Tag Archives: short story

890. The Simulation (Learn English with a Short Story)

Learn English with a short story. This one is about a man called Edward, who lives an ordinary stress-free life in London, until one day he notices something extraordinary while walking to work, and his world is never the same again. Follow the story, and then let me explain some vocabulary to you. To practise your pronunciation, consider repeating the lines of the story after me.



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Read my vocabulary notes 📝 👇

The Simulation

As the grey light of dawn filtered through the curtains,

Edward Wilson stirred in his bed.

To filter through – phrasal verb

The sunlight came through the windows and the curtains acted like a filter. The sun was less bright (describes a texture or certain look)

Other examples
This water is pure and clear, having been filtered through layers of rock and sand
In Van Gogh’s paintings, the world is filtered through his unique perception of the world, resulting in a unique style

Air – filtered through a purifier

To stir = move slightly (like a person or an animal waking up)
(also stir meaning mix a drink – homonym)

His hazel eyes blinked open, and he yawned, stretching his lean frame.

Hazel – eye colour (brownish green with some amber or gold)
Most common eye colours: Brown, blue, hazel (includes amber), green, grey
Lean = (adj) thin, but healthy – without a lot of fat We also use lean for business processes – meaning efficient and without waste
Frame = his body, especially with reference to his size or build (in this case – lean)

The pale sunlight streamed across the perfectly clean sheets of his bed, and across his spotless floor.

To stream across
stream = when air, light, liquid or gas flows out continuously
A stream = a continuous flow of liquid, air, or gas.
“Jane blew out a stream of smoke”
To shine across but in streams
(shafts of light, rays of light, beams of light, streams of light)
The light shone, beamed, streamed out/down/across/in etc
Streams of water. To stream music or movies.

Spotless = perfectly clean
“I want that car to be completely spotless by the time I get back – I want to be able to see my own reflection in the roof of it” “But it’s a convertible!” etc

He moved back the curtains, pulled open his window blind and stood, squinting at the silent city below his window.

Window blinds

Roller blinds, venetian blinds (in slats), Roman blinds (fold as you raise them), electric blinds
shutters (on the outside) curtains (we know)

To squint = To look with your eyes partly closed because you are trying to block out light (like me in the Walk & Talk Paris episode)

Another day in the sprawling metropolis of London awaited him, or so he thought.

Sprawling = spreading out far and wide in a haphazard fashion (in a disorganised or random way) like the way a city does

It could also be:
things in nature (a forest or desert)
A sprawling story
A sprawling universe
Anything that spreads out large and wide

A metropolis = a very large city, particularly a huge capital city

Awaited him = waited for him (a more formal/literary style – sometimes more formal language is used in literature to create a more serious tone)

Edward was a software engineer, working diligently at a prestigious tech firm in the city.

To work diligently / to be diligent = to work hard, with a lot of care and attention
Prestigious = high status, a lot of people respect it or think it’s good – a top, high level company
A tech firm = a technology company (probably software systems, or AI or something like that)
A firm = a type of company
A law firm, a tech firm, an investment firm

His life was a predictable routine of coding, coffee, and occasional nights out with friends.

Predictable = you know what is going to happen because it’s always the same – easy to predict (and therefore boring)
A routine = the things which you always do, every time (describe Edward’s routine)

His days were ordered, tidy, and conveniently empty.

Ordered = everything arranged in a certain way, things are put in a clear structure or arrangement – no mess
Organised is a synonym, but ordered suggests that things are neat, tidy, structured with no mess
Conveniently empty – empty – nothing in them – no serious commitments.
This is convenient because it makes life easier for him.

He wasn’t troubled too much by anxiety or stress, despite his demanding job, and the busy pace of life in the city.

To be troubled by something / bothered / inconvenienced (that’s less strong)
A demanding job = a job that demands a lot from you (asks you to do a lot of things) – hard work, energy, commitment, time, mental load (a demanding job is a difficult job)
Pace of life = speed of life

He had no specific emotional ties or commitments.

Ties = things that attach you or limit your freedom in some way
Things that tie you down → girlfriend, wife, kids
Ties or commitments (these are synonyms)
(it’s not uncommon to have several synonymous words used together for emphasis or style)

He was free to live how he wanted, spending his free time exactly as he pleased.
However, there had always been a certain feeling in the back of Edward’s mind, a sense that something in his life was not quite right.

In the back of your mind = it refers to thoughts or feelings which are there but you don’t think about them directly or clearly, not dominating your thoughts.

They’re there in the background and might give you a certain general feeling in your life. They might influence the way you think or behave.
For Edward, although life seems ordered and fine, something is still not quite right.

Something was missing.

One brisk autumn morning, as Edward was strolling along the Thames Embankment on his way to work, he noticed something unusual.

Brisk = bright, energetic, fast paced, lively, fresh.
A brisk morning
A brisk walk
Strolling = walking in a fairly relaxed way

An object hung in the air above the pavement up ahead.

Hang – hung – hung
Was suspended (somehow) – just in the air
The pavement (UK) – the sidewalk (US)

Edward walked on for a closer look.

To walk on = to continue walking
“On” is sometimes added to a verb to mean “continue doing it”
To move on
To drive on
To carry on
To talk on
To read on
To ramble on
To dream on

A seagull was frozen mid-flight, suspended in the sky like a photograph.

A seagull (or just gull) is a type of bird that often lives near the sea (but sometimes in land too – often near water)
You often see them at the beach
They can be seen in London, particularly by the river
Mid-flight = in the middle of flying (an adverb to modify the adjective “frozen”)

Pedestrians around Edward seemed oblivious as they hurried on, engrossed in their conversations or with their faces locked to their phones.

Pedestrians = people walking
Oblivious = with no idea that something is happening
To hurry on = to move on in a hurry
To be engrossed in something = completely involved in it, completely focused on it and not aware of other things
Engrossed in a book / engrossed in an episode of LEP (take care when driving and operating heavy machinery)

Edward reached out to touch the frozen seagull, but it vanished in front of his eyes.

Reached out = stretched his arm to touch the bird
Adding OUT emphasises that he has to reach his arm quite far away

Edward snapped his hand back suddenly, and stared at the spot where the seagull had been, just seconds earlier.

Snapped his hand back = moved his hand back very quickly
Snap = a very fast, sudden movement
A crocodile snaps its jaws
It also refers to something breaking and making a sound (I snapped my pencil, a stepped on a piece of wood and it snapped)
In all cases it refers to quick, sudden movement

He glanced around, to see if anyone else had noticed.

He looked around quickly in different directions.
Glance = look quickly
Glance around = in different directions

But nobody was watching. The world around him seemed utterly normal.

Utterly = completely
They’re synonyms – but “utterly” expresses a slightly more extreme feeling.
It’s more emphatic
That was utterly boring
That was utterly disgusting
That film was utterly ridiculous

…and yet for Edward, things would never be the same again.

Slowly, a strange feeling came over him.

A feeling comes over you = the feeling gradually arrives, you gradually start to feel something
A feeling of tiredness came over me.
Nervousness came over me.
A feeling of excitement came over me.

He felt a shiver run down the length of his spine as he remembered a quote from a famous physicist –
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

A shiver = a cold feeling that makes you feel uncomfortable / when your body shakes probably because it’s cold or you’re afraid
To run down the length of his spine = this shiver moved from one end of his spine to the other
Length, width, height, depth
Merely = only, just, no more than (we use it to say something is not that important)
“He’s not important. He’s merely a English language podcaster. He doesn’t pose a threat to us.”
Albeit – this is like “but”, “although” or “even though” but it is followed by a noun, adjective or adverbial phrase, but not a clause with a verb in it. It means “although it is”.
Although is followed by a clause with a verb:
Reality is an illusion, although it is a very persistent one.
Albeit, isn’t
Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
The music was great, although it was a little loud for my tastes.
The music was great, albeit a little loud for my tastes.
Why use it? It gives a slightly more sophisticated literary style.

Edward spent the day working in his usual focused way.

He didn’t mention the bizarre frozen seagull to any of his colleagues, but his curiosity was piqued and that evening he decided to delve deeper.

To pique something (works with fixed expressions)
Fixed expressions
To pique your interest
To pique your curiosity
The title of the episode really piqued my interest
It aroused or stimulated my interest.
It’s not peak (high point) or peek (a quick look) (homophones)

To delve into something (to look/search deeply into something)
To delve deeper (to investigate more profoundly) search for more information

He started by searching online for the quote he had remembered which led him down a rabbit hole of philosophy, quantum physics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Down a rabbit hole
Like in Alice in Wonderland, when she follows a rabbit down a hole and gets lost.
Going down a rabbit hole means getting very interested in a specific topic and reading about it, researching it and getting lost in the subject.
E.g. if you believe that the earth is flat, you might go down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about it, reading more and more things and sort of getting deeply obsessed with it
In this case, Edward goes down a rabbit hole of philosophy, and physics related to virtual reality and quantum science (in order to investigate what he has seen)

He searched for sightings of similar anomalies, witness accounts and stories from other people like him.

A sighting – when someone sees something (UFO sightings, ghost sightings)
Anomalies – things which are not normal, not expected – in this case, apparent “glitches” in reality.

He got lost in that rabbit hole for months, as the world moved around him, normal life passing him by.

To pass you by = to go past without stopping
I stood by the side of the road and watched the parade of musicians passing me by.
Focusing on my studies (or being a housewife) means I haven’t lived a full life! So many opportunities have passed me by!

Every day was the same.

The busy world of work and commuting, somehow softened by that pale London sunlight.

Commuting = travelling from home to work (when you live in a different place to where you work)
To commute
A commute
A commuter
A commuter train

But in the evenings, and at night time, he studied.

The more he learned, the more convinced he became that his world, his life, was not actually real. It was just some sort of illusion.

Every day, the world around him – the people at work, the office spaces and lunchtime cafes, the passers-by in the street – everything became less and less convincing.

A passerby (one word) is a person who walks past you, or passes you by in the street
The plural can be passersby (one word) or hyphenated passers-by
Not ❌ passerbys and not passersbys ❌

Edward began to feel trapped. Like a prisoner inside a huge trick.

One evening, as he stared into the glow of his computer screen, Edward received an unexpected email.

Glow = the light which comes out from his screen
The glow of a fire
The glow of a screen
The glow of the city lights

The sender’s name was ‘Seraphina’.

The message was mysterious and intriguing:

“Meet me at Westminster Bridge, at midnight.”

it read.

Intriguing = very interesting because it is unusual or mysterious
An intriguing question
She has an intriguing personality
An intriguing fact

The invitation, the name, the sudden yearning for human connection – it leapt into Edward’s heart.

To yearn = to have an intense feeling of longing or desire for something, especially something you can’t have. It has romantic or emotional connotations.
Yearning for human connection
Yearning for love
Yearning for solitude
Yearning to travel the world
Yearning for a simple life in the countryside
Yearn for something / yearn to do something

To leap = to jump quickly and quite a large distance
Leap – leapt – leapt
A tiger would leap at an animal it wanted to attack
To leap into – We we were driving through the safari park, a leopard leapt into the car!
Fear leapt into my heart

He knew it could be a scam, but he just couldn’t resist the temptation.

A scam = a trick to deceive someone, usually in order to steal their money
You get a message on your computer saying that there is a security problem and a data breach and you need to download certain software, or to give your bank details to pay for someone to repair your computer.
It’s a scam because either it’s fake and they just want your money, or because they want to get access to your bank account.

Scam emails – asking for you to send your personal information because they have money to give to you.
Often the email looks like an invoice – it says “Please find attached your invoice for $568. Let us know if any information is missing.”
but it’s a phishing scam designed to make you download the attached file, which actually contains some sort of malware which hacks your computer.

In this case, Edward is worried that it’s a scam and someone just wants to rob him.

He arrived at the bridge at the stroke of midnight, the imposing Big Ben looming out of the shadows above him.

At the stroke of midnight = when the clock “strokes” midnight – when the hand of the clock touches 12
When the clock strikes 12 (this means a bell ringing or chiming at 12 o’clock)

To loom (over/above/out)
If something looms – it’s a large object or thing, which appears in a threatening way – often over you or above you.
A building looms out of the shadows.
A huge ship loomed above us.
Clouds loomed over us in the sky.
A huge monster loomed over us.
The mountains loomed in the distance.

In the story, Big Ben (actually the Tower of Westminster) looms out of the shadows – creating a scary atmosphere.

The streets were deserted, and the moon cast eerie shapes on the ground in the half light.

Deserted – nobody there
Cast – projected, sent out (broadcast, podcast)
Eerie – strange and a bit creepy, scary or unsettling
Eerie music played during the horror film
An eerie atmosphere in the church at night
The moon cast Eerie shapes – the moonlight projected strange, scary shapes on the ground)

As he waited, the tower’s chimes resonated through the night, and he turned to see a woman emerging from the shadows.

Chimes – the sound of a bell
Resonated – when sounds carry through the air, ring out, reverberate
Sounds can resonate – the sound carries or continues
Things can resonate with you – meaning they have an emotional impact – you feel the emotional resonance (vibration) of it.
Luke, your story really resonated with me. I felt similar to the main character. I was able to identify with him.
To emerge = to come out

Seraphina appeared to Edward like an enigma, her features shrouded in darkness.

An enigma = a mystery or puzzle that you have to work out
Someone’s features = the shape or characteristics of their face or body – the way their face or body looks
Strong features, soft features.

To be shrouded in darkness
A shroud is like a long cloth that might wrap around your body and head, protecting you.
In this case, Seraphina appears shrouded in darkness.
The darkness covers her body. Maybe she is wearing a dark coat and a hood. Maybe she is standing in the shadow of the tower or trees. Edward can’t see clearly what she looks like.

“You’re Edward, the one who’s been searching for answers,” she said.

Edward nodded. “Yes, I am”.
He paused
“… and you are?”

To nod your head
What’s the opposite?
to shake your head

“Call me Seraphina. I’ve been watching you, Edward. I believe you’re right, about this world.”

Her eyes met Edward’s. She paused.

Edward’s heart raced.

“What do you want from me?” he said.

“I need your help, Edward. We need your help” Seraphina replied.

“What are you talking about?” said Edward.

“Edward. You are not alone. There are others. We’re forming a resistance. We want to break free from all this and uncover the truth behind what’s really going on.”

Edward paused.

“What, like in The Matrix?” he said.

“Don’t mention that” whispered Seraphina, glancing away for a moment.

She turned back to Edward.
“Look. Just join us” she said.
“We need someone like you. With your skills.”

Edward hesitated but found himself drawn to Seraphina.

If you are drawn to someone, you feel like you are moving towards them, like you’re being pulled in their direction.

For once, things didn’t seem so ordered, and empty.

Ordered – neatly organised, tidy

“Wait” said Edward.
“One question.
Are you… real?”

“Yes. I am real.” said Seraphina, resolutely.

Resolutely = done with firm determination, with strong resolve
She said this with strength, integrity, courage and self-assuredness.
She’s definitely telling the truth and she means it.

Edward paused.

“But how can I be sure?”

He said.

“Well” Seraphina replied.
“You’ll just have to take my word for it, won’t you?

Now, will you join us Edward?”

You’ll just have to take my word for it
= you’ll just have to believe what I say, without further proof or evidence.
I can’t prove it with evidence, so you will just have to take my word for it – you’ll just have to believe what I say.

Edward stood still, his mind turning.

He glanced at Seraphina again.

“OK. I’ll help” he said.
“But how?”

In her hand Seraphina held a small, unassuming device.

Unassuming = doesn’t look very special. Modest, Humble.
Ordinary looking.

“This is a disruptor. It can manipulate the fabric of our world, of… the simulation.”

A disruptor is something that disrupts things – to interrupt or disturb.
To stop something from working normally. Stops a system, process or event from working normally.
The traffic was disrupted by an accident.
The the government’s website was disrupted by a hacker, who wanted to cause problems, as a protest.
This disruptor probably disrupts the simulation, somehow. (conveniently this is unexplained but you just have to go along with it)

To manipulate something = to control it
The fabric of our world / the fabric of time / the fabric of space
Fabric literally means a kind of woven material, like wool or cotton.
The fabric of space/time/reality/our world = our world is like a fabric made up of lots of strands woven together
It means “the structure of our world”

“The what?” Edward interrupted.
“What did you call it?”

“There’s no time to explain, Edward, but I think you know, don’t you?”
Seraphina continued.

“Edward. You have skills that I don’t have, ok?
I need you to locate the core, the central computer that controls our world, and disrupt it, with this.”

She held the device out to him.

“So? Are you in? Will you come with me?

Edward took one look into Seraphina’s dark eyes and felt himself hurtling through time.

Hurtling = moving at a very fast speed, in a slightly uncontrolled way

He nodded resolutely. “OK”

Done with firm determination

Together, they embarked on a journey that would challenge everything Edward knew about his so-called reality.

To embark on a journey (formal, literary – to set off, to start a journey)
So-called ← we use this to say that people call it this, but we are skeptical about it, and want to question it
“The so-called expert couldn’t answer basic questions about the subject.”
“Her so-called friends abandoned her when she needed them most.”

They visited hidden pockets of the city – places that he had never noticed before.

Pockets of something = small isolated places or groups of things (in this case – hidden ones)
Pockets of civilisation in the wilderness
Pockets of wealth in an otherwise poor country
Hidden pockets of the city

Doorways he had passed without a second glance

Without looking at / without noticing / without checking again / without thinking about
“She’d always walked past him without a second glance – assuming there was nothing interesting about him at all”

Dark corners where walls left gaps into vast undiscovered chambers and corridors,

Gaps – empty spaces
Vast – huge, massive, enormous, gigantic
Undiscovered – nobody had discovered them before
Chambers – huge rooms, or caves

shadows under trees which revealed themselves to be the mouths of unseen tunnels, all leading to the underworld.

The mouth of a tunnel

Here they met others who had also seen through the reality of the simulation, each with their own stories to tell.

To see through something
= to see something as it really is, to see beyond the way it looks on the surface

Over time, Edward and Seraphina grew closer.

As Edward’s love for Seraphina blossomed amidst the chaos of their quest, he felt a growing sense of purpose.

Blossomed = developed, grew, like blossom (on a tree)
Describes something growing and in bloom (with flowers growing)
Amidst = in the middle of
Chaos = total disorder, a situation where everything is completely confusing and disorganised
A sense of purpose = purpose = a reason why something is done = a sense of purpose is the feeling that there is a reason or objective for what you are doing
You understand the purpose of it, you understand why you are doing it

It was a love forged in the belief that they were both fighting for the ultimate truth – the chance to live a human life, in the real world.

To forge something = to make it from metal, using a lot of heat
This is a metaphor, meaning to make something with a lot of work and time
“We forged a strong friendship while travelling together, or while working together”
Passive: “Our friendship was forged on the battlefield”
Sounds literary and quite impressive, dramatic

But their journey was not without peril.

Peril = danger / a situation in which there is a lot of risk or threat of harm
To face the peril of crossing the street in Hanoi as a tourist.
Climbing to the top of the mountain involves great peril as you have to walk along very narrow paths and climb up vertical cliffs

On their way, they encountered those who guarded the simulation, and who had been watching them

To encounter someone or something = meet, come across
On our walk through the forest we encountered a bear with its cubs.
The bear saw us as a threat and attacked us, and we died. 🤷
Those” = the people / those people
Again – literary style
And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious
anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers
And you will know
My name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee! (Pulp Fiction / The Bible)

There are those who disapprove of all forms of gambling.
Those who saw the performance thought it memorable.

Formidable adversaries programmed to maintain the illusion of reality.

Formidable – strong, big, powerful – inspires fear, respect, awe – like a big, powerful warrior which you have to fight against
An adversary = someone you have to fight against, an opponent or enemy
Not just used for battles – could be for legal cases, sporting competitions etc
Adversarial (adj)
Strong enemies

Fierce battles ensued, sometimes beyond the confines of normal life, blending the lines between digital hallucination and tangible reality.

Fierce = very aggressive, intense, violent
Often for dangerous wild animals “The fierce lion roared, displaying its dominance over the territory.”
But other things too “Fierce winds battered the ship throughout the night”, or “Fierce battles took place”
Ensued = happened after, followed – happened as a result
Beyond the confines = outside the limits – in this case (on the edge of normal life, or on the edge of reality/the normal world)
Blending the lines = making the lines less clear (the lines between reality and a digital simulation)
A hallucination = things that you see or har which aren’t there – like if someone has taken a drug or is mentally ill
Digital hallucinations = somehow caused by digital code (I don’t understand how that could work)
Tangible = something that can be touched, felt and is therefore real and not imaginary or abstract
Tangible evidence of fraud
Tangible improvements in productivity
Tangible assets = physical assets that a company owns – e.g. buildings or machinery (as opposed to intangible things like debt owed to the company)

One moonlit night, Edward and Seraphina faced their most formidable adversary yet,

Moonlit = lit by the moon (to light – lit – lit)

a towering figure cloaked in shimmering pixels and black light, barring their way.

Towering = very tall, like the Tower of Westminster
Cloaked = wrapped in some kind of large material (a cloak) synonym of “shrouded”
Shimmering = shining and glittering
Pixels = individual units of light used in computer displays
Black light = a kind of ultraviolet light which is invisible to the human eye
Barring – to bar – barred – barred = to block someone from going somewhere
He was barred from entering
A car barred the way.
They were barred from the competition for cheating.

Edward activated the disruptor.

The world around them trembled, and the guardian faltered.

Trembled – shook slightly
Faltered – hesitated or stumbled (he lost his balance, fell slightly, stopped, was disrupted)

Seraphina seized the moment and struck a decisive blow, shattering the guardian’s code into fragments.

Seized = grabbed / took (normally take or grab with your hands, but you can also seize a moment, seize the day)
Strike a blow = strike = hit, a blow = an impact (she hit him or kicked him)
Shattering = breakinging into many little pieces (fragments)
Like if you drop a pint glass out of a window, or if you drop a big piece of glass on the ground, or if you do a roundhouse kick to a formidable warrior made of pixels in a digital simulation

With the guardian defeated, they pressed on, beyond the city limits, following a faint signal emanating from the disruptor in Edward’s hands.

Press on = keep going with some difficulty, like on a tough journey
Faint = weak (faint signal, faint sound, faint writing)
Emanating = coming from, coming out from (coming from a point of origin)
Resonate = vibrating through (the chimes of big ben resonated through the streets, the sound emanated from the bell in the tower)

It led them deep into the industrial wastelands on the far outskirts of the city, to a seemingly ordinary building.

Wastelands = areas where things used to happen but not any more – there are old things lying around, everything is old and damaged and wasted
Industrial wastelands = areas that used to be used for industrial activity (factories, warehouses) but now are unused
The outskirts = the areas on the edge of the city
Outskirts vs suburbs
Suburbs = residential areas around the outside the city (often nice places where there’s a bit more space and lots of homes)
Outskirts = also areas around the city, but the very edge, where the city becomes more rural – less populated, might include unpopulated areas

Inside, they found an unassuming room with one single computer terminal.

Unassuming = looks normal, not special, ordinary no reason to believe there’s any danger

A single cursor blinked on the screen.

Cursor = the little thing that blinks on a screen, showing where you can type. You move it with the mouse or trackpad, or with the keyboard

Edward approached the terminal, his hands trembling with anticipation.

Trembling = shaking slightly
Anticipation = with expectation of what’s going to come, getting ready for what’s coming

As he connected the disruptor, the room seemed to ripple, revealing its true nature.

Ripple = move in waves, like the surface of water (e.g. a calm pond if you throw in a small stone – the pond ripples)

It was a control centre, the hub of the simulation.

Hub = central point where things are all connected together
An internet hub = a kind of router where all the computers are connected to the internet
A transport hub = a place where lots of transport systems all meet (like Heathrow Airport or St Pancras station)
In this case – it was the central control centre for the simulation, and where all branches of the simulation were connected (or something)

The screen displayed a message:

“Welcome, Edward Wilson. You have come far. But do you really want to know the truth?”

Edward hesitated, his mind racing with doubts and fears.

He glanced at Seraphina who nodded encouragingly.

With determination, he typed a single word, “Yes.”

Instantly, the simulation began to unravel.

Unravel = come apart into different strands
If you have a woolen sweater, with one loose piece of wool. Pull it and the whole sweater will unravel.
The strands of the fabric will come apart.
If you have wound up some string and it all comes apart.

The cityscape dissolved into streams of code, and Edward and Seraphina found themselves standing in a vast, featureless void.

Dissolved = something solid turned into lots of tiny particles and disappeared
Dissolve some aspirin in water
The cityscape = the landscape of the city – turned into lots of tiny streams and disappeared
Vast – huge, massive, enormous, gigantic
Featureless = with no features, blank, empty
Void = a space with nothing in it at all (like a vacuum)
The world around them slowly disappeared leaving them in a completely blank, empty space

Edward looked at Seraphina.
“That was too easy”, he said.

Suddenly, the sound of a voice echoed around them, a voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

Echoed = The sound bounced around and repeated (like when you shout in a tall stairwell or in a large stone room with a high ceiling, or a cave)
To echo / an echo
There’s an echo on the line. Your voice is echoing.

“Congratulations, Edward Wilson. You have chosen the path of truth.

But remember, reality is a complex tapestry,
and the threads of your existence are intertwined with the lives of countless others.”

A complex tapestry
A tapestry is a kind of work of art made from many threads of material – often making a large picture (a bit like a curtain or a carpet)
You start with a kind of mesh, and attach lots of threads of cotton or wool of different colours, making designs or a picture
Reality is a complex tapestry with many threads of existence all woven together.
Intertwined = the threads are all attached or wrapped up together – all connected
(like the cables of your headphones when you leave them in your pocket – tangled, but intertwined suggests something more organised)
Countless others = so many other people that you can’t count them
In real life your existence is connected very closely to millions of other people – you don’t live alone, but everything you do affects people around you.
Edward lived a sort of convenient isolated life in the simulation, but it’s not like that in the real world. It’s more complicated.

“Life in reality is neither simple nor easy. You must always choose, and choose wisely, for yourself, and for others.”

“What’s he talking about?” said Edward, turning to Seraphina.

But all of a sudden Seraphina seemed to slip away from him.

Slip away – move away gradually, as if she was standing on an icy hill and started sliding back

In the next few moments, Edward felt a profound sense of disorientation as his memories and experiences shifted and merged with the things around him.

Profound = deep and strong
Disorientation = confusion – not knowing where you are, which direction you are in, up, down, left, right – lost and confused.
Shifted = moved, changed position
Merged = combined or mixed together
(mergers and acquisitions)

(he’s coming out of the simulation)

He saw glimpses of different lives, different choices, all part of the intricate tapestry of the simulation.

Glimpses = quick looks
Catch a glimpse of something
To glimpse something
To glance at something
To glance around, etc

He saw himself and Seraphina living different, separate lives, never meeting, never knowing each other.

Panicking, Edward shouted for it to stop.

Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the void collapsed, and Edward and Seraphina finally found themselves back in the real world, or so it seemed.

They stood on a hill overlooking the city, bathed in the warm light of dawn.

Overlooking = above, in a higher position where you can see the whole thing
My apartment overlooks a junction
My balcony overlooks the park
This hill overlooks the city (Primrose Hill in London)
Bathed – covered in light (bathe means lie in water, but also cover something in a warm light)
Dawn – the sunrise
Dusk – the sunset

The cityscape was familiar, yet subtly different.

The cityscape = the Landscape of the city
Subtle = with very slight details, nuanced
Subtly different → different in ways which are not completely obvious, small differences

Seraphina turned to Edward, a knowing smile on her lips.

A knowing smile = a smile which shows that the person knows something
In this case – she knows that they did it. They escaped the simulation, or ended it.

“Welcome to the real world, Edward,” she said. “We made it”.

We made it (doesn’t mean we created it) it means “We did it!”
“We were successful – we managed to arrive somewhere”
We’re late, but we made it! It took a long time but we made it in the end.
We’ll never make it at this rate.

Edward gazed at the transformed city, a sense of awe and wonder filling his heart.

Gazed = Looked at something with wonder (differnt to just “stare” – gaze is with a look of wonder or amazement)
A sense of awe (wow – this is awesome) when something is breathtaking, incredible,
A sense of wonder

The love he felt for Seraphina was real, and the truth they had uncovered was the most exhilarating adventure of his life.

Uncovered = Revealed
Exhilerating = Exciting and intense (like a rollercoaster ride)

As they embraced, the sun rose over the horizon, casting its golden rays upon a world that was now truly their own.

Embraced = held each other in their arms (hug, cuddle, difference?)
Embraced is more formal, literary, dramatic sounding. Hug sounds like what you do when you see your grandma.
Cuddle is what you do with a teddy bear on the sofa – lasts longer.

“You see?” said Seraphina.

“See what?” said Edward.

“I am real”

She said.

A smile arrived on Edward’s face.

And as Seraphina smiled too, he kissed her lips, and she kissed him back.

And that was when the explosions began.

What does the ending of the story mean to you?

875. Aepyornis Island by HG Wells (Learn English with a Short Story)

Learn English with another short story. I’ll read the entire story to you, and then go through the text again explaining and clarifying the main events and plenty of vocabulary. This is a wonderful adventure story written by HG Wells, a very influential and imaginative English writer from the late 19th century. The story is full of vivid descriptive language, action, adventure and extraordinary moments. I hope it captures your imagination and lets the English come alive in memorable ways. PDF available below.



Get the full episode PDF here 👇 

872. The Birthday Party (Learn English with a Short Story)

🎧 Learn English with a short story. 🗣 Listen & repeat after me if you’d like to practise your pronunciation. 💬 Learn some vocabulary in the second half of the video. This is a story about people watching and what you can notice about people’s relationships if you are observant enough.


📄 Click here to read the story text 👈

Luke’s Vocabulary Notes

  • In your early / late twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties
  • To look married (look good, look tired, look happy, look married, look bored)
  • Unmistakably married
  • They were married. It was unmistakable.
  • Mistakable = easily confused for something else
  • Unmistakable = not easily confused for something else – you can immediately identify it
  • The unmistakable smell of fresh bread in the air
  • They looked unmistakably French / unmistakably English / unmistakably yours/hers/his (this handwriting is unmistakably his)
  • Why are they unmistakably married? What does she mean? She’s alluding to subtle behaviour. When a couple are unmarried or perhaps in the early stages of a relationship they tend to give each other a lot more attention. They might be still trying to seduce each other somehow, or to attract each other. There’s still mystery and interest. Brand new couples can hardly take their eyes off each other. I imagine this couple is unmistakably married because they show signs of the relationship suffering from over familiarity. They mystery is gone, maybe. Perhaps they seem very familiar with each other, or very comfortable with each other. Marriage can make people feel stuck (not always!) especially if the marriage is based on the wrong things. 
  • A banquette = a long, fitted seat or bench, typically found in restaurants
  • Narrow – opposite of wide – a long narrow corridor 
  • We get the sense this is a small, intimate space. It’s also uncomfortable, painfully so. 
  • The couple and other guests in the restaurant are all so close and this makes the man’s humiliation and the woman’s heartbreak even more painful. 
  • The narrator is unable to stop “people watching” here – observing this couple opposite.
  • Also the couple sit side by side, not facing each other, which suggests that they’re not all that interested in each other. 
  • You start to speculate – what does this woman mean to this man? Is she there just to sit by his side and look glamorous? 
  • A round face
  • Self-satisfied (definitely a negative word) smug, arrogant, not charming
  • Fadingly pretty 
  • Fading  = gradually becoming less clear, less bright, less colourful. Her prettiness was fading. 
  • A big hat – I imagine it was one of those hats with a big brim, which can be very glamorous but also hides the face. 
  • Conspicuous = noticeable, easy to notice, eye-catching (apparently in those days big hats were not uncommon in New York restaurants)
  • Basically, they looked quite ordinary really, and weren’t trying to grab/attract everyone’s attention.
  • An occasion – a particular event, a birthday, an anniversary, something to celebrate
  • The wife had planned a surprise for him (past perfect because she planned this before any of the events in this story) without past perfect it could mean that the wife planned the surprise there at the table
  • A surprise in the form of a cake – “in the form of” here means that this is how the surprise was actually manifested. I mean, what was the surprise, how did this surprise take shape? The surprised arrived in the form of a cake.
  • The gift came in the form of a beautifully wrapped package.
  • Their support came in the form of encouraging words during a difficult time.
  • The solution to the problem arrived in the form of an innovative new technology.
  • Help arrived in the form of my wife who came to rescue me (from an awkward conversation for example)
  • A glossy birthday cake = shiny & smooth, so the light reflects off the top. It’s one of those smart, fancy cakes that you see in good quality cake shops. 
  • One pink candle burning in the center (American English spelling) – this is a little bit sad, isn’t it? Also, if this guy takes himself quite seriously, he might find that a tiny bit embarrassing – bringing attention to him, and this little cake with a pink candle might make him feel a bit ridiculous, especially if he is full of himself and takes himself seriously. But it is a lovely, sweet gesture and we just want him to be embarrassed but also touched and it would be a great moment for him to blush and smile and kiss his wife and maybe acknowledge the other diners with a smile, but he doesn’t.
  • The head waiter – so the wife probably asked the restaurant to make a special effort here, which again shows how much care she put into this.
  • He placed it before the husband. This means he carefully put it down.
  • Meanwhile = at the same time
  • The wife beamed with shy pride over her little surprise
  • Beamed = her face glowed, she smiled, she seemed proud. To “beam” means that light comes out – like a torch, or a light house. In this case the woman’s face beamed with a certain emotion or an expression. 
  • Pride – to feel proud = she’s happy and satisfied with what she has done. She’s put a lot of effort into this and expects it to go well. She’s trying.
  • It became clear (obvious) at once (immediately) that help was needed (passive voice – needed by who?) We feel that the narrator suddenly sees that this woman is helpless in this situation. She’s in trouble. But nobody can help her without making it worse. 
  • The husband was not pleased.
  • He was hotly embarrassed. – not a common collocation but it tells us that his face probably went red and he was angry.
  • He was indignant = angry, annoyed, frustrated with his wife because of what she’s done. 
  • Don’t be like that = don’t be that way
  • As soon as the little cake had been deposited  on the table = quite formal and impersonal language, meaning put in a certain place. Money is deposited in an account. It’s quite cold, transactional language.
  • The birthday piece – a piece of music
  • The general attention had shifted = moved
  • I saw him say something to her under his breath  = in a very quiet voice, in a whisper, so other people can’t hear
  • Some punishing thing  = a comment which was designed to punish her, to make her feel bad
  • Quick (just a few words) and curt (rudely brief – rude because it is so short) and unkind (cruel).
  • I couldn’t bear to look
  • Can’t bear to do something
  • Can’t stand doing it
  • Can’t bring myself to do something
  • When I finally glanced over there = looked quickly
  • This is heartbreaking!
  • Adverbs
  • Crying quietly 
  • Crying heartbrokenly
  • Crying hopelessly
  • All to herself (she was doing it all by herself, but also crying to herself – a very lonely feeling where you are the only one witnessing your crying – the husband doesn’t care it seems)
  • All to herself / all by herself
  • Under the big gay brim of her best hat. (Gay in it’s original meaning, “carefree” “happy”)
  • The brim of the hat = the wide edge
  • This is a particularly sad image because of the contrast between this lovely hat that should be worn on a happy and carefree occasion, but under it this poor woman is crying. 

854. The Invitation (Learn English with a Short Story)

🎧 Learn English with a short story. 🗣 Listen & repeat after me if you’d like to practise your pronunciation. 💬 Learn some vocabulary in the second half of the video. 📄 I found this story in answer to a post on Quora.com asking about true scary stories. I thought I could use it to help you learn English. Can you understand the story, and predict the twist at the end?


Story Script

The Invitation

About 7 years ago I got an invitation to attend a dinner party at my cousin’s house. I have a pretty large family and I had never actually seen this particular cousin before.  I had only ever spoken to him on the phone. I was surprised that his family unexpectedly invited me over, but I was curious to finally meet them.

The invitation had an address that I didn’t know and the GPS was unfamiliar with it too. It was in one of those areas where Google Maps doesn’t work properly because of poor phone reception, 

so I had to use an old fashioned paper map. I marked the location on the map, tried to get a sense of where I was headed, and set off in my car.

As I was driving I started to notice how far I’d travelled into the countryside, away from civilization. I saw trees, farms and fields passing by. Just trees, farms, and fields, and more trees, more farms and more fields. 

“Where the hell am I going?” I thought to myself. I’d never ventured out so far in that direction before.

I drove for quite a long time, trying to locate the address I had marked on the map. 

The thing is, in this area, a lot of the roads don’t have names, or the names aren’t clearly marked by road signs. I just had to try to match the layout of the streets, to the layout I could see on the map.

I finally found a place at a location that looked like the one I had noted on my map. I was pretty sure this was the right spot, so I parked and got out of the car. 

Approaching the house I noticed how dull and dreary it looked. It was completely covered in leaves, branches and overgrown trees. 

“This can’t be it.” I said to myself.

But as soon as I walked onto the rocky driveway my aunt and uncle came out to greet me. They seemed excited and welcoming. 

“Hello! Hello! Come in! Come in!” they said, beckoning me inside. 

Walking into the house, I asked where my cousin was. Answering immediately one of them said, “Oh, he just went to run a few errands. He should be back later.”

I waited in their kitchen and we spent a couple of hours talking about my mother and my family. My aunt made a delicious homemade pot roast that I finished off in minutes. 

After dinner we played an enduring game of Uno. It was surprisingly fun and competitive. My aunt in particular seemed delighted to be playing.

When we finished the game of Uno it was almost dark and there was still no sign of my cousin. My aunt and uncle assured me that he’d be back any time soon. Despite what they said, I decided that I had to leave. 

It was almost dark outside and I knew it would be a nightmare to find my way out of this dreadful place after sunset, with no streetlights or road signs. As my GPS just wasn’t working, I asked my aunt and uncle the most efficient way to get to the highway.

They gave me a puzzled look. 

“But, we thought you were staying the night?” they said.

I told them I couldn’t because I had work the next day and couldn’t afford to miss another day. “It’s much better if you leave tomorrow morning. Trust us. You’ll get lost” they said.

I shrugged it off and told them not to worry, 

“Don’t worry. I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction. I could find my way out of the Sahara desert.” I told them. 

Looking aggravated, they strongly advised me to stay the night for my own sake. Their body language was weird too as they became more serious and insistent. My uncle stood shaking his head, and my aunt began to move about the place, picking up a set of keys to unlock what I assume was a spare bedroom.

At this point I was getting annoyed and irritable. I sighed, “Fine I’ll stay the night then, but I have to get up very early for work.” I said. Both of them seemed strangely ecstatic that I was staying the night. 

As soon as they went out of the room to get bed sheets and pillows, 

I ran out of the door, got in my car and hastily pulled away. I know it was rude, but I suddenly felt the urge to get out of there, quickly. 

It seemed to take me ages, but I finally found my way back to the main highway and drove back through the night, wondering why my cousin had never turned up.

I got home several hours later than I expected. It was after midnight and I didn’t want to wake my parents up. Climbing over my fence and entering the back door, I noticed that the kitchen lights were on.

As soon as I took my first step through the door, I saw my mom sitting there looking impatient.

“Where have you been?” 

She asked.

“I was at aunt Debra’s. I told you.”

I replied.

“Then why did she call saying you never arrived?”

To this day, I still have no idea who I visited.

Read the original version on Quora.com

724. The Mountain (Learn English with a Short Story)

Reading an emotional short story, with vocabulary explanations and differences between British and American English.

Audio Version

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Video Version

via Commaful

Read the story on Commaful here https://commaful.com/play/aknier/the-mountain/

Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners, welcome back to my podcast. I hope you’re doing well and that you’re ready to learn some more English with me in this new episode.

This one is called The Mountain and I’m going to read you a short story and then use it to teach you some English.

There is a video version of this available on YouTube with the text on the screen, so you can read and listen at the same time and you can see my face while I’m recording this, if that’s what you’d like to see. You can find that video on the page for this episode on my website or on my YouTube channel – Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe of course.

Stories are great for learning English, and I’m always searching for various stories that I could read out on the podcast. I’ve found a few stories and texts, both online and in books that I have on my bookshelves, so you can expect more story episodes like this coming in the future as I read things in different styles, from different texts, including some well-known published work and some independently published stuff and fan fiction that is available online. 

Stories make ideal material for language learning. They are compelling and often the text of the story is also available which makes it extra useful for language learning because it works as a transcript for what you are listening to.

Today I googled “Free short stories online” and I ended up on a website called commaful.com 

This website is described as the largest library of multimedia stories online. Commaful.com 

On Commaful you can read and share stories written by users of the site, fan fiction, poetry and comics, and they have a picturebook format, which means that their stories are presented in a slightly different way, which makes them a bit more pleasant to read online or on mobile devices – more pleasant than just reading text on a screen, which is never a pleasant way to read literature. So rather than just presenting their texts on screen, they put each line of the story on top of an image of some kind (like a picture of a lake or a landscape or something) and you can swipe from one image to the next, reading each line of the story as you go, which is quite nice.

When reading these stories out loud the format encourages you to pause as you read each line, which is quite a good habit. Pausing is a good presentation skill.

It can be a good discipline to practise because pausing can add some space for the audience to think and can change the atmosphere slightly, adding extra weight to each line that you say. So pausing and taking your time can be good presentation skills to practise.

First I’m just going to read the story to you. You can just follow along and try to understand what’s going on.

Then I’ll read it again and I will stop to explain some bits of English that come up, and there are various nice bits of English in here – phrasal verbs, expressions and other nice bits of vocabulary mainly.

The story is written in American English, which is mostly the same as British English really, but I will point out any differences and will give you the UK English equivalents, so this can be a chance to learn some British and American English equivalents.

I’ll do a vocabulary and language summary at the end too.

As I said, there will be some pauses between the lines of the story, because of the way the story is presented to me on the website. I don’t normally pause like this when doing this podcast, but it could be useful because it might help you absorb what I’m saying and you can use those pauses to repeat after me if you like. This will be easier if you can read the lines with me, and again you can do that by watching the youtube video, or visiting the story on commaful.com. 

Or you can try repeating without seeing the lines if you want an extra challenge.

And of course you can simply enjoy listening to the story without worrying about repeating or anything like that. 

The story is about 10 minutes long, just to let you know what to expect.

The rest of this episode is me explaining and describing the language in the story.

By the way, this story was posted on commaful.com by a user called Aknier and I am assuming that Aknier is the author of this, so credit goes to him or her for writing it.

Follow the link in the description to access the story and you can leave comments there if you like.

I hope you enjoy it!

But now let’s begin the story…

Ending Transcript

OK so that is where the video ends, but I’m adding a bit more here to the audio version in order to do a quick language summary of the bits of vocabulary that came up in that. 

How was that for you? Did you enjoy the story? As I said, there weren’t many narrative elements. It was more an emotional story, but quite an interesting one.

Again, I do recommend that you try reading the story out loud, either by repeating after me or not.

Now let me recap some of the vocabulary items and British and American English differences that you heard there, just to sum up and help you remember what you’ve just heard. I’ll be as brief as I can while jogging your memory here.

You can find this vocabulary list on the page for this episode on my website of course.

Vocabulary List

  • I hardly cried (I didn’t cry a lot)
  • To work hard / to hardly work
  • To fuss / to make a fuss (Fuss = anxious or excited behaviour which serves no useful purpose. “What’s all the fuss about?” “Everyone’s talking about this Meghan & Harry interview. What’s all the fuss about?” “Why don’t you complain?” “Well, I don’t want to make a fuss”)
  • To make a scene = do something which attracts a lot of attention, like angrily shouting at staff in an airport terminal or hotel lobby
  • Siblings (brothers and sisters)
  • To bet that something will/would happen (to be sure it will/would happen) “I bet that England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties” or “I bet it rains this afternoon”.
  • To shrug your shoulders
  • To grit your teeth = (literally) clench your jaw so your teeth are held tightly together (idiom) to decide to do something even though you don’t want to “I had to tell my dad that I’d crashed his car, so I just gritted my teeth and told him”)
  • A cast / a plaster cast 
  • To be able to afford something  “We couldn’t afford it” “We can’t afford it” (use ‘be able to’ after modal verbs when you can’t use ‘can’ – “We won’t be able to afford it”)
  • A cripple (offensive word)
  • To get picked on
  • To get teased
  • To make fun of someone
  • To get bullied
  • To get catcalled
  • To flash a smile
  • A blinding smile
  • To take that as a yes
  • To get upset
  • To get fired
  • To skip lunch
  • A scholarship
  • To be stunned
  • To soften your voice
  • To talk back
  • To sneak into the kitchen
  • To sneak money back into your wallet
  • Fight – fought – fought
  • Buy – bought – bought
  • To cheat on someone
  • To freak someone out
  • To make it up to someone
  • To raise your voice
  • To shout
  • To scream
  • To cave (in)
  • Emotional outbursts
  • To melt
  • To punch someone in the jaw
  • To stare blankly
  • Stand up for yourself
  • A mess
  • Serene
  • Tranquil
  • Deadly / the deadliest

American English / British English

  • Fifth grade – Fifth year
  • Pants – trousers
  • Mad – angry
  • To figure something out – to work something out
  • To yell – to shout
  • A jerk  – an idiot
  • To take out the trash – to take the rubbish out
  • Chores – housework
  • To punch someone in the jaw – to punch someone in the face

710. The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl (Short Story)

In this episode I read out a short story written by Roald Dahl and then comment on the style, language and plot. Enjoy some storytelling and learn some English in the process. Video version available.

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Video Version

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Transcript & Notes

Hello listeners, how are you today?

In this episode I’m going to read a short story to you, which I hope will be an entertaining and pleasant way to learn English with my podcast. I’ll also give some comments on the story afterwards and I will highlight a few bits of vocabulary at the end, but the main thing is that I’d just like to let you listen to a good-quality and entertaining short story in English.

I am currently videoing myself while recording this episode and the video will be available on my YouTube channel and on my website, and I’m sharing my screen in the video so you can read my notes and the text for this story with me, if you like – sort of like an on-screen transcript. The notes and stuff will also be available on the page for this episode on my website. Check the show notes for the link for that.

The story I’m going to read today is called The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl.
I think it was originally published in 1980 in his book “More Tales of the Unexpected”.

Do you know Roald Dahl? I have read a Roald Dahl story on this podcast before – that was The Hitchhiker in episode 545. It was a popular one, so let’s do it again.

Roald Dahl is one of the UK’s favourite authors, and of course he’s popular around the world too. You might already be aware of him and his work. He was born in 1916 and died in 1990 and most of his writing was done in the 70s and 80s. His most famous stories were written for children (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, James & The Giant Peach, the BFG, Matilda and plenty of others) and my childhood was full of Roald Dahl stories (maybe yours too), but he also wrote a lot of short stories for adults or young adults, particularly earlier in his career. This is one of those stories.

Get some of Roald Dahl’s books!

I’d like to suggest that you purchase some of his work – his books.

I’ve got two books of his short stories for adults. The books are called “Roald Dahl: The Complete Short Stories Vol.1 & 2” and I highly recommend them. They are available from all the usual bookshops. “Roald Dahl: The Complete Short Stories Vol.1 & 2” The Umbrella Man appears in “The Complete Short Stories Vol.2”

Notes on Language & Style
The story was published over 30 years ago now, and was probably written earlier than that. I’m not sure when the story is set, but it feels a bit old fashioned. For the most part the English is the sort of modern, neutral English that you would come across today and so almost all of it is appropriate for you to learn and use, but some of the dialogue is a bit dated. I’ll point out some of that old fashioned language later.

By today’s standards the characters sound quite posh and upper-class (and I’ll try to reflect this in the way I read it out).

I’ll give more comments at the end.

I’m going to start in just a moment.

How to use this episode

1. Just listen, follow what I’m saying, enjoy the story and don’t feel pressured to do anything else.

2. If you want to take it further and push your learning more, then you could get a copy of the story, and use it as a learning resource.

If you want the text of the story you could buy “The Complete Short Stories Vol.2” and read it there.

Alternatively, I found a PDF copy of the book which has been posted by someone online, so you could click the link to the PDF and read that (link in the show notes and on the episode page)

Click here for the PDF of the story

You could read it while you listen to me so you can connect the written word to the spoken word, or you could read it again later and take more time over it.

For pronunciation, you could shadow the story with me – read aloud at the same time as you listen, perhaps with the text in front of you.

You could record yourself reading the story, and then listen back and compare it to my recording, perhaps focusing on different aspects of pronunciation.

For vocabulary, you could find any words or phrases that you don’t know and check them using an online dictionary like www.collinsdictionary.com (Oxford, Cambridge, Longman and Macmillan dictionaries are also available and I often use them as a teacher too)

Or, as I said, just relax and listen to the story without worrying about doing anything else.

Let’s get started! I will summarise this at the end in plain English so you can be sure you understood the main events.

Luke reads the story

I hope you enjoyed that!

A summary of the story

Here’s a summary from www.roaldfahlfans.com It neatly summarises the story in plain English in a couple of paragraphs. This should help you to make sure you got the main plot. As I said if you have specific bits of vocabulary that you’d like to check, you can do that on your own using one of those dictionaries. We might go through a few little details in a minute. First let me read out this summary.


I like this because it’s enjoyable to listen to the way the man persuades even this very suspicious woman to give him some money. I don’t think tricking people for money is good or anything like that, but I do find it interesting when people have fairly complex but effective techniques for fooling people.

It’s also interesting how the woman’s attitudes about class and social status make her quite susceptible to this man’s trick, and I’m sure she wouldn’t be the only one. She judges people by their appearances and seems a bit snobbish, and he uses that to his advantage. He gives the impression of being a gentleman, and this is what allows him to take advantage of the woman.

We all have natural prejudices, which can affect the way we judge people. It seems this old man uses people’s prejudices as part of his trick.

Here are some comments about the way the characters are described and the English used.

One of the strengths of this story is the way the characters are given depth. The story is told in a relatively simple manner with short sentences and not a lot of extraneous detail but the small details that are given make the characters 3-dimensional.

This is done by showing us little contradictions in the things they say or do or at least hinting at some little conflicts that they seem to have inside them, some positive and negative traits, particularly the mother.

The mother is strict, but she’s willing to give her daughter a banana split after her dental appointment. I guess she is kind and loving and wants to treat her daughter to something nice after the frightening ordeal of going to the dentist, but is it a good idea to treat your child to such a sugary dessert after the dentist has filled a hole in her tooth? I guess we all have to balance being strict, giving treats and managing the dental health of our children. But it’s interesting that we wonder slightly about what kind of mother she is. Maybe I’m reading too much into it here, but what did you think? What do you think is going on between the mother and the daughter? Does she seem to be a good mother? I suppose that’s a subjective thing. But I’d be interested to know what you think.

She’s a bit stuck up and snobbish. She looks down her nose at the man when she believes he is begging for money, but then she can’t hide her admiration for him when she believes he is perhaps a titled-gentleman, maybe someone who comes from the upper-classes in society.

Her attitudes about people and their status are clearly revealed by her reactions to the man at different moments. This is a good example of the principle of “show, don’t tell” which I think is a good method for telling stories. “Show, don’t tell” basically means that it’s always better to show the reader how to feel rather than telling them how to feel.

Roald Dahl could have told us directly that the mother was a bit snobbish, by saying something like “My mother was always a bit snobbish and looked down on people lower than her and yet admired the upper classes highly” but it’s more effective for him to show us her attitudes by describing her reactions to the man at different moments in the story. This allows us to work out for ourselves that the mother is a bit of a snob, or maybe she’s just trying hard to get the best life for her and her family.

She dreams of living a more wealthy and privileged life, having a car and a chauffeur. This shows us something about her position in society and that she’s probably middle class or upper-middle class and dreams of having more comfort and convenience in her life, like upper-class people have.

She’s very untrustworthy and suspicious. Are these negative traits or is it wise to be cautious of others? But she’s also willing to be quite adventurous, chasing after the old man when she realises that he’s up to something.

All of these little conflicting things, so efficiently described, help to flesh out her character and make her a lot more human and relatable. We kind of see how the daughter might feel – being a bit wary of her mother’s strictness but enjoying spending time with her, having just been treated to a nice banana split and sharing the afternoon together, also her disappointment with the way her mother treats the old man at first, learning about how to deal with strangers in the street and then the excitement of chasing after him.

Roald Dahl always does this – somehow allows you to experience the excitement of being with certain other people.

Then there’s the little old man who just loves a drink of whiskey but apparently doesn’t have any money of his own, and yet he has cleverly come up with a genius little plan to get money from people in the street. I suppose he won in the end, and the mother was shown up to be a bit of a snob or something. (Maybe I’m being a bit mean to the mother – is she a snob, or is she just wary of certain types of person?)

I wonder if this little event affected the way the daughter saw the mother, if it brought them closer, or if the mother was embarrassed. In the end it seems that the mother and daughter just shared a funny little experience together. Ultimately it is quite adorable the way the two of them interact and I get quite a warm feeling from them.

I like the neatness of the story, the cleverness of the man’s plan, the mischievous elements and the moment when the old man drinks his whiskey – it seems like he really enjoys it.

What about you? What do you think of the story? Leave your comments in the comment section.

Posh / Old-Fashioned Sounding Vocabulary

  • Again, if there are specific words or phrases that you’d like to check, I’ll let you do that yourself using the book or the PDF and a good dictionary, but I mentioned before about how some things sounded quite old fashioned and posh, and I’d like to point those things out.

    Things that sound posh or formal, or at least old-fashioned. (posh people often sound a bit old fashioned for some reason) I wouldn’t really use these phrases in my normal everyday life.

    Obviously you can speak how you like. I’m just pointing out things which I think sound a bit old-fashioned or posh.
  • “I assure you!” → “Honestly!”
  • “Old people like me become terribly forgetful” → “really”
  • “I beg you to believe me, madam” → “Believe me, please!”
  • “Isn’t it the silliest thing to do?” → “Isn’t it such a stupid thing to do?”
  • “I summon a taxi to get me home” → “I get a taxi” or “I call a taxi to get me home”
  • “Oh mummy” (a lot of posh kids call their Mum, “mummy” – I think most British kids call their mother “Mum”)
  • “Don’t be so beastly to him!” → “Don’t be so horrible to him!”
  • “It’s of no importance so long as I get home” → “It’s not important…”
  • “I wanted to satisfy myself that he wasn’t a trickster” → “I wanted to be sure…”
  • Goodness Mummy, what a hurry he’s in” → “Oh my god!” “Wow”
  • Good heavens, it’s a pub!”
  • By golly, he’s got a nerve!”
  • “That’s a jolly expensive drink” → “That’s a really expensive drink”
  • Super” → “Amazing, brilliant”

Fancy another Roald Dahl story?

I have read a Roald Dahl story before on the podcast. Some of you might remember. I read The Hitchhiker in episode 545. You can check it out in the archive if you’d like to listen to it. There’s also a link to that on the page for this episode on my website. https://teacherluke.co.uk/2018/09/07/545-the-hitchhiker-by-roald-dahl-short-story/

Finally, let’s listen to the author himself introducing the story at the start of an episode of Tales of the Unexpected, the TV show. Check this out.

I believe that Roald Dahl witnessed a real umbrella man on the streets of New York, but I wonder if he really did try the trick himself, and whether you are tempted to try it too, but I’m not sure the whole world needs more tricksters, does it?

Thanks for listening, speak to you again in the next episode, but for now – good bye bye bye…