James and Luke go on an accidental road trip in the south-west of England and record a rambling podcast, while slowly going a bit mad. Will they make it to their destination before sunset? Listen to find out what happens and to learn some words and culture in the process. Photos below.
Where?The Fitzroy Tavern, 16 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LY (near Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Road) When?Sunday 28 July from 2PM (and probably continuing into the afternoon) Who?English teacher Zdenek Lukas is the host and all LEPsters (and non-LEPsters) are welcome! Also, Luke might be there with his brother and friends. Email email@example.com to let him know you’re coming. Come to chat, meet people, play board games in English and have fun!
Episode Introduction (after the jingle)
Hello, welcome back to the podcast everyone, I hope you’re all doing well and having a nice summer or winter depending on which hemisphere you are currently residing in.
I am currently in the middle of a very busy teaching schedule – teaching classes all day every day this week and next week, and of course in the evenings I’m looking after my daughter and dealing with all the usual aspects of life in general. So, I have not had a lot of time to work on podcast episodes. That’s why there’s been a delay and that might continue for a few more weeks, we’ll see. But here’s a new episode!
There are actually loads of things I’d like to talk about, including the fact that England are now World Cup winners – yes, we won the World Cup for the first time ever, so it finally came home! I’m not talking about football of course, nope – I’m talking about cricket (yes, that still counts! It’s still a big deal because let me remind you that it is the world’s second most popular spectator sport.) Yes, England are the champions of the world. Those of you who come from cricket-playing countries will know exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone else will probably be confused. And don’t you dare compare it to baseball. Anyway, England won the cricket in dramatic fashion, beating New Zealand in an incredibly close game which went right down to the wire. I’m not going to talk about it in this episode actually, but I did want to mention it because of course I am very proud and I’ve had plenty of requests from listeners in places like India and Pakistan who want me to talk about it. I’ll see if I can cover it in an upcoming episode. If you can’t wait and you want some cricket chat on the podcast, you could always listen to episode 473 in the archive which is a conversation with my dad all about cricket.
But anyway, this episode is all about an unexpected road trip that I went on with my brother recently.
Last week, I was on holiday with my family. We travelled to England and actually I did manage to record two episodes while I was there. This is the first one and it was completely unplanned and recorded on my brother’s phone during various parts of a long and quite frustrating day that we spent near the end of the holiday.
In fact, this episode is a sort of road trip diary, recorded on the road with James.
In this episode you will be able to hear…
Exactly what happened when I got a flat tyre while driving back from the holiday. A tyre is the rubber part of the wheel of a car or bike, in this case car – the black rubber part of the wheel which is full of air. So I got a flat tyre, which is where the tyre (or inner tube inside the tyre) gets punctured and all the air comes out. In fact I got two flat tyres in the same week, which I think is really unlucky. Anyway, the second one caused my brother and me to end up having to go on an unexpected journey through the lanes and roads of Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. On the way we recorded a series of rambling conversations covering the details of our trip and lots of other topics, and that is what you’re going to listen to.
So why don’t you join us on our accidental road trip and listen to us rambling on about…
The specific problem with the car, what happened and how it could be repaired
Different words and expressions for feeling angry (because I was very angry with the situation, certainly at the beginning, although you can’t really hear it in my voice because I’m so cool, calm and collected)
The dangers of drinking strong coffee and the phenomenon of “coffee rage”
The film Robocop and the 2014 Robocop Reboot (a very random tangent)
How and why cars might pull each other at nightclubs
Going insane while waiting to be rescued by roadside assistance
Different types of pub, including how to pick the right pub for a drink in England
The taste of beer, and different types of beer that you can get
A close encounter with a famous TV comedian at a motorway service station somewhere near Bristol
Fascinating details of the sandwiches that we bought to help sustain us on our adventure
The topic of going vegan or at least just eating less meat, and why eating meat is said to be bad for the environment
How to actually spell and pronounce the names of some English cities and counties on our trip, including Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Worcester, Worcestershire, Warwick and Warwickshire.
All that and more, coming up in this very rambling episode, spontaneously recorded on James’ mobile phone.
Listen on to find out all the details and to hear the voices of some other members of my family at the end, and by the way there is some strong language (swearing), the sound quality might not be up to the usual high standard because it was recorded on a mobile phone (but I think it’s ok) and also there is a lot of slightly mad rambly nonsense coming up – but I think you’ve probably come to expect that sort of thing from this podcast haven’t you?
YES WE HAVE LUKE – LET’S START!
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.
Reminds me of Bill Hicks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGjuPJskNRE
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.
*I’m just an English guy trying to understand Japanese culture. Please forgive me if I get anything wrong! :) ❤️ 🇯🇵
Food & Drink
It’s simply delicious and I don’t know why! What’s the secret, Japan? Why is your food so delicious?
Communication style & language (but I’m planning a whole other episode about English)
Constant sounds of “gozaimasu”
Heeeee, hoooooo etc
Certain words you always hear and could use: arigato gozaimasu (levels of politeness) doitashimashite, sumimasen, onegaishimasu, nama biru no futatsu onegaishimasu, kawaii, sugoi, gaijin, chotto, dekimasu, desu, desu ka, hai, so desu ka, ne, so desu ne.
Weird and scary things that people don’t often talk about
Some weird sexual stuff
No need to dwell on anything else. Every country has its dark side. I guess that it seems a bit more interesting in Japan because there’s so much emphasis on the cute, childish things. Also, because of the slightly ambiguous religion in Japan it makes you wonder where the moral lines are. A lot of that stuff seems a bit vague, probably because I come from a christian culture where morality is written down in the form of rules – very clear lines which we’re always aware of.
Before coming my brother was staying with me and we watched the new Godzilla film – not the Hollywood version directed by Gareth Edwards, but the recent Japanese one directed by Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi.
What does Godzilla mean? What does it tell us about Japanese culture? He’s created by nuclear tests in the ocean. He kind of represents the consequences of nuclear testing on nature, or the destructive power of nuclear weapons in Japan, or simply the vast destructive power of nature. At one time or another Japan has been subject to massive levels of destruction from either natural disasters or nuclear weapons. The nuclear attacks are obvious of course – but there were also nuclear tests by the US army after WW2 in waters affecting Japanese fishermen etc. The metaphor of natural disasters is easy to see. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami which affected Fukushima’s nuclear power plant – lots of scenes of destruction similar to what you see in the films. Godzilla kind of represents all of that. It’s interesting that Godzilla has been accepted as a sort of mascot in Japan. They love Godzilla, and in fact he’s sort of a protector of Japan, which I see as them owning this destructive power and turning it into something positive and uniquely Japanese.
The film also portrays the government as very inefficient and unable to make decisions quickly. So many people at various levels of status – all asking for second and third opinions and approval from above before making a decision. Some say this is a comment about the way the government responded to the Fukushima situation – slow to react, a lack of transparency, an inability to make the right decision quickly enough.
I don’t have all the answers about this place. There are a lot of mysteries. I think of all the sliding doors, the silence, the shadow, the ambiguity of the religious aspects of life, the weird things in Japanese cartoons that I just don’t understand, and simply wondering what Japanese people are really thinking behind their exterior which is hard to read, and the polite manners. Part of me believes there is just open space inside people, which is a kind of peaceful place where there’s no judgement, where there is no dogma, but there’s a kind of natural balance, like the space between rocks in a zen garden. But maybe I’m romanticising it just a little bit! I expect Japanese people are just as mysterious as the rest of us, because ultimately who does understand the secrets at the heart of the human soul?
One thing I can say is cool – I have made friends with some Japanese people in a more sincere way than many others I have met, and I’ve had moving connections with Japanese people that I don’t tend to have with others. I don’t know why. My Japanese friend for example, he said some moving things to me on my wedding day, and on the day I left Japan that seemed to come from some deep place of ancient Japanese wisdom. Yoda stuff, basically.
What did you do?
The basics of where we went and what we did.
Met by our friend, drove to Asakusa, sushi place. Food, beer.
Kamakura – drive – Tokyo skyline etc. Back in Kamakura – “natsukashii” – ‘good old’ or ‘Wow, it feels amazing to be back!’. Cherry blossom in the hills. Time with Moto’s family. Dinner at Matchpoint.
What is special about Karaoke?
Perfect way to have a party. There are whole buildings devoted to it in Tokyo. There are girls in the street who are like karaoke room dealers. You speak to them, book a little room. Go to the building and usually there are loads of drunken salary men pouring out of it. You get into your room – somewhere on the 9F of a big building. They bring you beer and food, direct to the room. There’s a computer database with thousands of songs on it. They’ve got everything. Everyone becomes a performer with their favourite song. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, the machine helps you a bit. Some people are brilliant. Everyone comes out of themselves a bit. It’s just you and your friends. Favourite songs get everyone in the mood. Singing is amazing fun. The videos on the machine are hilarious too – totally nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. Usually it’s a couple of people on a date in a random city. Often the lyrics are completely wrong too. We sang a lot of British pop and rock. David Bowie, Oasis and Pulp. My Japanese friend dances like Jarvis Cocker and really gets into the performance. He’s a “plastic gallagher”.
A day in Kamakura – Daibutsu, Cherry blossom avenue, noodles for lunch. Hookokuji temple & bamboo forest. Car drive to Ishiiki beach in Hayama with views of Mt Fuji. Yakitori restaurant in the evening, then another dinner of Japanese barbecue after that! Taxi ride back to the guesthouse – pristine taxi, automatic door.
Travel to Kyoto on Shinkansen. Bento boxes. Arrive in Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan during many important periods and was also the base of Buddhism. Also there are plenty of Shinto temples there since it was such an important place. Impossible to see everything in just a couple of days. More yakitori that evening and a lovely stroll by the river in the dark.
Kyoto shrine day. Early start and then these temples: Ninna-ji (beautiful rock gardens and pools, plus tons of cherry blossom everywhere. Interesting buildings – It is the head temple of the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and was founded in 888 by the reigning emperor. Various interesting buildings including the Goten, the former residence of the head priest in the southwestern corner of the temple complex. Built in the style of an imperial palace, the graceful buildings are connected with each other by covered corridors, feature elegantly painted sliding doors (fusuma) and are surrounded by beautiful rock and pond gardens.
Then to Ryoanji Temple – with its amazing rock garden.
Then Kinkakuji – the golden temple.
Lunch at a convenience store – just rice balls!
Then across town to Ginkakuji – where there is an amazing sand garden with a kind of replica of Mt Fuji. It’s bizarre. Crowded.
Philosopher’s Walk – cherry blossom everywhere. Also crowded :(
Some shopping for Yukata – found a place selling second-hand yukata in perfect condition. One for me, one for the wife. Lovely patterns. Not too expensive. Met a friend from London, dinner. Matsusaka beef! Apparently it’s more tender because it comes from virgin cows. What, less trauma because the cow had never had sex? How does that work? I remember being distinctly more relaxed after sex (and not just immediately after) but perhaps for cows it’s more traumatic, anyway…
Hot bath at the guesthouse in the communal area. Far less “public” than my experience in Thailand.
Next day – early start for Fushimi Inari Shrine, an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of red torii gates, which cover a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
Basically there are these trails that go up to the top of a hill and most of the way is covered by these red gates. The red tori gates are common in the entrance to shrines and represent your movement from the normal world into the spirit world. They’re beautiful and this shrine with rows of thousands of red gates is stunning. The gates are donated by local businesses.
Then more walking around and some shopping for gifts and souvenirs. Shinkansen back to Shinagawa station – meet our friend again. Hotel in the Meguro area.
Gig that evening.
How was the comedy show in Tokyo?
I didn’t know what to expect.
No people, loads of people? Not sure.
Arrived, place was already totally packed. Got upstairs, room goes “huuuuuuu!” as I enter. People are going “luku? Luku? Heeeeee~!” Gasps etc.
Upstairs with other comics, introduce myself etc. We chat. People are surprised and going – can’t you stay? Let’s arrange other shows!
There’s a scene there but mostly for expats in English. This room was full of Japanese people (and a few others) and they’re all here for me!
I walk around upstairs trying to get myself ready, trying to decide what to do.
Audience is lovely, but I think they’re mainly waiting for me.
Apparently some people can’t get in the place. There are people in the stairs just listening.
I did about 45 minutes. Lovely audience of course. They’re lepsters. Interesting to see what worked and what didn’t work. The bits that didn’t work were some of the film references – e.g. Ratatouille, and surprisingly Taken
A lot of my routine is for a French audience. Taken is actually quite specific to a French crowd because the film is set in Paris.
Some bits the audience took on face value – like they took it as being true. E.g. some bits in my star wars routine about how my Dad is an evil strict overbearing tyrant like Darth Vader – not true, but just full of parallels about my life and Star Wars.
Especially the bits about Japan. I’ll play you some extracts later.
A few requests:
The jingle. The italki promo. Some impressions, Obama, Hobson’s Choice!
I wish I’d gone bye bye bye at the end!
Then after the show there was a massive queue of people who wanted to get my autograph. So bizarre.
Also, selfies, handshakes, talking to each person. Gifts.
It was actually an incredible experience meeting each person and hearing about how they listen to my podcast and how it obviously means a lot to them. I’m very glad to know that as always, because I put a lot into it myself.
It was bizarre – I was a celebrity for that evening, with people staring at me and taking my photo and stuff.
*This is where the episode ends, but feel free to read the rest of my notes which I didn’t read out*
Rest of the trip – in Tokyo. Hanging out in Meguro avenue, Daikanyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku. Shopping, sightseeing, eating tasty food. Taking photos. Just enjoying the sunshine.
Dinner at The New York Grill – where Lost In Translation was filmed.
Another day in the Ginza area – shopping for some more gifts like tableware and stuff from Muji which is my wife’s favourite shop. Driving around the imperial palace. Views of Tokyo tower – like The Eiffel Tower but sort of misshapen and not quite as beautiful but iconic in its own way. Went up the World Trade Centre for amazing views of the sunset. Everyone on a date.
Visited a couple of friends – including one at a super cool photography studio that allows you to take 3D photos.
Shabu shabu dinner in Shinjuku with Peter who I used to live with. He was featured in this episode actually (below)
As you know I just came back from a little holiday in Japan that I had with my wife last week. We spent about 8 days there in total and I’m going to talk about it here because I thought you might like to know about the trip. You know, sometimes I do these episodes about travelling experiences that I’ve had and they seem to be quite popular. For example, I’ve done ones about going to India, Vietnam, Indonesia, New York, different parts of France, California and Thailand. In this episode (or these episodes) I’m going to do another one, this time it’s all about my recent trip to Japan from last week.
So, here’s another travel episode with a few stories, some descriptions of places, culture and experiences and other general ramblings about my reflections on the time spent in the land of the rising sun.
For the dedicated language learners and orion team transcribers, a lot of what I’m saying is written in the form of notes and I’ll put these notes on the page for this episode. So, you can read them and check any new words you hear, or if you’re transcribing this you can use my notes, copy them into your google doc and then just fill in the blanks – the bits where I improvise details and speak “off script” which I will probably do as I go along.
No idea how long this is going to take, but it’ll take as long as it takes. I’ll divide it into several episodes if it gets too long.
I’ve done at least one episode all about Japan before. That’s number 118 “Sick in Japan”(Full transcript)
It tells the story of how I ended up sick in a hospital bed in Japan more than 15 years ago, feeling physically terrible and mentally very panicked, not knowing what was wrong with me. Do you remember? If you haven’t heard it, I recommend listening – you might enjoy it! Basically, I got very sick there and spent two weeks (even before I went to hospital) essentially lying on my bed in my apartment at home getting more and more ill, unable to eat, unable to sleep even though I was very tired, in a lot of pain from a horrible infection. Eventually I got to a doctor who agreed to treat me and after taking a blood test he informed me in slightly broken English that I had liver damage, I needed to go to hospital and I needed an operation. To be honest, his diagnosis was a bit lost in translation and it wasn’t as bad as I thought but I assumed the worst! I thought I needed a liver transplant because I had some sort of weird liver disease! I remember the first night in the hospital bed feeling like I was going to die or something, not knowing what was wrong with me, thinking that I was going to be given an operation to get a liver transplant and the worst thing was that I worrying that they would give me a Japanese liver! For some reason this scared me because I thought “Maybe it won’t work with my body and maybe I won’t be able to drink beer like I could before!” That was the worst thing – I won’t be able to drink beer! Even if I survive! Weird paranoia and fear and ridiculousness. Naturally, it turned out ok in the end, and in fact it all turned out to be part of a really great adventure. That was one experience I had during the two years I spent in Japan in 2002 and 2003. To hear the whole story listen to episode 118. It also explains a lot of the reasons I went to live in Japan in the first place and what happened to me while I was there, especially the difficulties, even though the majority of my experiences were really great.
Why did you go?
What’s it like in Japan? Let’s explore the culture, the people, the way of life and the mentality etc.
What did you do, where did you go and what did you see?
How was your gig? Tell us about the comedy show you did.
Why did you go to Japan?
You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you come to my country Luke? My country is a wonderful place with many fantastic things to offer. Come, Drink our favourite drinks, eat our national dishes, let me sing you the song of my people!” I’d love to visit everywhere all the time of course! But this time, it was Japan – a place where I used to live and which I’ve always wanted to return to, for my own personal reasons.
I have a connection to the place. 2 years of my life there. I made strong friendships and became attached to some specific places and things. It was hard to break away from it when I left years ago. It was an important period so I still have a connection with Japan. When I originally left Japan I thought I would never go back. I remember looking around at the places I used to go and I’d think – I may never come here ever again. That’s a strange feeling actually. When I first went to Japan I was a bit depressed and lost to be honest. When I returned I felt much more confident and positive in many areas, including work, how to live, how to connect to people, even how to perform etc. When I arrived I was feeling that there wasn’t much I could do. Everything was negative and a bit difficult. When I left I felt like I could do whatever I wanted! The place really lifted me up. Also I learned about the kindness of people and about how to relax and look after myself in the middle of chaotic stress. It was a good time and a place where things changed for me a bit, so naturally I have a soft spot for the place.
Now it’s 15 years later and I’m married. My wife loves Japanese things, she loves travelling, and I love her so I wanted to show her this important place. That was quite important to me.
Birthday – my wife wanted us to celebrate, anniversary. It was a special occasion.
What’s it like in Japan?
In no particular order, here are some reflections on the culture, lifestyle, psychology and general feeling of life in Japan, especially Tokyo.
About 130,000,000 people – more than double the number of people in the UK or France. Just under the number of people in Russia – but consider the relative space. Greater Tokyo has about 40,000,000 people, making it the most populated city metropolis in the world. But they make it work. Despite the large number of people, the place functions very efficiently. There’s not a lot of space but it’s amazing how interiors are designed to make the most of the space they have, and how everyone manages to keep everything peaceful and tidy.
The place is 70% mountain, so a lot of people are crammed into the city areas where it’s more practical to build. Also, the country sits on a whole series of fault lines which means there are regular earthquakes, more than a thousand in a year. Not all of them are noticeable, but many of them are. Mount Fuji is the biggest mountain in the country and it looms in the distance – sometimes visible from Tokyo, much more visible from areas in Kanagawa where you can see it from the beach or you get glimpses when travelling on the train, especially in winter when the air is clear and mountain is covered in snow. It’s a spectacular and beautiful sight – symmetrical, powerful, peaceful and majestic. It’s also an active volcano, which makes it seem a little threatening and powerful. If it erupted – it would be pretty devastating. https://qz.com/236129/what-would-happen-if-mount-fuji-right-next-to-tokyo-erupted-for-the-first-time-in-207-years/
I’m sure this has an effect on life there, but it’s kind of below the surface. I don’t know if Japanese people really think about it a lot, or whether it bothers them when they’re alone. I don’t really know. But there’s always this feeling of “the big one could come at any time” perhaps that contributes to the uniqueness, the energy, the weird zen-like feeling of the place.
Queueing and other forms of social order. Coming from France, where public moments of conflict are very common, Japan seems incredibly orderly considering the number of people living in quite a small space. I suppose this comes from necessity – that people need to be able to get along in order for the whole system to work. Generally, people respect each other’s personal space, there’s a lot of effort made to maintain the common good. It’s almost a subconscious duty to make sure you do your bit – don’t drop litter, don’t make loud noise, don’t take up too much space, be respectful to those around you. There’s a real sense of collective consciousness in Japan. In the UK, I remember coming back from Japan feeling that everyone seemed so individualistic and ego-centric. Also I was surprised by the way some of my friends behaved in an anti-social way – speaking loudly in public places, dropping cigarette buts outside doorways and so on. People also seemed to do a lot of talking about themselves. In Japan that seems to happen less, and it’s distasteful to talk about yourself too much. These are just observations I’ve had – I might be wrong about it all, and please correct me if I am, but I feel like Japan has more of a sense of collective consciousness, and collective duty and less individualism – that’s not to say people aren’t individuals, of course they are, but people seem to just pay more attention to things that will be for the good of everyone, and as a result the place is efficient, clean, tidy and peaceful.
The charisma man
I thought I’d talk about this now, since I’m on the subject of some differences between JPN and let’s say ‘western culture’. There’s this idea of the charisma man, which used to be a comic strip popular in the expat community. It’s quite interesting and a little bit controversial but it does tell us something about the way western people (especially men) can be treated in Japan, or at least one phenomenon which can occur (not necessarily every time with everyone). What’s a charisma man?
Wikipedia: Concept of the Charisma Man “Charisma Man” manipulates the superhero genre to ridicule the often unjustified self–confidence of some foreign men in Japan. Although something of a loser in his home country Canada—the home of Charisma Man’s creator—when around Japanese people the central character transforms from a skinny nerd into a muscle-bound hunk, extremely attractive to women and admired by men. Like other superheroes, however, Charisma Man has one major weakness: “Western Woman”. Whenever in the presence of western females his powers disappear and he becomes an unattractive, skinny wimp once more. “Charisma Man” is thus a statement on the relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan. According to Rodney: “The Japanese seem to see Westerners through some kind of filter. An obvious example was all the geeks I saw out there walking around with beautiful Japanese girls on their arms. These guys were probably social misfits in their home countries, but in Japan the geek factor didn’t seem to translate. “The dichotomy between the perception of these guys in their home countries and in Japan was amazing to me. This made me think of Superman; on his home planet of Krypton, Superman was nobody special, and he certainly didn’t have superpowers. But when he arrived on earth — well, you know the rest. “He was somebody — that was the whole premise of the first strip.” — Larry Rodney, in a 2003 interview with the Japan Times
I still see Charisma men in Japan quite a lot. Imagine some western guy who is acting a bit arrogant and self-important when really he’s not that great. The inflated ego of a western man getting attention from Japanese women. Partly it’s a bit unfair to Japanese women, that’s what some people say. It shows two things – one being that there is a certain filter through which some Japanese people will view western men – i.e. that they see them as more impressive and charismatic than they really are (or perhaps they’re just being polite) but the other thing is the way some western guys react to the attention they get in Japan. Some blokes let it go to their heads and they end up being tiresome egomaniac would-be alpha males who let all the adulation go to their heads. This is probably why they’re not that popular in their own countries – they’re just not that nice or charming, and it becomes more obvious in Japan when you see the way these guys become smug, arrogant self-important guys with an inflated sense of ego.
It’s just interesting to note the way in which people’s perceptions of themselves and each other can change depending on the cultural context. On one hand this is kind of a bad thing, but on the other hand it’s what makes Japan so special – people do treat you well, it’s really nice to have people show interest in you and to be genuinely impressed by where you come from and to be impressed by the differences. E.g. when we told people we were from Paris and London – this seemed to be impressive information. It’s nice! I’d rather have that than be met with indifference. Even if it’s even a little bit fake (which I’m not sure it is actually – I think people are genuinely curious) even if it’s slightly fake, it’s better than genuine rudeness. So it’s a double-edged sword – it’s lovely to be considered as slightly special because you’re different, but that can go to some people’s heads and make them act a bit arrogant, it can also get a little tiring after a while when you just want to be considered as a normal person like everyone else. I remember that I used to get a little fed up with people immediately being impressed by me when they first met me. Like, “where are you from?” “I’m from London” “Oh you are so cool guy! You are a gentleman!” and I thought “Well, I’m not really. I’m just a bloke – not all that cool really, just normal, and not that much of a gentleman really.” In the UK we tend to be a little bit wary of those big compliments and in fact when you really get to know someone you tend to just take the piss out of them, even when you don’t know them and first meet them, you might take the piss quite a lot – it’s a form of bonding and friendship building.
Quietness & “zen” feeling
Japan is officially a peaceful country.
But it’s more than that. The place can be incredibly peaceful. I’m not sure where this comes from to be honest!
Excellent – the customer is god. Polite in the extreme. Attentive. Generally everything is of high quality and you’re looked after well. Can be a bit robotic though, and I find that there’s a certain kind of high-pitched woman’s voice that you hear everywhere, from machines and announcements. Also there was an actual robot at the airport.
You could eat your dinner off the floor. The metro is shiny and reflective. Many indoor places ask you to remove your shoes and this is an excellent idea.
There are no bins anywhere! But also no litter on the streets. Very few cigarette butts. They all go in little cigarette butt bins, or people put them in their own little portable ashtrays.
A lot of natural forms. Not as robotic and futuristic as you might expect. There’s a lot of wood, lots of stone. Natural forms – imperfect shapes combined with symmetrical lines. Patterns, textures and surfaces which are imperfect. E.g. the texture of stone, or wood, or rough surfaces with random patterns and textures. The same kinds you find in nature, often combined – stone, wood, moss, water. Different textures next to each other, with natural lines, shapes very neatly presented. It’s extremely satisfying and peaceful, relaxing – Zen.
This is one of Japan’s big moments in the year. There are cherry trees everywhere, especially in certain spots and when the blossom comes out in early April it’s a beautiful sight to see. It’s a delicate pink colour and it looks like snow all over the branches. It contrasts beautifully with the blue sky and when the wind blows the blossom falls from trees again like snow. It lands on the ground carpeting it and also on rivers. It’s fleeting, transient beauty of the highest order. Japanese people celebrate it by having little picnics and parties in the park in cherry blossom areas. Lovely.
Cuteness – “Fluffy bunny land”
Cuteness rules – “kawaii”
Examples: Everything has a cute logo, everything is anthropomorphised with a cute little face – bread, chicken shops, cash machines, safety rules. Everything has a cute melody – constant little melodies like the music that plays when the green pedestrian light shines, bus doors, bus stops, cash machines, some streets just play music from the lamp posts. It’s like Super Mario Land, it really is.
Everyone has cute bags, badges, pencil cases. Even the people are adorably cute. They’re quite small, sweet, laugh and giggle easily, are self-contained (neat and tidy) quite easily scared (I mean, a bit socially awkward and shy) often have quite big fluffy hair, round faces. Extremely cute and adorable, especially the kids. Basically, Japanese people – you’re like cartoon characters to me, or ewoks or teddy bears.
Is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but Japanese people can come across as cute in those ways. But are Japanese people like Ewoks? Maybe. I’m sure Japanese people are perfectly capable of being mean, nasty, cruel, selfish and everything like that – I’m sure I’m just applying a filter to them just like they might apply a filter to me. Who knows… But I quite like the Ewok metaphor. Ewoks are cute and loyal, but they can also be deadly can’t they! When you think about it – the ewoks are perhaps the most dangerous creatures in the Star Wars universe. They basically stopped the Galactic Empire and helped the rebels destroy the second death star. You wouldn’t want to have to fight against them would you, even if they do look like cute little fluffy bears. Also, if you remember, in Return of the Jedi the ewoks were originally planning to eat Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, until C-3P0 stopped them. They were going to eat Luke Han and Leia. They’re vicious carnivores! Don’t underestimate them. Anyway, what I originally planned to say was simply that Japanese people seem very cute to me and cuteness or (kawaii seems to have an important role in Japanese life).
Why is everything so damn cute??? Why is cuteness so important in the culture?
Paul Ratner from BigThink.com While you may dismiss cuteness as a regional peculiarity, there is science to back up the unexpected usefulness of kawaii in life. A study by researchers from the University of Hiroshima did several experiments on students and found that their performance on a variety of tasks like fine motor dexterity and non-visual searches improved after viewing cute images of puppies and kittens. The scientists concluded that this is due to the increase in narrowing attentional focus that resulted from viewing the cute images. They advocated the use of cute images and objects in work spaces to improve productivity.
I often wonder how Japan manages to be so efficient, and I’ve always thought that there was just something in the air here which means that people find the most convenient stress free ways of getting on with things. Partly that atmosphere is created by just focusing on certain pleasing things and trying to stay calm at all times. I guess it’s similar to the way the Brits just keep calm and carry on and try not to let emotions stop you from just getting things done. In Japan they seem to emphasise the cuteness just because it makes you feel good, makes you feel protected, reduces stress and allows you to be more productive. Perhaps that’s because Japan is quite a stressful place when you think about it – the potential for natural disaster is quite high. If you think about it too much you could freak out a bit – tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, Godzilla – they could all wipe everything out! Cute stuff helps you deal with that. Perhaps also the Japanese worship nature, like animals and so on – Shintoism believes in the gods of every creature or object, and you feel this level of respect in everyday life, kind of. It’s as if everything has it’s own Pokemon character which is both cute and potentially powerful and the Japanese are just in tune with all of that.
So, objects, animals and so on are given this cute personality just because this is the level of kind of respect that Japanese people attribute to things that in our culture would be basically meaningless. Maybe I’m wrong about that, if so – let me know what you think. Why are the Japanese preoccupied by cuteness? Are they the only ones?
Yumi Nakata from GaijinPot.com – 3 reasons
Reason 1: Kawaii usually refers to small children, babies and small animals. They are helpless and need to be cared for. In a culture that values youth, both men and woman are attracted to anything youthful. Women want to appear youthful and Japanese men are attracted to young girls, just look at the popularity of bands like AKB48.
Reason 2: Japanese people work very long hours and they are under enormous social pressure. Cuteness is the total opposite of Japan’s harsh reality. My sister who works in IT says she enjoys going to stores full of cute products especially after working long overtime hours. Cuteness is cool and soothing for Japanese people and allows them an escape from the realities of their life.
Reason 3: Japan is collectively a society with a 12 year old’s mentality and for many there is a strong resistance to grow out of this prepubescent stage. As adults Japanese people are expected to conform to strict social norms and expectations. However as I mentioned above, children are always taken care of in Japanese society. Therefore to cope with the harsh realities of adulthood, many Japanese people seek the comfort of cuteness.
Here is part 2 of this description of my recent holiday in Thailand. In this one you can hear more stories and descriptions about different parts of the country, learning how to cook, a conversation with a monk, doing yoga every day, a couple of messages from listeners and some reflections on gratitude, forgiveness and guidance. Transcript and notes below.
Part 1 got a bit rude in places, didn’t it? I told you about a couple of embarrassing and slightly difficult experiences, a dodgy joke, and some cultural details about Thailand itself, including some things that you might not know about the country. You might have noticed that I was trying to make you laugh a bit, rather than just explaining each individual thing we did there. Some people left comments on the website expressing how much it made them laugh.
I’m going to carry on in this episode with just a few more descriptions of things that happened in Thailand. If you’re thinking of going on holiday there, I would recommend it. A couple of weeks is enough to see and do lots of things. Thailand has a reliable tourist infrastructure which means it’s not difficult to find accommodation, transportation, plenty of places to eat good food, diverse activities and cultural things to see such as temples, art and craft, cooking lessons, night markets, beaches, snorkelling, scuba diving, trekking, kayaking, yoga and meditation. They have the sea, the city and the hills and forests. It’s a diverse and friendly place and a top place to go for a holiday which can be both adventurous and laid back.
My wife and I had a great time there and in this episode I’m going to talk to you about some of the other highlights of the rest of our trip.
Cultural visits in and around Bangkok
A couple of dodgy jokes which I came up with and which have to be told
Chiang Mai in the north
Learning how to cook Thai food
In conversation with a monk
Koh samui – an island in the south
Our yoga retreat – which I expected to be peaceful and relaxing, but which was more like a punishing fitness regime in high temperatures
Mouse news (for people who listened to the episode I did before the holiday)
Grand Palace & Wat Pho
This is the temple of the reclining buddha. It’s brilliant, but “Wat Pho” sounds to me like a question, especially if you say it in a kind of hip hop, black American gangster accent.
– I visited the temple of the reclining buddha in Bangkok
– Just because I thought it would be an interesting thing to see.
Not the strongest joke ever.
Former capital, now a place with loads of impressive old temples and archeological sites. It was extremely fascinating and brilliant but we walked around it all day and get extremely hot and tired, and I came up with this joke.
So, I visited the ancient capital of Thailand today.
Yes, I’m absolutely exhausted!
Again, not the strongest joke ever. But come on, it’s not bad!
How the city looks and where it is.
Relaxing? No – quite a punishing regime.
Early starts, cycling, ‘core foundations’, embarrassing yoga. Mix, repeat.
Food = vegan and veggie.
No beer at all.
Met some very nice people including a German lady called Doris who was a lot of fun. Mui Thai, cross fit etc. She could kick me in the head. Taught me important German words like “shveiss!” For sweat. She discovered my podcast and now might be listening. Hopefully I’ve converted her into being a LEPster.
Lots of funny times at the yoga retreat which felt a bit like being in a cult, or some kind of luxurious jail.
Yoga was quite hard – especially for me – my hips and hamstrings are a disaster. They’re very stiff and inflexible. Eg sitting cross legged is really hard.
My body wants to fall over backwards.
My favourite yoga position – lying in my back!
Great instructors including a couple from England – Ellie and David. David was particularly impressive.
I was basically the only man there except for a few other blokes hanging around doing another program, but in our group I was the only man. All the girls, including my wife I should add, all fell in love with David, especially after they googled him and discovered a few things, such as the fact he was a green beret in the marines, he used to be a fire-fighter, he became a black belt in some obscure Philippine martial art ( trained with a grandmaster)
His sessions, particularly ‘core foundations’ we’re pretty punishing and while the girls found it to be enriching and inspiring, I felt like my ego was slowly being crushed like a grape.
Fitness and yoga sessions twice a day.
Sweating all the fluid out of my body twice a day.
Eating noting but super healthy food.
Getting up at 6 each morning and going to bed at about 9.
All that yoga and tons of meditation.
I felt amazing afterwards, and still do – and that was just 5 days.
In the meditation you are encouraged to focus on things inside you quite deeply.
Combined with the hard fitness work and yoga, which is very humbling and detoxifying I found that in my meditation sessions a lot of painful and guilt filled memories came back to me.
It was like all the bad things were being flushed out of my system.
It was quite painful at times – emotionally as well as physically.
I won’t tell you about all the painful memories that came to me while I was contemplating forgiveness / asking to be forgiven, but I can share one or two – just to give you an idea.
Bad time in life.
Young, immature, directionless, not looking after myself.
Full of awkwardness.
Not in a good place or where I wanted to be.
Working all day every day in a crappy job.
It seemed that every day was filled with nothing but awkward encounters.
Just crushing social awkwardness in which I just came across as really weird and unable to function normally. People must have thought I was odd. Either that or I was paranoid and imagining it all. I could not tell.
Felt totally out of it.
I was actually very depressed.
There was just one guy really who I got on with.
Older than me, quite shy but with a dark sense of humour. We got on alright.
We were like buddies.
Doing the job just to get by. Hated it.
Playing in a band in the evenings but I hated that too – lots of personal politics. Couldn’t sleep at nights.
Invaded by weird negativity all the time.
Thank goodness I’m in a much much better place these days although sometimes that kind of feeling comes back.
A lot of those feelings and that whole emotional space came back to me when I was searching for forgiveness.
In the end I was really fed up and decided to basically start again.
Went back to my parents. Always feels like a failure.
Anyway, some of the people at the job organised a little leaving drink for me the day after I left. I basically left with them saying “see you tomorrow evening at the pub”.
Walking out of there felt like a huge relief.
The next day for some reason I just didn’t want to go out.
I didn’t go to the drink.
I stood everybody up at my own leaving drink.
It might not feel like a big deal to you now. Not so serious. In fact, people do shitty things like this a lot – ignoring a so called friend that they don’t want in their life any more. Dumping a girl by text message. Shitty things.
Anyway, for some reason this kept coming back to me and it just really bothers me.
The guy I met and struck up a friendship with, that’s the worst. I feel really bad about him making an effort to come to the drink and then I just didn’t turn up.
Anyway, I was asking for forgiveness for that, and a few other things too which I won’t mention because it’s too personal.
So overall it was quite an experience to flush out all these negative things – physical and emotional.
It’s a good thing too. It feels great.
I think holidays are best when you actually have something to do which takes you out of yourself. It helps you deal with your past, enjoy the present and prepare for the future.
Think about something you’re grateful for, something you’d like to be forgiven for or someone you’d like to forgive, and something you’d like guidance for.
Back in Paris – September – back to work at the BC – also on my online work – I think I’m going to launch a new competition – stay tuned.
In the last episode I told you a quick story about how I nearly caught a mouse in a mousetrap, but it escaped even though its back legs weren’t working. I was worried that the mouse would crawl off and die on some little corner of the flat somewhere, and then would make a smell. I didn’t tell my wife about this by the way, because what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her, but I was worried that we’d come back and there would be a bit of a ‘dead mouse smell’, but thankfully our flat smelled fine and actually quite nice (we have lots of plants). So, weirdly, despite wanting to kill the mouse in the first place I am actually quite glad that the mouse is still alive. I wonder if it’s learned from its mistake or not. Perhaps I’ll get it next time around.
Join the mailing list. Subscribe on iTunes or other podcasting software. Watch out for news of a new competition I’m going to launch, and as ever let me know what you’re thinking and practise your English by leaving a comment on the website.
I want to say thank you
people who have left me comments following the latest Annual General Meeting episode in which I asked lots of questions. Thank you for your answers – it all helps me to get an idea of what you’re thinking and how I can adapt my episodes slightly to your preferences and things like that
people who I have met in person and who have spoken to me personally about the podcast – you know who you are
people who have made donations to LEP – you are now LEP stakeholders or patrons and I appreciate it very much indeed. You’re the life-blood of LEP and you help to keep the whole show on the road.
similarly – I would like to thank those of you who chose to use my url codes when signing up with italki and audible. Whenever someone does that I get a small kickback and it all helps to keep the podcast alive, and also to convince people around me that all of this is worth doing. I could be spending my time doing more private English lessons, or doing more teaching at university etc, but both you and I would rather I produced episodes of this podcast, right? Well, donations and sponsors allow me to do that. If I didn’t have those forms of support, it would be hard to justify to myself and my family that I spend so much time doing this. I still plan to make it more of a career for me, with the aim of doing just online content creation as my full-time job, and that’s a work in progress. I know I’ve been saying that for years and it’s way overdue, so watch this space for more content which can help you improve your English in new and improved ways.
This episode contains stories and descriptions of my recent holiday in Thailand. You’ll hear some facts about Thailand, some descriptions of Bangkok and a few stories about funny experiences that happened while we were there. Part 2 is coming soon. More details and transcriptions below. Enjoy!
Hello everybody, I’m back from my holiday so here is a brand new episode for you to listen to. If you’re new to Luke’s English Podcast, then “hello” and welcome to the show. I have no idea how you found the podcast. It was probably on the internet, that’s how it normally happens. I doubt that you actually tripped over it in the street or anything. Oops ,what’s that – oh, it’s Luke’s English Podcast. I might as well have a look. You probably found it online, perhaps through iTunes or a friend recommended it to you perhaps. In any case, regardless of how you found me, welcome. My name’s Luke – and this is my podcast. It’s primarily for learners of English although I also have native English speakers listening to this too. In these episodes I talk to you in a personal way, telling stories, sharing some things about my life, discussing different topics, teaching you English and giving you the motivation to improve your English for yourself. I try to keep the podcast varied and I’m willing to talk about pretty much anything at all as long as it’s interesting. I’m an English teacher from the UK. I speak British English – with a standard accent from the South East of England. I’ve been teaching for more than 15 years so I have lots of experience to draw from. I’m also a stand-up comedian which means that when I’m not teaching English or doing the podcast I like to stand up in front of audiences of people and make them laugh with jokes and stories and things. I regularly perform comedy shows in Paris.
One of the principles which underpins what I do in episodes of this podcast is the understanding that simply listening to natural, spontaneous speech is a vital part of the process of learning English to a good standard. Obviously, you have to get an understanding of the grammar rules, develop an extensive set of active vocabulary, practise pronouncing the language and so on, but doing plenty of listening is an essential foundation. I usually recommend that LEP is best enjoyed as part of a balanced study program. For example I suggest that you also do plenty of speaking in order to activate the English that you passively pick up from these episodes. There are lots of ways to improve your English and you can just listen to previous episodes of the podcast to get my advice on that. At the very least, you can just relax and enjoy listening to my words on a regular basis, and I hope that it’s a fun process too. Certainly, I am sure that my podcast can really help all the other aspects of your English, not just your listening. I also believe it’s important to listen to English which is spoken at a pretty natural speed, which is spontaneous (i.e. not just written from a script) and I think you should listen regularly for fairly long periods, long term. Make it a part of your lifestyle to listen regularly and don’t give up.
I want my podcast to help you to do exactly those things, and so I try to make my episodes genuine, personal and humorous. So, if you’re new to the podcast – welcome and thanks for listening. I hope you stick with it. I believe that if you do continue to listen, you’ll see significant results in your English. Check out the episode archive on my website teacherluke.co.uk and you’ll see that you have plenty of other episodes to explore and enjoy.
If you’re not new to the podcast, and you are in fact a long term LEPster then welcome back! How are you? I hope you’re well. Did you have a good August? Have you listened to all the episodes I published before I went away? I hope so.
In any case, here is a new episode of this podcast and it is about my recent holiday in Thailand.
Holiday in Thailand
Yes, we went to Thailand this year and I’m going to tell you about it in this episode. In fact, in this one I’ll talk about these things:
Why we went to Thailand
Where we went in Thailand
The things most people know about Thailand
Some things you might not know about Thailand
A few anecdotes about what we did and saw during the holiday
A few dodgy jokes!
An embarrassing story involving nudity
A sad old memory that came back to me at a specific moment in the trip
A mouse-related update (if you heard the last episode of the podcast, this will make sense to you)
We got back just the other day. I’m still a bit jet-lagged. I woke up at stupid o’clock this morning. My body is still on Thailand time, so at about 5AM my body woke up saying “hey it’s time to get up and go walking around temples in very hot temperatures! We’re on holiday come on!” No doubt I will randomly fall asleep this afternoon when my body decides that it’s bedtime. I have a sun tan – correction, I had a tan, until the flight back. As a very white English man, I have a slightly tricky relationship with sun tans. At the moment I am sporting the typical English man’s tan.
I have no idea how long this episode will be but I can just split it up into different chapters and it’s all good.
You will find some of this episode transcribed on the episode page on my website. Not all of it is transcribed, but a lot of it is, and you can read my notes too, which might be a good way to check out the spelling of any words you hear me use. They might be written on the page. By the way, if you’re just reading this – I strongly recommend that you listen instead of reading. Remember, anything that is written here is supposed to just accompany what I’m saying in the audio recording.
Why did we choose Thailand?
– My wife and I wanted to go somewhere exotic and far away (we want to explore places which are a bit further before we have kids)
– A break and a chance to get away from it all
– Never been before
– We like food !
– It’s quite diverse in terms of the things you can do – city, culture, beaches
– It’s not too expensive
Why didn’t you do an LEP Live event?
It was a holiday – so I was not working. That means I didn’t organise some sort of LEPster meet-up, or live podcasting stand up comedy extravaganza. I didn’t meet up with Olly Richards even though I have since learned that he was out there too learning Thai – no, it was all about walking around sweating, visiting temples, sweating, exploring street food markets, sweating, worrying about food poisoning, sweating, going to the beach and sweating there, learning how to cook local food, eating the local food with lots of chilli, sweating, doing yoga and meditating, drinking water and sweating! Just the average holiday abroad for a British person!
Where did you go?
In a nutshell, here’s where we went.
Bangkok for a few days, then up north to Chiang Mai for a few days, then down south to Koh Samui for a few days and then back to Bangkok for a few days and then home! Boom!
That’s the usual tourist route. It’s Bangkok in the middle, temples, treks into the forest, elephants, night markets and cooking classes in the north, then islands, beaches, diving, snorkelling and full moon parties in the south.
We didn’t go to the islands on the west side like Phuket because of the climate in August.
Also, just before we left and even while we were there, there were some explosions – some bombings, which was a bit worrying. We even considered not going, but then we thought – well, we live in Paris and we’ve got as much chance of being blown up there as in Thailand, so what the hell!
In fact our time was very peaceful.
Usual things people think about Thailand
The most typical clichés or stereotypes about Thailand: Busy, crowded, amazing food – specifically green curry and pad thai noodles, weird sex tourism in Bangkok, ladyboys, bizarre sex shows involving ping pong balls, full moon beach parties, buckets full of ridiculously full cocktails, kickboxing, temples, westerners being locked up in prison for drug possession, scooters, Sagat from Street Fighter 2 (Tiger uppercut), snakes, golden buddha statues, amazingly friendly and smiling people and the film “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
That’s partly true (perhaps for the average western tourist) but obviously it’s not the full picture, especially for the locals. I will go into more detail about what it’s really like in this episode.
Things you might not know about Thailand
1. Full name of Bangkok. It’s the longest city name in the world. “Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.”
2. Thailand, or “Prathet Thai” means “land of the free”…
3. Thailand has never been colonised by a foreign power, unlike other neighbouring countries which were colonised by European nations like Britain, France and the Netherlands. Thailand had a few wars with Burma, but was never successfully invaded. Well done Thailand.
4. Thailand has more than 1,400 islands. The most famous ones are in the south, and they are beautiful. Probably the most well known is Koh Phi Phi, which is where The Beach was filmed. (By the way, it’s a rubbish film)
5. It’s illegal to leave the house without underwear on. I don’t know how they enforce this law. Are they doing random underpant checks?
6. Thai currency is called the Baht and it’s illegal to step on Thai Baht. Now, you might be thinking – well, I don’t every go around stepping on currency anyway, so that’s not a problem. But the point is that this is because of the high level of respect that the Thai people have for their royal family. Like in the UK, a picture of the monarch appears on every bank note and the image of the monarch cannot be desecrated, in fact it is a crime to disfigure a picture of the king or queen in any way. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, a bit like the UK, and they hold their king and queen in high esteem. There are lots and lots of images of them all over the country, sometimes you find little shrines in the street devoted to them.
7. The feet are considered to be very unclean (both clinically and spiritually) and so it is very rude to reveal the soles of your feet to anyone. So, don’t sit with your feet facing outwards, or put your feet up on the table like we do in the west sometimes. It’s also rude to point at people with your feet, which is fine because I literally never do that anyway. I’m sure I heard someone do standup about that and I can’t remember who, but it was very funny.
8. Similarly, the head is the highest point on the body and is considered to be sacred, so don’t touch it, slap it, poke it or whatever. In the west you might rub someone on the top of the head as a sign of affection, or whack someone round the back of the head to express annoyance. Don’t do that in Thailand. To be honest, I wasn’t going to do that either. I rarely touch the head of random strangers that I meet in public. I certainly wouldn’t slap the back of the head of someone. E.g. “Waiter, excuse me – we asked for 2 bowls of rice and you gave me one! Can we have another one? Thank you!” SLAP. No.
9. 95% of people are buddhist. It’s quite common to see Buddhist monks walking around. We talked to one of them and I’ll explain what he said later in this episode. Also there are buddha statues everywhere. There are thousands of them. It’s just buddha buddha buddha buddha buddha buddha buddha buddha buddha. Climb to the top of a mountain, there’s a buddha. Inside a cave? Buddha. Under a nice tree? Buddha. Inside this big temple? Buddha. In front of the big buddha statue, lots of other buddhas. In front of them, buddhas. Buddhas everywhere – which is great. They are beautiful, peaceful images and of all the religions I think Buddhism perhaps makes the most sense. Just try to reach a higher level of consciousness. Realise that everything is connected and that there is one universal vibration which passes through the entire universe. Reject selfish and materialistic urges in favour of achieving individual spiritual enlightenment. Fine.
10. It’s a very hot place – especially Bangkok. The hottest time of year is April where temperatures rise to 40 degrees C or more, with high humidity levels too. In August it’s the rainy season but it still gets really hot – it was regularly in the high 30s and with very high levels of humidity. Showers that happen in the evenings are a welcome break from the heat!
Read more about this on ‘the internet’ http://matadornetwork.com/trips/19-things-probably-didnt-know-thailand/
There are lots of stories about it, like the dodgy ping pong shows, the sex tourism and other weird and lewd things, but of course not everywhere is like that. We avoided the dodgy tourist parts such as Patpong, where there are these weird sex shows. Now, while I am quite curious to learn about the bizarre skills that some women have developed – I mean, some of the things are quite impressive. For example, apparently in these shows, some women are able to launch ping pong balls across the room – and not with their hands if you know what I mean, and some of them can even write letters with a paintbrush or pen, again, not with their hands. THat’s actually quite impressive, but I don’t really need to see it, and apparently the people who run the shows are very dodgy indeed and they lure you in with false prices and then when you try to leave they force you to pay a lot of money and it gets pretty ugly, so no thanks. No ping pong shows for us.
A mix between the chaotic and slightly sketchy places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos etc and the more modern JPN, particularly parts of this area where we stayed.
The streets are vibrant, chaotic, noisy, smelly, polluted, full of life. Scooters, cars, crossing the road. Nobody walks! Traffic is incredibly busy. There’s an amazing metro system called the sky train. Tuk tuks, taxis and so on.
Lots of street food, with people cooking all sorts of things on little mobile carts – chicken skewers, lots of seafood, noodles, fruits like mango and some things I didn’t recognise. People eat in the street sitting on little plastic chairs.
Incredible Japanese BBQ. Daimasu.
Expectations vs reality.
Naked bald midget.
Only had a tiny towel. Not big enough to go around me.
A bunch of other naked guys, including a group of old men in the corner watching. They broke off their conversation to have a look at me when I walked in.
Only foreigner there.
Not normal in my culture.
I felt really embarrassed. Not because of my size – because I have nothing to be ashamed of in that department. Some might say I’m gifted, I would prefer to say I am average for a guy of my height, but I should add that I have massive hands and feet. Just saying. Anyway, I don’t really need to be ashamed of myself but this was very awkward for me but because I’m not used to being seen, and the natural response is to be self-conscious about your size, even in front of other men. You might think it’s not important what other guys think, but I’d never had to rationalise it before and the fact is, is still matters for some reason.
Size is important, even when it’s other guys. I can’t really explain that.
Of course I shouldn’t be bothered by it at all, but I’m English and it’s just part of our culture. First we don’t ever get naked in a public situation, except perhaps at a sports club but then it’s brief.
Also, for some reason it feels like you’re being judged. I did feel judged. I felt incredibly self co anxious.
Maybe I was being a bit paranoid, maybe not, but people weren’t shy about having a look. The old guys stopped their conversation to take a look at me. Others turned their heads etc.
Nerves = natural body response to protect the Crown Jewels.
Stayed in jet bath.
One by one the guys came over to the adjacent bath and had a look at me. Every time I thought “oh for fucks sake!”
I stayed there for 20 minutes not knowing where to look and absolutely boiling!
Tried to make a break for the next nearest bath but it was the cold one – no way.
Went for the soda bath. High CO2 apparently good for me but I thought I was going to die.
Left and got changed.
An absolute fountain of sweat.
Wife waiting for me, totally dry.
The massage was quite brutal, but ultimately nice.
Holiday = sweating, great discomfort, great comfort and relief, good food, discomfort, sweating, relief, sweating etc.
Rude massage joke
Thanks for listening – subscribe to the email list at the top-right of the page. :)
Phrasal Verbs & Idioms / More NY Stories / Politics / Leicester City / Google Adverts
Welcome back to another podcast episode. It’s nice to be back in your headphones or speakers. In the last episode of this podcast I talked to you about some recent bits and pieces such as the ELTon award nomination, my recent trip to New York and some other stuff. I also gave you a language task to keep you on your toes. I’m going to continue along the same lines in this episode and I have a list of things here to talk about and we’re going to continue with the language spotting exercise.
It’s a Friday afternoon, I’ve just seen the latest Marvel movie, the weather is mad, and I’m going to talk to you about various things again but first I’ve got to respond to a couple of comments that have arrived here on my website in just the last hour.
Phrasal Verbs & Idioms Listed Below
Some comments from listeners
Abensour • 4 minutes ago Hello Luke, Your podcast is fantastic. Nevertheless, could you please speak a bit faster. I guess you must lower the pace when you record your podcasts and it would be very interesting to hear you with your natural english speaking pace.
Jeremie • 1 minute ago By the way, I am a french listener as well! :)
Wesley Hello Luke and LEP listeners, It’s with absolute delight that I receive the news that LEP has been nominated for the 2016 ELTons and I genuinely believe other long-term listeners share the same feeling. The British Council and Cambridge English couldn’t have a better candidate for the Digital Innovation category. One thing that troubled me though was when Luke said it was unlikely that he could win. Luke, I don’t know if you’re being far too English or just trying to be modest but, as I see it, you shouldn’t take this defeatist attitude and underestimate yourself. As you said, LEP is a project you have been working on for over seven years and it keeps getting better as time goes on. Because you’re kind-hearted and keep LEP free, people all over the world listen to you. Your episodes have millions of downloads and are a complete success and, even though you’re up against five other great nominees, I cannot conceive why LEP might not be in the running for the award. LEP is innovative because it allows learners to listen to genuine English – rambling included – outside a classroom environment. Everyone who has reached a proficient level knows how important being in touch with the language is in order to learn it well. LEP is great because it enables us to hear natural English for pleasure and entertainment or while doing housework, cooking and commuting to college. I am not aware of any other equivalent English teaching resource that suits our busy lives just as well as LEP. I believe any sensible judge on the panel will allow for all those reasons when they vote. I wish you luck and I’ll keep my fingers crossed. All the best, Wesley
Language Task – Spot the Phrasal Verbs & Idioms
So, that language task from the previous episode was to listen out for a few phrasal verbs and idioms that I’d taken randomly from a dictionary and which I tried to insert into my speech, seamlessly. You had to identify the ones I had added. The purpose of that is to encourage you to notice lexical items – to notice vocabulary. It’s a good habit for a learner of English. On one hand just follow what I’m saying and connect with that, but also try to notice features of the language you’re listening to. That’s what I’m encouraging you to do.
I chose 5 phrasal verbs and 5 idioms and I managed to slip in just one of those phrasal verbs and two of the idioms.
Remember what they were?
There was “to come up against” something.
Also, “to be on the edge of your seat”
and “to get your knickers in a twist”
There were also plenty of other bits of vocabulary which just cropped up in the episode, including these ones:
– to listen out for something
– to watch out and look out for something (not too complicated)
– to keep your eyes peeled
– to prick up your ears
So, as we move forwards now, watch out for the 4 remaining phrasal verbs and 3 remaining idioms. I’m not telling you what they are in advance. It’s up to you to identify them. You’ll probably hear a few phrasal verbs and idioms, but which are the ones that I took from the dictionary? When we get to the end of this episode I’ll tell you the phrases, and clarify them for you, because I’m nice.
Keep reading – the phrasal verbs and idioms are listed below.
Topics in Today’s Ramble
In this one I’m going to carry on just talking about various subjects, including a couple of other anecdotes about New York, some comments about politics in the USA and in the UK at the moment, some more rambling about movies, and various other bits and pieces that will crop up as we go along.
I’ve got no idea how long this is going to take of course! I could talk the hind legs off a donkey this afternoon, but as ever I’ll just divide the whole thing into several more episodes if necessary. Ultimately – it’s all spoken English from me to you, so here we go…
Some more anecdotes about the time spent in NYC
– The hasidic jews jamming in the music store
– Jack Whitehall at the Comedy Cellar
– Billy Cobham at the Blue Note
The American presidential elections – Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton
London Mayor – Sadiq Khan is the new mayor
The EU referendum / Brexit
The Panama papers
These are very important political issues that really deserve to be covered in proper depth, and I plan to do that.
I’m particularly keen to talk about Brexit in one more special Brexit themed episodes.
Leicester City won the Premiership.
Small club, 5000-1 odds of winning. The title has been dominated by the big names. Leicester is in the East Midlands and it’s less famous than a lot of the other big cities in England but this is going to help. All in all it’s just fantastic to see a smaller club win this title. They were absolutely fantastic.
Google Adverts I bought some new trainers online and now the internet is madly trying to get me to buy them again. WTF?
I’ve just seen the new Marvel movie and also there’s a new Star Wars film coming this Christmas, but that’s going to come in another episode soon…
The Phrasal Verbs & Idioms – Definitions and Examples
Thank you to a LEPster called Valeriya for writing these vocabulary notes in the comment section for the benefit of all listeners.
Valeriya: I wrote some notes. Hope they will be useful for the LEPstors.
to ease off/up – to gradually stop or become less
e.g. At last the rain began to ease off.
e.g. I am leaving soon, but I am just waiting for the traffic to ease off a bit.
to ease off/up – to start to work less or do things with less energy
e.g. As he got older, he started to ease up a little.
to ease off/up – to start to treat someone less severely
e.g. I wish his supervisor would ease up on him a bit.
to fork out (on something) – spend a lot of money on something, probably spend a lot of money in one go in order to buy something; to spend a bunch of money on something in one purchase
e.g. If you advertise nice guitars to me for a long enough period of time, eventually I will fork out on a new guitar.
to splash out (on something) – spend a lot of money on something; to spend a lot of money on something which you want but do not need
e.g. He splashed out on the best champagne for the party.
to go down with something – you catch an illness, you get sick; you become sick; to start to suffer from an infectious disease
e.g. Half of Martha’s class has gone down with flu.
to come down with something – to get an illness; заболеть чем-либо
I came down with the flu at Christmas.
e.g. You need to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, so you’ve got lots of vitamins, because if you don’t, you might come down with a cold.
to bring the house down – if someone or something brings the house down during a play or show, they make the people watching it laugh or clap very loudly; you make everyone laugh as part of a performance; to put on a really great performance and to be a huge hit; to make a group of people or an audience react in a very enthusiastic way, especially by laughing
e.g. I saw Jack Whitehall at the Comedy Cellar, and he absolutely brought the house down.
to go on the offensive – you begin to take strong action against people who have been attacking you
e.g. The West African forces went on the offensive in response to attacks on them.
to go on the offensive – to begin to attack or criticize someone who you think is attacking you
Under pressure from his critics, the minister decided to go on the offensive.
Luke was going on the offensive about Google’s Advertising.
to go on the defensive – in an attitude or position of defense, as in being ready to reject criticism; you start defending yourself or something
e.g. He’s so sensitive. Whenever you give him any feedback he immediately goes on the defensive.
to take/bring somebody down a peg or two – to do something to show someone that they are not as good as they thought they were; to lower someone’s high opinion of themselves
e.g. He’s one of these super-confident types who really needs to be brought down a peg or two.
to dabble in something – to try an activity but not seriously, just as an experiment to see if you like it. To do something for a short time, or not regularly, in order to see if you like it. To do something sometimes, but not in a fully serious way, only in a casual way.
e.g. He dabbled in left-wing politics at university.
Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.
If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.
In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.
A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. Look for episode 294.
*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*
Let’s get straight into it.
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.
Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.
I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.
That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).
It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.
Earthquake Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts about earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Society website.
San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.
My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.
History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?
There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.
This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.
We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.
The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.
Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).
The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.
The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark
The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.
The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.
How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.
Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.
George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968
What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.
Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.
I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.
I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?
Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.
What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…
I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.
I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.
In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.
Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.
More Audiobook Recommendations – www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
Let’s continue to look at a few recommendations for California-related audiobooks you could download free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.
“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on audible.com: Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.
Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.
End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Hi listeners, I hope all’s well. Here’s part 5 in this series which I’m doing about my California road trip. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about these things: The Church of Scientology, Yosemite National Park and our slightly dramatic adventure there, more British and American English, and if time I’ll talk to you about San Francisco, where among other things I met and interviewed AJ Hoge. So let’s get started. [In fact I only managed to talk about Scientology and the Yosemite experience – British & American English, and AJ Hoge will be in the next episode].
[DOWNLOAD] Periscope Live Broadcast
While recording this I’m also doing a live-stream on Periscope. You might be thinking – oh, I wish I’d known about that, I would have watched it! You can watch the videos of the live feed here: (and there’s about 45 minutes of extra stuff in the videos that you don’t hear on the podcast)
The Road Trip Continues… 11 August
Prepare to drive to Yosemite – we go to CVS and stock up on water and other supplies, program the SatNav (GPS) to take us via Bakersfield and Fresno, then up Highway 41 into Yosemite, where we have managed to book a spot in a camping ground. We’re both really looking forward to being in the fresh air in the mountains.
Before leaving we stop for breakfast in a recommended cafe where they do awesome pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and free refills of coffee. We park the car and walk up the street and then suddenly come across a huge imposing blue building. It’s massive and weirdly painted bright blue. It’s the headquarters of the Church of Scientology. At this point I’d like to talk a little bit about Scientology, which I consider to be a fascinating and (here’s that word again) mysterious aspect of California life.
What’s the Church of Scientology?
Here’s a recording I made at that moment.
Play the first recording.
It’s a religion, and quite a controversial one. Some people call it a cult. Some of its members are famous celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Apparently the church has a lot of influence in Hollywood, and lots of people think it’s really weird and secretive. There are even suggestions that the church has been involved in criminal activity, threats – again these are just allegations, but it’s pretty mysterious and fascinating, like something from a mystery novel.
I recently saw a really interesting documentary about Scientology, called “Going Clear” in which lots of ex-members (people who decided to leave) of the church explain what it’s really like, and they don’t say very positive things. In fact the documentary seems to suggest that it’s a power-hungry cult which takes money from its members and threatens them with retribution if they try to leave. There are also suggestions that the church committed crimes like burglary, theft and intimidation in order to avoid having to pay a huge tax bill to the US government. Bold claims indeed. What’s really going on in this blue building?
A brief history of Scientology
This time I’m going to paraphrase a summary of Scientology that I’ve found on the “For Dummies” website. “For Dummies” is a series of books that help to explain various complex subjects in simple terms. You might know the series – they have distinctive yellow covers. It’s a really good series and they have books on almost every subject. A quick look at the For Dummies series on Audible shows titles like… (read some titles).
Recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of “British History for Dummies”, and it’s really good and yes I got that from Audible. You can get it too if you want – just click an audible button on my site or go to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke and sign up for a trial and you can get a free audiobook. You could choose one of the “For Dummies…” books. Just search Audible for “For Dummies” and you can see all the books available.
Anyway, For Dummies also have a website with clear and fairly brief summaries. So, let’s check out the summary for Scientology. You can check the link here: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-scientology.html
So, what I’m about to say is based on information in that summary, but also what I learned from the Scientology pamphlets I’ve read and what I learned from several documentaries I’ve seen.
The church was set up in 1953 by a writer called L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was already fairly successful as a writer of both science fiction stories, and then self-help books. His most successful self-help book explored the relationship between body and mind, and he called it Dianetics. This book became the basis of the religion he then set up called Scientology. Some critics say that Diabetics is just quackery (not proper science or psychiatry) he only set this up as a religion because it was a tax-dodge. In the USA religions don’t have to pay tax, so Hubbard is criticised for having a cynical reason for making his religion in the first place – so that he could make money, or worse – that he was just power-hungry. Whatever the reason, Scientology was set up as a religion in the USA.
Hubbard is loved by the Scientologists, but viewed with a lot more suspicion by many non-members of the church. For example, the French government, who considered him to be a fraudster and tried to convict him of customs violations in the 1970s. “Britain, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Venezuela all closed their ports to his fleet in the 70s. At one point, a court in Australia revoked the church’s status as a religion.” (Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Ron_Hubbard#Life_in_hiding) These are all reasons why he went into hiding in 1970. To go into hiding means to leave the place where you live and go to a place where nobody can find you. He was the leader of the church right up until he died in 1986.
What do Scientologists do?
You can walk into a Scientology centre in many cities in the world now, and have a counselling session. In fact you might be invited in for one. When I used to live in London I used to walk past the Scientology centre in central London and they would sometimes as me if I wanted a stress-test. I always said no because I felt it was just a way for them to get me into the centre. I imagined it would be like this:
“Hi, are you feeling a bit stressed today? Would you like a free stress test?”
and then you go in and they check you out and tell you that you’re feeling all stressed out and that stress is really harmful and that they have all the solutions to how to combat stress and live a more effective life – and it’s Scientology. “Here’s a leaflet” or “Would you like to sign up to a course?” and then you’re in.
Sounds okay doesn’t it? I expect it is helpful at the beginning, for many people. It’s just not for me.
A counselling session at the church is called an audit. Essentially, this is a bit like a psychotherapy session. You’re invited to share deeply personal things in order to free yourself from emotional burdens. It sounds a bit like Freudian psychoanalysis doesn’t it? In fact Scientology completely rejects psychoanalysis. Apparently, Scientology is the only way. During these auditing sessions you are hooked up to a machine which is called an E-meter. According to scientology this can measure your thoughts, well – it’s not just as simple as ‘thoughts’ – apparently it’s related to immortal spirits from space which inhabit our bodies and prevent us from living a healthy and happy life. Auditing allows us to set these spirits free, which makes us feel better. Critics say the e-meter just measures electromagnetic energy in your hands and is no more revealing about your mind than a crude lie detector test. But, according to Scientology if an e-meter is used by a Scientology minster then it really works. Freeing yourself from levels of emotional burden in these auditing sessions is called going clear, and there are different stages of clarity. In order to achieve those levels of clarity you need to do more and more audits, share more and more personal problems, and also contribute more and more things to the church. This costs quite a lot of money as courses of auditing are not cheap, and all of this goes to the church, and also all the private and personal things you’ve said in auditing sessions are recorded and kept by the church. The aim is to free yourself of all your emotional burdens and achieve a state of perfect clarity. Apparently the church of Scientology is very rich as they have purchased some incredible pieces of real estate around the world, such as this massive building in Los Angeles. It’s not clear exactly how much power they have. Some say they exert some influence in Hollywood’s entertainment industry.
What do Scientologists believe?
Scientologists believe that people are in fact just receptacles for immortal spirits which came down to earth many years ago. The church doesn’t like it if these spirits are called aliens. Because, it sounds bad if you believe in aliens. It sounds a bit mad doesn’t it. So let’s not call them aliens. Apparently, these immortal ‘spirits’ live within us. They’re trapped inside us, and they can only be freed by going through auditing sessions, until you get to the top of level of clarity when I guess the aliens, sorry spirits go somewhere else. I’m not sure of the details of what happens to the spirits, or if we are the spirits, or what they look like.
OK, fair enough I suppose! We’re all entitled to our beliefs. What’s so controversial about them?
Here’s what’s written on the page from Scientology for Dummies, by Scott Barnes: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-scientology.html
Scientology is one of the most controversial religious movements of our time. Many people reduce their world view to nothing more than a cult that brainwashes its members and then fleeces (cons) them by charging outrageous fees for some auditing classes. Critics lambast the church for its rejection of established psychiatry, and many people take issue with the church’s “Celebrity Centres,” which are facilities that are technically open to the public but primarily serve the most famous Scientologists in the arts, sports, and government (think Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, and Nancy Cartwright).
Reports from some who have left the Church of Scientology are even more incriminating and include stories of church members being held for years against their wills at “rehabilitation camps” for violating certain policies, or sending members to go through the trash of the church’s critics and former members to find material to blackmail them into silence. In 1979, several Scientology members were convicted for participating in the largest theft of government documents in U.S. history. Scientologists have also been accused of tampering with witnesses in court cases and even murder.
In response to these claims, Scientologists state that their religion is genuine and that the movement has been distorted, and that they are being persecuted.
Among the criticisms are: Scientology preys upon people who want to make it in Hollywood by suggesting that they can help, then they force them to stay in the church with the suggestion that they can harm their careers due to their extensive connections in the business, they illegally resisted an investigation into their accounts by the IRS (the US tax office), they bully their members and they blackmail high-profile members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta into staying in the church – remember the church has recordings of all those extensive and deeply personal auditing sessions. These are all allegations and criticisms which have been made against the church – not necessarily my thoughts. I haven’t decided what I think of them yet and I’m just curious.
Is it possible that all of this sinister stuff is going in within these imposing blue buildings that we saw? I wonder…
Play the second recording.
I decided I’d try and talk to someone. I felt a bit excited and a bit nervous because I know the church can be a bit touchy about people doing recordings or making documentaries about them, which I guess is understandable. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to talk to someone so I went over to some of the people in uniform who were walking around the building. I spoke to a woman who was very nice and normal, of course. I told her I was making a holiday diary, and that I had just come across the building and wanted to interview someone about it. She took me into the building and I spoke to someone in reception. I made a recording afterwards.
Play the third recording.
What do you think about Scientology?
The woman I spoke to seemed very happy and proud to be working at the organisation. The place looked very smart and clean. Many members of the church say that it has helped them a lot. But what about all these allegations? Tell me what you think? Is the church a cult? Is it a force for good? Is there a church of Scientology in your country? What do you think?
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a huge national park, and probably one of the most stunning parks in the world. Most of the tourism there is centred on Yosemite Valley, which is full of meadows, a river and pine trees, and some accommodation and camping grounds. Around the valley you have incredible granite rock formations including stunning mountains. There are granite rock faces like El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome and so on, also some of the highest waterfalls in the world. The whole thing combines to be a stunning place to spend time camping, cycling, hiking or rock climbing and it is visited by about 5 million people per year. There are a few roads that go round the central part of the park surrounding the valley. 95% of the park is wilderness and hardly any people go there except experienced hikers, climbers and campers. You might know Yosemite from the Apple Mac operating system. At the time I’m recording this podcast, the most recent OS for mac is Yosemite (I believe the next one is called El Capitan – also a rock face in Yosemite National Park). So if you have a Mac with Yosemite, you’ve probably seem desktop images of the place. It’s absolutely stunning. Being there is a bit like being inside your own Apple Mac, but obviously much much better than that because nothing can compare to seeing it with your own eyes.
We drove out of LA and the through back end of the Hollywood hills. Handsome countryside with a highway which is great for driving. But the land soon becomes flat boring farmland. The driving is fun in the Camaro, which comes into its own on the open highway (which is rarely open because of all the cars). I realise that I’ve hardly put my for down the whole time. Most of the driving in LA has been slow cruising or edging forwards in traffic.
I floor the Camaro with some space ahead and it reveals masses of hidden power, roaring and leaping forwards with yet more revs all the time. It seems to have about 9 gears and they’re all RAAAAA!
We eat up the highway and eventually arrive in Fresno after about 4 hours. Fresno, aka Mall-land. It seems to be one giant shopping mall. I guess we’re in the commercial district but there is just open mall after open mall. We pick one with a Wholefoods and get sushi, which is not that great. Wholefoods is like Mecca to us. London has a few, Paris none.
What’s great about Wholefoods?
They’re normal in USA but this one isn’t that great, or maybe the expectation was too high.
It’s freezing inside and boiling outside.
We wander around mall-land looking for supplies.
Then the drive to Yosemite in the mid/late afternoon. A couple of hours.
The landscape gets more and more interesting as we climb up and up the winding highway. Wonderful driving and lovely smell of pine cones and pine trees. We drive with the windows open and the sun on our faces through the trees.
Eventually we’re in Yosemite and we glimpse views of stunning granite formations but keep going. We go into a tunnel and on the other side (tunnel view) the whole valley opens out on the left side. It’s my Mac desktop but we’re actually there. Can’t see properly from the Camaro. Terrible visibility.
After an hour of driving in a daze we arrive at our campsite.
Describe the tents.
Friendly atmosphere. Our tent is situated pretty well.
There are strict regulations about bears.
Black Bears in Yosemite
This is bear country and they are all around the park. They come out at night to go on missions into the valley to get food.
Apparently they have over 2x the sense of smell of a bloodhound, are very intelligent and more curious and confident than dogs, they have huge claws and padded hairy feet which make them silent. You must not keep any food or scented products in the tent or car. Everything has to be in the bear boxes which are very sturdy, made of metal and bolted to the ground. Apparently if you leave food out and then turn your back, they can appear and start feeding. Apparently at night, all the black bears head down into the valley under the cover of darkness. Slightly scary.
Naturally it’s pretty exciting to be sleeping in a basic hut with just a curtain separating us in bed and the bears which I imagine to be wandering around our tents at night.
I don’t have to imagine much because that night a bear has a go at the bear box just next to our tent. I hear it trying to open the box before moving on to try another one and another one. I later hear two people walking past talking about the bear they’ve seen. I was frozen solid in bed the whole time.
Apparently if you come across one you should shout at it angrily to try and scare it away.
I wonder what I would shout at it.
What should you say to a bear? What’s the appropriate thing?
I wouldn’t want to be too rude but at the same time it would be necessary to talk in rather strong terms.
I suppose indirect language wouldn’t work.
You have to be direct and clear, yet reasonable.
I’m joking of course. I think I would just scream at it and swear and say any old nonsense.
I imagine some of you would be a bit cooler.
Not me – I’m from the UK. We killed all our bears years ago, and made them fight dogs and other cruel things.
I imagine that any bear meeting me and hearing my London accent would not be that friendly.
So, no need to be cool. Freaking out and panicking is the order of the day here.
The place has a lovely summer camp, hippie Boy Scout feel to it, although it’s a bit crowded and there are lots of kids. It would be nice to have the place to ourselves of course but that’s impossible.
Dinner in the Yosemite Lodge down the road. Modest canteen food. Bought some tourist stuff like a cap and some playing cards.
Then bed after making sure all food and smelly stuff is in the reinforced box, then draw the canvas curtains – definitely not reinforced. Tie them with a good knot. Will it make a difference?
Of course bears won’t be interested in us, but apparently they’re really curious. We’re wearing mosquito repellent coil things. They’re quite interesting and smelly. Maybe a bear will find it interesting.
I would. “Oh what’s that on your wrist” – would the bear equivalent of that be “roar! Let me poke my head into your tent and bite your arm off, or just maul you a bit (because that’s what large dangerous animals do, they maul you).
Slept pretty well in the open air, despite these thoughts in my head and an actual bear or two outside the tent. Had to go to the loo in the night. I did so, noisily, checking the toilet quickly for any bears that might be in there hanging out or whatever. I did my business and had to look over the top of the door before leaving the cubicle, just to make sure there wasn’t a huge bear waiting for me. But it’s all fine.
Breakfast in the canteen and then a day in the park.
Stayed on the valley floor on bikes. Packed lunches. Wanted to hike but closed. Apparently there was a fire up there.
Amazing seeing the granite up there. Gave me the desire to climb, but that’s not an option without climbing buddies, and my wife hasn’t really done it before. Bikes are a bit awkward – beach cruiser type things. Mountain bikes would have been better. Still, it’s very peaceful and incredibly fresh. Sunshine and cycling are quite tiring so we end up chilling by the river.
I’m a bit worried about tomorrow. What can we do that’s fun and takes advantage of the proper rugged landscape without being too challenging?
That night I drive us back up to Tunnel Point to see the sunset. We end up staying to look up at the stars, lying on our backs. It’s immensely beautiful as there is hardly any light pollution, so the stars are all revealed in their glory. Millions and millions of tiny points of light. Our galaxy the milky way is so rich that it appears to be like a mist across the sky, but in fact it’s a dense collection of many many stars. We see constellations like Orion’s belt and the plough. Driving back through the valley my wife sleeps in the passenger seat and I stop the car again to lie on the bonnet and look up at the stars some more, but I get totally freaked out by the total darkness around me! We sleep soundly that night, ready for a pretty early start in the morning.
Coach trip up to Granite Point. Driver very amusing. 26 years and he has perfected his routine. Full of jokes and dry humour and the story of Yosemite. (What’s the story)
Panoramic views and start hike.
Some concern over the preparedness, but in fact we’re well prepared. Our shoes are not climbing shoes, but I think some of that is just marketing, and anyway some of the more recent climbing shoes don’t have ankle protection. 8 miles of hike, mostly downhill. Some uphill bits. Some tricky steps. Should take 4-6 hours.
We do the first 3-4 miles without problem except my wife rolls her heel slightly on a rock. As she’s walking she steps on a small rock, and her heel flexes a bit to the right as her foot slips slightly. I worry for a moment if she’s sprained it but she says she’s fine and carries on.
Stop at Nevada falls, dip our feet in the pools of cold water, chill out and eat sandwiches.
Time to leave and my wife’s ankle has ceased up completely.
Very painful to walk on and we face 5 miles of downhill trekking. Should take a couple of hours normally but it takes us about half and hour to do about half a mile. She’s holding my hand and using me as a crutch. We have to stop. We’re stuck.
Lots of people stop to ask if we’re ok. People are amazingly nice.
Two women called Jenny and Susan stop. Apparently they’ve just done a training course in safety and first aid.
They take our situation seriously and give us water and food, and then call search and rescue for us. I feel bad for not having done this earlier. Anyway, search and rescue take a full description of the injury and say they’ve sent a ranger up to meet us. Suddenly we’re in a kind of emergency rescue situation with the authorities involved. My wife in particular is gutted and embarrassed. They tell us not to move. We wait for about an hour and then the ranger arrives. Apparently he was on the trail already but he made good time to get to us. I’ve bound my wife’s leg in a bandage given to us J and S. The ranger has crutches and more supplies of water and food. He also has material to give the foot support with a splint.
According to him we should climb back up and then down another way. We realise this is going to take us hours and hours of slow and painful movement for my wife. She’s really pissed off and sorry. So am I.
We walk back the way we’ve come, up to the waterfalls again and it’s slow going. Poor wife has to struggle with crutches or one crutch and my shoulder. Very slow. A 2-3 hour trek looks set to take 5-6 hours. That’s a long time for my wife to hobble along a rocky trail up and downhill on crutches with one ankle in pain and unable to take her weight.
But she’s brave and determined. Every time Josh or I asks if she wants to take a break she says “non!”
She’s determined to get down the trail to the bottom, as quickly as possible.
Describe the trail and the things we saw.
Peregrine Falcons nesting above us.
We talk to Josh and he tells us various things:
There are about 5 fatalities from accidents per year.
That sounds like a lot, as if it’s a really dangerous place, but when you consider that about 5 million people visit every year it’s only 1 in a million who die. Imagine London with its 7 million residents. How many deaths are there in London per year? A lot more. So which is the more dangerous – trekking in Yosemite or cycling to work in London?
Nevertheless, there have been some pretty gruesome accidents, usually as a result of stupid tourists who have no sense of safety or no respect for the nature of the park.
Apparently one of the most common forms of death by accident is from people falling over the waterfalls and falling hundreds of feet to their death on the rocks below.
Apparently they jump around on the huge boulders at the edge of the waterfalls with their cameras and selfie sticks, edging forward trying to get the perfect photo or selfie and they edge forward a little too far and suddenly they’re over the edge.
What happens when a tourist falls off one of the highest waterfalls in the world and lands on granite rocks?
Apparently the rangers have nicknamed it the human water balloon. You can imagine what that looks like to the other trekkers and tourists who witness it happening.
Josh tells us other tales of tourists who are unprepared for the wilderness of Yosemite, even though there are numerous warnings written all over the park.
People who attempt to scale the half dome – a huge granite dome thousands of feet above the valley floor with a sheer vertical drop on one side. It takes at least 12 hours to climb up. Most do it over several days. It’s a proper climb for experienced people and it ends with a long ascent up the dome at a 45 degree angle. To get up there you have to hold onto steel cables which have been bolted into the rock, and use crude wooden blocks also bolted to the granite. Some people lose their grip and down they go. Others lose their cool and panic, with the same result. They fall all the way down to the bottom.
The search and rescue Rangers are called up to the mountainside every day. Sometimes it’s necessary to do helicopter rescues.
According to Josh, this year a woman fell from the half dome but didn’t fall to her death. Instead her shirt got caught on a sharp bit of rock and she hung there for two hours before being rescued.
Earlier that day, Josh had to rescue a guy who had fallen out of a tree. Apparently he was climbing the tree, messing around and he fell out and landed badly on a rock. His ribs broke and pierced his lungs. Josh thinks he probably didn’t make it.
This puts things in perspective somewhat. But still, the crutches and the assisted descent are definitely necessary and we count our lucky stars that it’s not worse. Josh tells us that we’re well prepared with water, food and a torch. Yesterday he rescued a Chinese couple who had tried to climb the half dome without knowing what they were doing. It’s at least a 12 hour climb, often more. They’d started after lunch and were quite high up, coming back down when they realised they would never get to the bottom before sunset and then they’d be stranded in total darkness on the trail. Not fun spending a night out there without food or shelter, especially when you know there are bears around, even 9 foot long mountain lions, although they are rare.
Josh heard the couple screaming for help on the trail, and assisted them to the bottom.
Again, 5 million people enter the park every year. Not all of them know what they’re doing.
We continue to make very slow progress down the trail. My wife is in a lot of discomfort, but mainly she’s frustrated at not being able to go faster. Each step is a mini challenge because of the crutches – she has to place them carefully, and then place her foot carefully too, making sure she doesn’t have to put her weight on the bad ankle.
On the plus side, we get to walk with a ranger and we get the sunset on the trail, with magnificent views of the half dome and other domes in the valley. Again, this all seems so familiar to me because of a computer game – this time it’s Red Dead Redemption, which is set over 100 years ago, and you’re basically a cowboy gunslinger in the wild west. The landscape is very faithfully reproduced in the game, and there is a mountainous area with bears which is really similar to the landscape in Yosemite.
As the sun stretches through the trees onto the trail we are basically alone at this point as it gets to about 8pm. We should have been back 3 hours ago but we still have a long way to go. In this quiet I keep expecting to see a bear cross the path in front of us. Everything seems so still and peaceful that I’m sure any moment now we’re going to come across a bear.
Anyway, the main challenge is to get down the mountain, never mind bears and lions. It’s very rocky, there are lots of steps and boulders and so on. It goes on and on forever until eventually we’re walking in the total darkness with torches on our heads.
I carry my wife for some sections, and it’s a chance to go much faster.
Eventually, after ages and ages, we finally get to the end of the trail at a huge water tank, which is like some massive UFO looming out of the darkness. From there we’re all picked up by a local police officer in his 4×4, which is absolutely huge, like many of the cars. It’s giant, with massive tyres. My wife sits in the cab with the police officer. Between them there is a gun rack with several massive semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun and a few handguns. A typical American cop car! Not only is it a tremendous relief to be off the trail and back in civilisation, but we get a ride in what feels like a tank! The police officer drives us through the forests in the closed area of the park, back to where our car is parked at Yosemite Lodge. We stop at the police station and Josh goes in to get us some food. It’s 11 o’clock and we haven’t eaten since the sandwiches at the waterfall. Josh comes out with two US Army meal rations. These are field packs for soldiers and they contain everything for a full meal including macaroni cheese, tea, coffee, a fruit desert, bread, salt, pepper, butter and the whole things heats themselves up without needing fire. Bonus!
In the end, we are completely knackered and go straight to bed, exhausted after I carefully inspect my wife’s ankle. Thankfully it’s not too swollen or discoloured. In fact, I think she escaped bad injury and her ankle will be fine if she rests it. The next 36 hours will be pretty inactive, with a long sleep and then a fairly long car journey so she can rest it.
Hello, welcome back to the podcast. This is part 3 in what could turn out to be quite a long series about my recent trip around California. Normally I tend to focus on British things in this podcast but every now and then I go travelling somewhere and report back on what happened. This time I went to California on my honeymoon. The itinerary for the trip was to fly to LA, then drive to Yosemite National Park, then across to San Francisco, then down the coast back to LA and then home again. In this series I’m telling you about the trip, but also I’m branching out in order to ramble on about the history and culture of California and some of the differences between British and American English, as well as some other subjects.
At this point in the series I’m still just a few days into the holiday, and there’s plenty more stuff to cover. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about Venice Beach, Baywatch, Segways, the grammar of telling stories and anecdotes in English, some facts about the Hollywood sign, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, British and American English vocabulary related to driving, the dark side of Hollywood and celebrity culture, and an analysis of the lyrics to the song “Hotel California” by The Eagles. That’s a lot of subjects to cover, so I’d better get started right away!
Saturday 8 August
Drove to Venice Beach which is just along from the world famous Baywatch Beach (Santa Monica beach).
Long Boardwalk with lots of shops, cafes and bars.
People performing and busking.
Bikes and segways.
The Segway – the most stupid invention of all time?
What we need is some way of propelling us forwards at just a few miles per hour (you mean like walking speed?), but with the ability to go slightly faster (what, like running speed?) facing forwards so we can see where we’re going, with our hands free so we can hold coffee or mobile phones. How on earth can we do it? (How about our legs sir? We could just walk, jog or run.) Don’t be ridiculous!
And the Segway was born – bringing human laziness to new levels. And you thought escalators and moving walkways were bad enough, now the Segway. It’s very hard to look cool or even dignified on one of these things. I imagine there are some people who cruise around on a Segway all day and then go to the gym to run on a treadmill in order to stay fit. Something doesn’t make sense here. OK, so it doesn’t produce harmful emissions, but neither do your legs. Sure, a person can fart – that’s an emission, but you can still fart on a Segway so it’s the same. Maybe it’s for people with mobility issues, but it seems that in order to use a segway you need the full use of your legs in order to stand on it the whole time, and balance properly. Well, I’m sure it must be useful for something – like maybe doing specific jobs, but it seems a bit silly to use one when you can just use your legs to do exactly the same job. It seems like reinventing the wheel to me. (This is a phrase which means doing something unnecessary – like working hard to do something which is already done by something else)
“Introducing a new innovation in green personal transport – legs!”
Went to the beach or sunbathing. Really huge beach covered in pristine bleached sand.
Swam in the sea. Big waves.
There are lifeguards, exactly like in Baywatch but somehow I expected (or hoped) that it would be more like Baywatch there.
Baywatch: A show which I think was ‘single handedly’ responsible for bringing a whole generation of boys into puberty – no pun intended.
But it was pretty normal, compared to the TV show. I mean, the people looked pretty normal. It wasn’t just hundreds of David Hasselhoffs and Pamela Andersons everywhere, except for me and my wife of course.
Shopping in the huge outlet mall. The place looked like Bowser’s castle from Super Mario Bros. Totally fake modern place that was vaguely like a castle and a huge castle courtyard.
Bargains on jeans. 4 items for the price of one pair of jeans back home.
Seemed incredibly luxurious. Big marble toilets with acres of space.
Yamashiro restaurant in the evening for a romantic candlelit dinner with a stunning view of the city. The restaurant was amazing, with Japanese gardens in the middle and lots of sliding doors – like the scenes from Kill Bill.
Amazing views of the city.
STOP! Grammar Time – A Note on the Tenses Used in this Episode
Usually when you’re describing what happened in the past you use past tenses (past simple, past continuous, past perfect) and so on. So far I’ve been using past tenses in this series of episodes when talking about what we did, but as I’m now reading from the notes I made during the trip, I’ve noticed that I wrote it all in present tenses and it feels tempting to slip into the present tense while reading it. Why? This sometimes happens when we tell stories that we want to make engaging, captivating and in-the-moment. Past tenses accurately report past events, but past tenses can be quite remote. They place the action in a finished time period. When people tell long stories, they sometimes slip into present tenses in order to avoid this remoteness, and make the action and events seem more real and captivating.
Also, using present tenses to tell stories and anecdotes is more common in spoken English. In written English it can be frowned upon (some people don’t like it) but the main thing when writing is that you stick to one perspective (either past tenses or present tenses, throughout). For example, a person at a dinner party might begin telling a story about their holiday using past tenses but then might subconsciously switch to present tenses to make the events more immediate, and that’s considered ok. But if a novelist writes a story and some of it is in past tenses, and other bits are in present tenses, it’s usually considered to be sloppy writing unless it is obviously a stylistic choice. What I’m saying is: you might notice some moments where my tenses move from past tenses to present tenses and this is more acceptable in spoken English than in written English. As my podcast is presented to you as primarily a form of natural spoken English, that should account for this.
Past tense version: So we were sitting in the Japanese restaurant and eating sushi, having a lovely romantic evening, when suddenly loads of ninjas dropped down from the ceiling but I wasn’t worried because I’d spent 3 months in the mountains learning the ways of Chinese kung-fu and so I dealt with them all, and went back to the sushi.
Present tense version: So there we are eating our sushi, having a lovely romantic evening when suddenly loads of ninjas drop down from the ceiling but I’m not worried because I’ve spent 3 months in the mountains learning the ways of Chinese kung-fu, so I deal with them all and then go back to the sushi. (The present tense version is more immediate, and more common in spoken English, although it might sound a bit colloquial).
Slipping into present tenses when telling a story is usually a subconscious thing, rather than a planned thing. I think people just end up using present tenses when they’re recounting events as they actually happened. So, let’s see if it happens to me while I continue to tell you this story.
Another point: This habit of slipping into present tenses that I’m talking about… This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to use past tenses. It’s not a loophole which you can use to avoid making sentences with complex past tenses. This is not a way for you to completely avoid having to deal with irregular verbs and past participles and auxiliary verb conjugations and things. No. If you get a grammar test at school about narrative tenses and you use present tenses, you can’t justify it by saying “But sir I was just using present tenses to make the story more immediate!” Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You still need to master past tenses before you can abandon them in certain cases. You need to know the rules before you can break them. You need to have full control of the language in order to make these subconscious shifts in tone. So, keep studying those past tenses, practising and being mindful of how you’re using them. If you want to listen to a podcast episode about using past tenses (simple, continuous & perfect) to tell stories, check out episode 29 which is called “Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses”. It’s one of the most commonly listened-to episodes of my podcast. It’s got a short story featuring The Doctor from Dr Who, and a full explanation of how to use narrative tenses properly, pronunciation drills and everything. Click here to check it out: www.teacherluke.co.uk/2009/11/12/mystery-story-narrative-tenses/
So, you can study the tenses directly. Alternatively, don’t worry about it too much and just let the words wash over you and focus on the general meaning of what I’m saying to you, and imagine yourself there and just focus on the meaningful content – the more natural and contextualised English you hear the better it is for your acquisition of grammar at an almost subconscious level, creating that sense of instinct for what is correct or incorrect usage.
Anyway, on with the story…
Sunday 9 August
Breakfast and then took a drive up into the hills for a trek. (Am I using present or past tenses? I’ve become self-conscious now, so I’ll probably stick to past tenses, but I’m sure that if I get carried away with the story I’ll end up using present tenses… we’ll see)
The whole time in LA I felt very bizarre deja vu. This was of course because of the films and movies I’d seen, but more specifically because of Grand Theft Auto 5, which is very accurately modelled on LA, down to lots of small details. I felt exactly like I was in GTA5 a lot of the time. It’s an amazing game.
Stopped off at a pharmacy on the way. Vast.
I think you get the idea – everything in the US is big. Big cars, big buildings, big beds, big meals, big people. Although we didn’t see many of these huge, fat Americans that we all hear about. I think that’s because in California people are generally a lot healthier. Still, people in general are larger than in the UK.
Park the car and begin a trek into the hills around the back of the Hollywood sign.
Very dry. In fact the whole state is on high alert for forest fires. There are fires burning in various parts of the state all the time. California has been experiencing a severe drought for years. In LA they redirect water from hundreds of miles away in the Colorado River Basin. The water then gets used by rich people in Beverley Hills to spray in their gardens to keep their lawns green. Again, pretty crazy right? Welcome to Los Angeles.
L.A. is a city with a little mountain range running through the middle of it (Ok they’re hills not mountains) and if you like hiking a bit then it’s worth going up these hills.
We do get amazing views of the city sprawling away on both sides.
Arranged in lines.
Mild hike behind the sign and then down the right hand side.
Views of the sign.
Here are a few quick facts about the Hollywood sign:
– The sign is about 45 feet high and was originally built in 1923 when it was originally put up as an advertisement for a huge real estate company selling top quality real estate in Hollywood. The company was called Hollywoodland. In fact the sign used to say Hollwyoodland, but the ‘land’ part was removed and the sign became an icon of the region of Hollywood, and everything that represents – glamour, movies, fame etc.
– In 1932 a young actress called Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by climbing up the sign and jumping from the letter ‘H’, falling to her death. Apparently she was depressed because she couldn’t make it as an actress in Hollywood. Ironically, her death made her quite famous.
– The sign used to be covered in lightbulbs, which must have looked pretty cool when it was turned on, but the bulbs didn’t last long as they were too expensive.
– The sign was repaired lots of times and almost completely rebuilt in the 40s, but in 1978 it was in such bad condition after the O fell off and tumbled down the hill and also some arsonists set fire to one of the letter Ls. The city decided to repair it and it cost over $250,000 to do that. Who came up with most of the money? Hollywood’s celebrity class. In fact PLayboy owner Hugh Hefner organised a big party at the Playboy Mansion in order to provide the money. Rock star Alice Cooper also provided money to help repair the letter O.
– It was replaced in 1978 and while the work was being done there was no sign there for 3 months.
– The sign is owned and protected by the city of L.A. and there’s quite an advanced security system which monitors the sign 24 hours a day.
In fact you can’t actually get that close to it. There’s a big fence surrounding it, and a big telegraph aerial. You can get around the back, like we did, but you can only really see the letters “HO”. But when you hike around to the front you can see it pretty well, and it looks cool. Again, it’s amazing to actually see something that you’ve seen so many times on television. But it’s not just the power of TV. It is a great location, with some attractive landscape and a really good view of the city below.
We ended up quite far from the car and got lost in the winding streets under the sign. Lots of properties nestled in to the hills. Attractive places and no doubt expensive but not as expensive as other places like Bel Air etx.
No phone reception so kept walking.
Then uber back to the car.
Life in LA is life in a car.
You never drive above about 60mph. I wonder why there are so many powerful sportscars. You never drive over about 50-60 mph. Sums up the place a lot. It’s more about show and image than about practical living – for some people. In fact there are plenty of ordinary people living in LA, who drive ordinary cars, and who do all the ordinary business of life. There also happen to be plenty of rich movie industry people here too, rock stars, and their children. In fact, one of those rock stars is Anthony Keidis from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. He used to live in the Hollywood Hills, and he sang about them too. In fact, I’d now like to recommend another audiobook download for you. So, here’s some more promotion for Audible – that company that provides loads of audiobooks, and they’re giving you the chance to sample their service for 30 days and that includes a free download of any book you like. Here’s another California related book you could get…
Audiobook Download Suggestions
“Scar Tissue” by Anthony Keidis
This is the autobiography of the lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Chili Peppers have an amazing story. They’re from L.A. originally, they’ve been going for about 3 decades, they’ve been through numerous guitarists, ups, downs, deaths and near deaths, epic highs and devastating lows, and yet they’re still going. Anthony himself was a heroin and cocaine addict during much of his career and in this book he tells his own very personal story of growing up in Los Angeles and his experiences of living with his Dad who was basically a drug dealer to the rich and famous. He talks about struggling for years with his experimental band the Chili Peppers – doing intense live performances, sometimes naked on stage, developing their funk-rock sound which ultimately catapulted them onto the world’s stage. You can hear exactly what was like and listen to descriptions of all the complicated things that went along with that stardom. It’s a powerful story, full of sex, drugs and rock and roll but also a genuinely moving and candid account of Anthony’s success, strengths, weaknesses, friendship, personal hardship, the music business, his addiction and his eventual recovery from addiction. The book is an international bestseller and you can download the audiobook version from Audible. Get it free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke, or click one of the Audible buttons on my website.
American & British English (Part 1) Vocabulary Related to Cars & Driving
*A note on British and American English*
As you are well aware, there are, broadly speaking, two types of English – American English, and good English, I mean British English. (Just joking – I’m not one of those Brits who has a problem with American English) There are other types of English too of course, like English in Australia, South Africa, Ireland, India and so on.
Can Brits and Americans understand each other? Yes, they can – except for some slight misunderstandings sometimes, there’s no problem in understanding each other.
Really the differences are in the accents, vocabulary, spelling, some grammar and the culture or communication style.
There are definitely some differences in vocabulary. Sometimes these cause misunderstandings. E.g. I said “Are you in the queue? ” and the woman just looked at me. Then I worked out the problem and sad “Are you in line?” and bob’s your uncle. The vast majority of the words we use are the same, but there are differences that are worth knowing. These differences may be more obvious when talking about different systems (e.g. our political and legal systems are a bit different so we’ve developed different terms to talk about them) but in general English there is a relatively small group of key words that are different and it’s worth knowing them all. I’m going to go through a lot of those words with you in this series of episodes.
In terms of culture, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily think in the same way and this can cause some problems in communication. For example, Brits tend to be more indirect in their use of language as a way of being polite, diplomatic, tactful etc. It can seem to be a more complicated message, but we see it as being more respectful and considerate. We don’t want to seem bossy or aggressive, but the Americans might take it as weak, unclear and even unsincere (not just the Americans) E.g. “I was wondering if you could…” or “I think there might be an issue…” instead of “Could you…?” or “There’s a problem”. I’m not saying all Americans are direct all the time, but in my experience I think there is truth in what I’m saying. If you want more evidence, read this article written by a Brit who’s done a lot of business communication in America http://www.forbes.com/sites/sungardas/2014/08/14/lost-in-translation-overcoming-the-language-barrier-as-a-brit-in-america/ So, there is a bit of a difference in communication style and culture, despite the fact that we speak the same language. The old saying goes “Britain and America are two nations separated by a common language” (which I think was said originally by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and one of the founders of the LSE – not the London School of English, but the London School of Economics).
Accent or dialect can cause problems, particularly stronger regional accents. To be honest I think this is more of a problem for Americans understanding Brits (and other forms of English like Australians, South Africans, Irish etc) I think the average Brit would probably understand most American dialects and accents, but the average American might have trouble with some local British dialects. For example, in the USA they often require subtitles on TV when someone with a strong non-American accent is speaking (e.g. a local Brit from Liverpool, Glasgow or Newcastle). I’ve seen interviews on US television with actor Colin Farrell that had subtitles to help the Americans to understand what he was saying. He’s Irish and has a fairly strong accent, but it’s not extraordinarily difficult to understand in my opinion but apparently it was necessary to provide subtitles for the American viewers, even though he was speaking English. However, I doubt that a UK audience would need subtitles for an American, even if they have a strong accent from pretty much anywhere in the country. I think this is because in the UK we are exposed to lots of American English from TV and films – even the really colloquial stuff, but British English is comparatively less known in the USA due to lack of exposure.
The Brits and Americans do spell some words differently as I’m sure you’re aware (famous differences are things like colour/color and theatre/theater) and there are some differences in grammatical usage, but that’s less obvious and as a result less problematic.
Anyway, the point is – there are differences between British and American English but the vast majority of the time we can understand each other without any problems at all. If you’re wondering what kind of English you should learn (which you’re probably not wondering to be honest, because if you’re listening to this then you’ve probably decided that you like British English, and you’re right of course – you are wise wise people indeed) But seriously, you can choose to learn British or American English, or a bit of both. In fact, I personally think it’s ok to mix it up a bit as long as people understand what you’re saying.
For your learning of English, I’d say the main things are that you’re able to identify the difference between a British and American accent, and that you know the main differences in vocabulary. For more information about the differences between UK and USA pronunciation, listen to a previous episode I did on this subject – Episode 14 “British and American Pronunciation” https://teacherluke.co.uk/2009/10/19/episode-10-british-and-american-pronunciation/.
The subject of British and American English is really interesting and very relevant so I’d love to come back to it in the future but for now, here are some different British and American words. I’ve chosen ones that are related to driving.
Let’s see how many you know. I’ll define the word first – try to guess it. Did you come up with the British or American version, or both? Let’s see…
British Word – American Word
Petrol – Gas (gasoline)
Petrol/fuel tank – gas tank
Caravan – Trailer
Lorry – Truck
Junction – Intersection
Tyre – Tire
High street – Main street
Windscreen – Windshield
Motorway – Freeway/Highway
Number plate – License plate
Bonnet – Hood
Pavement – Sidewalk
Boot – Trunk
End of part 3. Part 4 coming soon!
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