Archive for May, 2018


May 31, 2018

When his son decided to join politics too, the politician took him on to the roof of his house and said, ‘I am going to give you your very first lesson in politics. Stand on the edge of the roof.’ Reluctantly, the boy went to stand on the edge of the roof. ‘Now,’ said his father, ‘when I say, “Jump,” I want you to jump off the roof.’ ‘But, Dad,’ said the boy, ‘there’s a huge drop!’ ‘Do you want to succeed in politics?’ ‘Yes, Dad.’ ‘And you trust me, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, Dad.’ ‘So do as I say and jump.’ The boy jumped.  He crashed to the ground and lay there, winded and bruised. His father went racing down the stairs and ran up to him. ‘That was your first lesson in politics, son. Never trust anyone.’


May 30, 2018

Being happy that Arkadiy Babchenko is alive, I still think about how easy it is to bring the world at large to any conclusion (see the moral of Charles Thurber’s story)

What Happened To Charles

By James Thurber

A farm horse named Charles was led to town one day by his owner, to be shod. He would have been shod and brought back home without incident if it hadn’t been for Eva, a duck, who was always hanging about the kitchen door of the farmhouse, eavesdropping, and never got anything quite right. Her farm-mates said of her that she had two mouths but only one ear.

On the day that Charles was led away to the smithy, Eva went quacking about the farm, excitedly telling the other animals that Charles had been taken to town to be shot.

“They’re executing an innocent horse!” cried Eva. “He’s a hero! He’s a martyr! He died to make us free!” “He was the greatest horse in the world,” sobbed a sentimental hen.

“He just seemed like old Charley to me,” said a realistic cow. “Let’s not get into a moony mood.” “He was wonderful!” cried a gullible goose.

“What did he ever do?” asked a goat.

Eva, who was as inventive as she was inaccurate, turned on her lively imagination. “It was butchers who led him off to be shot!” she shrieked. “They would have cut our throats while we slept if it hadn’t been for Charles!”

“I didn’t see any butchers, and I can see a burnt-out firefly on a moonless night,” said a barn owl. “I didn’t hear any butchers, and I can hear a mouse walk across moss.”

“We must build a memorial to Charles the Great, who saved our lives,” quacked Eva. And all the birds and beasts in the barnyard except the wise owl, the skeptical goat, and the realistic cow set about building a memorial.

Just then the farmer appeared in the lane, leading Charles, whose new shoes glinted in the sunlight.

It was lucky that Charles was not alone, for the memorial-builders might have set upon him with clubs and stones for replacing their hero with just plain old Charley. It was lucky, too, that they could not reach the barn owl, who quickly perched upon the weathervane of the barn, for none is so exasperating as he who is right.

The sentimental hen and the gullible goose were the ones who finally called attention to the true culprit—Eva, the one-eared duck with two mouths. The others set upon her and tarred and unfeathered her, for none is more unpopular than the bearer of sad tidings that turn out to be false.

MORAL: Get it right or let it alone. The conclusion you jump to may be your own.



May 27, 2018

An important part of taking the TOEFL test is an essay based on personal experience. Sample topics for writing are listed on the TOEFL official site. I picked up one of the themes at random and wrote an essay — just “for pleasure.” Here it is:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? People should sometimes do things that they do not enjoy doing. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.


To work for one’s existence is the basis of any person’s life. In the animal world, for one, living beings are governed by their instincts, and if these instincts are satisfied, animals enjoy having their rest, or simply put, they just “stay lazy.”

Human beings, on the contrary, are characterized by creative exploration of the world they live in. “Working for something” is built in their character. If the job a person does is in tune with his natural inclinations and interests, the person enjoys his work. However, there are many examples when even the most creative work has periods of boredom, or, if we use a French word that probably expresses the highest degree if this state, the periods of “ennui.” Some of my good friends are scholars who work at the cutting edge of linguistic science, but more often than not they have to “dig the ground” doing monotonous work of fishing the proofs for their hypotheses.

What is the way out? How to combine the natural drive of man to be creative and the necessity to do routine work? In this connection I remember a story about then American President John F. Kennedy, who is known for his launching the Apollo project of moon landing. Once the President visited the NASA (National Aeronautic and Space Administration) headquarters and saw a janitor mopping the floor there. When John Kennedy asked if it was the janitor’s permanent job with NASA, the janitor answered, “Yes, sir, I’m helping to land man on the Moon.” So, my answer to the question “What is the way out?” is: See a bigger picture in everything you are doing, and then any job will be interesting and inspiring (283 words).


May 16, 2018

Bruce Tulloh was a former Olympic runner and European champion at 5,000 metres. He was competing for over sixty years and coaching for over forty years, and was Coaching Editor of The Runner and Runner’s World for fifteen years.

He died last month aged 82 at his home in Marlborough, Wiltshire. He had written a few books, among them Running is Easy, Running Over 40, 50, 60, 70, and also (please, appreciate the title) How to Avoid Dying (for as long as possible) – whereby the subtitle “for as long as possible” was in smaller print and was not noticed immediately  🙂  Being a passionate jogger myself, I decided to reprint  his obituary published in the Financial Times and share it through my blog. The picture shows Bruce at the end of an 80-mile walk completed in 7 days, from Marlborough to London, undertaken to celebrate his 80th birthday.


Bruce Tulloh, runner and biologist (1935-2018)

When Bruce Tulloh ended his 13-year amateur running career in 1967, it seemed his greatest achievements were behind him. His aspiration to run for Britain in the Olympics had been dashed three times: heat stroke hindered him from qualifying for the 1960 games in Rome; measles ruled out the 1964 games in Tokyo; discomfort with high altitudes thwarted Mexico, 1968.

But then, Tulloh chanced upon the existence of a Guinness world record for running across the US. The 2,876-mile journey had been set in 73 days. Smashing it, he surmised, would be “a piece of cake”.

If only. Though he would later become known as “the original Forrest Gump”, that image fails to convey the extreme difficulty of the feat. Tulloh’s attempt to log 48 miles per day – as chronicled in his book, Four Million Footsteps – broke down almost immediately.

On the first day, he experienced “violent cramps in both thighs”.  The 33-year-old realized that to “shuffle along like an old man” would be essential. Injuries mounted: his left thigh, his right ankle. After 10 days he resorted to walking with a stick, his daily distance falling to as little as 15 miles. But his limbs eventually submitted to an indomitable will. He bounced back to more than 40 miles a day and became a “running machine, if you can imagine a machine which ran on cornflakes, salads, beans and Schweppes drinks”, he wrote.

Tulloh’s range was extraordinary. In his early career, he was known for running a mile in less than four minutes. He won the 5,000 meters at the European Championship for Britain in 1962 – racing barefoot and finishing in 14 minutes flat after a blistering sprint in the final 700m. The transition to his run-walk-limp across the US was abrupt. In the end he averaged 44 miles per day – more than his weekly average at peak performance – and broke the record by more than a week in just 65 days.

His real strength lay in his mental toughness. He was the joy of running personified. “It was his whole life,” said Mike Gratton, a London Marathon winner and friend of more than 20 years. “Even as a marathon runner, I wouldn’t contemplate doing what he did.”

Born in 1935, Tulloh grew up on the North Devon coast and was raised by his mother, Margaret, a botanist and a keen athlete. He studied botany at Southampton university, graduating in 1959, and later taught biology at Marlborough College for more than two decades.

Tulloh was modest and self-effacing with a wry sense of humor. He attributed his athletic success to a light frame that allowed him to run barefoot on the cinder track, giving him a speed advantage. The media dubbed him “Barefoot Bruce” as he set a series of British records for two, three and six miles starting in the late 1950s.

As an author, editor and coach in his later years, he maintained a fast clip. Aged 60, his half-marathon time of 76 minutes placed him in the top percentile of finishers four decades his junior. At 75 he ran the Athens marathon with his wife of 56 years, Sue. His son Clive and twin daughters Katherine and Jojo were all runners too. The five Tullohs were known to show up regularly at a weekly Fun Run in Hyde Park – and then sweep all the age categories.

When Jojo had three baby daughters, she recalled her father “handling their legs like a racehorse trainer. He was measuring their knees to their ankles… obviously assessing them,” she said, laughing. As well as his mania for running, her dad had a love of children, opera, teaching and nonsense. She remembers asking him as a child if he had a job – he was always around.

Tulloh had said he wanted to run a marathon aged 100 and, in his final days, his competitive spirit struggled to adjust to living with cancer.

“The hardest thing over the last few days is that Bruce’s body was trained to endure incredible amounts of pain.” Jojo said.

“When the hospice nurse came, she said, ‘I can’t believe you’re still walking up the stairs, that’s incredible.’ He really didn’t want to be that sick person lying there. She said, ‘Bruce, you climbed Everest, basically, now rest.’ He just couldn’t stop enduring. He kept going much, much longer than he probably should have done. Because he just didn’t want to go. And he was too good at it.”

Patrick McGee.


May 3, 2018

backpagedavidcrystalThe YouTube address is:

This time, David Crystal speaks to members of the Belgian Full Circle Club. “Full Circle refreshes the parts that other clubs do not reach. How many do you recognize that allusion?” he asks.   Older club members remember that it was a slogan of Heineken in the 1970s – the longest-running advertising slogan in English advertising history. The original one was “Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers do not reach.” The idea was that their beer refreshes the parts of the body that other beers do not reach. In this form the slogan lasted for about 20 years . But in the 1990s it came back in a slightly different form. It started with a situational comedy. The advertising was presented in three posters: 1. A guy is looking glumly at his garden overgrown with weeds 2. The guy is pouring the lager into the lawn-mower. 3. The lawn-mower mows the lawn by itself. The former slogan was re-interpreted meaning that the Heineken beer reaches the PARTS OF THE LAWN-MOWER other beers cannot reach. The next stage: the company looked for words that could replace the word “parts.” This time, the hero of “Treasure Island” Long John Silver was presented in three posters having become quite a “restored” pirate  in the third poster after he had drunk the lager: with two (!) wooden legs, two eye-patches – not one as before, both crutches made right (in the first poster he had one crutch and that was broken), a hook for each (!) hand, and the parrot on his shoulder turned into a vulture. The slogan now was: “Heineken refreshes the PIRATES other beers do not reach.” The company, says David Crystal, went on punning on the word “part.” A little later, the parrot drank the lager. The slogan altered to “Heineken refreshes the PARROTS other beers do not reach.” Later a person who drove an aeroplane and got into trouble started drinking the lager, and the slogan was “Heineken refreshes the PILOTS other beers do not reach.” David Crystal’s favorite was the slogan when a person in the commercial remembers the lines from William Wordsworth’s poem “Daffodils” only after drinking the lager (“Heineken refreshes the POETS”).

David Crystal fast-forwards his reminiscences to the time, when he, with a group of Japanese teachers of English, was going out in the streets of London looking for “authentic English.” The Japanese couldn’t understand an advertising poster with the “beer that refreshes the PARROTS…” because they didn’t know the cultural background of the advertisement. In a nutshell, the story of the future of English, says Crystal, is a “Heineken story”, which means that General English will diverse culturally. The matter is that as soon as the English language arrives in a particular place, people adopt it and immediately adapt it to their own cultural needs, and when you travel around the English-speaking world, you see the Heineken problem writ large.

Another interesting example is the “yeah, right” campaign the lecturer witnessed in New Zealand. The expression “yeah, right” is used (with the corresponding intonation) to express doubt about what has just been said. The campaign in New Zealand was directed against all sorts of fatuous information in the media, to which the only answer could be “yeah, right” (Ukrainian equivalent may be “Кажи, кажи. Ляпай язиком. Так тобі й повірив”). One of the billboards ran: “Let Paul fly you there – Yeah, right.” Paul Holmes was a well-known TV anchorman who was rich enough to buy two private aircraft and to crush each of them surviving after each crash. Not knowing who “Paul” was and having no idea of Paul’s survival record, David Crystal felt like his Japanese students in London – though he, Crystal, was a native English speaker and he was reading the billboard in English, his native language. In New Zealand bookstores, a two-volume collection of “yeah, right” cases was on sale, of which David Crystal understood only about half. The other half was culturally specific for New Zealand.

In South Africa, the word “robot” stands for “a traffic light.” Humorously, the lecturer says that when he heard the phrase “three robots ahead,” he thought, “Have they (extra-terrestials, little green men) landed?” The Dictionary of South African English contains about 10,000 words and idioms and that dictionary is one of dozens of such dictionaries in the English-speaking world. The Dictionary of Jamaican English contains 15,000 local expressions that are part of everyday life in the Caribbean.

While breakfasting in a U.S. hotel restaurant, David Crystal asked for some eggs. In turn, the waiter asked him, “How do you like your eggs?” Mr. Crystal had no idea what to say. It wasn’t a British question. “Cooked,” he stuttered. The egg-dishes were named differently depending on many ways of preparation (“sunny-side up”, etc, etc).   There were not so many recipes in the U.K. for cooking/frying eggs at that time.

On the other hand, people in England use their own culturally loaded units which may be confusing to those who don’t share the British cultural background (“Oh, jee, it was like Clapham Junction in there,” meaning “chaotic, messy.” Clapham Junction is a railway station in South London, which is one of the most complicated railway stations in the history of British Rail, with lots of platform, railway lines, etc). OR: “This watch is more Portobello Road than Bond Street” (about the poor quality of the watch).

Speaking Czech English you may be confused by the house numbering in the streets. In the Czech Republic the house number depends on when the house was built and registered, not on where it is situated. So, houses numbered 302 and 300 may be in opposite ends of the same street.

English hasn’t been the global language all the time. In the 16th century English was being given no future at all. Richard Mulcaster, the head teacher of the merchant school in London, wrote in 1582, “There is no reason for anybody in the world to know English, which has no use beyond our shores. It has no literature.” – “A bad year for such a prediction”, says David Crystal. “In 1582 Walter Raleigh was planning the first expedition across the Atlantic. In 1582, a young man from Stratford-upon-Avon arrived in London to be an actor there, but since the theatres were closed because of plague, he started writing poems.” The result? There is a variant of English called ESP (English for Shakespearean purposes) – an in-joke for English teachers. Four hundred years on, the situation has changed dramatically. With 400 million native English speakers, and about 60 countries in the world where English is an official language, and about a billion people (according to the British Council data) speaking English as a foreign language – all that makes about 2 billion English speakers. For every one native speaker there are now five non-native speakers. The center of gravity has shifted in the last 50 years from English as a native language to English as a second/foreign language. The variants of English develop with the development of the former colonies of Britain (Nigeria is one of examples), which make English THEIR English now. It is clearly seen in the vocabulary of local cuisine or in the political vocabulary.

In phonetics the shift from native patterns to non-native ones is particularly seen in the change of rhythm. Traditionally, English has a stress-timed rhythm (in speech, stressed syllables come after roughly regular intervals). This is the heart-beat of English poetry, by the way. In many other languages there’s a syllable-timed rhythm, which is now often on the “English lips” of those for whom English is their first language. And this kind of staccato rhythm is becoming the norm in many places of the English-speaking world. So, in 50-100 years the “music of English” may sound very, very different.

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