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Intermediate Level – March 2019

Are zoos a good thing?

Zoos are hugely popular attractions for adults and children alike. But are they actually a good thing?

Critics of zoos would argue that animals often suffer physically and mentally by being enclosed. Even the best artificial environments can’t come close to matching the space, diversity, and freedom that animals have in their natural habitats. This deprivation causes many zoo animals to become stressed or mentally ill. Capturing animals in the wild also causes much suffering by splitting up families. Some zoos make animals behave unnaturally: for example, marine parks often force dolphins and whales to perform tricks. These mammals may die decades earlier than their wild relatives, and some even try to commit suicide.

On the other hand, by bringing people and animals together, zoos have the potential to educate the public about conservation issues and inspire people to protect animals and their habitats. Some zoos provide a safe environment for animals which have been mistreated in circuses, or pets which have been abandoned. Zoos also carry out important research into subjects like animal behaviour and how to treat illnesses.

One of the most important modern functions of zoos is supporting international breeding programmes, particularly for endangered species. In the wild, some of the rarest species have difficulty in finding mates and breeding, and they might also be threatened by poachers, loss of their habitat and predators. A good zoo will enable these species to live and breed in a secure environment. In addition, as numbers of some wild species drop, there is an increased danger of populations becoming too genetically similar. Breeding programmes provide a safeguard: zoo-bred animals can be released into the wild to increase genetic diversity.

However, opponents of zoos say that the vast majority of captive breeding programmes do not release animals back into the wild. Surplus animals are sold not only to other zoos but also to circuses or hunting ranches in the US or South Africa, where some people are willing to pay a lot of money for the chance to kill an animal in a fenced enclosure. Often, these animals are familiar with humans and have very little chance of escaping.

So, are zoos good for animals or not? Perhaps it all depends on how well individual zoos are managed, and the benefits of zoos can surely outweigh their harmful effects. However, it is understandable that many people believe imprisoning animals for any reason is simply wrong.

Intermediate Level – February 2019.

The Shringking Lake.

Rikki Mbaza has a very English name but his part of central Africa is suffering from a problem that few in England would have to put up with: a lack of rain so acute that Rikki’s livelihood is literally evaporating away.

“I would love to have the English weather here in Chad. Then the lake would not go away.”

Rikki Mbaza lives in the town of Bol near the shores of Lake Chad, a lake that has shrunk by 90% in the last 40 years. A lack of rain is only one of many culprits being blamed for this emerging disaster.

“I am a fisherman. For me, it is like watching my life draining away every day. The fishing is getting worse and worse in the lake. They are getting smaller and I think the fish breeding has been disrupted by the reduction in area and in depth.” Lake Chad is only a metre deep in most places.

Rikki struggles now to provide enough food and income for his wife Achta and their four children. Achta has had to take up pottery in her spare time in order to try and boost the amount of money coming into the household every month.

“Our rent doesn’t go down with the level of the lake unfortunately,” Mbaza complains. “We still have six mouths to feed but I need assistance from the government. They have left me to fend for myself in a desperate situation.”

While one can understand Rikki Mbaza’s frustration with his government, his accusatory tone is perhaps a little unfair. The Chad government has often seemed like a powerless, rudderless boat caught in the storm of international politics.

Angela Muscovite at the Center For African Politics at UCLA sees little reason for optimism in the case of the shrinking lake in the African heartland. “The story of Chad Lake is a modern day environmental tragedy. This is a body of water that, in 1960 was over 25,000 km2 in size – now it’s less than 10% of that.”

“It has been so over-exploited and it is an issue the whole international community, obviously more so those governments in Africa, need to co-operate on to find a resolution. And that isn’t going to happen any time soon. By the time it does, they’ll be arguing over a puddle in the middle of the desert. It’s sad but that’s how I see things panning out.”

The guilty parties, as so often in these cases, blame each other for the problems that now beset the lake. Charlie Vaughan, who teaches Environmental Science at Cambridge University in Britain, explains why the lake is going the way of the Dodo. “The main culprit is geography funnily enough. Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon all lay claim to the waters of this lake and you only need a five metre shoreline to be able to extract water from it. The whole area has been a target for massive irrigation schemes over the last couple of decades with each country’s agricultural ministry blaming the other three for the problems. In an area with plentiful rainfall, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem. This is a dry area.”

None of this gesturing and buck-passing will help Rikki, Achta and their four children in the near future. “I am learning how to fix cars. I don’t think cars will be disappearing soon and will certainly last longer than this lake will,” muses the glum-looking fisherman. “There won’t be any more fishermen in this area in ten years.” And with that, he says he has to go and study how to remove and repair brake pads.

Intermediate Level – January 2019.

Charlie Chaplin’s Early Life.

He was believed to have been born on April 16, 1889. There is some doubt whether April 16 is actually his birthday, and it is possible he was not born in 1889. There is also uncertainty about his birthplace: London or Fontainebleau, France. There is no doubt, however, as to his parentage: he was born to Charles Chaplin, Sr. and Hannah Harriette Hill (aka Lily Harley on stage), both Music Hall entertainers. His parents separated soon after his birth, leaving him in the care of his increasingly unstable mother.

In 1896, Chaplin’s mother was unable to find work; Charlie and his older half-brother Sydney Chaplin had to be left in the workhouse at Lambeth, moving after several weeks to Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children. His father died an alcoholic when Charlie was 12, and his mother suffered a mental breakdown, and was eventually admitted temporarily to the Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon (near Croydon). She died in 1928 in the United States, two years after coming to the States to live with Chaplin, by then a commercial success.

Charlie first took to the stage when, aged five, he performed in Music Hall in 1894, standing in for his mother. As a child, he was confined to a bed for weeks due to a serious illness, and, at night, his mother would sit at the window and act out what was going on outside. In 1900, aged 11, his brother helped get him the role of a comic cat in the pantomime Cinderella at the London Hippodrome. In 1903 he appeared in ‘Jim, A Romance of Cockayne’, followed by his first regular job, as the newspaper boy Billy in Sherlock Holmes, a part he played into 1906. This was followed by Casey’s ‘Court Circus’ variety show, and, the following year, he became a clown in Fred Karno’s ‘Fun Factory’ slapstick comedy company.

According to immigration records, he arrived in the United States with the Karno troupe on October 2, 1912. In the Karno Company was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who would later become known as Stan Laurel. Chaplin and Laurel shared a room in a boarding house. Stan Laurel returned to England but Chaplin remained in the United States. Chaplin’s act was seen by film producer Mack Sennett, who hired him for his studio, the Keystone Film Company.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

It uses material from the Original Wikipedia article.

From http://www.esl-lounge.com

Intermediate Level – December 2018.

Jake’s Town

I have returned to my hometown of Wilson Creek after an absence of 10 years.

So many things have changed around here. When I left Wilson Creek, there was a small pond on the right as you left town. They have filled in this pond and they have built a large shopping mall there. A new post office has also been built just across from my old school.

There is a baseball stadium on the outskirts of Wilson Creek which has been changed completely. They have now added a new stand where probably a few thousand people could sit. It looks really great.

The biggest changes have taken place in the downtown area. They have pedestrianised the centre and you can’t drive there anymore. A European-style fountain has been built and some benches have also been added along with a grassy area and a new street cafe.

My street looks just the same as it always has but a public library has been built in the next street along. There used to be a great park there but they have cut down all the trees which is a pity. The library now has a large green area in front of it but it’s not the same as when the park was there.

Another improvement is the number of new restaurants that have opened in Wilson Creek. A Chinese and an Italian restaurant have opened in the town centre and a Mexican restaurant has opened near my home. Which is where I am going tonight!

From http://www.esl-lounge.com

Intermediate Level – November 2018.

Are They Among Us?

Mrs. Knowles and her three sons were driving from Perth to Adelaide in the early hours one morning in 1988. When she saw a light flashing on the road ahead, she slowed down thinking that it was a traffic signal.

Suddenly, a strange light seemed to be on top of the car, sucking it up off the road before dropping it down again. Feeling terrified and out of control, the family noticed a black powder seeping inside their car and smelt a horrible stench.

In a state of shock, they drove to the nearest town and reported the incident to the police. Thinking that the woman must have been so tired that she was dreaming, the police gave her a cup of tea hoping to calm her down.

Finally, the police agreed to inspect the car and when they did, they saw the dust, smelt the smell and also noticed some small dents in the roof of the car. Meanwhile, a local lorry driver following the same route as Mrs. Knowles confirmed that he had also seen the strange light in the distance.

This story was quickly taken up by some people as proof of the presence of aliens on earth. Other people who prefer to believe in a scientific explanation have suggested that electrical forces in the atmosphere caused this and other incidents.

From http://www.esl-lounge.com


Intermediate Level – 1st December 2017.






































(from: http://www.biography.com/news/suffragette-movie-history)




Learn about six real-life women (plus one man)

who fought for the right of women to vote.

In early 20th century Britain, the cause of female suffrage was usually ignored by the press and dismissed by politicians. To gain support for their right to vote, suffragettes turned away from peaceful protest and embraced militant tactics that grew to include window breaking and arson. Their fight for equality, which escalated in violence in 1912 and 1913, is depicted in the new film Suffragette. The movie also shows historical figures and fictional characters interacting as they struggle to get women the vote. Here are six real-life suffragettes (plus one man) who either appear in Suffragette or whose stories are reflected in the film.

Hannah Mitchell: Carey Mulligan plays Suffragette‘s central character, the fictional Maud Watts. Watts’s story came together after Suffragette‘s creators learned about the many working-class women who fought for the right to vote. One woman who inspired them was Hannah Webster Mitchell.

Born to a poor family in 1872, Mitchell grew up resenting unfair treatment such as being made to darn her brothers’ socks while they got to relax. However, as an adult she initially considered the fight for female suffrage a middle-class issue: as there was a property requirement for voters, expanding the franchise would do little for women like her.

Instead, Mitchell, who’d worked as a domestic servant and seamstress, devoted her energies to the Independent Labour Party — until she came to feel that the ILP was more focused on universal male suffrage. By 1904, Mitchell had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, the group headed by Emmeline Pankhurst, whose members became known as suffragettes.

After disrupting a political meeting in 1906, Mitchell was charged with obstruction and given a three-day sentence. Working-class suffragettes with family obligations often found spending time in custody to be difficult — unlike most middle and upper-class women, they had no servants to handle cooking and cleaning while they were away. Mitchell was no exception to this rule — though her husband was a Socialist, he ignored her wishes and paid her fine so she could leave jail after one day. As she noted in her autobiography, The Hard Way Up: “Most of us who were married found that “Votes for Women” were of less interest to our husbands than their own dinners. They simply could not understand why we made such a fuss about it.”

Mitchell left the WSPU in 1907 — in part because she was hurt that Pankhurst didn’t visit when she was recovering from a breakdown — but continued to fight for suffrage with the Women’s Freedom League.

Emmeline Pankhurst: The real-life character of Emmeline Pankhurst, portrayed by Meryl Streep, appears in Suffragette. Though Pankhurst is seen on screen for just a few minutes, she’s a symbol of inspiration for many of the film’s characters — just as Pankhurst inspired suffragettes in real life.

In 1903, when she was a 45-year-old widow, Pankhurst founded the WSPU, whose slogan became “deeds not words.” In her work for the group, she gave speeches that encouraged militant action. She declared in 1913, “Militancy has brought woman suffrage where we want it, that is, to the forefront of practical politics. That’s the justification for it.”

Between 1908 and 1914, Pankhurst was imprisoned 13 times. She would be released after going on hunger strikes, but the police pursued her again once her health had recovered. This cycle only ended with the advent of World War I, when Pankhurst directed WSPU members to support the war effort. In 1918, after the war, Pankhurst was pleased to see women granted limited suffrage.

Barbara and Gerald Gould: In Suffragette, Helena Bonham Carter portrays pharmacist and bomb maker Edith Ellyn. Unlike other characters in the film, Ellyn has a husband who also wants women to get the vote. One real-life couple who both supported female suffrage were Barbara Ayrton Gould and her husband Gerald. Barbara, who’d studied chemistry and physiology at University College, London, became a member of WSPU in 1906 and was a full-time organizer for the group by 1909. Barbara and Gerald got married in 1910.

Gerald supported women’s suffrage with actions like writing a pro-suffrage pamphlet entitled The Democratic Plea. In March 1912, Barbara participated in an attention-grabbing bout of smashing store windows in the West End of London (it’s a rock-throwing demonstration that sets Carey Mulligan’s character off on her suffragette journey in Suffragette). After this, Barbara spent time in prison; in 1913, she went to France for a time to avoid being rearrested.

Frustrated by WSPU leadership, Barbara left the group in 1914. However, the Goulds didn’t abandon their quest for women’s suffrage: on February 6, 1914, they were among the founders of the United Suffragists, which welcomed both men and women as members. That group ended its campaign when 1918’s Representation of the People Act gave women limited suffrage.

Edith Garrud: Helena Bonham Carter told Interview magazine that she found inspiration for her character in suffragette Edith Garrud, who was born in 1872. In fact, it was Bonham Carter who wanted her character’s name to be Edith in order to honor Garrud.

While protesting, suffragettes often faced harassment and attacks, both from the police and members of the public. But thanks to Garrud’s martial arts instruction, which she was offering to suffragettes by 1909, many learned how to defend themselves with jiu-jitsu.

In addition to “suffrajitsu,” as this training came to be nicknamed, Garrud also organized a protective force — called “The Bodyguard” — to keep Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragette leaders safe and out of police custody. Besides their martial arts skills, women on protective duty learned to wield clubs they kept hidden in their dresses.

Unfortunately, Bonham Carter has said that much of the jiu-jitsu in Suffragette had to be cut due to story considerations. However, Garrud’s fighting spirit definitely remains part of the film’s DNA.

Olive Hockin

One target of suffragette ire was chancellor of the exchequer David Lloyd George, another real-life character who appears in the film. In February 1913, suffragettes bombed an empty house that was being built for Lloyd George; Suffragette shows this attack.

The actual perpetrator(s) of the bombing were never found — instead Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested after declaring, “The authorities need not look for the women who did what was done last night. I accept full responsibility for it.” However, police considered Olive Hockin one of the prime suspects.

Though Hockin wasn’t charged with the Lloyd George bombing, police raided her home in March 1913, after a suffragette paper with her name and address was found at the site of an arson attack on the Roehampton Golf Club. Inside her apartment they found a “suffragette arsenal” that included acid, a fake license plate, stones, a hammer and wire cutters.

Police reports from the time also show that Hockin had been kept under close surveillance. This mirrors a plot turn in Suffragette, as police start keeping watch on Carey Mulligan’s character.

Emily Wilding Davison

Like Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison is a real-life figure who appears in Suffragette. Also like Pankhurst, Davison’s actions ended up having a great impact on the women’s suffrage movement.

Davison, who was born in 1872, joined the WSPU in 1906, and soon was devoting all her energy to the fight for suffrage. Her militant actions included attacking a man with a whip when she mistook him for David Lloyd George, stone throwing and arson. (Davison has sometimes been labeled as one of the suffragettes who bombed Lloyd George’s house in 1913, but records indicate the police did not view her as a suspect.)

Davison was jailed nine times for her militancy. During her time behind bars, she was subjected to 49 force feedings (many suffragettes were force fed when they started hunger strikes in prison). In an article, she wrote that these feedings were a “hideous torture.”

Davison’s last militant act took place at the Epsom Derby in June 1913. There, she ran in front of, and was subsequently trampled by, the king’s horse; she died a few days later. Davison’s true intentions have been debated: some feel she wanted to become a martyr, others believe she only aimed to make a statement by placing the suffragette colors of purple, white and green on the king’s horse. The facts that Davison had a return train ticket in her purse and was planning a vacation in France indicate she didn’t intend to commit suicide, but there is no definitive answer.

Whatever Davison’s motivation, her death was a watershed moment for suffragettes. Their movement received worldwide attention and 6,000 women turned out for the funeral — Suffragette even incorporates archival footage of women trailing behind Davison’s coffin.

Women and men were finally granted equal voting rights

in the United Kingdom in 1928.


– Intermediate level, April 2016 –

A letter to our daughter

(From Mr and Mrs Zuckerberg, excerpt)


Dear Max,

Your mother and I don’t yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future. Your new life is full of promise, and we hope you will be happy and healthy so you can explore it fully. You’ve already given us a reason to reflect on the world we hope you live in.

Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.

While headlines often focus on what’s wrong, in many ways the world is getting better. Health is improving. Poverty is shrinking. Knowledge is growing. People are connecting. Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today.

We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.

We believe all lives have equal value, and that includes the many more people who will live in future generations than live today. Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here.

But right now, we don’t always collectively direct our resources at the biggest opportunities and problems your generation will face.

Consider disease. Today we spend about 50 times more as a society treating people who are sick than we invest in research so you won’t get sick in the first place.

Our experience with personalized learning, internet access, and community education and health has shaped our philosophy.

Our generation grew up in classrooms where we all learned the same things at the same pace regardless of our interests or needs.

Your generation will set goals for what you want to become — like an engineer, health worker, writer or community leader. You’ll have technology that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus. You’ll advance quickly in subjects that interest you most, and get as much help as you need in your most challenging areas. You’ll explore topics that aren’t even offered in schools today. Your teachers will also have better tools and data to help you achieve your goals.

Even better, students around the world will be able to use personalized learning tools over the internet, even if they don’t live near good schools. Of course it will take more than technology to give everyone a fair start in life, but personalized learning can be one scalable way to give all children a better education and more equal opportunity.

We’re starting to build this technology now, and the results are already promising. Not only do students perform better on tests, but they gain the skills and confidence to learn anything they want. And this journey is just beginning. The technology and teaching will rapidly improve every year you’re in school.

Your mother and I have both taught students and we’ve seen what it takes to make this work. It will take working with the strongest leaders in education to help schools around the world adopt personalized learning. It will take engaging with communities, which is why we’re starting in our San Francisco Bay Area community. It will take building new technology and trying new ideas. And it will take making mistakes and learning many lessons before achieving these goals.

But once we understand the world we can create for your generation, we have a responsibility as a society to focus our investments on the future to make this reality.

Together, we can do this. And when we do, personalized learning will not only help students in good schools, it will help provide more equal opportunity to anyone with an internet connection.

As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.

We will give 99% of our Facebook shares — currently about $45 billion — during our lives to advance this mission. We know this is a small contribution compared to all the resources and talents of those already working on these issues. But we want to do what we can, working alongside many others. ..

We can do this work only because we have a strong global community behind us. Building Facebook has created resources to improve the world for the next generation. Every member of the Facebook community is playing a part in this work.

We can make progress towards these opportunities only by standing on the shoulders of experts — our mentors, partners and many incredible people whose contributions built these fields.

And we can only focus on serving this community and this mission because we are surrounded by loving family, supportive friends and amazing colleagues. We hope you will have such deep and inspiring relationships in your life too.

Max, we love you and feel a great responsibility to leave the world a better place for you and all children. We wish you a life filled with the same love, hope and joy you give us. We can’t wait to see what you bring to this world.


Mom and Dad





(from: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/mar/08/top-10-inspiring-female-travel-adventurers)


Many female travel adventurers have become lost in time so, to celebrate International Women’s Day,

we pick 10 incredible women who defied convention to undertake awe-inspiring journeys.



  1. Jeanne Baret (1740-1807)

Baret is recognised as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe – but she had to do it disguised as a man. She joined the world expedition of Admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville from 1766 to 1769. The French Navy prohibited women on its ships, but that didn’t stop Jeanne. She bound her breasts with linen bandages and became Jean Baret. She enlisted as valet and assistant to the expedition’s naturalist Philibert Commerçon and travelled on the vessel with 300 men. Expedition accounts differ on when her true gender was discovered. But, by the time she returned to France, Jeanne had seen the world, defied conventions and earned a place in history.

  1. Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839)

A British socialite and adventurer, Stanhope was possibly the greatest female traveller of her age. Born into an eminent political family, she played society hostess for her uncle, William Pitt the Younger. But as soon as he died, she took off for the unknown, finding her destiny in the Middle East. “Her Ladyship” did whatever it took to go where she wanted to go, including dressing as a man, carrying a sword and riding an Arab stallion. Crowning herself queen of the desert, Stanhope was the first European woman to cross the Syrian desert and the first to conduct modern archaeology research in the Holy Land.

  1. Isabella Bird (1831-1904)

Overcoming poor health, as well as the limitations of living in a man’s world, Isabella Bird became one of the 19th century’s most remarkable female globetrotters. An explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist, she was the first woman to be elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Her travels began at the age of 41, and didn’t end until she returned from a trip to Morocco, when she was 72. In between she visited America, India, Kurdistan, the Persian Gulf, Iran, Tibet, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and China. She climbed mountains and rode thousands of miles on horseback, as well as the occasional elephant.

  1. Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935)

A trailblazing American mountaineer and scholar, Peck wrote and lectured about her adventures to encourage travel and exploration. Yet the acclaim she won for setting mountain climbing records was almost overshadowed by the outrage caused by her climbing attire: trousers and tunics instead of skirts. She showed her support for the Suffragist movement by planting a flag championing votes for women atop Mount Coropuna in Peru. The north peak of Huascarán in Peru was renamed Cumbre Aña Peck (in 1928) in honour of its first climber. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society four years after women were admitted, and was a founding member of the American Alpine Club. Smith climbed her last mountain, the 5,367 feet Mount Madison in New Hampshire, at the age of 82.

  1. Mary Kingsley (1862-1900)

At a time when respectable women didn’t walk the streets of London unaccompanied, Kingsley was exploring uncharted parts of west Africa alone. After the death of family members she had been obliged to look after, Kingsley was free to travel at the age of 30. In Africa, she canoed up the Ogooué river and pioneered a route to the summit of Mount Cameroon, which had never been attempted by a European. She became the first European to enter remote parts of Gabon, and made extensive collections of freshwater fish on behalf of the British Museum. In her controversial book, Travels in West Africa, Mary expressed her opposition to European imperialism and championed the rights of indigenous people. The moleskin hat she wore throughout her travels is often on display at the Royal Geographical Society.

  1. Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

Bell was a woman of firsts. Her expertise, determination and curiosity got her to the top of mountains, but also to the top of her professions. An archaeologist, linguist and the greatest woman mountaineer of her age, she is best known for her role in establishing the modern state of Iraq during the 1920s. She was the first woman to attain a first-class degree (in just two years) in modern history at Oxford, the first to make major contributions to archaeology, architecture and oriental languages, and the first to achieve seniority in the British military intelligence and diplomatic service. The in-depth knowledge and contacts she acquired through long and arduous travels in then Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Arabia, shaped British imperial policy-making.

  1. Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

No one had ever circled the globe so fast; American journalist Nellie Bly stepped off the train in New York on 25th January 1890, and into history. She had raced through a “man’s world” in 72 days –alone and literally with just the clothes on her back– to “beat” the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days, which had been published 17 years earlier. When she had suggested the trip to her newspaper editor, he replied that it was a great idea but he’d have to send a man. After all, as a woman, Nellie would need a chaperone and dozens of trunks. When she told him she’d take her idea to another paper, he relented and off she went with only two days’ notice and one small bag. Bly was also a pioneer of investigative journalism and paved the way for many other female reporters. Her stories brought about sweeping reforms in asylums, sweatshops, orphanages and prisons.

  1. Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

Bessie Coleman flew in the face of race and gender discrimination to become the first black woman pilot in the world. Banned from flying schools in her native America, she taught herself French and travelled to France, where she earned her pilot’s licence in 1921, two years before her more famous contemporary, Amelia Earhart. Coleman flew all over the US, performing aerial tricks and lecturing to raise funds for an African-American flying school. She refused to participate in segregated events. Tragically, her life and dream ended when she died during an air show rehearsal at the age of 34.

  1. Freya Stark (1893-1993)

Stark went where few Europeans, especially women, had ever been before. A British explorer and writer, her travels led her into remote areas of Turkey and the Middle East. While living in Baghdad, she explored and mapped uncharted areas of the Islamic world. Hers were some of the first accurate maps of the region. She moved on foot, on donkeys, on camels and by car, camping along the way. Stark is the author of more than 24 travel books, covering local history, culture and tales of everyday life. In spite of age and illnesses, she never stopped travelling. In 1972 she was honoured as Dame Freya Stark.

  1. Lady Grace Drummond Hay (1895-1946)

On 19th August 1929, wealthy aristocratic widow Lady Grace Drummond Hay boarded the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, the first airship to circumnavigate the world. When the airship landed 21 days later, the British journalist had become the first woman to travel around the world in a zeppelin. Her reportage of the pioneering flight was published in leading newspapers, and helped cement her career as a writer and aviation specialist. The adventures didn’t stop there: Drummond Hay spent the next 10 years travelling the world and writing about her experiences. She was a foreign correspondent in Ethiopia and China and during the Second World War she was interned in a Japanese camp in the Philippines, where she became ill. She died shortly after her release.



Queen Elizabeth II:

7 Facts on the Longest Reigning Monarch in British History

(http://www.biography.com/news/queen-elizabeth-longest-reign-celebration-monarch-facts) by Sara Kettler


Move over Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II is now the longest-serving monarch in the UK.

On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II enters the record books as the longest-reigning monarch in British history (pushing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria to second place). Elizabeth has held her throne for more than 63 years and is known around the world as Britain’s queen. However, there’s more to her than simply being a royal figurehead. To commemorate Elizabeth’s lengthy reign, here are seven facts you may not know.

  1. Surprising Faces at the Coronation

At Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, the expected guests were in attendance: her husband, Prince Philip, and her heir apparent, Prince Charles, as well as dignitaries and nabobs that included Queen Salote of Tonga and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Yet there were others at the festivities whose presence may surprise you. It turns out that Jacqueline Bouvier, who later married John F. Kennedy and became First Lady Jackie Kennedy, was then a journalist reporting on the coronation. Inside Westminster Abbey, choirboys sang for their queen. One of these angelic voices belonged to Keith Richcards, the same Keith Richards who would go on to play guitar and lead a life of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery as a member of the Rolling Stones.

  1. The Queen and Her Corgis

For the queen, the end of an era is approaching. Not the end of her reign; remember, her mother lived to be 101, which suggests the 89-year-old Elizabeth could very well rule for another decade (leaving Prince Charles, already in the history books himself as the longest-serving heir apparent, to continue waiting in the wings).

No, it’s the end of the royal corgi era that’s near. It turns out that the queen is no longer acquiring corgis (worried about falls, she feels it’s safer not to have rambunctious dogs under foot). That truly is a change, as Elizabeth has had at least one corgi of her own since she was 18 (that dog, Susan, even joined the queen on her honeymoon). Holly and Willow, Elizabeth’s two remaining corgis, turned 12 in July, which is an advanced age for the breed. However, some corgis live to 15 or even 18, so let’s hope these two have a few more happy years left!

  1. A Royal Prankster

If you’re going to reign for more than six decades, it helps to have a good sense of humor. Elizabeth has demonstrated she can put people at their ease with a wry remark; when in private, she sometimes entertains her inner circle by doing impressions.

Elizabeth has also engaged in royal pranks. British diplomat Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles noted in his memoirs that when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah was visiting Balmoral in 1998, the queen invited him to tour the estate. The prince agreed, got into the passenger seat of a Land Rover, and then was stunned when the queen hopped into the driver’s seat. Women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, but as the queen raced her vehicle down narrow roads, she showed Abdullah that women could be very good drivers, when given the chance.

But the queen’s humor has its limits: don’t put her corgis at risk. When she found out that a footman had given the corgis whiskey as a “party trick,” he got a (well-deserved) demotion.

  1. She Keeps Calm and Carries On

Sangfroid wasn’t always a part of Elizabeth’s makeup; as a 17-year-old royal at her first solo engagement, she was extremely nervous (a piece of candy from a lady-in-waiting helped her calm down). However, in time Elizabeth learned to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

During a parade in 1981, the queen was shot at, but managed to keep her horse under control (fortunately the gun had contained only blanks). The next year, a mentally ill man, dripping blood from a cut hand, broke into her bedroom at Buckingham Palace. No one arrived when she tried to summon help, so Elizabeth had to rely on her ability to converse with strangers to keep the intruder calm (after 10 minutes, she finally got assistance when her uninvited guest decided he wanted a cigarette).

  1. The Queen Can Let Loose

Despite not having a passport -British passports are issued in the monarch’s name, so the queen doesn’t need one- Elizabeth has made 256 overseas visits to 116 countries over the course of her reign. During these visits Elizabeth is usually the model of poise and proper behavior. But the queen is still human, and can act accordingly. Biographer Sally Bedell Smith wrote that when Elizabeth was on a royal visit to Fiji in 1953, some native chieftains welcomed her with a dance that featured them clapping and grunting while sitting cross-legged. Later, after a black-tie dinner on her yacht (and having taken her first sip of kava while on shore earlier), the queen cried to her entourage, “Didn’t you LOVE this?” and proceeded to sit cross-legged on the floor in her evening gown, clapping and grunting herself.

  1. The Queen and Technology

Her Highness Tweets: Queen Elizabeth sends out her first tweet in October 2014 to honor the opening of a London exhibition commemorating communications technology in history. A hereditary monarchy may be a relic from an earlier age, but its current representative has a good track record when it comes to modern-day technical advances.

Despite misgivings, Elizabeth allowed her coronation to be broadcast on television. In 1976, she sent her first email (this was as part of a technology demonstration; it took a few decades before she emailed more regularly). And today the queen uses a mobile phone in order to text her grandchildren, a pretty impressive feat for an 89-year-old great-grandmother.

  1. The Queen of Thrift

The queen of England has access to a lot of perks, such as multiple castles and ownership of the largest pink diamond in the world. But being surrounded by luxury hasn’t kept Elizabeth from developing a taste for frugality.

The queen directs her staff to repair worn-out curtains, bedsheets and carpets rather than buying new ones. In addition, she doesn’t like to see wasted food; a royal chef revealed she once returned a lemon garnish to the kitchen so that it could be used again.

Considering the queen is one of the world’s wealthiest women, this thriftiness isn’t necessary, but perhaps when one’s face is on coins and banknotes, one doesn’t want to see them go to waste?


Alan Rickman,

giant of British screen and stage, dies at 69






Much-loved star of stage, TV and films including Harry Potter and Die Hard -and owner of one of the most singular voices in acting- has died in London.

Alan Rickman, one of the best-loved and most warmly admired British actors of the past 30 years, has died in London aged 69. His death was confirmed on Thursday by his family who said that he died “surrounded by family and friends”. Rickman had been suffering from cancer.

A star whose arch features and languid diction were recognisable across the generations, Rickman found a fresh legion of fans with his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films.

Cast and crew on those movies were among the first to pay tribute to the actor. In a lengthy post, Daniel Radcliffe wrote that Rickman was “one of the greatest actors I will ever work with” as well as “one of the loyalest and most supportive people I’ve ever met in the film industry”.

JK Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter books, said: “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death. He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man”, while Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore, said: “Everybody loved Alan. He was always happy and fun and creative and very, very funny.”

The actor had been a big-screen staple since first shooting to global acclaim in 1988, when he starred as Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis’s sardonic, dastardly adversary in Die Hard, a part he was offered two days after arriving in Los Angeles, aged 41.

Gruber was the first of three memorable baddies played by Rickman: he was an outrageous sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robbin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as well as a terrifying Rasputin in an acclaimed 1995 HBO film.

But Rickman was also a singular leading man: in 1991, he starred as a cellist opposite Juliet Stevenson in Anthony Minghella’s affecting supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply; four years later he was the honourable and modest Col Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, starring and scripted by Emma Thompson. He was to reunite with Thompson many times: they played husband and wife in 2003’s Love Actually and former lovers in 2010 BBC drama The Song of Lunch.

In 1995, he directed Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law, in his directorial debut, the acclaimed Scottish drama The Winter Guest. Thompson, who said she had “just kissed him goodbye”, wrote:

“What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humour, intelligence, wisdom and kindness. His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word. The intransigence which made him the great artist he was – his ineffable and cynical wit, the clarity with which he saw most things, including me, and the fact that he never spared me the view. I learned a lot from him. He was the finest of actors and directors. I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with his face next. I consider myself hugely privileged to have worked with him so many times and to have been directed by him. He was the ultimate ally. In life, art and politics. I trusted him absolutely. He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.”

Last year, Rickman reunited with Kate Winslet, another Sense and Sensibility co-star, for his second film as director, A Little Chaos, a period romance set in the gardens of Versailles.

Yet it was Rickman’s work on stage that established him as such a compelling talent, and to which he returned throughout his career. After graduating from Rada, the actor supported himself as a dresser for the likes of Nigel Hawthorne and Ralph Richardson before finding work with the Royal Shakespeare Company (as well as on TV as the slithery Reverend Slope in The Barchester Chronicles).

His sensational breakthrough came in 1986 as Valmont, the mordant seducer in Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He was nominated for a Tony for the part; Lindsay Duncan memorably said of her co-star’s sonorous performance that audiences would leave the theatre wanting to have sex “and preferably with Alan Rickman.”

He and Duncan –as well as their director, Howard Davies– reunited in 2002 for Noel Coward’s Private Lives, which transferred to Broadway after a successful run in London.

Other key stage performances included Mark Antony opposite Helen Mirren’s Cleopatra at the Olivier Theatre in London, and the title role in Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2010, again with Duncan, and again transferring to New York. The following year he starred as a creative writing professor in Seminar on Broadway.

In 2005, Rickman directed the award-winning play My name is Rachel Corrie, which he and Katharine Viner, now Guardian editor-in-chief, compiled from the emails of the student who was killed by a bulldozer while protesting against the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip.

Rickman remained politically active throughout his life: he was born, he said, “a card-carrying member of the Labour party”, and was highly involved with charities including Saving Faces and the International Performers’ Aid Trust, which seeks to help artists in developing and poverty-stricken countries.

Rickman publicly spoke of his unhappiness about the “Hollywood ending” of 1996 film Michael Collins, a historical biopic of the Irish civil war, in which he portrayed Éamon de Valera, and expressed his belief that art ought to help educate as well as entertain. “Talent is an accident of genes, and a responsibility,” he once said.

He and his wife, Rima Horton, met when they were still teenagers; she became an economics lecturer as well as a Labour party councillor. In 2012, the pair married, having been together since 1965. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was one of the first to pay tribute on Twitter, followed by former leader Ed Miliband.

Others offering condolences included Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard, Charlie Sheen, Mia Farrow and Richard E. Grant. Many drew paralllels between the deaths of Rickman and David Bowie, from the same disease at the same age and in the same week.

Rickman was an actor unafraid of the unexpected. He voiced a monarch in an episode of cult cartoon King of the Hill and a megalomaniac pilot fish called Joe in the Danish animator Help! I’m A Fish. In 2000, Rickman appeared as Sharleen Spiteri’s love interest in the music video for Texas’s 2000 hit “In Demand”, which involves them tangoing at a petrol station. In 2015, Rickman again featured in the video for one of their singles, this time with vocals.

He spoofed his own persona in comedy Galaxy Quest (2000), in which he plays a Shakespearian-trained actor who has found fame as a Spock-style alien in a long-running sci-fi series and in Victoria Wood’s Christmas special of the same year, as an upright colonel at the Battle of Waterloo.

Rickman was sanguine about his legions of admirers, who declared their love on countless websites, video tributes and at stage doors. Even scientists were not immune: in 2008, linguistics professors concluded that the most appealing male voice mixes elements of Rickman, Gambon and Jeremy Irons.

Recent film roles included an art-loving lord in the Coen brothers’ scripted farce Gambit (2012), as Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels’s The Butler, and a humorous, imperious King Louis XIV in A Little Chaos.

Rickman is still to be seen in Eye in the Sky, a thriller about drone warfare that won rave reviews at the Toronto film festival last year, and repeating his voiceover as Absolem the Caterpillar in Alice Through the Looking Glass, also due for release later this year.

His final job was taping a voiceover for a short film called This Tortoise Could Save a Life, in aid of Save the Children and Refugee Council. Released in mid December 2015, the film’s audio was recorded at Rickman’s home in London at the end of November.

That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. “Parts win prizes, not actors,” he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.

“Actors are agents of change,” he said. “A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”





(by Laurie Ulster)


Thirty-five years after the death of John Lennon, we celebrate the radical message of hope in his most iconic song. John Lennon was shot and killed by a deranged fan on December 8, 1980. He was 40 years old.


“Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.” So said John Lennon about “Imagine,” the most successful single of his solo career. The song has been covered by artists in every genre, from Liza Minnelli to Stevie Wonder to Neil Young to Lady Gaga, and performed at some of the biggest events across the globe. The Olympics. New Year’s Eve. Concerts for Peace. Concerts for Hunger. This year, at the tribute concert in honor of what would have been Lennon’s 75th birthday, Willie Nelson performed it to an audience of fans and fellow superstars.

The impact of the song is unquestionable, most recently finding new poignancy when pianist Davide Martello drove 400 miles from Germany to Paris so he could play it outside the Bataclan theatre, where 89 people were killed by terrorists last month. But disguised within its message of peace and love and its flowing piano melody is a collection of edgy, “dangerous” ideas that challenge society as we know it. The sweet, sweet song that has become an anthem all over the world is actually full of controversial lyrics and radical ideas. John Lennon once called it “Working Class Hero for conservatives,” and indeed, it challenges the status quo at its most fundamental.

John Lennon composed the song in one session, sitting at his white grand piano in Tittenhurst Park estate in England. Yoko Ono watched him as he played the melody and wrote most of the lyrics. He recorded it in his home studio with help from musicians Alan White, longtime Beatle friend (and artist behind the cover of the Revolver album) Klaus Voorman, Nicky Hopkins, and producer Phil Spector, who uncharacteristically kept the track fairly simple. They experimented, at one point having Hopkins play on the same piano as Lennon, but on a higher octave. The more they added, the more they ended up stripping away. You can watch them recording it in this excerpt from the documentary Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album.

The final mix was done at The Record Plant in New York, the city in which Lennon and Ono would soon make their home. Strings were added by members of the New York Philharmonic, called “the Flux Fiddlers” by Lennon. Everyone knew the song was special at the time, but couldn’t have had any idea of the impact it would have on the world, both musically and politically. Paul McCartney –someone inclined to be less than generous about Lennon’s early solo career, given what Lennon said about his– admitted he knew it was “a killer” the first time he heard it. Bono said it was the reason for his career. George Martin, famous for producing the Beatles’ records and helping steer them to musical superstardom, says the album it’s on, Imagine, is the one he most wishes he’d produced. And Jimmy Carter said, “…in many countries around the world –my wife and I have visited about 125 countries– you hear John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ used almost equally with national anthems.”

It’s this that seems ironic, given the lyrics: “Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for…” The song has been accepted all over the world as a song of peace and unity, as it asks us to embrace what some call anarchy, and early critics labeled communism. Imagine no Heaven. Imagine no country. Imagine no possessions… and no religion, too. Sounds about as anti-American, anti-British, anti-establishment as a song can be, and yet it’s a song of positivity and hope, about the possibilities of a better human existence. Feelings of peace and acceptance are swirled around lyrics suggesting we abolish some of the things people hold most dear. Even those who claim to accept the message struggle with its meaning. Lennon was approached by the World Church asking if they could use it but change the lyric to “one religion” instead of “no religion.” Lennon said no, explaining that that would defeat the whole purpose of the song. Since his death, Yoko Ono has been approached many times by groups who wanted to do the same thing, and she consistently refuses. No doubt all the world’s fanatics are imagining one religion, but that’s the opposite of what he was singing about. Cee Lo Green performed the song on New Year’s Eve in 2011 and changed the words to “And all religion’s true,” and got lambasted for it. He says he meant no disrespect –but he didn’t get it, either.

Those weren’t the only lyrics people had issues with. Many thought it was hypocritical for a man who owned a custom-painted Rolls Royce (and barely drove it) to be preaching “imagine no possessions.” (Elvis Costello, a lifelong Lennon fan, even included it in the lyrics to “The Other Side of Summer,” in which he sang, “Was it a millionaire who said imagine no possessions?”) Lennon, always a step ahead of everyone, was updating his lyrics in live performances. A year after the song was released, during a performance at Madison Square Garden on August 30 1972, he’d already changed two of the lines.

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can


Imagine no possessions

I wonder if we can


Nothing to kill or die for

A brotherhood of man


Nothing to kill or die for

A brotherhood/sisterhood of man

The second, in particular, was a big shift for someone who’d spent most of his youth as a chauvinist. He later admitted to writer David Sheff that the song had been inspired by poems from Yoko Ono’s book Grapefruit, and that he should have credited the song to Lennon-Ono. He said he would have done that for any male artist he worked with, but at the time, he was still backwards thinking and wasn’t “man enough” to do the right thing. But he wouldn’t have written the song without her poem, and acknowledged it publicly by putting it on the back of the Imagine album cover. His other lyrical influence was a Christian prayer book given to him by comedian/activist Dick Gregory, which touted the concept of positive prayer. The imagination, Lennon was telling us, is the most powerful tool we have.

Of all the songs he wrote and performed, many of which have had tremendous impact on our culture, “Imagine” has the most resonance. While its influence reaches across the globe, there are physical representations of it in the two places that most represented home to Lennon. The Liverpool Airport, renamed the Liverpool John Lennon Airport, has the line “above us only sky” painted on the roof. Yoko’s monument to her husband, in the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park, is a mosaic of the word Imagine, where fans gather to mourn him as well as to celebrate his legacy.

Like Lennon himself, “Imagine” is complex. At first listen, it’s easy to think of it as something simple: a ballad, a song of peace, a piano-driven melody. But the call of peace calls for the abolition of what we often cling to most fiercely. It’s not a blueprint, with instructions on how to give up some of the parameters by which we define ourselves, but a call for us to imagine something that seems unimaginable in the world we live in. It’s revolutionary without calling for literal revolution, and has no less relevance in the uncertain world of today than it did in 1971 when it was written. In a world of unending conflict over exactly the things he mentions in the song –our borders, our religion, our possessions– we want to imagine it too.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one.



(from: http://www.rd.com/culture/100-days-at-sea-lesson/)

The Life-Changing Lesson I Learned After Spending 100 Days at Sea With My Family… and 750 College Students

Far from a pleasure cruise, our round-the-globe trip with Semester at Sea was a profound voyage of discovery (by Jean Hanff Korelitz).




What kind of right-thinking person takes off in the middle of her life to travel around the globe on a refitted cruise ship with 750 college students? That would be me, or, more accurately, me along with my 12-year-old son, Asher, and my husband, Paul. A poet, Paul had been hired to teach for Semester at Sea, a program that takes college students and instructors on ocean voyages.

I’ll admit that I went reluctantly. I did not want to take my son out of seventh grade, nor did I want to be an ocean away from my parents (both in their 80s) and my college-aged daughter. But long ago, a more intrepid teenage version of me had gone to Maine on an Outward Bound course, where I spent weeks rowing through frigid waters and soloing on uninhabited islands. Now the overarching lesson of that experience came back to me: Ships may be safe inside the harbor, but that is not what ships are for. So when, in the course of a person’s generally settled life, she is offered the opportunity to voyage around the world with her husband and child, her only possible response is: yes.

On the appointed day, we boarded our ship in Fort Lauderdale with a handful of exotic visas and an armful of exotic inoculations, bound for San Diego the long way around. Our stops would include Dominica, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China, and Japan. While Paul taught, I would work on a novel and bully Asher through a reading list of books I’d paired with our ports (Lord of the Flies in Dominica, Cry, the Beloved Country in South Africa, Hiroshima in Japan). I hired a student to tutor him in math, and he audited college classes in chemistry, anthropology, and film. My husband and I would share a tiny cabin, with our son in an even tinier one across the corridor.

“This is not a cruise; this is a voyage of discovery” is Semester at Sea’s unofficial motto, and that statement, although hokey, was true. The students embarked as cheerful American kids, open-minded and up for adventure, even as the faculty tried to prepare them for the cultures they’d encounter. “You consume ten times as many resources as the average citizen in most of the countries we’ll be visiting,” one professor said. “You may not be aware of the disparity. But they are.”

By the time we left Africa, most of the kids were reeling. At a debriefing after leaving Ghana, students described a level of disorientation so profound that I couldn’t help thinking: This is what it sounds like when hundreds of minds are blown simultaneously.

One group, who visited a village in the northern part of the country, told us how the women walked miles to fetch water because the well was broken. The amount needed to fix it turned out to be pocket change –literally, the students covered the needed repairs with what they had in their pockets. “So I didn’t buy a souvenir,” one young woman said when she described how the village elders had embraced her in gratitude. Another student, the first in her family to attend college, had always thought of herself as poor. “Now I don’t know what I am,” she said.

I’d had my own disorienting experience in the backseat of a taxi in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Frantically looking back and forth between the map in my hands and the streets flying by outside, I saw that the two versions of the city had almost nothing to do with each other and that my legendary (within my family) map skills were useless. I had no idea where I was. I felt completely untethered from the familiar, propelled into a place that was not logical. It was a profoundly uncomfortable sensation, but I thought, if you’re not willing to give up some small measure of control, you might as well not go anywhere.

And so, I surrendered. During my 100 days, I subdued -OK, with pharmaceutical help- my arachnophobia long enough to board a riverboat traveling up the Amazon, where I spent two nights sleeping in a hammock and listening to the rain forest. I toured the mesmerizing and appalling slave castles on Ghana’s coast; camped in the tea plantations of Munnar, India; and hiked on a remote, unrestored section of the Great Wall of China. In South Africa, I listened to a former prisoner describe his life at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela; in Cambodia, I heard a guide report witnessing the death of his eight-year-old sister as his family tried to escape the Khmer Rouge.

I watched the sun set over Cape Town and rise over Angkor Wat. I ate manioc, fufu, Peking duck, dosa, and shabu-shabu. In Singapore, I consumed the single most surreal dish of the voyage: a sparerib, basted in chocolate, covered with whipped cream, and topped with a cherry.

As we neared San Diego, one professor told me that he had never felt “more present” than he had on our voyage. I had to agree, although in one sense, I was significantly less present than when I’d embarked. I’d lost 15 pounds, the result of persistent low-grade seasickness and the ship’s execrable food (although credit must also go to an intestinal bug I picked up in Africa).

And while I may not have recovered the bravery of my younger, Outward Bound self, I was amazed by what I had done. I’d circumnavigated the globe with my son and husband and returned home, full of sights and experiences from places I’d never thought I’d visit. (And the three of us were still on speaking terms!)

Sometimes we are outward bound for reasons that aren’t particularly courageous, but bravery isn’t the only attribute worth having. Saying yes to an adventure, for whatever reason, brings its own rewards, and it’s never too late to relearn something I’d managed to forget: ships may be safe inside the harbor, but that is not what ships are for.







The broken mirror, the black cat, and lots of good luck

(by Chris Rose)



Nikos was an ordinary man. Nothing particularly good ever happened to him, nothing particularly bad ever happened to him. He went through life accepting the mixture of good things and bad things that happen to everyone. He never looked for any explanation or reason about why things happened just the way they did. One thing, however, that Nikos absolutely did not believe in was superstition. He had no time for superstition, no time at all. Nikos thought himself to be a very rational man, a man who did not believe that his good luck or bad luck was in any way changed by black cats, walking under ladders, spilling salt or opening umbrellas inside the house.

Nikos spent much of his time in the small taverna near where he lived. In the taverna he sat drinking coffee and talking to his friends. Sometimes his friends played dice or cards. Sometimes they played for money. Some of them made bets on horse races or football matches. But Nikos never did. He didn’t know much about sport, so he didn’t think he could predict the winners. And he absolutely didn’t believe in chance or luck or superstition, like a lot of his friends did.

One morning Nikos woke up and walked into the bathroom. He started to shave, as he did every morning, but as he was shaving he noticed that the mirror on the bathroom wall wasn’t quite straight. He tried to move it to one side, to make it straighter, but as soon as he touched it, the mirror fell off the wall and hit the floor with a huge crash. It broke into a thousand pieces. Nikos knew that some people thought this was unlucky. “Seven years bad luck”, they said, when a mirror broke. But Nikos wasn’t superstitious. Nikos wasn’t superstitious at all. He didn’t care. He thought superstition was nonsense. He picked up the pieces of the mirror, put them in the bin, and finished shaving without a mirror.

After that he went into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich to take to work for his lunch. He cut two pieces of bread and put some cheese on them. Then he thought he needed some salt. When he picked up the salt jar, it fell from his hand and broke on the floor. Salt was everywhere. Some people, he knew, thought that this was also supposed to bring bad luck. But Nikos didn’t care. He didn’t believe in superstitions.

He left the house and went to work. On his way to work he saw a black cat running away from him. He didn’t care. He wasn’t superstitious. Some builders were working on a house on his street. There was a ladder across the pavement. Nikos thought about walking around the ladder, but he didn’t care, he wasn’t superstitious and didn’t believe in superstitions, so he walked right underneath the ladder. Even though Nikos wasn’t superstitious, he thought that something bad was certain to happen to him today. He had broken a mirror, spilled some salt, walked under a ladder and seen a black cat running away from him. He told everybody at work what had happened. “Something bad will happen to you today!” they all said. But nothing bad happened to him.

That evening, as usual, he went to the taverna. He told all his friends in the taverna that he had broken a mirror, spilled the salt, seen a black cat running away from him and then walked under a ladder. All his friends in the taverna moved away from him. “Something bad will happen to him”, they all said, “and we don’t want to be near him when it happens!”. But nothing bad happened to Nikos all evening. He sat there, as normal, and everything was normal. Nikos was waiting for something bad to happen to him. But it didn’t. “Nikos, come and play cards with us!”, joked one of his friends. “I’m sure to win!” Nikos didn’t usually play cards, but tonight he decided to. His friend put a large amount of money on the table. His friend thought Nikos was going to lose. Nikos thought he was going to lose. But it didn’t happen like that. Nikos won. Then he played another game, and he won that one too. Then somebody asked him to play a game of dice, and Nikos won that as well. He won quite a lot of money. “Go on then Nikos”, his friends shouted, “Use all the money you have won to buy some lottery tickets!” Nikos spent all the money he had won on lottery tickets. The draw for the lottery was the next day.

The next day after work Nikos went to the tavern again. Everybody was watching the draw for the lottery on TV. The first number came out, for the third prize. It was Nikos’ number. Then the second number, for the second prize. It was another of Nikos’ tickets. Then the first prize. It was Nikos’ number as well. He won all three of the big lottery prizes. It was incredible. It seemed that all the things that people thought caused bad luck actually brought him good luck.

The next day Nikos bought a book about superstitions from all over the world. When he had read the book he decided to do everything that would bring him bad luck. He left empty bottles on the table. He asked his wife to cut his hair for him. He accepted a box of knives as a gift. He slept with his feet pointing towards the door. He sat on the corners of tables. He put a candle in front of the mirror. He always left his hat on the bed. He always left his wallet on the bed. He bought things in numbers of six, or thirteen. He crossed people on the stairs. He got on a boat and whistled. And with everything he did, he got luckier and luckier. He won the lottery again. He won the games of dice in the taverna every evening. Things got crazier and crazier. He bought a black cat as a pet. He broke a few more mirrors, on purpose. He didn’t look people in the eye when they raised their glasses to him. He put loaves of bread upside down on the table. He spilled salt. He spilled olive oil. He spilled wine.

The more superstitious things he did, the luckier he became. He went into the taverna and started to tell all his friends what he thought. “You see!”, he told them, “I was right all along! Superstition is nonsense! The more things I do to break ridiculous superstitions, the more lucky I am!” “But Nikos”, replied one of his friends, “Don’t you see that you are actually as superstitious as we are? You are so careful to break superstitions, and this brings you luck. But you are only lucky when you do these things. Your disbelief is actually a kind of belief!”

Nikos thought hard about what his friend said. He had to admit that it was true. He was so careful to break all the superstitions he could, that in some way he was actually observing those superstitions. The next day, he stopped spilling salt, chasing away black cats, walking under ladders, putting up umbrellas in the house and breaking mirrors. He also stopped winning money on the lottery. He started to lose at games of cards or dice. He was a normal man again. Sometimes he was lucky, sometimes he wasn’t. He didn’t not believe in superstitions any more, but he didn’t believe in them either. “Nikos”, said his friend to him, “It was your belief in yourself that made you lucky. It was your self-confidence that helped you, not superstitions.” Nikos listened to his friend and thought that he was right. But, however rational he still believed himself to be, he always wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t broken that mirror






There are festivals going on somewhere in the world every day of the year, involving whole cities or just small villages. Here are a few of the more unusual, colourful festivals from around the world.


There are many famous festivals around the world. The Carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and Venice, Munich’s Oktoberfest and London’s Notting Hill Carnival are three examples. There are, however, festivals going on somewhere in the world every day of the year. These range from very large events which involve whole cities to local celebrations in tiny villages or neighbourhoods of towns or cities. We have selected a few of the more unusual, colourful festivals from around the world:

  1. Australia Day Cockroach Races (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia):
    “Racing is simple… the races are held in a circular track and cockroaches are then let go from an upturned bucket in the middle… first to the edge is a winner. Things are made a little more difficult in the steeplechase events where a circular fence (garden hose) is used to enhance the spectacle and test the cockroach talent.”
  2. Canberra Sled Dog Classic (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia):
    Dog sledding is one of the fastest growing sports on the east coast of Australia. As there’s no snow (the trail is earth and sand, and is smooth and wide with a few hills and turns), the sleds have wheels instead of runners, but the excitement is the same.
  3. Darwin Beer Can Regatta (Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia):
    This local charity event brings together great engineers and great drinkers. Participants construct everything from life-size beer-can canoes to beer-can Viking warships (complete with fire hoses) during this off-the-wall regatta.
  4. Festival of Snakes (Abruzzo, Italy): “Each year in the tiny hamlet of Cocullo, surrounded by some of Italy’s most undomesticated forests, the villagers prove their devotion by getting down and dirty with as many fork-tongued reptiles as they can.”
  5. Henley-on-Todd Regatta (Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia):
    “This multi-event program attracts many local and international participants from the audience who often finish up on world TV news paddling canoes with sand shovels, and in land lubber events like filling empty 44 gallon drums with sand. The Henley-on-Todd is run entirely on a volunteer basis by the three Rotary Clubs based in the Alice. The entire proceeds –over a million dollars in the 30 plus years of the event– are allocated to local, national and international humanitarian projects.”
  6. International Cherry Pit Spitting Contest (Eau Claire, MI, USA):
    “A nutritious sport – is there a better way to dispose of the pit once you have eaten the cherry? Entrants eat a cherry and then spit the pit as far as possible on a blacktop surface. The pit that goes the farthest including the roll is the champ.”
  7. Interstate Mullet Toss (Pensacola, Florida, USA): “Pensacola locals and tourists alike have been trying to perfect the art of mullet-tossing for more than 15 years. Ok… so what exactly is a mullet? A mullet is a bottom-feeding, saltwater fish that people go nuts about every April. Competitors from far and wide come to the Florida and Alabama border town for this head-to-head competition to see who, while standing on the Florida side, can toss the one and a half pound fish into the Alabama side the farthest. Prizes are awarded and all entries receive a free T-shirt exclaiming “Dear Ma, thanks for the college education!” More than 300 pounds of mullet are used each year. Sounds like a lot of fish? They are recycled! After contestants throw their fish they must retrieve it, and if it’s not too mangled they put it back in the bucket. Other festivities include the Mullet Man Triathlon, Mullet Swing Golf Classic, Ms. Mullet Bikini Contest, a wet T-shirt contest, volleyball, skeet shooting, a keg toss, three bandstands and seven bar stations.”
  8. La Tomatina (Buñol, Spain): “The tomato battle is in honor of Saint Luis Beltran, the patron saint of Bunol. Residents and visitors take part in a tomato-throwing battle that decimates more than 88,000 pounds of tomatoes. This wacky event began with a serious aim as a symbolic protest against Franco. But the Tomatina is now firmly entrenched as an amusing way to end the summer.”
  9. Mighty Mud Mania (Scottsdale, Arizona, USA): “Children’s dreams really do come true in the City of Scottsdale. Children aged 1 to 13 get to participate in a mud race to end all mud races. During the running of the Mighty Mud Obstacle course, several mud pits strategically placed provide wet and really dirty obstacles as kids compete for the fastest time in each heat. There are also mud puddle pools for the tiny tots, and a mini mud course for those six and younger. In addition, Mighty Mudway features water and mud games. There are also water slides, sandcastle buildings and fun for all ages. Moms and dads, remember to send your kids out with old clothes and shoes that lace up or have Velcro closures. And have no fear, Rural Metro Fire Department is on hand to literally hose down the muddy children.”
  10. Songkran Festival (Thailand): What better way to celebrate the “start of the return of rains” than with a country-wide water fight? Thais celebrate their festival officially from April 13th until April 15th. These three days represent the last day of the old year, the day of transition, and the first day of the New Year. These are days of cleaning the houses and the body, days of merry making, and renewal. Nothing evil has to be taken into the New Year. Formerly one sprinkled or spilled a bit of scented water over the hands or shoulders of elders and friends to ask them forgiveness for coarse or wicked speaking. But in modern times these traditions, which still are held in family celebrations, are hidden behind water battles fought out for days in the streets of every town and city over the country.
  11. The New Straits Times Million Ringgit Charity Duck Race (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia): Thirteen years ago, Eric Schechter and his friends were brainstorming to find new ways of raising money for local charities when they came up with the idea of rubber duck races. The event, crazy as it may sound, involves racing “cool” rubber ducks down a local waterway and having members of the community “adopt” the ducks for a chance to win valuable donated prizes, possibly even $1 million bucks.
  12. Wife Carrying World Championships (Sonkajärvi, Finland):
    “The idea of the Wife Carrying Competition is Sonkajärvi’s very own and, in spite of its humorous aspects, it has deep roots in the local history. In the late 1800s, there was in the area a brigand called Rosvo-Ronkainen, who is said to have accepted in his troops only those men who proved their worth on a challenging track. In those days, it was also a common practice to steal women from the neighbouring villages.”

13. World Bog Snorkelling Championships and Mountain Bike Bog Leaping (Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales): “It’s the muckiest dip you’ve ever taken! Swim two lengths of a bog wearing a snorkel, or jump on a mountain bike and leap the bogs over a 20-mile course. If bog snorkelling’s your game, get ready to flounder your way through 120 yards of peat bog in the quickest possible time. Your attire? A snorkel and flippers, of course. Uhhh… and maybe some swimming trunks. And you can’t use any conventional swimming strokes. This battle of wills in a dirty, smelly, wet Welsh peat bog trench is not for the faint of heart! If you’d rather be above the bog (though there’s no guarantee you won’t end up in it), try taking your mountain bike through 20 miles of boggy terrain, in the bog-leaping event. It’s your chance to show off your bike-in-a-bog maneuvering abilities! Following your adventures, kind folks are on hand to hose you down. Goodness knows, you’ll need it! Happy bogging!”







Collecting things – My Grandmother’s elephant

(by Chris Wilson)


My grandmother had a beautiful elephant carved out of sandalwood on her dressing table which I secretly used to covet. I wanted it more than anything in the world. It was about the size of a football and had a cheeky smile. It was inlaid with tiny circular mirrors and mother-of-pearl, and had real ivory tusks and toenails. One day my sister said “Oh Grandma, please can I have it?” and, to my fury and disbelief, she just gave it to her! I immediately made two resolutions: 1) never to speak to either of them ever again. 2) To find another elephant just like it.

Ever since I have been scouring the world. I have rummaged round junk shops and antique shops all over Europe, I have been to garage sales and flea markets in America, I have hung about in Arab souks and Indian bazaars, but I have never seen anything quite the same.

Along the way, however, I have acquired all sorts of other elephants and my collection has grown and grown. I have got black ebony elephants from Malawi, and a couple of ivory – all, I hasten to add, made a long time ago, before the ebony trees were chopped down and the ivory trade was made illegal. I also have soap stone elephants from Zimbabwe, and an exotic Congolese one carved out of bright green malachite. I have a whole family of wooden Thai elephants marching along the top of my piano; sometimes when I sit and play  I could swear they are marching in time to the music. I have two very heavy, long legged elephants which I bought in Khan el Khalili, in Cairo, which I use as bookends, and an enormous fat one from the Sudan which I use as a coffee table. My search goes on, but it gets more and more difficult to find really good pieces. On recent trips to Africa I have noticed how the quality of the workmanship has deteriorated. In craft markets all over the continent you can find thousands of elephants, but they are nearly all shoddily made, churned out for tourists by people who probably have never seen a real elephant in their lives.

Why do people collect things? Probably many, like me, don’t set out to do so. You just acquire something, then another and another and then, once you’ve got a small collection, you just keep adding to it. I have an uncle who collects key rings –he has hundreds of them from all over the world– but he can’t remember how it started. Other people collect stamps, stones,  beer cans, beer mats, match boxes, all sorts of things. For some it can become a total obsession and they will go to any lengths to get something. One of my colleagues collects Royal memorabilia, which to me is the ultimate in bad taste! Her house is crammed full of kitsch things like Coronation mugs, ashtrays with pictures of Charles and Diana, British flags, tea towels printed with Windsor Castle and even a toilet seat cover with Prince Andrew grinning widely up at you. What is this urge to possess all these things?

I recently discussed this question with a group of students in Mozambique and what rapidly became evident was that few of them had such an urge. “Why not?” I asked. “I don’t know” said Antonio. “It’s just not in our culture”. “Does that mean you’re not as materialistic as Europeans?” Antonio laughed. “No way! We want cars and houses and fancy things just like anyone else, but we don’t collect knick-knacks, things we can’t use”. “I think it’s because of our recent war” said Maria “and the state of the economy. For many years there was nothing to collect, except shells off the beach perhaps”. “I collect shoes” said Teresa, who comes from Angola. “I have over seventy pairs. But I buy them to wear, not just for the sake of having them”. “Oh come on!” laughed Antonio. “Anything you don’t actually need you have for the sake of having it, and you can’t possibly need seventy pairs!” “I do, I need every single pair!” she insisted. “So you are a collector!” “No I’m not!” “Yes you are!” shouted the whole class.

Paula stuck up her hand. “I’m a collector” she said. “I am a fan of  Julio Iglesias and I have all his CD’s, every  one, even the latest, which, I have to admit, isn’t very good at all”. “So why did you buy it?” I asked. “Well, because I’ve got all the others of course” she said. “And my son collects those little plastic dinosaurs you find inside cereal packets. He’s only got to get T Rex and then he’s got the whole set.” “They are exploiting you” said Antonio. “They encourage children to become collectors so that you keep buying more and more. This is something new in our country. Soon we will all be fanatically collecting things, just like everyone else in the world.”

Harshill, who is of Indian origin, had been silent all this time. He cleared his throat. “One good reason to collect things is that a collection is worth more – how do you say in English? More than the sum of its parts. If you sold your elephants one by one you wouldn’t get nearly as much as if you sold the whole collection. So it is a way of saving money, a good investment.”

On the way back to my hotel a young boy was selling a badly carved elephant by the side of the road. I didn’t want it but I bought it because I felt sorry for him. Later I thought I should just have given him some money and let him try to sell it to someone else. It would never be part of my collection, each in its own special place in a different part of my house. I imagined walking round looking at them all and thought about what Harshill had said –it’s a way of increasing the value of what you already have- but as usual there was that niggling feeling that my collection, no matter how valuable, would never be complete. Not without my Grandmother’s elephant! What a waste for it to be with my sister when it could be, should be, with me! “Oh well, never mind, try not to be obsessed” I told myself.

Ever since, though, I have been lying awake at night, thinking of it standing there on a brass table in her hallway, next to the window she always leaves open  for her cat. Her dogs know me, so they won’t be a problem when I climb over the wall in my gloves and balaclava. The whole operation will be over in less than five minutes. The only problem is, having acquired it, what will I do when my sister comes barging in to nose around, as she periodically does, and sees it in pride of place in my house? I’ll have to keep it hidden and then what will be the point of having it? Oh dear. Perhaps I could have a special alarm that would only ring when my sister is on her way. No, that’s silly. I’ll just have to move. To another country, under another name, far, far away. But even then, knowing her, she’ll track me down. Oh, dear reader, what would you do if you were me?






Maybe you should learn to bite your tongue when you’re sitting in a New Zealand layby with a policeman at your window, having been pulled over for the third time in a week for going a few miles over the speed limit (and, once, a few miles under), and you have a sneaking suspicion it might be because you’re a woman in her early 20s with the audacity to drive a motorhome.

“Bit of a heavy vehicle this for you, isn’t it?” said the officer, adjusting his shades. “What do you drive back home, a hatchback?”

Actually, it was a hatchback: a souped-up Seat Ibiza complete with spoiler, alloys and boy-racer bucket seats. But I wasn’t telling him that. I told him I drove an articulated lorry. He told me to go to the nearest police station and pay my 80-dollar fine. Really, if was willing to flirt my way out of trouble more often in life, I’d have saved myself a lot of cash.

That trip around New Zealand, more than 10 years ago, was my first in a motorhome, and since then, they –and road trips– have become a major part of my life. I ogle Fiat Ducato Swifts on city streets. I lust after classic Hymers on campsites. You could say I put the perv in to camper van – but, although I’ll admit they’re cute, campers aren’t really my thing. I like the big guys. I want a shower and a cooker and a proper mattress, and if I could, I’d have a bath. You might call it cheating; I call it being 36 with sciatica. That said, asking yourself, “Did I leave the oven on?” does become more pressing when you’re hurtling down a B road and the oven is a metre behind you, connected to a large canister of gas. Sometimes, it’s good to keep things simple.

The first trip I made closer to home was when I was in my mid-20s, a few years after New Zealand. I hired a motorhome for a week in February. Wait, friends said: you’re going alone? But I needed space. Like, major space. Galaxies. Instead, I settled for Cumbria, which turned out fine. I didn’t really know what I was doing with my life, washed up, with a bar job that ate (or drank) most of my wages. Something about upping and leaving appealed. I was inspired by Julie Christie’s freewheeling Liz in Billy Liar.

I also needed a digital detox before there was even a term for it. An ex had set up a fake profile on MySpace (the thing at the time) to befriend/stalk me. (For the record, I don’t really blame him… not now.) Anyway, I found the perfect antidote. Because you know what the almighty internet still can’t conquer? A valley. Drive into one of those and you’re instantly liberated, purely by being somewhere without a scrap of signal.

It took a few days to adapt. A few nights of resisting the urge to get up and drive, in my thermal pyjamas, to the top of a mountain and desperately waggle my phone around. But once I’d got through the withdrawal period, the head‑buzz reduced to a manageable hum. Nothing was going to happen that couldn’t be sorted in a week. The world would get on just as well without me. And it wasn’t lonely, not really. I had company: the unassuming, reliable, dark presence of mountains.

There were others doing their solitary thing. I noticed how many lone travellers there are in campsites out of season. In Patterdale, a man with a long, ginger beard sat on the side of his van every morning, eating from the lid of a flask. I’d see him as I was smoking my morning cigarette and we’d nod hello. We didn’t speak, but it wasn’t unfriendly; we were just enjoying the quiet. He went hiking every day, and I’d watch for him coming back at dusk and it only struck me after a few days that he might be a substitute for something – that nightly family feeling; that sense of expected, and fulfilled, return.

Since then, I’ve been on many solo holidays – hitting the road almost every year. I am about to leave for Scotland for a fortnight. I have a ritual when getting into my solitary groove, and music is key. The first song on any trip has to be Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits, which I like to play as I’m crossing the Salford border. I have favourite road albums I listen to over and over: Rabbit Fur Coat, by Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins. Midlake’s The Trials Of Van Occupanther.

Once I’m parked, I’ll cook myself a pretty spectacular dinner, if I do say so myself. It is possible to make gourmet meals for one in a teeny-tiny space, and this is important, because romancing your solo self is important. I’m not saying you have to put a rose on the table, or light candles, but a rib-eye steak and some dauphinoise potatoes don’t go amiss. The food you love is an instant way to feel at home. So is wine. And whisky.

I’ve turned down holidays with family and friends to go away alone. Friends have worried that it might mean I was depressed. But depressed is the opposite of how I feel. It’s exhilarating feeling self-sufficient, getting somewhere under your own steam. I feel as though I wouldn’t know who I was if I didn’t spend long stretches of time alone, and then I’d be no good to anyone.

Things can go very wrong if I invite someone else. My dad joined me on a trip to Scotland a few years ago, which seemed like a great idea at the time. We did some fishing and went on a cable car, and it was all very idyllic, until… we went to sleep. Or rather, I tried to sleep, with my dad half a metre away in a confined space – and he started snoring. It didn’t sound like snoring. It sounded like a fighter jet with a 50-a-day habit. By midnight I was just about ready to commit patricide, and vowed never again.

Sure, there have been times when I’ve wished for company: someone to turn to in the early morning and grip firmly with both hands and whisper gently in their ear, “OK, what is that clawing sound directly above our heads?” We all need that, sometimes. (It was a seagull on the roof. It sounded like a griffin.)

I’m often told it’s dangerous to be a woman on the road alone. As the writer Vanessa Veselka points out, in literature the road often symbolises the beginning of a journey for men, whereas for women it symbolises the end.

I must admit, I’ve been terrified a few times. On a recent trip to Derbyshire, I was turning a vintage motorhome around on frozen ground when the wheels got stuck in the ice. Terror: what if I couldn’t move it, more snow fell and I became trapped?

I tried putting old material under the wheels to get some traction, but it was no good. Why hadn’t I brought chains, or an ice pick – a shovel, even? I resorted to using a dessert spoon, a butter knife and a pan lid from the back of the van to hack and dig the wheels out. It took 45 minutes. As my friend said down the phone on my return, that kind of thing is character-building.

In my late 20s, I bought a home with someone. Did it up. Lived there for a while. Loved it, because I loved him. But I started getting antsy. Every place I’ve ever lived in has had cardboard boxes in the corners, from the day I moved in until the day I moved out: the decor equivalent of not taking your coat off, of “not stopping”. I can’t quite settle. When I broke a mug and felt relieved to be able to throw something away, I knew that I probably needed to reassess my relationship with responsibility, and fast. So I got in a van, alone, and drove.

My partner drew a picture of a cartoon snail for my dashboard, some art for my temporary home. He knew how to bring me back: by acknowledging the very desire that had driven me away. It worked, too. I started missing home after just a few days, every last stupid mug and spoon, and the point on the horizon I looked to became my return date, rather than just the endless horizon.

When that relationship came to an end, I considered buying a motorhome. I’m just going to bite the bullet, I thought – now’s the time. But my friends stepped in and said it was a bad idea, that motorhomes are a nightmare, expensive to run year-round. They were right – about the expensive bit, anyway. But I felt as if I needed to go somewhere to clear the clouds from my head, so I got a 10-day rental and took it to the northernmost coast of Scotland.

I have a northern soul, so I usually head north. The south has its charmsCornwall, and Penzance especially – but for me, nothing compares to the widescreen drama of the Peaks and Highlands.

When I passed my driving test at 17, I would drive around the M60 ring road for hours at night to clear my head of exam stress; but since then, I had forgotten how a long drive on quiet roads can be soothing. The amniotic swoosh of passing tyres. The LEDs of the spaceship dashboard winking. The semi-trance of doing something on autopilot. And moving forwards with things rolling by in your peripheral vision, that literal unspooling. I really think there is as much potential for mindfulness in a long, lonely drive as there is in a yoga class.

For me, that trip to Scotland felt like plugging back in – despite being without internet and phone. And then the sensation of being halfway up Electric Brae in Ayrshire, a gravity-defying road, where you feel as though you’re going uphill when you’re going downhill – a perfect metaphor of a world gone topsy-turvy – provoked a good old-fashioned, face-drenching bawl. You’ve got to let it all out, and it’s best on an A road with very little passing traffic.

I came a cropper, of course. Fierce independence is best when peppered with humiliating instances that remind you how much you rely on the people in your life, not to mention our NHS. For example, when you do things like get drunk and sleep with your foot out of your sleeping bag after forgetting to put the heating on. In Scotland. In October. I woke to find three of the toes on my right foot yellow-white, numb, freezing and sporting purplish rings at the base.

The campsite I was staying on was shut (the owner had kindly said I could park there for shelter), so I had no electric hook-up and had been unable to charge my laptop or phone; so, no way of contacting anyone, even if there had been reception. Oh, I thought, everyone was right. I am an idiot. I should have gone to Spain or Greece like a normal person, and now I’m going to have the stumps to prove it.

As I saw it, I had two options: 1) I could start the engine and drive to try to find someone who could help, or 2) rub like hell. I went for the latter, and after 15 minutes of hectic massage and much wailing, my toes came back to life.

These trips have taught me a lot, if nothing more than reminding myself of my own innate ridiculousness. On the road, you can find out many things. You will not miss your phone as much as you think. You will miss your friends much more than you think. You can find noirish experiences of David Lynch proportions close to home, namely, with your pants down in a campsite toilet block at 2am, and Danny Boy gargling through speakers in the ceiling. You can sit in a canvas chair with a glass of wine and watch the sun set over a wild sea, and feel free and small and lost and found all at once. You do not need a satnav. And you’ll wish you still had that Seat Ibiza.



23rd January 2015 – UPPER INTERMEDIATE



Black sheep and the mysterious Uncle Bob

by Keith Sands (from: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/node/322)

I’m an English teacher working in Russia, and for some reason I really don’t like that classroom topic “Talk About Your Family.” Perhaps it’s because everyone studied English from the same book at school. So all the students say: “My family consists of five members. Me, my mother, my father, my brother and my dog…” And so on. As if all families are exactly the same.

It’s such a shame, because our families are unique. All families have their stories, their dramas, their private jokes, nicknames and phrases. They’re the place where our personalities were made. How often have you heard someone with young children complain “Oh no, I think I’m turning into my parents”?

The other day I found myself turning into one of my grandparents. I was trying to get my daughter (1 year and 8 months old) to eat her dinner, and I said “That’ll make your hair curl.” Now, I don’t think that green vegetables give you curly hair, or even that curly hair is a great thing to have. It’s just a phrase I heard from my granddad a hundred times when I was small. It had stayed in my mind, half-forgotten, until the time I could use it myself. I wonder if he heard it from his own grandparents? How many other old-fashioned phrases like this stay inside families, when the rest of the world has forgotten them?

Shaking the family tree

Talk about your family? “Well…they’re just there,” we say. Our families are so ordinary to us that we even think they’re boring. Not a bit of it! Families are the most exotic things on earth. If you dig enough in your own family, you’re sure to come up with all the stuff you could want for a great novel. Surprising characters, dramatic or funny stories passed down for generations, or a face from the past you recognise – maybe in your own. Someone or something unique to your family. Or, as genealogists like to say, “Shake your family tree – and watch the nuts fall out.”

My mother started tracing our family tree a few years ago, not expecting to get far. But, digging in old records and libraries she got back three hundred years. She turned up old stories and a few mysteries. What happened to the big family farm? Where did the family fortune go in the 1870s? More to the point – where is it now?

I’m the traveller in my family, and I like to think I got it from a great-grandfather on my dad’s side. He was an adventurous soul. My two favourite family heirlooms are a photo of him on a horse in a desert landscape (1897, in Patagonia), and a postcard home from Portugal complaining that his boat was late because of the Revolution in Lisbon. “Dreadful business, they seem to have arrested the king…,” he says. If you look at your family, you open a window on the past.

History in miniature

Start someone talking about their family stories and they might never stop. You’ll find the whole history of your country there, too. When my mother, still putting the family tree together, asked me for a few names from my Russian wife’s family, my wife got on the phone to her own mother. Just to check a name or two. But they were still talking an hour later, and she’d filled 5 pages of A4 paper. And so I was introduced to: someone who lived through the siege of Leningrad (but forgot how to read in the process), a high official in the communist party, and some rich relations who used to go to Switzerland for their holidays before the Revolution. There was also a black sheep of the family (or “white crow” as they say in Russian) who left his wife and children, and disappeared in the Civil War, though nobody in the family knows which side he fought on. All these people seemed impossibly exotic to me.

Who wears the trousers?

To go back to that English class then, let’s get rid of the phrase “my family consists of…” and look at some more interesting ways to talk about families. English is rich in idioms to talk about family life. We’ve mentioned the black sheep of the family; that’s someone who didn’t fit in, or caused a family scandal. If you’re loyal to your family, you can say blood is thicker than water or keep it in the family. If you share a talent with another family member, you can say it runs in the family. You might have your father’s eyes or your mother’s nose. If you’re like one of your parents, you can say “like father, like son” or you can be “a chip off the old block.”

Who wears the trousers in your family? (Who’s the head of your family?) You might affectionately talk about your bro, your sis, or your folks (parents). Or if you like Cockney slang, what about her indoors or the missus to talk about your wife? Though both these phrases make feminists reach for their guns.

If you want to get more technical, you can discuss the benefits of the nuclear family: a small family, just parents and children living in the same house. If grandparents or other relatives live there too, then you have an extended family. In English we talk about the average nuclear family with the phrase 2.4 children.

Then there are idioms that have left the family (flown the nest) and gone on to have a life of their own. You can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs. It means you can’t tell your elders anything they don’t know already. But why would anyone want to suck eggs anyway?

Now here’s a really strange one. A Londoner is telling someone how to get a new passport. “Get four pictures taken, pick up a form in the post office, hand it in with your old passport and… Bob’s your uncle.” It means “the problem is solved.” But I’d love to know who the original Bob was, and why he was such a useful uncle to have.



  1. UNIQUE: different, special, not like anything else.
  2. NICKNAME: a name given to someone, which is not their real name.
  5. EXOTIC: unusual and romantic.
  6. GENEALOGIST: a person who researches family history.
  7. NUTS: a mad person (slang).
  8. MYSTERY: something interesting that you can’t find out all the facts about.
  9. FORTUNE: a lot of money or something worth a lot of money.
  10. ADVENTUROUS SOUL: a person who likes adventure.
  11. HEIRLOOM: an object kept in a family and passed down from parents to children.
  12. SIEGE: a situation in war when an army surrounds a city and stays there for a long time.
  13. RELATIONS: relatives, family members.
  14. TALENT: something which you are good at, e.g. playing a musical instrument or a particular sport.
  15. AFFECTIONATELY: in a friendly or loving way.



1) The writer likes the way his students talk about their families.

2) He used a phrase he heard when he was a child.

3) He thinks families are boring.

4) His mum found out everything she wanted to know about the family history.

5) The writer takes after his great-grandfather.

6) He was surprised at how much his mother-in-law remembered.

7) A chip off the old block means the same as black sheep of the family.

8) Only men wear the trousers in families.

9) You should be careful if you use the phrase “her indoors.”

10) The writer has an uncle called Bob.

(Answers: 1 False, 2 True, 3 False, 4 False, 5 True, 6 True, 7 False, 8 False, 9 True, 10 False).


(Picture from: http://www.popularthreadz.com/product_images/blacksheepwhite.jpg






12th December 2014 – INTERMEDIATE LEVEL

(from: http://www.oxfordculturemania.es/2014/11/04/british-culture-worksheets/)



Did you know that the UK has over 3,000 miles of navigable canals and rivers? Neither did I until I bought my narrow boat about six years ago. I love the lifestyle. Really it’s the other people, the community that you join, that I enjoy most of all. Boaters look after each other. There are lots of kinds of people who live on a boat: retired couples, families, young professionals, artists, singles and students too.

For me, the greatest advantage is the peace and quiet, and the fact that you can move to a different place for a change, so for example in summer, I avoid touristy places, but in autumn or winter you can enjoy them without all the noise and hassle. You have to pay mooring fees, which are a bit like parking fees, and this allows you to use the facilities, so you can get clean water, fill up with diesel for the boat, connect to broadband and sometimes electricity. These fees allow you to park wherever you want within the area. If you go to a different canal, you have to pay again, so most people live on the same stretch of river or canal, just at different locations. Of course, finding a mooring near your kids’ school or public transport to your job is an important consideration for some boaters. Most boaters don’t have cars, so having a bike is a useful means of transport for carrying the shopping or picking up the post.

Another lovely thing about living on a boat is that you are much more in touch with nature. You have time to observe the birds and ducks, the new leaves in spring and the changing colours in autumn, the flowers and insects, fish – everything! Even for people who go to work every day, coming home to spend an evening on the boat is much more relaxing than living in a flat or a terraced house. There’s not much housework to be done, obviously, because it’s a small living area.

Boaters don’t spend much time watching TV or playing video games; somehow it doesn’t go with the lifestyle much. You are much more likely to go for a walk or ride your bike along the canal path, or pop in to chat to your neighbours. Then, of course, you have to do some of the necessary chores that go with the territory like filling up the water tank, or emptying the toilet, or taking your clothes to a launderette, or perhaps replacing a window seal.

In bad weather or on long dark winter nights, if you don’t fancy sitting at home, you can always go to one of the many riverside pubs, and watch the football on their big screen, or have a quiet beer with friends.

Of course, it’s nice to visit friends and family in a real house once in a while, but now I’ve made the change, I think this is the life for me from now on.


  • Boaters: people who live on a boat.
  • Hassle: general problems.
  • Mooring fees: money for parking your boat.
  • Broadband: a fast Internet connection.
  • In touch with: connected to.
  • Your are much more likely: you will probably.
  • Pop in: make a quick visit.
  • Go with the territory: things that are part of the lifestyle.
  • Fancy: feel like, want to.
  • Once in a while:
























INTERMEDIATE PLUS, 14th November 2014.

(from: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/node/268)

Are you a town mouse

or a country mouse? (by John Russell)

This simple tale (taken from Aesop’s famous stories) shows that what may be a good place to live for one person, may not be good for another. Are you a town mouse or a country mouse?

Once upon a time, there were two mice – cousins. One lived in the town, and the other in the country. The town mouse was a very superior mouse, who thought that living in the town was far better than living in the country. So one day, he invited his country cousin to stay with him in his town house and experience the civilized lifestyle of the town. They sat down to a meal, which to the country mouse was a feast. “Goodness me,” he said. “If I was in the country, I would be having only simple bread and cheese in the quiet of my peaceful home.” Suddenly, there was a loud noise at the door. “Don’t worry,” said the town mouse, “that’s just my neighbour – the dog, he wants to join us for dinner.” The country mouse ate a little faster. Another noise was heard outside, even louder this time. “Oh dear,” said the town mouse, “the cat who lives facing my house wants to join us too.” Quickly eating the last of his meal, the country mouse said: “Thank you, but I think I will return to the peace and quiet of my own house after all!” Then he ran back home as fast as his legs could carry him.

This simple tale (taken from Aesop’s famous stories) shows that what may be a good place to live for one person, may not be good for another. A modern version of this story might look like this:

Maria lives in a big city surrounded by the speed and convenience of urban life. She works in an office with 1,000 other employees, and travels to and from there on a crowded Metro. Her home is a flat overlooking a busy city street, which is always alive with the sound of traffic and people passing by. After work, she meets her friends in a bar or restaurant before going on to a disco or nightclub. Weekends are spent in the shopping mall with its numerous shops, multi-screen cinemas, fast food and entertainment complexes.

Alex, however, lives in a small village in the countryside. He cycles to work down country lanes every morning – the sound of tractors, birds and animals in his ears. In the evening, he relaxes at home in front of the fire with a good book to read. At weekends, he goes for long walks in the fields with his dog.

Unfortunately, life is not as simple as stories make it. A lot of today’s ‘town mice’, such as Maria, would be happy to live in the country. Many modern cities have very large populations (Tokyo or Mexico City, over 25 million), and can be crowded, dirty and dangerous places to live. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. In much of Europe and North America this can be as high as much as 80% of a country’s population. According to the United Nations, approximately 1 billion people in cities are living in slum conditions, overcrowded and unhealthy.

The 18th century marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the depopulation of the countryside and the move to towns. The towns became places of mass employment in factories and offices. Today, many town dwellers wish to reverse this trend and return to a slower pace of life, like Alex, our modern ‘country mouse’. Yet, a modern country existence is not without its problems: poor transport, lack of access to hospitals and education, and services found in towns, such as large shops, banks and entertainment.

The debate between town and country is meaningless these days, as so many people live in towns, and very few people are actually able to choose where they live; this is dictated by their work or birth. The internet and other mass media have linked country areas to the world, providing access to information, even to remote areas. If people are to be persuaded to stay in the countryside, other benefits of the city need to be available (employment, healthcare and education). Conversely, the introduction of city parks and forests, and traffic-free zones has helped in bringing a little of the countryside to the city streets.

The UN World habitat day (4th October) this year looks at this issue. It emphasises the need for strong links between town and countryside, and their mutual dependence upon each other.


















Route 66: Mother of American Roads

 (source: http://www.english-online.at/places/route66/route66-mother-of-american-roads.htm

Route 66 is a famous American highway that once stretched from Chicago in the east to Los Angeles in the west. It has had many names in the past and is most often called the Main Street of America or Mother Road. Route 66 originally ran through 8 states and covered almost 4,000 kilometers.

The idea of creating an east to west highway came up in the 1920s. A plan was drawn up to connect a series of state roads to one big national highway.  In 1926 US Interstate Highway 66 was officially opened. It became America’s most famous road, passing through many cities and crossing deserts, valleys, and mountains. Route 66 was especially popular among travellers because it did not cross the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains, but instead, led through the flatter part of the American southwest.

Route 66 was primarily a road that brought many Americans to the western states in search of a new life and new jobs, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As a result many stores, gas stations and other businesses opened up along Route 66.

In the early decades of the 20th century  many roads had a dirt or gravel surface. In 1938, Route 66 became the first road in America to become completely paved. During World War II Route 66 became the major road for moving military equipment across the country. After the war more and more people travelled west, this time mainly as tourists, who were looking for freedom, liberty and excitement.

During time Route 66 underwent many changes. The original route was often altered. As traffic westwards increased, the American government started building bigger, broader roads on which cars and trucks could travel faster. When a new highway system was introduced in America, Route 66 was no longer important. It officially ceased to exist in 1985.

Route 66 has had its fixed position in American culture. It played a major part in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.  In the 1940s Nat King Cole recorded a song about America’s prime highway which became a major hit and has been sung by many bands later on.

Today groups have been formed to bring Route 66 back to life again. In the past ten years the government in Washington has provided millions of dollars to revive America’s mother of roads.

What to see along Route 66:

  • Meramec Caverns in Missouri is a system of caves that spreads along the highway for almost 7 km. Visitors can see stalagmites and stalactites in many different forms and colours.
  • Cadillac Ranch is a sculpture that is made up of old painted Cadillacs buried halfway into the ground with their tails pointed upwards.
  • Petrified Forest National Park is one of the natural wonders of Arizona. Trees that are millions of years old have turned to stone in unusual shapes.
  • Painted Desert has bands of colorful rocks that have been deposited there over millions of years.



  • Bury: to dig into the ground.
  • Cease: stop.
  • Cover: spread, reach.
  • Draw up: create, make.
  • Gravel surface: small stones that are used to make roads.
  • Increase: to go up.
  • Major: very big.
  • Pave: to cover a road with a smooth asphalt surface.
  • Peak: sharply pointed top of a mountain.
  • Pointed: showing.
  • Primarily: for the most part, mainly.
  • Prime: main.
  • Provide: give.
  • Spread: reach from one place to another.
  • Stalactite: sharp pointed rock hanging down from the top of a cave, which is formed by water that has minerals.
  • Stalagmite: sharp pointed rock coming up from the floor of a cave, formed by drops of other rocks.
  • Stretch: to go from one place to another.
  • Tail: back part.
  • Undergo, underwent: go through.


Cadillac Ranch along Route 66













Linguapress.com –

Intermediate level EFL resource

Who was Buffalo Bill ?


Discovering an American folk hero ……


Buffalo Bill Cody was born on a farm in Scott county, Indiana, on 26th February 1846. At age 12, Bill killed his first Indian.

In those days, life in the American West was a constant struggle for survival, and Indians and white pioneers would fight to the death to protect their homes and their people.

Clearly, young Bill was a tough boy, who knew what he was doing. Before he was thirteen, he was an expert horse-rider and very good with a gun; and in those days, when the West was wild, that meant he had excellent qualifications for a job.

Before the age of twenty, Bill left home and took a job with the Pony Express company, and very soon he became reputed as one of their best riders.

It was the time when the West was being opened up. After the Pony Express, Bill got a job supplying buffalo meat to the men building the Kansas Pacific rail- road. In the space of 17 months, he claims to have killed 4,280 buffaloes. This is where he got his name, “Buffalo Bill”.

In the 1870s, he worked as a scout for the army, during the Indian campaigns, and took part in General Custer’s war against the Sioux. Once, he killed Chief Yellow Hand in a duel. This was just one of the exploits that were written about in popular story books. In those days, anyone who killed Indians was seen as a hero.

Today, we look at the Indian wars in a different light. Though many American Indians still call themselves “Indians”, the expression “native Americans” is considered to be more correct. Huge areas of land have been given back to the Indian nations, and Americans accept that White pioneers stole it from them in the past.


In fact, Buffalo Bill was one of the first men in America to realise that white Americans and Indians could, and should, work together. Bill made his peace with the Indians, and when he established his famous “Wild West Show”, he recruited many famous Indians to work with him. They included Red Cloud, Red Shirt, and even Sitting Bull. His grandson says, “At its height, there were over 650 people who travelled with the show, including 250 American Indians. With these Indians, with all the cowboys, they re-enacted the robbery of the Deadwood stage coach and the Pony Express mail relay system”.

With the money he earned from his show, Bill purchased some land in Wyoming; but by then the West was already changing dramatically. Bill, the once-great buffalo-hunter looked nostalgically at the few rare buffaloes that were still around, and realised that they had to be protected. At the same time, he began trying to conserve aspects of the old Western life that were rapidly disappearing into the twentieth century. One of the things he did was to help establish America’s first National Forest reserve in Wyoming.

When he died, aged 70, Buffalo Bill knew that the old West was almost dead too, except as history and stories. Yet he knew, too, that one of the most famous names associated with its legends, was his own.

© Linguapress.com
showman: man who runs a show – struggle: fight, battle – survival: existence – pioneer: person colonizing new territory – tough: strong, resistant – ancestor: grandfather and earlier generations – expanse: open space – willing to: ready to, prepared to – supply: bring, provide – claims to have: says he – duel: organised fight between two people – exploit: action – area: zone – recruit: employ – height most important moment – re-enact imitate, play – mail: post – purchase: buy – reserve: protected zone.-



Do you believe in ghosts?

If you do, you are not alone! I believe in ghosts, and all over Britain, there are places where, if you are lucky (or perhaps unlucky), you may see a ghost!!

by Mary Denman

The Tower of London…. a very haunted place !

Do ghosts really exist? There are lots of people who say that they do; and I am one of them.
Many of Britain’s ancient castles have ghosts. One of the most famous “haunted castles” in England is actually the Tower of London .
During the Tower’s long history, many men and women were thrown into its dark dungeons, or executed outside its gates! Among the most famous was Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England in the year 1554.
Jane was just 17 when she became Queen, on July 9th 1554; however, at the same time another woman, Mary, thought that she ought to be Queen. Mary’s supporters were stronger than Jane’s, and within days Jane was sent to the Tower of London. On 19th July poor Jane had her head cut off outside the Tower!
Since then, it is said that the ghost of Lady Jane Grey wanders through the rooms and corridors of the Tower of London.
Other ghosts are not so famous. The village of Prestbury, in Gloucestershire, is reputed to be one of the most haunted villages in England.
Many villagers have heard – and some say they have seen – the “headless horseman” who rides through the village on December 31st! People say that he was a soldier who fought in the English Civil War, in the 17th century.

In the same village, in an old cottage, there is a ghost known as the “spinette player”. Sometimes at night, people hear the sound of someone playing this old musical instrument. The music always comes from a room that is empty.
These are just some of Britain’s well-known ghosts; but there are lots of less-known ghosts too. I know; I have encountered one of them.

My own ghost story – The hands

Several years ago, I went to stay with some friends who lived in an old house in the country. I had not told them I was coming, and when I arrived, they already had other visitors.
Never mind,” said my friend Ella. “You can sleep in the small guest room. We don’t often use it, but you’ll be all right for one night.”
As we said goodnight, Ella added. “Oh, and please, lock the door before you go to bed. Otherwise it may open by itself.”
Well I locked the door, lay down in bed, and went to sleep. During the night, I slept badly; I didn’t really know if I was asleep or awake. But suddenly, I knew I was awake. Hands were touching my face. I tried to push them away, but there was nothing. I found the light switch, and put on the light. There was no one in the room.
“It was just a dream,” I thought. And I went back to sleep.
When I woke up next morning, I got another surprise. The door, which I had shut and locked, was open! During breakfast, I told Ella about my strange dream, and about the open door.
“You too!” she replied. “Yes, I know. that’s why we don’t often use that bedroom. It’s the blind lady!”
“What blind lady?” I asked.
“Well, you see, many years ago, the people who lived here had a daughter who was blind. That was her bedroom. She died when she was about 30. And since then, she has kept coming back to her room. She always feels the sheets, before getting into bed. Several visitors have had the same experience….. But she was a lovely girl. She has never hurt anyone.”
I felt the skin on the back of my neck go cold…. Since then, I have always believed in ghosts!

all over: everywhere in – blind: unable to see – encountered: met – execute: decapitate, cut off a head – guest: invited person – haunted: inhabited by a ghost – never mind: no problem – otherwise: if you do not – reputed: said – ride: go on a horse – spinette: like a small piano – within days: in a few days






No more fish ‘n’ chips ??

The original Fast Food is struggling to survive ……


It is the original British fast food. Fish ‘n’ chips, the original “carry-out” meal, has been part of British life for well over 100 years. But will it survive much longer? Perhaps only in the form of a luxury for those who can afford it.


Long before the Big Mac was invented, Britain had its own national form of fast food.

“When I was a young man, it was the sort of thing you’d have once or twice a week,” remembers 82-year old Arthur Mowbrey. “Before the last war, you’d get a full size portion of cod and chips for sixpence. It was cheap, and good.”

Fish ‘n’ chips was nourishing too. It was a proper meal, that you could eat in the street on your way home from work, or during the lunch-break. Wrapped in newspaper, it would keep warm to the last chip, even on the coldest days of the year.

In the last quarter of a century, things have changed.

“It’s not so popular with young people these days,” says Lizzie, a teenager. “Most of the time, if young people want to eat out, they’ll go to a Burger King or something like that, or a Chinese take-away. Fish ‘n’ chips is a bit old-fashioned really, I suppose. But there are still cheap chip shops around. I had fish ‘n’ chips about three weeks ago. We sometimes have it at home, and we go and get it from the chip shop. It saves cooking!”

Thousands of chip shops, however, have closed in the last twenty-five years. Some have been turned into Chinese or Indian take-aways, others have just closed. They have survived best in seaside towns, where the fish is really fresh, and people visit them more as a tradition than for any other reason.


Yet nothing, perhaps, can save the classic fish ‘n’ chip shop from extinction. Fish ‘n’ chips wrapped in newspaper is already just a memory of the past. British and European hygiene rules no longer allow food to be wrapped in old papers, so today’s carry-out chip shops use new paper or styrofoam cartons. Of course, you can still eat fish and chips with your fingers if you want, but there are now plastic throw-away forks for those who don’t want to get greasy fingers!

Yet in spite of these changes, the classic fish ‘n’ chip shop could disappear from British streets in a few years’ time, for a completely different reason; lack of fish.

For over ten years, European agriculture ministers have been trying to solve the fish problem, but with little success. As a result of modern industrial fishing, some types of fish are facing extinction in the North Sea and Atlantic. “Overfishing in the North Sea has reached crisis levels,” say Greenpeace. Quotas have been introduced, but each time there are new restrictions, fishermen in Britain, France, Spain and other countries protest, because jobs are lost.

Sadly, this is inevitable; and unless strict quotas are applied, thousands of European fishermen could lose their jobs, as there will be few fish left to catch (at least, few of the kinds of fish that people want to eat). One way or the other, sea fish will become rarer, and therefore more expensive.

The gradual disappearance of the traditional British fish ‘n’ chips shop is therefore bound to continue. Fish and chips, however, will survive as a speciality in pubs and restaurants, and in new up-market fish restaurants. Comfortable, more expensive fish restaurants, with chairs and tables, have existed for a long time of course, alongside stand-up carry-out fish ‘n’ chip shops. In the years to come, they may be the only type of fish ‘n’ chip restaurant to survive.

Every town in Britain had its fish ‘n’ chip shops. No British town is more than 150 km. from a sea port, and most are much closer; once railways were built in the nineteenth century, fresh sea fish could easily be bought in all British towns. Cheaper than meat, sea fish became a popular source of protein ; by 1870, “fish and chip shops” were springing up all over the country. For a hundred years, they were the classic popular restaurant, British style.


carry-out: meal to eat in the street – can afford: have enough money for – cod: a type of fish – nourishing: of good quality — break: period of rest – wrapped: done up, contained – quarter of a century: 25 years – take away: carry-out, restaurant – saves cooking: means that there is no need to cook anything – extinction: disappearance – styrofoam: polystyrene – lack: absence – solve: find an answer to – inevitable: certain to happen, unavoidable – bound to: certain to – up-market: high quality – alongside: beside – spring up: appear –





Sport cuts teenage crime


When teenagers go out and do stupid things, take drugs, vandalize property, or frighten people, one reason is often “peer pressure”.
“Well everyone else was doing it….” is a common excuse, so often heard from teenagers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. But peer pressure does not have to be negative, as a project with young people in the city of Bristol is clearly showing.

Youth crime and vandalism in the Patchway district of Bristol have fallen by 20% in just a few months. Why? Because young people have stopped encouraging each other to do stupid and antisocial things, and are now making sure that they keep out of trouble. And it’s all the result of a new football league!

Peer pressure” is a strong force, specially among young people. Almost everyone can remember a moment when they have felt compelled to do something because their friends were doing it, or to buy something because their friends had bought it.

Without peer pressure, fashion would not be the same, and advertising would be much harder. There would also be fewer of today’s big social problems: drugs, crime and so on. Yet although peer pressure is usually seen as a bad influence, it can also produce positive results.

Jon Owen and David Morgan, two Bristol policemen, have organised a six-a-side football league for teenagers in Patchway, one of the poorest parts of the city. Police in several parts of Britain organise similar football leagues or competitions, but usually the aim is just to keep teens occupied, and build confidence between teenagers and the police. Jon and Dave, however, had a better idea.

They have introduced a system in which football results are linked to young people’s behaviour off the pitch. Teams score points for winning their matches, but lose points if any team-member does anything he shouldn’t…. on the football field or off it! Teams score ten points for winning a match, and five if they draw; but if any player is arrested, the team loses ten points; if a member is caught doing an act of vandalism, such as spraying graffiti, the team loses five points. Three points are lost for more minor offences. The teams also lose points if their members behave badly on the football pitch.

The result has been spectacular; since the football league started, crime and vandalism in the area have fallen by 20%, and none of the teenagers playing in the league has been apprehended by the police.

Instead of encouraging each other to do antisocial things, and cause problems, these teenagers are now encouraging each other to behave properly!

“If any of the lads loses points for the team, ‘e won’t ‘alf get it from the rest!” says Craig, who plays for one of the teams. “We’re making sure we all keep out of trouble!”

The idea is already raising interest in other parts of Britain, and similar programmes may be set up in other cities. Social workers will also be looking for other ways in which “peer pressure” can be used to produce positive results, rather than negative ones. If more original ways can be found, to make positive use of peer pressure, levels of crime and other social problems among teenagers and young people could soon be falling quickly.

Some people also suggest that a similar system should be introduced for professional footballers. If red cards led to lost points, they might become very rare! Fifty years ago, before red cards were introduced, professional footballers rarely got into fights. In those days, there was enormous peer pressure on them to behave….

In another example of positive peer pressure, statistics show that the number of British teenagers smoking and taking drugs has fallen by up to 25% in the last four years. Until 1996, many teenagers in Britain came under serious pressure from their peers, to smoke or take drugs; but recently this pressure has fallen, as teenagers have found a new symbol of growing up; the mobile phone. Research shows that mobiles have replaced cigarettes, or drugs as a symbol of growing up, in many teenage circles.


advertising: publicity – aim: objective –antisocial: that cause problems for other people – behaviour: activities, actions – compel: force – draw: neither win nor lose – keep out of trouble: avoid problems – league: competition – led to: caused –




Who are the red-coated soldiers who stand guard outside Buckingham Palace ?

Are they an army of clones, or actors? Or are they real soldiers?


Royal guards – among the elite of the British army

They are perhaps the best known icons of Britain, and if you’ve ever been to London, you’ve probably seen them. They are the soldiers in bright red jackets or shining helmets, who stand outside Buckingham Palace, or in Whitehall. They are men who can stand absolutely still, even when tourists tell them jokes, touch them, push them, or try to make them move.
They look identical, and they march like robots.
But who are these soldiers? Are they an army of clones, or actors? Or are they real soldiers?
Some people are surprised to learn that they are real soldiers; and the guns that they carry are very real too. The guns are not just for show; they are loaded!
The men who stand guard outside Buckingham Palace and certain other royal palaces are in fact some of the best-trained soldiers in the British army. They belong to a number of historic regiments, such as the Grenadier Guards or the Scots Guards.
There are two main grou