Tag Archives: uk

527. Can Paul Taylor Pass The UK Citizenship Test?

Testing Paul Taylor’s knowledge of British life, history and culture and discussing the “Life in the UK” citizenship test. Practise listening to British English natural speech, learn facts about the UK and have a laugh as Paul gets angry about this test for people who want to become UK citizens. Will Paul actually pass the test? Listen to find out what happens. Transcriptions and notes available.

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This episode’s guest Paul Taylor is a British stand up comedian, living in France. Check out his YouTube channel here and Twitter here

Introduction Transcript

In this episode you’re going to listen to my friend Paul Taylor attempting to pass the UK citizenship test.

Every year thousands and thousands of people choose to become British citizens, for various reasons. This year one of those people is Meghan Markle, who is moving to Britain to marry Prince Harry – as everyone knows because it’s all over the news, probably all around the world. In fact the wedding is happening tomorrow! By the time you listen to this they will probably be married. I hope everything goes well for them.

Anyway, there are lots of complicated requirements for becoming “naturalised” as a British citizen, including the fact that you need to prove that your English is at B1 level or above, and you have to pass the Life in the UK Test. This test is supposed to make sure that you have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK in order to integrate into British life. The assumption is that if you can pass this test then you know enough about life in the UK to be considered worthy of being a British citizen.

By the way, quite a lot of people fail this test. I was looking for specific data. I found that in 2016 about 36% of people failed the test. Just over a third.

  • What is the content of this test?
  • Do you think you have enough knowledge of “Life in the UK” to pass it?
  • What kinds of questions do you expect to find in this test?
  • Is the average British person able to pass the test? You would imagine so, right?
  • What can you, my listeners, learn from this in terms of “essential British knowledge” and useful British English vocabulary?
  • And can my mate Paul Taylor, who was born in the UK and has spent much of his life living there, pass this test?

Let’s find out as we take the British Citizenship Test in this episode.

A Long Episode!

This is a long episode, but there is absolutely loads of stuff that you can gain from this in terms of historical and cultural knowledge – both from the past and present, as well as vocabulary and general listening practice and also just the pure enjoyment of listening to Paul becoming increasingly angry about the content of the questions in this test.

Also, there is quite a lot of swearing in this one, and by swearing I mean rude words that you normally shouldn’t use in polite company because they can be very offensive. So, watch out for those rude words – either because you don’t like that sort of thing, or because you love to hear how people swear in British English. In either case – you have been informed – there is rude language in this episode.

So I suggest that you do listen to the entire thing, perhaps in several sections – when you press pause your podcasting app should remember where you stopped listening so you can carry on later. There are notes and scripts for the intro and outro to this episode on the website – so check them out.

Now, without any further ado, let’s get started…


THE “LIFE IN THE UK” CITIZENSHIP TEST

The test is computer based. Applicants coming in from outside the UK need a certain level of English and they need to take this test.

Requirements for British citizenship www.gov.uk/becoming-a-british-citizen

⬇Click the link below to take the same test we did

lifeintheuktestweb.co.uk/test-1/

Criticisms of the Test

A summary of criticisms and comments on how the test needs to be reformed www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/01/british-citizenship-test-meghan-markle-brexit-reform

The criticisms in a nutshell:

  • While it’s obviously good to know facts about a country’s history – what is the true purpose of a citizenship test? It’s to ensure that people understand the values of that country, and practical knowledge of daily life in order to help them integrate
  • The questions seem arbitrary and inconsistent
  • Fair enough, there are questions about certain key moments in our history and in our political system but a lot of important things are missing (e.g. the number of elected representatives in the devolved parliaments, but not the number of MPs in commons? The height of the London Eye?)
  • They won’t help people integrate, and they won’t help people just get by on a daily basis
  • It also doesn’t educate people about history – there’s no interpretation of why these things are important. If anything it will just piss people off.
  • What might be more helpful would be:
    • Teaching people social rules (e.g. how to order a drink in a pub)
    • Teaching people about common culture so they know what the hell British people are talking about half the time
    • Teaching people the essential basics of how to live – like, bank holidays, how to phone for an ambulance, how most Brits are shocked by things like animal rights or racial or sexist jokes

But it’s all wrapped up in politics and perhaps the people who wrote the test didn’t do it to help migrants – the opposite, maybe.

What would you include in the citizenship test?

The “Real” Citizenship test

This is an alternative test based on suggestions by British people on Twitter

realcitizenshiptest.co.uk/


‘Outro’ Transcript

I don’t want to extend this episode a lot more but I do want to say “nice one” for getting to the end of this one. I say that because I know it can be hard to follow about 90 minutes of native level speech in English, and Paul does speak pretty quickly as a few of you mentioned to me after hearing the previous episode with him.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again – the more you listen, the better, and sometimes listening to fairly quick speaking can be really good training for you. It’s important to mix it up – sometimes listening to content that you understand without too much trouble, and sometimes listening to more challenging things. There is value in both, and basically the important thing is to keep going and not give up. If you’re listening to this it means you didn’t give up even if you didn’t understand everything. Nice one.

Then again, some of you might be thinking – Luke, it was a pleasure and I wish there was more! Well, in that case – great! I agree. This was a fun one.

There’s more to be said on the UK citizenship test so I might be doing another episode on this soon.

But for now – that’s it! Download the LEP App from the app store. Check out the extra content you can find there.

Have a great day, night, morning, afternoon or evening wherever you are in the world and whatever you’re doing. Speak to you again on the podcast soon, but for now… bye!

Luke

522. Learning English at Summer School in the UK (A Rambling Chat with Raphael Miller)

Talking to my ex-colleague Raphael Miller about his new summer school for teenagers as well as many other topics, including British social and communication culture, growing up in Liverpool, studying at Oxford University, the famous Star Wars actor Raphael knows and remembering some of the old-fashioned ways we used to describe computers and the internet. Transcripts and links below. 👨‍🎓🌞🇬🇧

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Your English Summer – Links

Website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

Introduction Transcript

In this episode you can listen to a conversation I had with my friend Raphael Miller. Raph and I used to work together as teachers at the London School of English, along with Andy Johnson, Ben Butler and Carrick Cameron – all of whom have featured in episodes of this podcast.

Since those days, Raph has done lots of work at summer schools in the UK and has recently set up his own summer school project called Your English Summer. This is a school for teenagers from around the world who want to come to the UK to develop their English skills while having a really cool experience living away from home for a couple of weeks.

I thought I would ask Raph about his project, about the benefits of sending your teenagers to the UK for a summer school English experience and also about Raph’s own experiences of learning languages as a teenager and into adulthood.

I hadn’t spoken to Raph for a while – not since the last time he was on this podcast perhaps, and so it was really fun to catch up with him, find out about his project and also just ramble on about all kinds of other things, like his experiences at Oxford University, his childhood in Liverpool and a famous actor that he knows from university, who has had a big role in a Star Wars film. To find out all about that, just keep listening.

This might be a difficult conversation for you to follow, depending on your level. Reasons why it might be hard are:

  • The conversation was done over Skype, so the sound quality isn’t 100% perfect – but it’s good to get used to listening in less-than-perfect conditions, like when you have to do tele-conferences in English at work.
  • Raph has a slight Liverpool accent (but actually I think this isn’t really an issue because it’s really not that strong)
  • It’s all done at natural speed and there are quite a lot of idioms, jokey bits, specific phrases and fluent speech that might be hard to understand.

But the point here is that this is an authentic chat which ultimately is good practice for you.

If you are a parent of teenage kids and you’re thinking about sending them to a summer school in the UK to learn English, you should check out Raphael’s school, which is called Your English Summer – more details at yourEnglishsummer.co.uk

Now, let’s get stuck into the conversation.

Just before I hit the record button, Raph and I had been struggling to get connected on Skype. It wasn’t working properly on his computer, but to solve the problem he just turned it off and turned it back on again, which fixed it, of course – because that’s usually how you fix technical problems. What do you do when something doesn’t work? How do you fix it? Well, have you tried turning it on and turning it off again? There are other generic solutions to typical technical problems of course… can you think of any?

After that we talk a little bit about a recent episode of LEP that Raphael had been listening to – a recent one with Amber & Sarah called “Becoming Maman”… and the conversation just keeps on flowing from there, taking in some details about the social rules related to talking to new parents about their children (in fact, like me, Raph is also a new father – his son is just 6 months old now) British social etiquette in general, how we both know each other and how we first met, and then onto the details Raphael’s project, learning English at summer schools in the UK, Liverpool, Oxford University and various other things…

So, now that you’re ready, let’s dive into this chat with Raphael Miller … and here we go.


Raph also appears in…

160. The A to Z of Christmas

Liverpool Accent Episodes

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

470. Understanding the Liverpool Accent

Your English Summer – Links

Website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

Ending Transcript

That was a rambling chat with Raphael Miller.

Don’t forget to visit www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

and www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

…for more details about his summer school in Liverpool. Could be a great thing for your teenage kids to do – or if you know any other parents who are looking for a small, friendly and genuinely fun English summer school experience – tell them about Your English Summer.

A note about LEP Premium

I’ve been mentioning this for a couple of weeks now. I expect it to arrive in May. Things slowed down a bit this week because I got really ill with a very nasty throat infection – tonsillitis to be exact. Tonsils are glands at the back of the throat. Mine got infected and all swollen, which was intensely painful for about 5 days. My whole head felt like it was going to explode, I felt like someone was stabbing me in the head and neck with needles, while also periodically stepping on my legs and back in a pair of Dr Marten’s boots. Swallowing was like torture. Not nice at all. It was a lot like when I was sick in Japan. Thankfully this time it was just the tonsilitis and not something more serious. Anyway, the French healthcare system and my wife, looked after me and I’m feeling a lot better. Also, for a week to 10 days this month we’re going to the UK on holiday, which means taking some more time out from podcasting duties. There should be another episode coming out while I’m away but the launch of LEP Premium is unlikely to happen until May. I’m also still working with Libsyn to actually do things like make additions to the app and some other things before LEPP can happen.

Anyway, it should come along in May and when it does you should find that one of the first Premium episodes is a language review of this episode, also there are some language features from the episode about pets I wanted to look at, so that’ll probably come up too.

Remember that one of the aims of LEP Premium is to make sure you really learn the English you’ve heard on the podcast – not just hear it but really learn it properly – the English you might not have even noticed but with which you need a guiding hand – in this case my guiding hand, with all those years of teaching experience, podcast experience – so I can help you with your English and have some fun while doing it.

So, a language review for this episode with LEP Premium coming up.

Remember too that LEP Premium will work like this:

  • You’ll create a profile with Libsyn, my host
  • You pay a small amount per month (e.g. the price of a coffee for me) to access the Premium content
  • You can get the content in the LEP app or via a webpage – same account login.
  • It’s a chance for you to get content that focuses specifically on language teaching, while also making a contribution to LEP.
  • You’ll get those LEP Premium episodes, and also new Phrasal Verb episodes + more bonus stuff just for premium subscribers. You’ll be my VIP club and I’ll be happy to reward you with exclusive content.

Coming soon in LEPland.

Right, time to go now – have a great day, night, morning, afternoon, evening, milkshake smoothie or tropical fruit juice or whatever you’re having. Cheers!

Luke

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

Recommendations and descriptions of British comedy TV shows with some comments about how to use comedy TV shows to learn English. Transcript available below.

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Transcript (95% complete)

Hello, etc! (some rambling here at the beginning!)

British TV Comedy

I often get requests from listeners asking me to recommend some good British TV comedy shows. So, that’s what you’re going to get in this episode – comments about using comedy TV to improve your English and then some recommendations of TV shows that you can watch.

I love comedy and I think we have a lot of great comedy in the UK.

The USA is also known for its comedy of course, and I’m sure almost all of you are aware of American shows like Friends, The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and so on.

But Britain also has a long tradition of comedy shows on TV – sitcoms, sketch shows and character-based comedy dramas. There are so many TV comedies from the UK and many of them are truly loved by the British public. Comedy is one of the things about the UK that I am most proud of.

It’s not just Mr Bean, by the way.

British and American comedy shows are different, in the same ways that British and American culture is different. Generally speaking, I find American shows to be slightly more positive in tone, the characters slightly more attractive and successful – and perhaps because of the commercial nature of a lot of American TV channels their comedy can be a bit more conventional and safe. I mean, I get the feeling that the producers of the shows are very conscious that they have to make their advertisers happy and as a result the shows end up having to appeal to a broader audience and this means that the shows are slightly less risky, slightly less edgy and slightly less weird than British comedy shows.

British comedy can be complicated for non-Brits to get and it can be an acquired taste. People sometimes say “British humour” or “British comedy” as a synonym of “weird, dark, surreal, complex, cerebral” and sometimes “unfunny”. I would agree with most of that, except the “unfunny” part of course. I am very glad that British comedy shows are a bit darker, weirder, more surreal, more complex (sometimes) and dare I say it – more intelligent.

Let’s not get snobbish here… British people have a tendency to become a bit snobbish when talking about American things, and that’s not very attractive. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context, taste and point of view and I really don’t want to get into the British comedy vs American comedy debate here.

My main point is: American TV comedy is generally more well-known than British TV comedy – and so my job here is to bring to your attention some of the really great programmes that have been made in the UK so you can enjoy them like I do and use them to learn English.

I think if you’re into British things and that includes our humour and our outlook on life in general, I think I might be able to introduce you to some programmes that you will really enjoy and that will be great content for you to consume as learners of British English.

I grew up watching British comedy on TV. For a while it was the highlight of my week. I used to plan my entire life around the comedy shows that were on TV in the evenings. That was my life. Playing football and watching comedy on TV.

Using TV Comedy in Class

I have always been really keen to introduce my students to British comedy and time and time again I have chosen to play clips of shows or whole episodes of shows in my classes.

This is actually a less effective and worthwhile than you might expect, unless as a teacher you do certain things.

The less successful thing to do is to just play an episode of a show without any preparation. E.g. “OK, it’s Friday afternoon, let’s watch a DVD. Turn out the lights, get comfortable, here we go.”

Expectation = we will laugh, everyone will enjoy it and learning English will be fun and relaxing on a Friday afternoon.

Reality = you don’t understand it, you don’t laugh, don’t have fun and just come away thinking British comedy is “weird and unfunny”.

This is because understanding and enjoying comedy is one of the more difficult things to do in another language. There are so many things that go into your enjoyment of a bit of TV comedy. Linguistically – you need to understand every detail and understand it fast. Often, jokes are very subtle and understated – especially if it is a good comedy. I think good comedies are often quite clever and not totally obvious. Some really great comedy is very obvious of course – like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy – physical humour, or the humour of slapstick. But I really love comedy which is quite subtle, and I think a lot of British shows rely on this sort of thing. So, your English has to be really sharp to pick up on the particular use of language, or the way things are suggested rather than obviously stated. Also, you need to understand the cultural context too – like the fact that some British comedy shows present characters and situations that are familiar to most Brits, but which people who aren’t familiar with the culture wouldn’t really understand.

So, if your English isn’t quite sharp enough and you’re not familiar with the cultural context, a comedy show might appear to be unfunny and just weird.

So as a teacher I actually find it to be very hard work to use comedy TV shows in class successfully. It often takes a lot of pre-teaching of vocabulary, lots of preparation in terms of getting the students to discuss and consider the ideas, characters or situations in the show, and the chance to see scenes several times, perhaps with a script to help. In the end, the laughter might get lost, and unless the students are particularly motivated by the idea of enjoying a comedy TV show, it might just be a better idea to do something more conventional and learner-oriented in a classroom.

I have to admit that I’ve had some very frustrating experiences in class, when I’ve presented something to a group of students – perhaps an episode of a TV programme that I really love, and it hasn’t gone down very well. I just end up feeling a bit hurt. Imagine sharing something you really love with a group of people, and to have them just look at you blankly, or yawn, or say “it’s not funny” or “I am boring”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some classes that adored the comedy I’ve shown them and asked for more, but not always.

Of course it’s all a question of taste and perhaps my expectations are the problem. I expect/hope that every single person in the class will get it. In reality, only some will get it. Perhaps it’s hard to enjoy it in a classroom context and really these things take time.

You need to watch again and again, to get to know the characters and so on. It takes time to really get into a show, to find it funny and to develop a love for it. Repeated viewings and a love for a show are great conditions for learning English from it. Also, I get downhearted when just one person isn’t into it. I might not notice the students who loved it just because Juan Pedro seemed bored.

So, perhaps the classroom isn’t the best environment for using TV comedy, but I am still convinced that there is a lot of value in using comedy shows to learn English.

My students who tell me they watch TV shows in English are always the better learners in class

One thing I do know for sure – the best learners of English in my experience are the types of people who take the time to get into TV shows and who don’t expect simple laughs at the start. Often the outstanding learners of English I’ve met are the ones who’ve told me that they’ve watched entire seasons of Black Books, or that they really loved watching Red Dwarf or The Mighty Boosh. It does happen sometimes.

Here are some facts: All the learners of English who have told me that they regularly watched a British comedy TV show have been good learners of English – communicative, good vocabulary, better understanding and pronunciation than their classmates and showing good potential for making progress through their English course, and I’ve never met a terrible learner who told me they watched comedy shows in English.

The ones who tell me they watch comedy shows in English are always the better students. Is there a connection? There must be something. Maybe the ones who enjoy watching comedy in English are the ones who are just more motivated, less willing to give up, more curious. THese are probably the successful traits – motivation, curiosity, patience, a desire to discover the deeper meaning beyond just learning the language as quickly as possible. If you have those traits I’m sure you’re more likely to be a better learner of English and you’re probably more likely to enjoy watching comedy programmes in English.

So I do encourage you to try and get into British comedy, even if it’s tricky at the start. Also, realise that there might be more to British comedy than meets the eye. It’s not like a lot of American comedy shows which are a bit superficial, to be honest – I mean, there’s never a lot of tragedy, pain, or harsh reality in those shows. Friends, for example – it’s all too colourful. The characters don’t seem to ever really suffer. Their lives are amazing. Where is the existential suffering? Their apartment is too nice. Their lives are too rich. They’re ultimately too happy and successful. I find that harder to relate to and therefore harder to get into. I need more depth than that. I don’t just want my comedy to be escapism. I want it to allow me to explore more complicated feelings and ideas. Comedy can be challenging, complex and fascinating.

Again, I should point out that it’s not a simple case of – American comedy = superficial, British comedy = deep. There are plenty of deep, dark and complex American shows. The Simpsons, for example – at it’s best it’s extremely nuanced and reflects such a multifaceted view of life, including not just Homer falling over, but the highs and lows, pain and joy of family life in all its richness, even if the characters are all presented in bright yellow colours.

What I want to do in this episode is sell the idea of using comedy for learning English, manage your expectations about British comedy in order to help you learn from it more effectively, and also recommend some shows.

I think from the outset this might be an impossible mission – to explain British comedy to an international audience of learners of English, and then have them actually go and watch it and also enjoy it as much as me – this may be an impossible mission, but I feel compelled to do it, and really – it’s up to you to make the mission a success isn’t it? There’s only so much I can do. The rest is your responsibility.

One advantage that we have is that you, my audience, aren’t just ordinary learners of English because I suppose you are already into British things, you probably like comedy and you must have a sense of humour if you either a) enjoy this podcast or b) have listened to it for a long time (this is a no ‘no sense of humour’ zone as far as I’m concerned) So I’m assuming that you’re already curious about British comedy, or you already appreciate it, or you are keen to get some recommendations from me about shows that I like.

I have one recommendation for you to consider…

Do not consume British comedy as comedy. Do not think of it as comedy.

This is reverse psychology, but it might just work.

Don’t think of it as comedy – because if you sit down to it expecting to laugh all the time, you might just be disappointed. Instead, think of these shows as tragedy, or a study in character.

By removing the emphasis on comedy, you should be able to focus instead on simply understanding the motivations of the characters, the situations they find themselves in and how this is all expressed by the things they say and the ways they interact. If you understand all these things, you might find it funnier or more moving as a result.

Think of them as pathos. (Pathos is like comedy, but instead of creating laughter, it creates sadness or a feeling of sympathy)

Think of each show as a study of some individuals and their lives filled with quiet desperation, or hope, or frustration, or ambition, or failure or contradiction.

Think of each show as a personality study or a soap opera.

But don’t think of it as a comedy.

This doesn’t mean that you should expect these shows to be rubbish and boring.

No, on the contrary – the shows are not rubbish, they’re often very good and really carefully created, even if they are filmed in TV studios with some cheap special effects or bland-looking lighting or set design and possibly with actors that don’t look like glamorous movie stars.

You might not get all the bright colours, white teeth and good hair that you might see in an American show.

But you will see really interesting people, very witty bits of dialogue, unexpected moments, awkward social situations with hilarious consequences. Some really complex and satisfying characters, and some genuinely classic moments of British TV culture, which have captured our imaginations and entered the popular consciousness.

But don’t consume these shows as comedy, but rather as drama.

Understanding British Comedy TV

Often in British TV shows the comedy comes from the frustration, the embarrassment, the flaws and the failures or the fears of the characters, or the ways that the characters argue and the funny moments of friction between them.

British TV comedy characters are like characters in Shakespearean tragedies. I know that sounds like I’m over egging the pudding a bit, but really I do believe that. The best TV comedy characters have fatal flaws. They have specific problems in their personalities that send them on a narrative arc which aims at success but usually ends in tragedy. Just like in a good Shakespeare play.

I’ll go into more detail in a moment.

But now, here are some specific tips for …

How to use shows to improve your English

  • Watch with and without subtitles
  • Use a notepad to make a note of what the characters are saying – especially when you notice specific phrases or other features of language.
  • If there are bits that make you laugh, note them down! Note down the phrasing, the intonation, the specific words, reactions and the lines that lead up to the funny moment. If it made you laugh it obviously meant something to you, so you’ll probably remember it better.
  • Repeat the funny lines to yourself a few times and try to copy the timing and emphasis.
  • Be aware of where the characters come from and how they speak with an accent.
  • Turn the spoken word into the written word and then back to the spoken word again.
  • Record yourself saying some bits.
  • Go the extra mile.
  • Maintain your curiosity. Give the shows a chance. It might take a while before you really get it and start finding it funny. But hang in there, it will come. Don’t expect too much, even though I’m telling you that these shows are wonderful. But trust me when I say that they are good.
  • When you find a show that you just like, watch it again and again! You can learn more from watching one show you like lots of times than from watching lots of shows you don’t like a lot.
  • Consider recording the audio from shows and listening to them without the visuals. It’s not a crazy thing to do. I did it at university with 2 episodes of I’m Alan Partidge. They used to entertain me so much that I recorded the audio onto my walkman and listened to them when I was on the bus. I learned a lot of the lines and I still really appreciate those episodes today.
  • Or if you have space on your phone, download the shows and watch when you’re on the bus or whatever – but obviously be careful of the NSFW content.
  • Read about the shows online. Often there are summaries of each episode on Wikipedia or on IMDB. Use those websites to find discussions of the episodes too, and also lists of quotes from the episodes.

Here are some specific shows that I can recommend.

Themes in UK TV Comedy

Almost all of these shows feature these themes:

  • The character is stuck in a situation in his/her life.
  • But the characters dream big – they have high hopes and big ambitions – they think they are better than the situation they’re in.
  • In every episode they try to achieve something, attempting to rise above their every day life.
  • But frustrating events work against them and they stay stuck in the same situation.
  • They’re thwarted by the situation around them but the biggest cause of their failure is themselves. Perhaps the character’s ambition, lack of self awareness or the fact that the character thinks they are better than their situation – these things cause the character to fail.
  • The main problem – the character doesn’t accept his/her situation and is not self aware and therefore always ends up frustrated, despite trying to achieve something bigger.

So, what about this list of shows?

I’ll explain the basic synopsis of the show and will also try to tell you what kind of English you might hear in the show as well as any other details I think you should know.

I’m not sure how you are going to actually find or get hold of these shows. I know some of you out there in internetland have access to anything through torrenting sites and stuff, or on those websites where shows are uploaded for streaming.

I recommend that you find the shows online, get them on DVD or however you normally watch programmes.

You also might think to yourselves, “Do I have to watch any of these shows…? Is this compulsory homework?” Well, no of course you can do whatever you want and if you’d rather just not bother, like I’m sure a great many of you will do, then go ahead. Carry on living your lives exactly like before, listen to the podcast on your way to work or whatever and that’s fine. But I know that quite a lot of you are interested in finding some British TV shows to watch – so here’s a list of personal recommendations from me to you.

These are all shows I have watched and enjoyed. In no particular order.

By the way, all of these could and should be individual episodes of the podcast in their own right, in which we listen to some clips and all that stuff, and I might do that in the future.

Some British TV Comedy Show Recommendations (in no particular order)

The Office

Reality-style sitcom (or “mockumentary”) Early 2000s.

Basic description?

This is a tragedy set in an office. It’s also a romance, of sorts.

There are two types of character – the ones who are trapped in hell and the ones who don’t realise that they’re trapped in hell. The hell in this case is an office in Slough. Perhaps hell within hell, because it’s bad enough being in Slough but working in an office in Slough is even worse.

Type of English

It’s very “realistic” – it’s a fly on the wall drama. The camera men are trying not to be intrusive. It’s like we’re just observing life in this office. As a result it’s not always clear what’s being said. Characters might mumble sometimes, and their sentences aren’t always complete – it’s the style, but this is good because this is how people actually speak. The laughs are not signalled, and there’s no laughter track. It might look like just a depressing office and this is the point.

That’s what this is about. Remember – tragedy! Most of the characters are from the south and don’t have really strong accents except a couple of them who have accents from the South West (Gareth for example).

I’m Alan Partridge

Mid 1990s – now

A man who thinks he is an A-grade broadcaster is actually a D-grade broadcaster – but it’s so much more than that. It started as a parody of the way TV broadcasters speak, but it’s become a parody of a certain type of middle aged British Man – the kind of man who reads the Daily Express and votes for Brexit.

I need to do a whole episode about this. You need to understand that Alan is someone who speaks like a local radio presenter in ordinary life and it shows how alienated he is from normal people. He talks to the public on the radio, but in real life he’s hopeless, but he doesn’t realise. His accent is a bit like a parody of a sports reporter or a radio presenter. This is a complex character and he doesn’t realise how ridiculous he is. We’re laughing at him, not with him.

Father Ted

Actually Irish not British.

Sitcom – 1990s

The pathos: a man who is stuck in the priesthood with a drunkard and an idiot on an island off Ireland and he dreams of having a more glamourous life.

It’s not a British show, it’s Irish. The accents are from the Republic of Ireland.

Blackadder

Historical sitcom or satire – 1980s – 1990s

Edmund is essentially a modern-minded man stuck in the idiocy of British history.

This features some of the UK’s most favourite actors and comedians including Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Usually the English you’ll hear is quite old-fashioned. You’ll hear parodies of old English styles, and plenty of sarcasm. Although the style is old fashioned (it’s set in the Tudor period, Regency period or WW1 period) the characters should speak clearly and in RP.

Don’t watch series 1 of Blackadder! Avoid series 1. Only series 2-4 are good.

Bottom

Sitcom – 1990s

Two complete cretins live a miserable unemployed existence in Hammersmith – it’s basically Samuel Beckett.

They speak with a bit of RP and a bit of London. Often the characters adopt high-class English in contrast to the low-class situation they live in.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Sketch show from the 1960s and 1970s.

A group of highly educated Oxbridge graduates make fun of absolutely everything, including history, comedy clichés and existence itself.

George Harrison once said that when The Beatles split up at the end of the sixties that The Beatles spirit passed into Monty Python. There’s something in that, because the pythons had something special about them. Not every sketch is great, but a lot of them are brilliant. It’s probably best to just watch the films – Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Spaced

Sitcom – Late 1990s early 2000s.

Two twenty-somethings who live in a fantasy world of their own creation struggle to exist in the real world – everything they do becomes a scene from a famous film.

The Day Today

News parody and satire. Mid 1990s.

The news is pompous and self-important to the point of being surreal.

Brass Eye

The same concept as The Day Today but a lot more controversial.

Only Fools and Horses

Sitcom – 1980s – 1990s.

Two orphaned brothers from a working class background just try to make ends meet. One of them ends up becoming middle class when he falls in love with a middle-class girl, but he’s working class at heart.


Shows I talk about in the Bonus Audio – in the LEP App.

Black Books

Sitcom – Late 1990s – early 2000s.

Bernard works in a bookshop selling books to the public. He loves books but the problem is he hates people. He also loves wine and smoking. It’s a bit like Withnail &I.

Absolutely Fabulous

Sitcom – 1990s.

Two posh middle aged women who work (in the vaguest possible sense) in the fashion industry in London try to live like they are still teenagers in swinging London in the late 1960s.

The Thick of It

Political satire and sitcom – Late 2000s.

Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority.

Yes Minister

Political satire and sitcom – 1970s – 1980s.

Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority – but with less swearing and more charming old fashioned upper-class sophistication.

Dad’s Army

Sitcom – 1960s – 1970s

Britain’s last line of defence against the Nazis is a group of incompetent old grandads.

Red Dwarf

Sci-Fi Sitcom – 1990s.

The last human being alive is stuck on a spaceship with a hologram of the person he hates the most, a senile super-computer, a robot butler and a man who evolved from cats – full of sarcasm, put downs and cheap science fiction special effects.

Gavin & Stacey

Sitcom – Late 2000s

A genuinely sweet and heartwarming comedy about two people from two different British communities (Essex in England and Barry Island in South Wales) who fall in love with each other.

Outnumbered

Sitcom – late 2000s – now.

Two exhausted parents attempt to bring up 3 children, and lose the battle.


Other shows (I didn’t get time to mention them at all)

One Foot in the Grave

Sitcom – 1990s.

A man in his 70s just wants to enjoy his retirement but he is constantly frustrated but life’s little irritations.

Little Britain

Sketch show – 2000s.

A sketch show in which a range of eccentric and grotesque British characters talk in catchphrases.

The Fast Show

Sketch show – 1990s.

The same as Little Britain, but with a bit more pathos. This came before Little Britain.

Extras

Sitcom/drama – 2000s.

A man struggles to become famous as an actor and writer, and then when he does become famous he realises how empty it is – all the celebrities he meets are total weirdos – and they are played by themselves.

The Royle Family

Sitcom/drama – 1990s/2000s.

A northern working class family live their lives sitting in front of the TV. The twist is – we are watching them from the TV’s point of view.

The Trip

Drama? 2010s – now.

Two middle aged men go on a road trip and bicker with each other, while competing to see who can do the best impressions of famous actors – we also realise that their lives are a struggle between ambition, the emptiness, self-fulfilment and a life in show business. Stars award-winning comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and directed by filmmaker Michael Winterbottom.

All these shows sound like dramas or tragedies, but they are really funny and charming and I recommend you check them out!

The League of Gentlemen

Sketch show – 1990s – 2000s.

The Mighty Boosh

Surreal sitcom – Late 2000s.

They’re both losers in their own way and they live in a dream world of their own creation – and that dream world is populated by all kinds of wonderful, colourful characters, music, and magic, but it’s all about this funny relationship between two mis-matched friends.

This show is bonkers but really sweet at the same time. The two main characters speak in modern London accents. Vince has an estuary English accent – sort of like cockney – typical London accent. Howard is similar but probably closer to RP.

Peep Show

Sitcom – 2000s.

A terribly dark tragedy about the struggle of two cynical guys in their 30s attempting to live in modern London. The horror comes from the fact that we can hear their thoughts and see the world from their point of view, and they’re awful people.

They’re both quite well-spoken, particularly David Mitchell’s character who is very uncool and his slightly posh RP is evidence of that.

Fawlty Towers

Sitcom – 1970s.

An utterly fed up man is stuck in the wrong job – welcoming people into his hotel on ‘the English rivera’.

The IT Crowd

Limmy’s Show

The Inbetweeners

Keeping Up Appearances

One Foot in the Grave

Porridge

The Young Ones

Steptoe & Son

Allo Allo

Panel Shows

Have I Got News for You?

Mock The Week

Never Mind The Buzzcocks

8 out of 10 Cats

QI

Would I Lie to You?

And plenty plenty more!

If you like a British comedy TV show and I didn’t mention it. Add it in the comment section. :)

458. The Rick Thompson Report: Post-Election 2017

Talking to my Dad about the results of the UK’s general election on 8 June 2017.

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Introduction Transcript

The story of British politics continues in this episode as I talk to my Dad about the most recent developments, specifically the results of the snap general election which took place on 8 June.

A general election is when all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons are chosen by voters across the country. The party with the highest number of MPs wins the right to form a government. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister, the leader of the country.

At the moment our PM is Theresa May of the Conservative party and she called this election just 5 or 6 weeks in advance. I talked about it to my Dad last month. Her reason for doing it was to make sure she had a proper mandate from the people before beginning the brexit negotiations.

Everyone expected the Tories to win a bigger majority and for Labour to lose miserably.

But the results were quite surprising.

Here’s a very quick summary. www.bbc.com/news/election/2017/results

It’s a hung parliament. No party won enough seats to gain an overall majority.
The main parties are Conservatives and Labour.
Conservatives lost 13 seats. They now have 318.
Labour gained 30. They now have 262
This is a huge failure for the Conservatives.
SNP lost 21 seats. This is significant because they won so many in the last election and the SNP are all about gaining Scottish independence.
UKIP are out completely – they lost their single seat. They were the party campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and the immigrants to leave the UK.

Since the Tories are the incumbent party they get the first opportunity to try and form a government by making a deal with one of the other parties.

That’s the position at this moment. We’ll expand on it during our conversation but the words turmoil and disarray are again being used to describe the messy and complicated condition of politics in the UK today.

So let’s talk to my Dad – the professor of broadcast journalism and former BBC news man, for some much needed clarity on this whole subject in order to find out what happened, what it all means, how Northern Ireland and Scotland are involved and how this all relates to the ongoing story of Brexit.

As ever, watch out for all the key language as it appears. There is a lot of political language in this episode, which applies mainly to political systems in the UK but also could be used to talk about politics and international relations in other countries. Also, there are the usual fixed expressions, idioms and phrasal verbs that you normally find in any natural conversation.

Remember that in episode 352 of this podcast (nearly 100 episodes ago) I explained some key concepts and vocabulary related to this whole subject. So if you need some clarification and you want a reminder of some of the important words and terms relating to all of this, check out episode 352 in the archive.

352. BREXIT: Key Vocabulary and Concepts

82. Voting / Elections / Politics / Government

But now, let’s hear from my Dad, Rick Thompson about the current state of politics in the UK, just after last week’s snap general election.


Outtro Transcript

So there you are. I hope it’s all a little bit clearer now, but equally it might even be more complicated!

It is a complicated situation but I hope you agree that we’re quite lucky to be able to listen to my Dad talking about it in his typically lucid and articulate way.

Don’t forget that you can listen to previous episodes of this podcast in which I have gone into detail about the language of politics in the UK.

Episode 352 goes into detail about the vocabulary of Brexit and you can listen to that one again in order to learn some of the key language of this subject.

Also you can listen to episode 82 from way back in January 2012 when I did an episode about voting, elections, politics and government in the UK, in which I explain and teach all the essential language you need to talk about the political process and also you can listen to a funny sketch about a general election.

That’s it for now. As ever, I remind you to join the mailing list which will mean you get an email in your inbox whenever I post new content here.

That’s new episodes of the podcast but also I sometimes post something when I’ve been featured on someone else’s podcast and recently I was invited to talk on the English Across the Pond podcast, The Earful Tower podcast and the Rock n Roll English podcast. If you’re signed up to the mailing list you will get notified of those things and will easily be able to listen to those fun conversations I’ve had and find out about some other people’s podcasts that you might not know about.

I’m going to end this episode after the jingle by playing you parts of the speeches by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the first session of Parliament since the election results came out.

Listen carefully to the voices of the PM and opposition leader as they make statements about the results and about the democratic process in Parliament over the coming months.

The cheering and jeering sounds you hear in the background are all the other MPs sitting in the House of Commons. It’s quite normal to hear them all shouting and cheering in agreement, or heckling and laughing at people they don’t agree with. I wonder if the parliament in your country is as loud and boisterous as it is in the UK.

So thanks for listening, and keep on listening after the jingle if you’d like to hear the words of Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn. (Image below, BBC.com)

Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 12.31.30

447. What is this, British Humour? (with Amber Minogue)

What is British Humour? Is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style and culture? In this episode I go through the main points of my British Council Teacher Talk about British Humour. Amber and I discuss the definition of British humour, the way it works, how it’s different or similar to other humour in other places, and some examples of typical humour in the UK.

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Introduction

Last week I did a Teacher Talk at the British Council in Paris. Teacher Talks are when the BC invites guests to an event involving a talk on a specific topic and then drinks afterwards. All teachers are invited to talk at these events and this time I thought I’d have a go. The topic was completely up to me, so I chose to talk about British humour because it’s always something I’m thinking about and I thought it might also be a way to promote English language comedy in Paris.

The talk was sold out and went well. I was hoping to upload the recording of the talk here but it’s not good enough. It just sounds very echoey and muffled. Next time I will mic myself up properly. So I’m not going to play the recording, which is a big pity because there were some moments of interaction with the audience and some funny things. But it’s just not clear enough on the recording so I’m not publishing it. The room at the BC where we do these talks is a big high ceiling place with mirrors on the back wall and high windows and walls so the sound bounces around a lot.

Anyway, I’ve still got all the ideas in my head so I’m going to put them into this episode, recorded in the normal way. So, I went to Amber’s place and decided I’d discuss all the points in my talk with her, since I think she’s probably got some interesting things to say on the subject. We both have experiences of living in other countries and we both do stand up so we think about humour quite a lot.

So you’re going to hear us attempting to answer questions like: what is British humour, what’s it like?, is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style? What does it say about us as a culture?

The main aim is just to describe and demystify humour in Britain. You’ll see that I don’t subscribe to the idea that British humour is somehow better than other forms of humour. In fact, in many ways it is very similar to humour in plenty of other places.

But as I describe it here, just think about whether this kind of behaviour is likely to be found in the culture or cultures that you know, and consider the role that humour plays in people’s daily lives where you are from. You might notice differences or similarities.

Let’s now go to Amber’s place and get to the bottom of this.


Main points covered:

British Humour doesn’t exist

OK, it does exist, but we don’t really use any different types of humour than anyone else. We don’t have a monopoly on humour or anything, but we do value it highly.

British Humour isn’t funny

It’s not always designed to make everyone laugh. Instead, humour is used in our interactions to avoid being too serious, keep things light and make you seem like a normal person.

Self-deprecation

This means making fun of yourself. It’s a bit of a crime to take yourself too seriously in the UK, so people make fun of themselves to show that they’re not above everyone else.

Understatement

This is where you make a strong statement sound less strong. E.g. “It’s raining outside is it?” “Yeah, just a bit”

Deadpan delivery

This is where humourous statements are delivered with a straight face, making it hard for some people to notice that a joke has happened.

Sarcasm/Irony

This is where you say one thing but you mean the opposite. It’s used for insults, for disappointments or to make fun of everything in general.

Innuendo

This is when one innocent statement can also mean something quite rude. Innuendo often happens by accident and other people say something to reveal the dirty second meaning.

E.g. “I like the taste of a cox” (apple)   … “I bet you do!”


Other things I didn’t cover

Puns

These are just word jokes. They work when one word means two things at the same time, connecting two previously unrelated ideas together in one statement. The brain explodes because one thing means two things at the same time.

They’re best when they are instant responses to something, rather than pre-planned jokes.

Here are some examples of pre-planned ones

How does Bob Marley like his donuts?
Wi’ jam in.

For more, check out my episodes about telling jokes in English.

Vocabulary
We have a wide variety of synonyms, homonyms which make it easy to say one thing that sounds like another, creating endless opportunities for word jokes (puns) and euphemisms.

Pisstaking
This means making fun of each other. We do this all the time.
Perhaps it’s because we’re incapable of expressing genuine emotions and we tend to avoid sincerity because it makes us feel uncomfortable, so we interact with our loved ones by teasing them, poking fun at them, mocking them and so on.

We’re emotionally crippled, basically.

E.g. I’ll always poke fun at my brother when I see him.
Like, oh my god what have you done to your hair?
Nice of you to have made an effort today.

Pisstaking has two functions:
To express affection
To knock someone down to size if they’re getting too big for their boots

You need to be able to take a joke in the UK. You’ve got to be able to both take a joke and dish it out when necessary.

If you can, you’re alright.

Surreal humour
Essentially surreal humour involves making fun of absolutely everything around you. It makes fun of existence itself. It means making absurd statements to highlight the absurdity in life. It’s about subverting boring reality. Maybe this is something to do with our weather (it’s dull, generally) or it’s a form of indirect anarchy or something.

Inappropriate humour
Although we use humour all the time, it’s worth noting that it can get you into trouble if you do it badly.
If you use self-deprecating humour, you have to be sure that everyone else gets it.
Be careful who/what is the target of your humour. It’s very politically incorrect to make jokes about certain groups in society – particularly groups that are lower status than you. So, these kinds of jokes are generally outlawed: ethnic jokes, sexist jokes. It’s very bad taste and old-fashioned and not cool at all.

Comedy

British comedy shows, the difference with American comedy, some recommended shows…

This is another episode for the future.

Thanks for listening to this episode. I look forward to reading your comments!

444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election 2017

Politics is back on LEP as I talk to my Dad about recent developments in the UK, specifically the General Election which is due to take place on 8 June.

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Introduction & Summary Transcript

Last week something surprising happened. The British PM Theresa May announced a “snap general election” – meaning, she called an election earlier than expected and with a short time between the announcement and the date of the election. That’s what a ‘snap’ general election is. In this case the general election is going to happen on 8 June this year.

So this is a general election, which means that all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons in Westminster, London could change. I don’t think they will all change but we will see a different arrangement for sure, with parties either losing or gaining seats, and the government could change as well. The House of Commons is where all the MPs sit. Each seat in commons represents a different part of the country – the different constituencies. People will go out to the polling stations, vote for an MP for their constituency and the one who wins the most votes in that constituency gets that seat. The party which gets the majority of seats in the House of Commons has the right to form a government. At the moment that’s the Conservatives since they won the majority of seats by a fairly small margin in the last general election we had, which was in 2015, i talked about it on this podcast. How is our parliament and our government going to change with this election? How’s that going to affect the direction the country goes in?

So, politics is in the news (as it always is) so I think it’s time to talk some more about this subject on this podcast, so let’s talk to my dad Rick Thompson again. My dad is a journalist who worked at the BBC for years and he’s also a visiting professor at the University of Central England. Generally he’s a well-informed and articulate person and certainly he’s the one I always ask when I want to know all about something that’s happening in the news. So, let’s talk to Rick Thompson about this snap election, what it all means, and how it relates to this ongoing story of Brexit and politics in the UK.

Before we do that I think it might be necessary to give you a bit of a summary of the story so far, in terms of British politics. This will take about 10 minutes but it’s important context.

I’ve been covering politics in the UK since the 2015 election, doing episodes every now and again about the political situation and events, attempting to talk about them in a balanced way while also giving my personal take on things. You can go back and listen to them – since summer 2015.

In any case, here’s a brief summary of British politics over the last couple of decades to just make it as clear as possible because context is everything. Without context it’s just a bunch of big sounding words and events that might not seem to have any significance. Also, it’s a good chance for you to hear some of the language of politics that you might have heard on this podcast before.

You can read this introduction and summary on the page for this episode. Watch out for certain terms and language relating to politics. There’s some nice vocabulary here and you can pick it up and use it when you discuss this subject too, because I’m sure many of you are discussing these things – politics in Europe but also politics in your countries. A lot of the language is basically the same.

A Summary of British Politics – The Main Parties

So we have two main parties in the UK and some other smaller ones which are still important, especially today.

The Conservatives – centre-right to right wing
They’re often described as the party of the rich. They tend to promote free market capitalism with the belief that allowing business to flourish benefits society as a whole because the money trickles down to everyone else through the creation of jobs etc. They believe in the private sector as the solution to society’s problems and that introducing competition in the marketplace between companies seeking profit will create the best conditions in all services, rather than the government stepping in and controlling things with regulation. So the Tories believe in small government. They’re the party that says they support hard work and dynamic entrepreneurialism – the idea that you can build a business yourself and if you work hard and have good ideas you can get rich and do great things and this benefits society in general. They’re criticised for not caring about ordinary working people, just supporting their friends at the top, being out of touch with ordinary life. They currently are the governing party.

Labour – centre-left to left wing.
Believe in supporting working people and creating conditions in which everyone can have a decent life. They believe that the government needs to support people in all areas by providing welfare, guidance and regulation to keep things balanced for all. The public sector has a responsibility to take part in many areas of life in order to constantly protect the interests of all people. More public spending, and re-distribution of wealth through higher taxation on the rich and higher public spending for services for the poor, equal opportunity programs etc. Criticised as being soft, idealistic, the ‘liberal left’, politically correct, tolerant of radical islam, incapable of managing the economy due to high levels of public spending and taxation which damages business. Being too controlling, too much influence in all areas of life like in people’s business concerns, the nanny state trying to control everything and stifling entrepreneurial instincts. They are the opposition party at the moment, struggling with their leader Jeremy Corbyn who is popular with Labour voters, but unpopular within the MPs themselves.

Liberal Democrats in the middle – they almost never get power and just sit in this kind of lukewarm water where they pick up voters who don’t really agree with the other two big parties. Considered a bit vague and untrustworthy considering they made U turns on many principles in their time in coalition govt with the tories and lost loads of seats in the last election. These days they are one of the the only major parties in England which is anti-Brexit.

Green party to the left of Labour – don’t get a lot of votes because they’re just too left wing even though their policies are about fairness and environmental protection. The left is criticised for being idealistic because they believe in high public spending, and “where’s the money going to come from?” Essentially they are a bit anti-capitalist because they’d make businesses pay for their programmes.

UKIP on the right of the tories – always focused on getting out of the EU and cutting immigration. Many members deny climate change, blame immigrants and the EU for all our problems and like to think they are the party for people who are sick of the political class.

SNP – the party for Scotland. Focused on protecting Scottish interests. Generally left wing policy for Scotland. They want independence.

Smaller parties include Plaid Cymru for Wales and several parties in Northern Ireland.

British Politics Since WW2

Over the years our country has generally swung between The Conservatives and Labour.
Following WW2 a Labour government set up the Welfare State – the state took control of the big institutions and utilities like the National Health Service, the railways, water, electricity, coal, steel etc that were like massive pillars of British economic and social life. This is what the country looked like in the decades after ww2.

In the late 70s and early 80s Thatcher (Conservative) totally changed the country by pushing liberal free market economics and beginning the dismantling of the welfare state. She oversaw the privatisation of state owned institutions, letting the markets and the private sector dominate our economy, making it very hard to go back.

The left wing was badly hurt. Partly due to failures in the pre-Thatcher era with the country being dominated by the labour unions and with a lack of growth in the economy. THatcher did revitalise things but she also damaged a lot of the working communities that relied on industries like coal mining. She pushed the country towards liberal economics like Reagan in the USA and we’ve been following that ever since.

Left wing was a bit stuck for a long time, nearly 20 years of Tories.
Tony Blair in the mid-nineties revitalised the Labour party by re-branding it “New Labour”. He took a centrist position, known as the ‘third way’ or Blairism.

Essentially this was the social position of the left with the economic position of the right.
Free-market capitalism was allowed to flourish, but with redistribution of wealth, high public spending on welfare services, progressive policies.

A lot of it was funded by the financial markets, banking ‘trickery’, credit, lending and so on.

It was like a Thatcherite economic model but with the heart of the left – he claimed to represent ordinary working people and wanted to create a level playing field in society to give everyone an equal chance. He was popular in the beginning and won a landslide victory in 1997. Generally he was quite good, but it all slipped when he took the country to war in Iraq and there were questions about the way he justified that.

Also the reckless manner in which the financial markets were allowed to play with our money led to a banking crisis as all the lending backfired when basically people couldn’t pay back all the debt and banks lost a lot of money.

It came from a culture of risky investment and frankly dodgy debt trading, which is kind of what happens when you let the markets just get away with anything.
Because our society is utterly dependent on credit, our economy took a big hit, just like it did all over the world.

Tony Blair handed over to his partner Gordon Brown who inherited this mess and tried to solve things with a mix of quantitative easing and other policies. Lacking the charisma of Blair and arriving at a time when everyone was a bit sick of Labour. Brown is remembered as a bit of an unpopular guy who also had to deal with the fallout of the Blair years.

Labour took a big hit in the 2010 election and lost.

Voter apathy and general distrust in politicians led to low voter turnout in 2010. The Conservatives got more votes than the other parties but not enough to form a government so they formed a coalition with Liberal Democrats who took the opportunity to play a role in government.

The government pushed an economic policy of austerity. The Liberal Democrats compromised a lot of their principles because the govt was basically led by the tories. They lost a lot of public support.

Scotland had a referendum to leave the UK but the vote ended up being to stay, but the SNP gained a lot of support and Scotland still might vote to leave the UK in order to remain in the EU.

The Tories continued to push austerity as their solution to the economic crisis.

The next election saw a surprising win for the Tories. They managed to win an outright majority. This is mainly because the SNP stole votes from Labour in the north. The Lib Dems lost loads of seats because people had lost faith in them. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband just wasn’t convincing enough. People probably felt that the Conservatives had a plan for the economy which they had to finish. Also the usual voter apathy meant that a lot of people didn’t vote and as a result only a portion of the population got what they wanted.
So the Tories carried on with their policy without the influence of the Lib Dems. No more coalition, just the tories.
Their policy: Cut public spending and yet relieve pressure on businesses to stimulate the economy. It also looked like they were making working people pay for the economic crisis caused by rich bankers who were also their friends.

Labour, in opposition, looked for a new leader. Surprisingly an old member of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, was chosen. He’s quite radically left wing. He’s popular with the grassroots voters, but not popular with the more centrist members of the party, including many Labour MPs and the party is quite split.

Meanwhile the economic crisis, unemployment and increasing immigration caused more competition in the job market and the cut in public services caused a lot of frustration among middle class and lower class people. UKIP gained more support by campaigning to reduce immigration and make Britain great again by getting out of Europe. They posed quite a big threat to the Conservatives both among voters and within the party. David Cameron the PM and Tory leader faced quite a lot of pressure from this growing Eurosceptic faction.

He came up with a plan to satisfy those Eurosceptic members of his party and prevent UKIP from stealing too much support from them. He had to be seen to be addressing the EU situation, taking a tough position.

He called a referendum on Europe while also planning to try and renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. I think he believed he could use the referendum as a bargaining tool in Europe to get a better deal with more control of immigration and more control of business rules.

He thought the EU would say “ok you can have what you want, just don’t leave us!”

Dave imagined the referendum would be a choice between a better deal with EU or out.

He didn’t get the better deal he wanted, and you know how the anti-EU supporters campaigned hard for a leave vote by making lots of untrue claims, promises they couldn’t keep, presenting Brexit as the solution to all of the UK’s problems.

Surprise surprise, the country voted to leave the UK. 51.9% voted leave, 48.1% to remain.

Cameron, who had campaigned to remain promptly resigned, suggesting that he wasn’t the right man to lead the country into Brexit. There was a slightly messy leadership campaign, with Boris Johnson ultimately stepping down because he made a fool of himself with his leave campaign – too many promises he couldn’t keep and false claims. Theresa May was chosen by the Tories as the next leader. She was officially anti-Brexit during the referendum campaign, but she was chosen as the PM to lead the country through the Brexit negotiations. Crazy times.

A lot of people were angry with Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leader because he did not argue against Brexit strongly enough. As the leader of the left, he didn’t seem to care about Brexit that much and this probably damaged the remain campaign. It seems he doesn’t like Europe much. He lost a lot of support from shocked remain voters.

There was a high court claim by various people which argued that the government didn’t have the right to trigger article 50 (start Brexit process) without Parliament voting on it first. The claim was a success. Parliament voted to trigger article 50. In March Theresa May triggered Article 50. She also promised many times that she wouldn’t call a general election, and that “now wasn’t the time”.

Then, wow, she called a snap election and here we are. It was a surprise because we she didn’t need to do it until 2020.

Another general election on 8 June 2017.

Why has this happened? What’s the significance of this? What does it mean?

Let’s talk to my dad and see what he has to say.

 


What happened?
Theresa May has called a ‘snap’ General Election, to take place on 8 June 2017.

What does this mean?
That voters in the UK will be choosing new MPs in the house of commons.
We’ll get a new government, new arrangement in Parliament

Why did Theresa May call this election? She didn’t have to do it until 2020.
She says it’s because the country needs a united government. May needs a ‘mandate’ from the people to be able to oversee Brexit.
But really, this is just an opportunity for the Tories to grab more power because the opposition is a disaster.

How is this possible? How often do we have elections in the UK?
We have elections every 5 years more or less, but the government has the right to call elections whenever it wants. In the case of a ‘snap’ election like this, Parliament votes on it and it needs a ⅔ majority to go through. That’s going to happen because Corbyn has said Labour will back the snap election.

Why is Corbyn backing this election when it’s pretty certain that Labour will lose seats?
He’s in a Catch 22 situation. If he says no to the election it’s like admitting defeat.

What is going to happen?
Tories will gain a bigger majority, Labour will lose seats, Liberal Democrats will gain (because they’re the only ones fighting against Brexit so remainers will switch to them). But, anything can happen in politics, so let’s wait and see.

How is this related to Brexit?

What about the 48.1% that voted to remain?
Who do they have to vote for? Corbyn basically agrees with Brexit so the only party left is Lib Dem and they’re just not strong enough to win this. The Tories are bound to make big gains.

  • Some vocabulary
  • U turn
  • Voter turnout
  • Voter fatigue
  • Campaign
  • Televised debate
  • Polls
  • Brexit negotiations
  • Mandate

 

432. British TV: Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Part 1) [Video]

Talking about restaurant culture in the UK, an introduction to one of the UK’s most famous chefs and a chance to learn some authentic English from a popular British TV show featuring Gordon Ramsay. Video available. Includes swearing.

Audio


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Introduction Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to this podcast for learners of English. Here is a new episode for you to listen to and indeed watch, because I’m videoing this one. You’ll be able to find the video on the page for this episode on my website, or by visiting the YouTube channel for Luke’s English Podcast.

A lot of what I am saying here – particularly in this introduction is written on the page for this episode. So you can read it with me, or check it for certain words you hear me using. The best way to get access to these pages is to subscribe to the mailing list.

In the last episode of this podcast you heard me talking to Amber about restaurants and hotels and some crazy TripAdvisor reviews.

At one point in the episode we talked briefly about Gordon Ramsay – one of the UK’s most famous chefs, and his TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” which was a really popular show in the UK a few years ago, and I thought it could be interesting to do a whole episode about that.

So in this one I’m going to talk a little bit about Gordon Ramsay and then we’re going to listen to some YouTube clips from one of his TV shows and I will help you understand all the language that you’ll hear. No doubt there will be some new vocabulary in the process – probably on the subject of food, cooking, restaurants and kitchens but lots of other natural language that just comes up, including plenty of swearing, because Gordon Ramsay is known for his frequent use of swear words.

Yes, there will be quite a lot of swearing in this episode, and you know my position on this. I’m choosing to show you the language as it is really used and that includes the rude words, but don’t be tempted to start throwing swear words into your everyday English. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that swear words are a short cut to sounding exactly like a native speaker. Often it just gives people a bad impression of you. We’ll go into it more later, because there are quite a lot of unwritten social rules around swearing that you need to be aware of – the main one being, that with swearing it is much much easier to sound rude and inappropriate than it is to sound cool. Think of swearing as a motorbike – you might think it’s cool but unless you really know what you’re doing you’re likely to seriously injure yourself. Similarly, swearing can be cool when it’s done in movies or even by someone like Gordon Ramsay, but if you try and do it in your normal life there’s a good chance you’ll just offend people.

So anyway, we’ll listen to some of the English in these YouTube clips and analyse the things they’re saying so that in the end you can understand it all just like I do, which should help you learn some real English in the process. You’ll also learn a thing or two about restaurant culture in the UK and about Gordon Ramsay who is one of the most well-known people in Britain.

Who is Gordon Ramsay and what’s the TV show?

Gordon James Ramsay, is a British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality.

*Difference between a chef and a cook? Basically, a chef is someone who’s had professional training – at least a culinary degree, but a cook is just someone who cooks food. Both might work in a kitchen, but mainly being a chef is about having the status of culinary qualifications and experience.

Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the UK and probably in the world too. He has a reputation for being an excellent restaurateur and chef, and also for his extremely strict and direct style. He’s often very rude, saying exactly what he thinks about the people he’s working with in the strongest most colourful language. Imagine an army captain shouting at a platoon of soldiers during military training, but with really good food.

Ramsay was born in Scotland, but he grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is in fact not far from where I grew up in England). So, he is Scottish but doesn’t speak with a Scottish accent.
Ramsay now has restaurants all over the place – in London, in Paris and in New York. During his career he has trained at the highest level with French chefs in the UK and in Paris. He specialises in Italian, French and British recipes, and his cooking is known for being simple, unpretentious, high quality and delicious.

His restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars in total. The term “Michelin Star” is a hallmark of fine dining quality. Michelin stars are very difficult to win and restaurants around the world proudly promote their Michelin Star status if they have one. His signature restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London, has held 3 Michelin stars since 2001, which is a mark of extremely high quality in restaurant dining.

As well as being a top chef, Ramsay is also a TV presenter. He first appeared on TV in the UK in the late 1990s, and by 2004 Ramsay had become one of the best known celebrity chefs in British popular culture, and, along with other chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Delia Smith, he has influenced viewers to become more culinarily adventurous.

As a reality TV personality, Ramsay is known for his fiery temper, strict demeanour, and use of expletives. He often makes blunt and controversial comments, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their cooking abilities.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on British TV a few years ago – probably around 10-15 years ago now. These days you can find most of the episodes on YouTube.

Local restaurants vs manufacturing companies and processed food

Ramsay is actually very passionate about local restaurants in the UK.

In the UK our eating out culture is vibrant and successful but it is being undermined by a number of factors. One is the industrialisation of food culture. THis means that big businesses are involved in preparing food at an industrial level and then selling it to restaurants as part of a large corporate chain.

These chains might be restaurants which are all owned by one company, or food manufacturers who dominate the wholesale market, driving down their prices and pushing out competition such as local producers who sell fresh products.

In these industrial food manufacturing companies, the food is prepared in high quantities and then sold off to other companies and restaurants as part of a corporate supply chain for food.

There’s a big infrastructure for food purchasing in the UK which is dominated by these big food manufacturers. As a result, many smaller restaurants are forced to buy industrialised and mass-produced food because it is cheaper and more convenient than fresh food which you can buy direct from farms or markets.

If you were a struggling restaurant owner in a town in the UK, what would you do? Buy your food fresh from a local producer and then make sure you sell it in a short-term period, or buy similar products from a mass producer but at a lower price, and it’s food which you can store for longer because it has been processed to stay fresh.

In the end, people choose to eat at home, especially during an economic crisis.

So, economic factors are having a negative effect on the restaurant culture in the UK to an extent. Family owned restaurants should be where you get proper traditional and delicious local food, but these restaurants are being squeezed economically and forced to go along with the industrialised food manufacturing process.

Also, there are many chain restaurants which you find on high streets in the UK. These are not locally run, but are owned by big companies who have a single business model which they apply to all their restaurants. The fact that these places are part of a big corporate chain means that they can drive down their prices, making it very hard for local restaurants to be competitive. As a result, these smaller places suffer, struggle and often close down.

Gordon Ramsay believes that these local restaurants are the backbone of our restaurant culture in the UK, and he strongly believes that they need to be supported so they can compete with the corporate chains, and given training so they can serve the best food possible. Essentially that’s the concept behind Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but also it’s just entertaining watching him shouting at incompetent chefs. You sort of let him get away with the way he bullies people because you believe that really he’s just trying to help them to learn the discipline you need to run a really good restaurant.

But he does seem really passionate about proper restaurant culture in the UK and I like that about him. Even though he’s making this reality show and he’s making money from doing it, I think he really does care about improving restaurant culture in the UK.

On the other hand, he is very good at TV. He knows how to make entertaining TV, and he’s got a good formula for it. Basically, this means that he takes the harsh discipline and the no-nonsense brutally honest approach that he applies to his kitchen management, and uses it when giving feedback to the restaurants which he visits.

Let’s listen to a few scenes and I’m going to make sure you understand everything that’s going on and everything that’s being said.

Let’s learn English with Gordon Ramsay

The TV Show

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on UK TV about 10-15 years ago.
The format is this – Gordon Ramsay visits a failing restaurant somewhere in the UK. So, restaurants that are failing – e.g. losing money, getting terrible reviews etc. He goes into the restaurant and spends a week there, observing the way the owners run the kitchen, how the business works and what’s going on at all levels. Usually he starts by sitting down to eat the chef’s speciality dish, and it’s nearly always disgusting, and Ramsay comments on how it tastes, how it looks, and also the decor of the restaurant and the service from the staff.

Then Ramsay gives his feedback to the owner and the chef, and it’s always a massive reality check, and it usually involves very strong words and lots of swearing. This is what happens when a top-level chef enters the world of a crappy low-level restaurant.

Then over the course of the week, Gordon helps the managers turn the restaurant around. It’s almost always a huge challenge and often the most difficult part is dealing with the psychological aspects – the stubborn chefs, the relationship issues in the kitchen, the fact that these people have personal issues which are causing the business to go horribly wrong.

It is car-crash TV. We see arguments, meltdowns, unhappy customers and so on.
In almost every episode Gordon seems to go hopping mad as he can’t believe the incompetence or shockingly low standards of service shown by the people in the restaurant. He then tries to help them change everything and turn the business around. It all makes really great telly.

And by the end of the episode, with Gordon’s help they have usually turned the restaurant into a successful business again.

There’s a UK version and a US version.

If you search for Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube you will probably find the US version first, but I think the UK version is better!

But really, it is better because the US version is horrible. It’s full of really fast editing and there’s loads of music which is added in order to tell you how you should be feeling about what’s happening. It’s distracting and patronising.

Example of the US version (just listen to all the distracting sound effects and music)

The UK version just has some rock music in the background at the start, but then during the show it’s more simple and you can just focus on what’s happening without constant sweeping sounds and tense music.

Let’s listen to some scenes from one of the episodes.

These scenes actually come from an episode called “Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmares” which was shown on TV between series 5 and 6 of Kitchen Nightmares. It’s basically the same as any other episode of the series.

Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare – Dovecote Bistro

Summary
Gordon goes to visit a restaurant in Devon called Dovecote Bistro, which is run by a guy called Mick.
Mick is a former truck driver and burger van operator who has opened this bistro with his wife and adopted daughter, Michelle. Ramsay is firstly appalled by the psychedelic wallpaper decorating the restaurant, and then his attention turns to the food and the way it is cooked. While Ramsay is impressed with the simple menu, he is furious to find that Mick has very little cooking ability, using orange squash to make a sauce and using vacuum-sealed pre-cooked lamb shanks in a microwave bag. Not only does he show little responsibility in the kitchen, he is also secretive with his spending and is hugely in debt. Mick is adamant that the problems in the kitchen are not his fault, and his stubbornness causes a rift with his wife and daughter. Ramsay solves the crisis by taking the business matters out of Mick’s hands and kicks him out of the kitchen. His daughter, Michelle, is placed in charge of the kitchen despite having no cooking experience. She rises to the challenge, and while Mick is not convinced over replacing his microwave food, the reopening is a success.
Months later, Ramsay returns to find that the restaurant is making profit. He sent Michelle for further culinary training, and she impresses Ramsay with freshly cooked food.
The restaurant was renamed Martins’ Bistro during production.

Video 1 – Flourescent duck cooked in orange squash

Vocabulary

Let’s see what this ex-trucker can do
Lamb shanks
Fuck me! (surprise / shock)
Your blouse matches the wallpaper
I feel like I’m tripping out!
I’ve never touched the stuff but I feel like I just swallowed an E.
The hideous wallpaper
On paper it looks delicious
Orange squash
A spoonful of gravy
Fuck me do I need sunglasses!
That’s worse than fucking Benylin
They’re actually vacuum packed
They can last for about a year
They’re bought in, they’re vacuum packed
They’ve got a shelf life of about a year
Well, fuck me!
That might be the worst food I’ve ever come across
He might be beyond my help
It doesn’t need refrigerating
How in the fuck could you charge 11 pounds for that?
E numbers, like Tartrazine
Do you feel like having a shit?
Thank fuck I didn’t eat it.
I’m surprised you haven’t killed off half the population of Okehampton

End of part 1 – part 2 available very soon!

417. New Year’s Resolutions and Language Learning in 2017

Let’s look towards the coming year and talk about new years resolutions for language learning in 2017. I talk about the UK’s most common new year’s resolutions, my resolutions for improving my French and then talk about ways we can work on our language learning this year.

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The UK’s Most common New Year’s resolutions

Source: ComRes poll

  1. Exercise more (38 per cent)
  2. Lose weight (33 per cent)
  3. Eat more healthily (32 per cent)
  4. Take a more active approach to health (15 per cent)
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby (15 per cent)
  6. Spend more time on personal wellbeing (12 per cent)
  7. Spend more time with family and friends (12 per cent)
  8. Drink less alcohol (12 per cent)
  9. Stop smoking (9 per cent)
  10. Other (1 per cent)

www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/health-advice/common-new-years-resolutions-stick/

www.theweek.co.uk/80420/the-most-common-new-year-resolutions-and-who-has-stuck-to-them

Making New Year’s Resolutions about Language Learning

We don’t usually stick to our new year’s resolutions. I think it helps to make one resolution which is quite specific.

There are a lot of things I would like to achieve this year but I’ve decided to focus on my French because I’ve neglected it.

Stop making excuses, release the pressure and enjoy it.

I want to improve my French because it’s still not good enough, even though I live in France.

As I often say, my French isn’t doing very well but my excuses are improving all the time.

So, as ever I plan to stop making excuses and to apply my own knowledge about language learning to my learning of French. Olly Richards’ advice from episode 332 still stands of course, and we know it to be true:

  • Add little bits of language learning practice into your daily routine and make it a habit.
  • With regular, habitual practice your learning will progress properly.
  • Then you can build on those habits and spend more and more time per day.

I’m pretty embarrassed by my lack of French and so I have to pull my finger out. It just shows, and we already know this, that learning a language doesn’t happen magically, that you also have to use specific techniques, work at it, do it regularly and be organised.

I should do an episode all about my French and I plan to.

My specific aim for my French this year is to read graphic novels in French, like this one. (pics)

Some suggestions for resolutions about English

It’s important to start the year in a positive and determined way and then keep it up! Not many of us maintain our resolutions.

Maybe we should to maintain our resolutions for 3 months, and then revisit them, making new ones or reestablishing the old ones. So, perhaps at about Easter we can evaluate them.

I encourage you to make some resolutions about your English. Just choose to do one thing on a regular basis and make it a habit. You could write about it in the comment section.

Another idea is to get a Netflix account and switch on the subtitles. Then get addicted to a show (e.g. The Crown) and before you know it you’ll have binge watched 10 hours of TV in English while noticing all the language in the subtitles.

You could keep your vocab notebook with you to note down new words, or note them down in your phone. Perhaps you could use the voice recorder on your phone to record yourself saying some sentences with those new words and then at the end of the month you review them all and listen to yourself saying the words and phrases – in some sort of meaningful sentences. That could be a great way of teaching yourself some language.

Remember that when you’re practising language, like new words or expressions, to use meaningful examples. Make sentences that are expressions of your real opinion or which are about something important to you. You might find the words stick more easily that way.

Think about one area of your English that you need to improve and focus on that this year. For example if you need to improve your writing in particular, try getting a book on email writing (e.g. Email English by Paul Emmerson) or if you have a job interview coming up consider getting some italki lessons specifically to practise interview scenarios.

There are plenty of other ideas that you could come up with. Feel free to share some ideas in the comment section if you like.

Thanks for listening. Speak to you soon.

Luke

391. Discussing Language, Culture & Comedy with Alexander van Walsum

Here is a new episode featuring a conversation with a friend of mine who originally comes from the Netherlands but he has lived all over the world. You’re going to hear us talking about cultural differences, Dutch stereotypes, doing business in France, the UK and the USA, the different communication styles in those places, doing stand up comedy and getting Darth Vader’s signature. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

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Alex performing at Le Paname Art Cafe in Paris

You can see Alex performing at “WTF Paris? – Comedy Therapy for Expats” with Amber Minogue at the SoGymnase comedy club in Paris every Friday evening at 8pm. Details here https://www.weezevent.com/wtf-paris
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377. Holiday in Thailand (Part 1)

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!

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Transcript

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:

  1. Why we went to Thailand
  2. Where we went in Thailand
  3. The things most people know about Thailand
  4. Some things you might not know about Thailand
  5. A few anecdotes about what we did and saw during the holiday
  6. A few dodgy jokes!
  7. An embarrassing story involving nudity
  8. A sad old memory that came back to me at a specific moment in the trip
  9. 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/

Bangkok

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.

Massages

Onsen experience

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

 

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Luke