There is a very wide variety of accents in the UK (not to mention the accents you find in other English-speaking countries like Ireland, Canada, the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and more. English is a hugely diverse language and in my experience foreign learners of English don’t usually know a lot about the different accents – particularly all the regional varieties in the UK, and they often just find it difficult to understand them, and as a result learners of English can’t enjoy the great variety of sounds in English and the sheer diversity of character and personality you get from the different varieties of English, and therefore it’s worth talking about on the podcast.
This is such a big subject that to do it justice would require me to write a whole book about it. Instead I just do episodes about accents fairly regularly in an effort to cover as much of the topic as possible. For example, I recently did some episodes about British accents that you hear in the Lord of the Rings films, which gave me a chance to talk about the different associations we have with different accents in the UK and how those associations were used to provide some colour and character to the movie versions of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stories. I also did episodes about the accents you might hear in Glasgow and I spoke to Korean Billy about regional dialects and accents too.
Since uploading those episodes I’ve noticed a few comments from listeners wondering why there are so many accents in the UK, so I’ve prepared this episode which I hope will help you understand that a bit more.
The plan, in this episode (or episodes) is to talk about these things
Why there are so many accents in the UK
How our accents develop as part of a natural psychological process
What this means for learners of English and teachers of English
Also, we’ll listen to someone speaking in a Liverpool accent and I’ll help you understand it
So, this episode is about the way people speak, but it’s also about history, psychology, how to learn English, what my friends sound like, and how to understand a football player from Liverpool.
How are all those things connected? Listen on and you’ll find out!
Why do we have so many accents in the UK? (Communication Accommodation Theory)
One of the things I said in those episodes about LOTR was that there is a really wide variety of accents in the UK, and that your accent reveals lots of things about you such as where in the country you’re from and what social background you come from.
Remember, when I say “Accent” this means simply the way that you pronounce the words you’re using.
If you remember, one of the things I mentioned in one of those episodes was a quote from George Bernard Shaw, which said “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”, George Bernard Shaw.
This gives the impression that we all hate each other of course, and I don’t agree. The point which is made by this quote is that we all have prejudices about each other’s accent and this is an expression of the class system probably. That middle class people probably look down on people with strong regional accents and resent people who speak with very posh accents and so on…
Here’s a comment from Nick in response to those episodes.
Nick 2 hours ago – [These bits in brackets are Luke’s comments] What a complicated life there in the UK… Everybody resents each other because of their accents… [we don’t resent each other really, but we do judge each other a bit – we also love each others accents too] Wow I never thought that accents in the UK had such an important role in people’s lives. [Yes, they’re very important indicators of our identity – but they’re also a source of great fun, joy, amusement and celebration] Luke, thanks for this episode. You opened up the UK in a new way for me. Even though I knew about different accents in the UK (and from your podcast too) I somehow didn’t realize the deep meaning of accents in English life. But I don’t really understand how it happened that you have so many accents in quite a small area. I can understand that different levels of society may have different words in their vocabulary, but why they should have SUCH different accents especially when they live in one city or region… maybe it was people’s desire to make something with the language, or at least with pronunciation in order to be somehow unique from others. Like different groups of people or subcultures dress in different clothes or different nations have their own folk costumes.
This is a really good question and there are so many interesting aspects to the answer. I’m now going to try and deal with that question.
Why do we have so many accents in the UK?
It could be explained by “Communication Accommodation Theory” or CAT for short.
Collins dictionary: “Accommodation” – countable noun Accommodation is a kind of agreement between different people which enables them to exist together without trouble. (not a written agreement, but a social or psychological tendency to come closer to each other and form communities based on shared behaviour)
Communication Accommodation Theory suggests that the way we communicate is an expression of our desire or natural tendency to become part of a social group.
Why there are so many different accents associated with different regions in the UK
For example, why people in Liverpool speak differently to people in Manchester, or why the ‘cockney’ dialect came about (more on this kind of thing in a bit)
Why we naturally change the way we speak depending on the people around us
Why speaking to a diverse range of people is very good for your accent
Why native English speakers sometimes change the way they speak when talking to foreigners – e.g. when travelling or meeting a foreign person.
The tendency is to unconsciously adapt.
I’m going to try and deal with all these things, but not quite in that order!
Why native speakers sometimes adapt their language when talking to foreigners
According to Scott Thornbury (a well-known teacher and author of teaching materials and a bit of a legend in the world of English teaching) there are two versions – ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’.
“This is especially obvious in the way we talk to children and non-native speakers, [using] forms of talk called ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’, respectively. Both varieties are characterized by considerable simplification, although there are significant differences. Caretaker talk is often pitched higher and is slower than talk used with adults, but, while simpler, is nearly always grammatically well-formed. Foreigner talk, on the other hand, tolerates greater use of non-grammatical, pidgin-like forms, as in ‘me wait you here’, or ‘you like drink much, no?’”
I’ve seen this happening to some English teachers. They adapt their speech to the students, speaking this weird form of English that’s easy for foreigners to understand but might not be helping them learn.
It’s really difficult to judge it correctly as a teacher. How much do you grade your language, and how do you do it? It’s important to speak correctly – meaning in the sort of full English that you normally would use and in the same way that most native speakers talk to each other, while making sure it’s comprehensible. If you’re too ‘natural’ your students won’t understand you. But if you simplify your English too much, you end up doing this ‘foreigner talk’ which is just not a good model of the language.
I guess this is part of being a good teacher; knowing how to strike the balance between being comprehensible and yet also realistic and natural.
I always try to keep these things in mind when I speak. It’s probably why my voice becomes more and more like standard RP, which I think is just generally accepted to be clearest version of the language, and that’s how I was brought up to speak by my parents. That’s not to say other versions of the language aren’t correct of course, and as I’ve said many times before I love the different accents.
Do I accommodate when I talk to native speakers with different accents?
Yes I do – a bit – I mean, only to accents that are a part of me. I have a few slightly different accents in me and my speech slides in slightly different directions depending on who I am with. They’re not radical changes because I’m still being myself, but my speech does change a little bit. When I’m back in Birmingham my speech becomes a bit more Brummie. When I’m in London it does the same. Only a little bit of course. This is totally normal.
It’s also why it’s important to speak to other people on this podcast because it’s in the interaction with others that language really becomes most alive and natural. When I’m talking to you on my own I speak in my neutral voice, but when I’m in conversation with others you might hear my voice changing slightly. You might not notice to be honest because it’s a pretty mild change. Perhaps it doesn’t happen that much because I am still aware that I’m being listened to by my audience.
For example, when I spoke to Rob Ager from Liverpool about movies last year, my accent didn’t change that much. But maybe if I’d spent the weekend in Liverpool, just hanging out and talking, my accent might have changed a little bit.
When I lived in Japan I spent a lot of time working with people from Australia and apparently I picked up some of that accent – particularly the rising intonation pattern (my friends at home commented on it when I returned to England). So, the conclusion – I do accommodate a bit, but usually to an accent that I have personal history with, and only if I’m exposed to it for fairly long periods of time and when I’m feeling self-conscious it happens less.
Certainly when I’m back in Birmingham my accent changes a bit, because that’s where I spent a lot time when I was younger.
Cat’s question: What are Paul and Amber’s accents?
Amber & I are pretty similar. It’s just RP. Paul speaks RP too but with a bit more local influence. He’s from Kent so he speaks with some traces of a Kentish accent – e.g. glottal stops. “Native speaker” “Excited” Maybe some “th” sounds sound a bit like “d” or “v” sounds.
Some people seem to think that his voice is influenced by French. It isn’t.
That kind of influence would only happen if French was Paul’s first language, and he’d learned English as a second language in adulthood.
That’s not the case – in fact to an extent he learned both languages while growing up. He’s certainly native level in English, and he probably is native level in French too. He certainly sounds it. So, because he’s got, basically, two native level languages, they exist independently in his head and therefore don’t influence each other much in terms of accent. Every now and then it influences his vocabulary but he instantly recognises it and self-corrects. You might have heard him do it on the podcast sometimes.
Paul speaks very clearly, which is evident in the way people always tell him that they can understand what he’s saying. His English accent is influenced more by where he grew up in the south-east of England and by the wide variety of people he’s spoken to in his life. He spent many years travelling with Apple, studying and living in different parts of the UK. RP again is probably the default setting for someone like Paul, when trying to speak clearly, but those glottal stops and some dropped consonant sounds reveal that his most formative time for English was in Canterbury, and he is also not the sort of person to listen to a lot of BBC Radio 4.
Paul is also a natural mimic. He’s able to hold different accents in his head at the same time and switch between them. He’s something of a chameleon in that way. Put him in with a bunch of Scottish people for a long time and he’d probably emerge with traces of that accent I expect. Anyway, when he’s with Amber and me his accent is pretty much like ours but with traces of his Kentish background, which is why he says “Native speaker” like that.
So, that’s a bit about ‘accommodation theory’ in relation to my friends and me.
What about Nick’s original question about the diversity of accents in the UK? I’m going to talk more specifically about that in a moment.
But first let’s check out a funny example of a professional footballer from Liverpool who moved to France to play for Olympique de Marseille football club.
Now this is an example of an English person accommodating to French people around him, and we see that this is certainly not happening to Paul Taylor
Joey Barton’s weird French accent
An example of Communication Accommodation Theory in action.
Who is Joey Barton? What was the situation? (Barton is from Liverpool and usually has a Liverpool accent but in this video he is speaking to a room full of French journalists and so he unconsciously accommodates his English so it sounds French. It’s funny.)
Joey Barton speaking with this weird French voice
He was heavily criticised for this – a lot of people mocked him and called him stupid.
He’s definitely not stupid. Maybe he wasn’t aware of the different ways he could have changed his voice – e.g. speaking with RP probably just wasn’t something that would occur to him. This lad is a scouser through and through. He’s not going to start speaking RP – he’s going to accommodate to the French instead.
The reason he’s doing it, as explained by accommodation theory, is to make it easier for the French journalists to understand him. His Scouse accent is difficult for the French to understand. He was just trying to be intelligible and he ended up accommodating to their speech.
Also he did it to win social approval. I imagine being the only English guy there, in front of all those French journalists, with the pressure of playing for this big club and not speaking French, he wanted to win their approval.
This probably happens in Football quite a lot because of the emphasis on teamwork. I expect during training and while bantering with other players and staff, Barton had to very quickly adapt his speech to be part of the team. I imagine speaking Scouse English more clearly wouldn’t help the French.
(Joey Barton talks about the French accent incident)
It’s not just speech – it’s also non-verbal communication. Barton does a couple of typically French things, including the kind of ‘sigh’ or blowing of air through the lips which is really common (among French people).
According to research we are naturally wired to copy the speech and behavioural patterns of the people we’re talking to. It’s a natural, neurological process that humans engage in when they want to communicate, be understood and be accepted by others.
Significance for Learning English
For learning English this suggests some of the most important ways to improve your English pronunciation and your English in general are to
a) actually communicate with people in real conversations about real things
b) have the desire to understand others and really be understood by others
c) have the desire to share things (info) with the people you’re communicating with
d) have the desire to be socially accepted by the people you’re talking to.
So, spend time talking naturally with English speakers because you want to! Or at least, practise communicating in English not just because you think it’s important for your career or for your English, but because you are genuinely interested in sharing ideas, finding out about people and the world, and broadening the scope of your identity. The more motivated you are by these things, the more you’re opening yourself up to the natural neurological conditions for language learning.
Got it? Talking to different people with good English and who come from diverse origins about things you are interested in, really helps your English and your accent in particular!
Being engaged in genuine communication because you care about sharing ideas is going to help your brain in a natural process of language learning.
Other work helps too – like studying the phonemic chart, analysing the physical ways we pronounce different sounds, how speech is connected and all that stuff, and doing plenty and plenty of mechanical, physical practice. It’s important too, but certainly this theory suggests that our brains are wired to adapt our speech patterns in the right conditions as part of a social process.
But also, it may be vital for you to learn how to accommodate yourself to the English of the people you’re talking to. This from Scott Thornbury:
So, what are the implications for language teaching? In the interests both of intelligibility and establishing ‘comity’, Joey Barton’s adaptive accent strategy may be the way to go. For learners of English, whose interlocutors may not themselves be native speakers, this may mean learning to adapt to other non-native speaker accents. As Jenkins (2007: 238) argues, ‘in international communication, the ability to accommodate to interlocutors with other first languages than one’s own… is a far more important skill than the ability to imitate the English of a native speaker.’
So, when you’re chatting to other non-native speakers in English, how should you make yourself more intelligible in order to establish good relations? Do you suddenly start sounding like Luke Thompson, or do you accommodate to their way of speaking, following the rule of accommodation theory?
What do you think? Feel free to either agree with accommodation theory here, or disagree with it, but do give a good reason why.
But why are there so many accents in the UK?
It’s a really complex question which probably needs to be answered by someone with a PhD on the subject, but here’s my answer!
It’s probably a big mix of geography, culture, politics, history and human nature.
Perhaps it’s because we’re a small nation with quite a high population.
We’re an island (a group of islands actually) so that creates a clear land border – meaning that we’re a bit more ‘penned in’ than some other cultures.
The class system
RP was the standardised version, but ordinary folk spoke in their own way and weren’t expected to speak RP because they knew their place. They could never break away from that. We never had a revolution proclaiming everyone as equal, so working people didn’t take on the standard form of English.
Irregular spelling & pronunciation
The irregular relationship between the written word (spelling) and the spoken version means that the spoken version is perhaps more open to interpretation than others. Our written language is not phonetic, therefore the pronunciation is not tied down. There’s no solid rule book on how to pronounce English. There’s the phonetic chart, but that is based on RP and that’s where the class system comes into it. RP is associated with a certain class of people and then identity politics come into play.
Perhaps the multicultural ‘mongrel’ nature of the Brits has something to do with it. We’re a mongrel nation. Maybe the diversity of accents is the result of this patchwork or melting pot of different people and languages. E.g. Celtic, Nordic, Germanic, Norman French, Gallic French, Latin, Irish Celtic, Scots Celtic, Commonwealth nations like Jamaica, India & Pakistan – especially Jamaica which has had a massive influence the way young people in London speak, and now media, like American and Australian English that we hear on a daily basis.
Our islands have been visited, invaded, populated and influenced by migrating people and their voices for many many years. This goes deep into the past and continues to this day, even though the official version of history will suggest that we have one unbroken family line (The Royal Family that we all learn about in school). There’s a lot more diversity than this narrative would suggest. This could result in a wide variety of influences, creating diversity which is not obvious just by looking at people.
It’s also interesting to me that the narrative of the ‘unbroken line of history’ which we get from the monarchy, is also aligned with a certain way of speaking – this old-fashioned RP which is the standard form. Underneath that standard form, or next to it, there is a lot more variety and diversity.
There was a long period before the emergence of the single unifying monarchy in which the country was essentially split up into different, independent areas, ruled by competing monarchs. Tribalism was seriously important. Think: Game of Thrones. Community, loyalty, rejection of others – these were vitally important principles. It was the breeding ground for different local versions of a language. It must be the same in many other countries.
This relates to aspects of the accommodation theory.
Convergence is when people pull together in a community and naturally speak in the same way to express this shared identity. At the same time there is divergence – pulling away from other communities which could be rivals or whatever. If you’re part of one community you’ll speak like them and you won’t speak like the others. Either you’re in one or the other.
This could account for why people in Liverpool and Manchester speak differently even though the two cities are pretty close. Just look at the football fans to see how much of a rivalry there is between the two cities.
I expect a number of other factors have come together to cause the UK to have this wide diversity. But perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of the diversity because the place is really connected. It’s a pretty small island and we’re all squeezed in together with a clear natural border of the sea, and the industrial revolution happened there bringing the train – mass transport which suddenly brought everyone much closer together, making us a lot more aware of our different versions of English. I imagine if you examined other countries you would find similar differences in accent. The USA, for example, has definite differences, and it’s quite a young country in comparison. So, I expect many countries have similar diversity in accent and dialect. Perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of it in the UK.
We also have the class system which has added another dividing line – another factor which pushes communities together (convergence) or pushes them apart (divergence). Perhaps working class communities held onto their accents as a way of expressing their sense of local identity as a contrast to the less region-specific upper classes, who seemed to be less fixed geographically. E.g. The Royal Family has its own geography, which moves between international borders and not just across domestic community borders. I mean, Prince Phillip for example was born in Greece. The Queen’s ancestors were German. Despite the fact that they are the figureheads for the UK, they are not really fixed to local areas within the country.
This also would apply to the nobility – the proper upper classes, who probably owned land that perhaps their families hadn’t lived on for centuries. I expect one area of England for example was ruled by one family for a period, then another family became the rulers – either by conquest, trade, marriage etc. The ruling class probably were quite mobile. The people who lived and worked on the land, were of that land for generations.
So, working class people have stronger regional accents than upper class people. It’s absolutely nothing to do with so-called “lazy pronunciation”. It’s more to do with identity – strengthening local communities by having their own version of the language. Power, identity and economics.
No governing body to standardise English
Powerful people through their influence have guided the narrative that RP is the standard form – this also happens to be the English that the educated, wealthy class use.
So, that’s my fairly long and rambling answer, Nick.
We’re not finished with accents though. I’ve just talked about how C.A.T. might explain why we have so many accents in the UK, and also what the theory can tell us about things like my accent, the accents of my friends and also how you can work on your accent too. I still plan to spend some more time focusing on specific accents and playing around.
Now, I would like to ask all of you a few questions
How many different accents can you identify in your country?
Are accents in your country related to geography?
Is there a standard accent? Is that accent associated with a particular region?
What attitudes do people have about accents where you come from?
In English, which accent do you prefer? If you don’t know a region, can you think of an individual person whose accent you like? Feel free to say Amber Minogue of course.
If you’ve been shipwrecked and you get washed up on a remote island populated by a local tribe of native people who seem to use English as their main language and yet look like they might be hostile, or hungry, or both, what’s the best way to get into their good books? Speak like me, or speak like them? Or get back in the sea and swim?
Here’s the next part of my conversation with Andy Johnson, recorded at The London School of English a few days ago.
Andy is an English teacher, a father of 2 kids, and also a regular runner. He’s done at least one marathon and a few half marathons, and I thought since many of you listening to this podcast will also be runners (in fact some people will be running right now while listening to this) that it might be interesting to hear Andy talking about his reasons for running, the way he does it, the benefits, the difficulties and all the rest of it. So here’s a conversation about running.
If you’re not into running I would still recommend that you listen to this. You might be surprised at how personal it gets when Andy explains his reasons for training for the London marathon 10 years ago. It turns out that running has special significance for Andy and that running the London marathon was a key moment in his life as it marked a significant milestone for him – and running acts as a regular reminder of a particularly difficult experience Andy had when he was younger.
So, this episode is about running, but it’s also about much more than that. I’d like to thank Andy again for taking part in another episode of the podcast and for sharing so much of his story.
Vocab hunters: Watch out for vocabulary relating to doing exercise, health, fitness, technique, injuries and medical care.
So, without further ado you can now listen to our conversation about running.
I just want to thank Andy again for coming on the podcast and telling us about his story. It was a very interesting conversation and I think the closest we’ve come to having tears on the podcast – it was a moving story but no tears this time! I wonder if you held it together out there in podcast land, or did you start welling up at any moment?
Don’t forget that Andy would like you to take his survey about self-directed learning. You can find a link to that on the page for this episode. Andy just wants to know about how you learn English on your own, outside of the classroom environment, and that includes how you use LEP to help with your English.
Click the link, the questionnaire will take a couple of minutes and you’ll help Andy with research for his next IATEFL conference talk.
That’s it for this episode. Watch out for some website-only content coming soon. Subscribe to the mailing list to get informed when that is released.
I hope you are continuing to have a good August, if indeed it is August as you listen to this. I’m still on holiday, relaxing and having a lovely time, I hope – I’m actually recording this before I went on holiday, so this is a very weird time situation. Which tense should I be using here, because I’m actually recording right now, in the past, but as I’m talking it’s the future, so my present is your past and your present is my future, so that’s the present past perfect future continuous or something. I am will have been being having a great time and I will have been had been hoped that you will be being having a wonderful time too, in the future.
Thanks for listening to this episode and I’ll speak to you again soon. Bye!
Today on the podcast I’m talking to Andy Johnson my friend and former colleague from the London School of English, who also looks a bit like Moby if you remember.
Andy has been on this podcast 4 or 5 times before so if you’re a regular listener you’ll know his voice already.
Andy is an English teacher, a marathon runner and a father of two children – in fact his second son was born very recently.
In this conversation you will hear us talking about:
The pain of stepping on Lego
Recording the podcast in what used to be the boss’s office at The London School of English
Developments in Andy’s job and his career
Andy’s next conference talk about self-directed learning
Where Andy comes from and his accent, including the ways we both say certain words like “Bath, grass, laugh, podcast, ask and after.”
The time when my Dad visited The London School of English
British and American people speaking English
This is part one of a two part conversation.
Without any further ado, here is part 1.
At the next IATEFL conference Andy is planning on doing a presentation about self-directed learning. You heard him talking about it in this episode.
Andy would like some help from you in preparing for the talk. He needs to do some research and he’d like to ask you a few questions about your English learning, particularly how you use this podcast, my website and any other resources for learning English.
He’s created a quick questionnaire and you can find it on the page for this episode. Click the link, answer the questions and you’ll help Andy a lot in his next presentation.
It basically asks how useful LEP / teacherluke.co.uk and other sites are for learning English and how you find these sites. Andy also asks whether you pay for – or would pay for – additional language tuition. He’s trying to investigate why people are choosing LEP over traditional language courses (if indeed they are).
Stay tuned for the next episode, coming soon, in which you will hear Andy talk about his very personal reasons for training to run the London marathon – and I have to say that the conversation was much more surprising than I had expected and was also quite moving for a few reasons, so check that one out when it arrives.
Don’t forget to join the mailing list so that you’ll get email notifications whenever new episodes are uploaded over the coming days and weeks, and don’t forget to watch out for some website-only content coming soon too.
Thanks for listening and have a great morning, afternoon, evening, night or day whichever part of the world you’re in and whatever you’re up to.