Today is Hung King Festival, a free day in Viet Nam
“The holiday is dedicated to the memory of the Hung line of kings who ruled Vietnam as priestly kings for over 2,500 years up until around 250 B.C. These kings are counted as the nation’s ancient founders.” Read more on:
Elaborate (verb) … tell more, expand on your answer
Significant (adj) significance (noun) significantly (adv) … very important or different from the rest. Special, notable.
Simile … to compare something e.g. he drinks like a fish, she eats like a pig, our campus is like a bloody madhouse.
White collar job … professional, desk job or requires mental skills e.g. lawyer, doctor, office worker, teacher
Blue collar job … manual work, although these jobs can also need a professional qualification, and can be extremely well-paid.
Now, on with the show. Last night was based around the typical IELTS question, “Tell me about your family,” and its derivatives. I tell classes until I’m blue in the face, just saying, “I live with my mum, my dad and my sister,” is not a great IELTS answer, not to mention being tedious in the extreme.
The students mulled it over and came up with the reasonable response that there really was nothing else to say. Au contraire (on the contrary) there is so much to say, and every journey, as my Duchess knows, starts with a single step to wit, a great introduction.
The students, somewhat perplexed, offered:
Well, I don’t know how to give an interesting answer because I just live with my mum, dad and brother …
Even that would qualify as an introduction, but how about:
Allow me to introduce my family to you. Firstly there is …
Here’s where relative clauses really come into their own. Basically, every time you mention a subject, a noun, elaborate; tell the examiner more about said subject.
Oh, you know I will. Let’s start with the matriarch, Mommie dearest. You could say:
My mother has a heart of gold …
…then explain why
… she’s always thinking of other people before herself, as well aslistening to all my problems and trying to help me with everything.
On the other hand, your mother may want you to excel at everything …
Although I love her dearly, my mother is what they call a Tiger Mum by which I mean she always makes me study, do homework and learn piano. I really burn the candle at both ends and sometimes it can be too much for me.
Now, let’s turn to pater, Daddy;
My father, on the other hand, is firm but fair …
My father has a white collar job. He works long hours to provide for his family, he really has his nose to the grindstone …
He’s a little loud and on holidays, he loves singing karaoke with his friends, who are all blue collar workers, and hedrinks like a fish.
Now, a borrowed word to describe sister …
My sister, who is younger than me, is such a prima donna, always (doing what ?) …
My sister is so sweet, she’s like a little angel, and she loves playing with our puppywho is just six weeks old.
How about brother ?
My brother really looks out for me, giving me advice and guidance. I totally look up to him.
On the other hand …
My brother is an absolute slacker, lazy beyond belief. He never helps in the house, or cleans his room. He does his homework once in a blue moon, preferring to play stupid computer games instead.
How was that ? Happy now ?
Now … Your Turn
Last night you encountered these adjectives and occupations:
Followed by a game. I shall show photos of five of my friends, along with some personality adjectives and occupations. The class simply have to guess my friends’ job and what kind of people they are … and justify their decisions.
A major issue I encounter with ESL students is pronunciation and associated features such as intonation, stress, rhythm and pacing. Therefore, I decided to select some English-language poems for practice in class, while online students can find a multitude of YouTube videos of poems being recited by professional actors. I shall add some links at the end of the blog.
Now, without further ado, poetry.
Let’s take a look at the first poem, ‘Dreams’ from 1922.
Recite the poem slowly and clearly. In the first line, stress ‘fast‘ and ‘dreams‘.
Secondly, listen for the rhyming pattern in lines 2 & 4: ‘die’ rhymes with ‘fly’, while verse 2 rhymes ‘go’ with ‘snow.’
Regarding ‘colour’, which tone of voice to use, decide if this is a positive or negative poem. Discuss in class what you think and give reasons.
Remember, art (painting, cinema, literature etc) is subjective; each person is allowed to have their own opinion. Develop speaking skills to enable you to support your views (give reasons).
Who, or why, or which, or what, Is the Akond of SWAT?
Is he tall or short, or dark or fair? Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or a chair, or SQUAT, The Akond of Swat?
Is he wise or foolish, young or old? Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold, or HOT, The Akond of Swat?
Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk, And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk or TROT, The Akond of Swat?
Does he wear a turban, a fez, or a hat? Does he sleep on a mattress, a bed, or a mat, or COT, The Akond of Swat?
A great poem to demonstrate rhythm as well as ‘floating opposites’ e.g. young & old, hot & cold, not forgetting synonyms such as talk & jabber. Now, for really advanced beatniks, try the beginning of the famous, indeed infamous, poem ‘Howl’
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, …
The poem, along with a recitation by the poet, may be accessed here:
IELTS students always need to concentrate on expanding their lexical resources. Having said that, I feel this class needs extra work on fluency and pronunciation. To that end, some exercises to assist:
Exercise 1: Just a minute. In pairs, one student has to speak for one minute without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
The subjects are: Your favourite gift // your neighbourhood // what you like about your city // shopping // your family
Exercise 2: Newsreader. Read the following extracts with appropriate pronunciation, intonation and stress, not forgetting body language.
Some stories are sombre (sad, solemn), others convey information that is somewhat depressing or raise concern. However, we end with some lighter entertainment gossip and football transfer speculation.
LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II returned to royal duties just four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, with her first in-person event Tuesday.
The queen hosted a ceremony at Windsor Castle for William Peel, who retired after serving for 14 years as lord chamberlain, the most senior aide in the royal household.
A report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, or WTTC, has revealed the full extent of the damage done to the global travel industry in 2020 after business was devastated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Globally, the sector’s income slumped by almost $4.5 trillion last year. In 2019, travel and tourism was linked to one in four of all new jobs created around the world. But in 2020, more than 62 million jobs were lost.
HCMC – The Ministry of Health has confirmed 16 new imported Covid-19 cases in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Hanoi, Danang, Quang Nam and HCMC, taking the country’s tally to 2,733 as of tonight, April 14.
Five of the new cases were reported in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. The patients, aged between 29 and 39, returned to Vietnam from Russia on Flight VN5062 on April 12. They were immediately transported to Ba Ria-Vung Tau for quarantine after arriving at the HCMC-based Tan Son Nhat International Airport. All of them are being treated at Long Dien District Medical Center.
Who is Hey Stephen by Taylor Swift about?
The song is about a crush Taylor had on Stephen Barker Liles, who’s in the band Love and Theft.
The two reportedly met in 2008 when his band was opening up for her on tour.
Speaking to Access Online, Taylor said: “The song is actually about a guy who I had a crush on and never told him.
“So I wrote everything that I was thinking down in the song instead of telling him.”
Manchester United are eager to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus – according to Sai Gon Post.
The Red Devils will consider an exchange deal that would see Paul Pogba return to Turin in order to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford this summer.
United are on course to receive a big payout for finishing in the Premier League’s top four again, and plan to put those funds towards the re-capture of a club legend.
you get what you pay for (or you pay for what you get) – if you buy something cheap, you get bad quality
to romanticise – to make something ordinary more interesting
to fantasise (fantasize US English) – to wish for something great to happen
use your imagination / give your imagination free reign – it is OK to pretend, to make up a better story
I will give it my utmost consideration – I will think about it very, very carefully (and then say ‘no’).
firstly, secondly, additionally, another point is, on the other hand, however, finally, in conclusion, to sum up, all things considered – all ‘signpost language‘, to help organise your ideas.
Are you ready to rock ?
I’ll be burning the candle at both ends because my IELTS test is _______________ .
Remember, you don’t have to tell the absolute truth in your speaking test. It’s totally OK to ________________________________ .
I picked up this shirt at Saigon Centre and, yeah, it cost an arm and a leg, but just feel the quality … you ____________________________________ .
We booked a really reasonable room at the beach, but the water was cold, the sheets were stained and there were bugs everywhere. We totally _____________________________________ (use past tense).
Thay Paul, we have a new class of students. They are extremely lazy and unmotivated and only want to play with their phones. Would you like to teach them ? ________________________________________________ .
What did you do last weekend ? “I sleep.” Is that all ? Ah, c’mon, do better, ______________________________________ .
Quick – fire round
You planned a day out for my friend Ethan. Describe these photos using as many IELTS features as you can:
Areas to focus on: being confident about answering the Part II questions, so we shall work on fluency and developing the ability to speak for longer periods without hesitation.
Just a minute
Speak for one minute on:
Food in your country
What you do in your free time
Holidays in your country (e.g. Tet, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc)
The yellow Toyota sped around the twisting, turning slalom of roadworks and diversions of Potsdammer Platz, once the busiest intersection in all Europe, now a giant wasteland, a massive construction site of cranes, wire fences and wooden walkways, constantly changing passages with temporary traffic lights and signs whose location seemed to alter weekly.
Monika and Chris were in the front, Chris back to his hyper-active self, holding conversations with Richard in the back, Monika to his left and Sabrina, next to Richard. She was a Viennese friend of Monika’s, in Berlin for the weekend.
They drove to an address off Kantstr, in West Berlin. It was dark when they got there, but the affluence of the area was apparent. The houses were elegant and well kept, each house with a well-lit doorway, giving the street a charming, old-world feel. The streets all looked clean, no debris or litter of any kind.
There was a brass panel with the tenants names inscribed, on the intercom, but it was obvious where the party was.
All three rooms, of the ground floor flat, had their windows wide open, and many people could be seen in shadowplay through the thin curtains. The street door was open, as was the flat door, and people came and went, sat on the immaculately carpeted stairs or smoked on the street, their discarded butts the only garbage on the once spotless pavement.
Monika entered first, waving and smiling. Sabrina followed, embracing Gabi and Andreas. Chris noticed Nice Guy Kai and Richard caught a glimpse of Gert and they exchanged some brief comments before Gert disappeared for the night.
The four newcomers all gravitated to the kitchen, which was the bar area, and bought white wines. Richard had no sooner taken his first sip, when he felt a stubbly kiss on his cheek. He turned and saw Tommy wearing a very smart suit, four days growth of beard and a hat covering his newly shaved head.
“Ah, you’re still here ? I thought you’d gone back to London.”
Tommy had lived some time in The States and spoke very good English, with a Transatlantic accent. He was busy making the rounds, greeting and kissing everyone he knew and trying his luck with a few girls, he didn’t.
“Have you seen the art ?” he asked. “Come on, you may as well.”
Tommy led Richard and Chris to the last room, the smallest of the three, which was covered in paintings. The artists, predominantly young women between eighteen and twenty, stood around, in front of their work, happy to discuss it, happier still to sell any of it.
Nothing particularly grabbed the attention of Richard or Chris. Tommy swaggered around, looking left and right and winking at some of the artists. Nice Guy Kai took his time, casting a critical eye over the work on display. He was joined by Andreas, who merely laughed at everything.
Most of the paintings were abstractions, some being little more than masses of colour, others featuring various large shapes, super-imposed on indistinct backgrounds. One woman had a series of shapes that vaguely resembled female genitalia, all with different colour schemes.
Back in the kitchen, over the next glass of wine, Tommy proclaimed, making sure everyone could hear him,
“I liked the colour pussies. Might get one for my wall.”
Most of the guests were of student age, being either artists or friends of the artists. Richard continued looking around, while Monika came over and explained:
“In the second room is going to be some poetry and reading and performance, then in the big room, there is going to be music and poetry.”
Richard and Chris stood by the door of the second room, which had a stage area and some chairs laid out, giving it a theatrical look.
A very tall and thin, obvious-student man got up and after introducing himself very quietly, launched into a recitation of an original piece. Neither Richard nor Chris understood the text, so they went back to the bar. Shortly after, Gabi came over, rolling her eyes disapprovingly at the rendition. She leant on Richard’s shoulder so as to whisper in his ear,
“It is lucky you do not speak the good German.”
He smiled at her, and offered her a refill. She accepted and then continued,
“Lorelei says, ‘Hello’. She could not come tonight because … “ and then she was lost for words, so turned to Chris for translation.
“Ah, alles klar. Lorelei is still unpacking, but she sends greetings. There you go. More cheap, nasty plonk ?”
After half an hour, the poetry / readings were over, and more people came into the kitchen. Richard asked Sabrina what she thought of it,
“Ach, it was shit. Real student, ‘nobody loves me’ shit.”
The second room was cleared of its chairs and the space opened up for people to dance in. Meanwhile, the third room was being made ready for the live music. Chris, expecting a band of sorts, grabbed Richard to show him the peculiar preparations being carried out.
The stage area had a cello on its side and two chairs. To the left of the stage was a type of sandbox, only filled with gravel. A tall, young man, with an enormous eagle-like head and full, black beard, was meticulously scraping and re-scraping the tiny stones with a wooden fork, appearing very unhappy with the results. He began shouting to the corner of the room, then back to his scrapping, then back shouting. Nothing seemed to alter, nothing seemed to please him, and they left him to his endeavours, to watch girls dance.
Tommy came up behind them and put an arm around each of their shoulders, smiling as he watched Gabi move. Monika reached out her hand and Chris was only too happy to oblige, deliberately dancing out of time to the innocuous Euro-pop that was being played.
Tommy looked at Gabi, then at Richard.
“That, my friend, is one great piece of arse. Got yourself a German girl, yet ?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
“How about Gabi ?”
“Out of my league. Just look at her.”
“I am, I am. Have you seen her boyfriend ? A real zero, nothing. He must have been born in the Chinese Year of the Boar. Doesn’t even fuck her, can you believe it ? Has that next to him in bed and all he wants to do is read fishing magazines. She’s desperate.”
“Desperate enough for you ?” joked Richard.
“Hey, I could have her if I wanted to. Probably. Maybe.”
“If she were drunk enough.”
“Oh, English humour, so very funny. Well, wanna make it interesting ?”
“What do you have in mind ?”
“A bet; who can get inside Gabi’s panties first. Hey, to hell with it, who can get inside Gabi, first.”
Richard burst out laughing; just the idea of either of them with someone like Gabi. But he played along.
“OK. And the winner takes the other out to dinner. And drinks. Lots of drinks.”
“No, the loser has to pay.”
“No, man, in this case, the winner! Only right that he has to pay.”
Tommy starred him in the eye, thinking intensely. Finally,
“All right. I can dig that. Put it there.” He spat on his hand, rather more than he anticipated, and Richard begrudgingly shook. At that point, Chris joined them.
“What’s going on here ?”
Tommy answered in a pure, matter-of-fact voice, “Oh, we’re having a bet who can fuck Gabi first.”
Chris stuck out his hand.
“Count me in,” quickly checking behind him, to make sure Monika was well out of earshot.
Both Tommy and Richard protested and shook their heads.
“You’re with Monika. Gabi would never go with you.” argued Richard.
Over the discussion, Tommy brought them to silence.
“He’s right, you’ll have to wait six months before you can go from one member of The Gang to the other. That’s what happened when I left Sabrina for her friend, and when Silke went from Kai to Andreas. Didn’t think Andreas would last the course. Must have more between his legs than between his ears.”
Kai walked over, thinking he had heard his name. Richard and Chris turned to look at each other. Chris spoke first, addressing Tommy, Richard with the follow up.
“You were with Silke ?”
“And … how is she ? Bet she’s into some real kinky stuff ?”
“No, not so much. Kinda placid, actually. Lies back and takes it. Which is all right, you know, don’t have to put too much energy into it, or thought, just get the auto-pilot up and running.”
“Well,” began Chris, “that does surprise me.”
“Yeah, my whole scale of balance is shifted.”
“Maybe … “ said Chris, building tension, “and don’t take this the wrong way, but, maybe, just maybe … it was you. Like, you know … you just ain’t no good ?”
“What ? Are you nuts ?” asked Richard, but it was too late. Tommy called out to her on the dance floor,
“Hello, Sabi … aren’t I a sex-god in bed ? These two don’t believe me.”
Sabrina, not missing a beat of the music, answered,
“Ach, you’re OK, nothing special. Too sweaty for me. And your orgasm cry is weird.”
Instead of being embarrassed, Tommy stood there, proudly, arms outstretched, as if to say, ‘see, didn’t I tell you ?’.
“Why did Sabrina dump you ?” inquired Chris.
“Well … she’s very business minded. Got her own five-year plan. One of those ‘work hard, play hard’ types. When she dumped me, it was like a hostile take-over; ‘I’m going to have to let you go’. I was dumped by the board of Sabrina GmbH.”
“Did you at least get a golden handjob ?” asked Chris with a misleadingly serious face.
Andreas joined them and Chris and Richard regarded him in a new light. Tommy smiled at him and Andreas smiled back, not knowing what was going on.
“And ? What’s happening ?”
A blonde student moved up to Kai, attaching herself to his arm, and whispered something to him. Kai explained,
“The music’s going to start soon, we should go if we want to see it.”
“Do we want to see it ?” asked Andreas.
“Shouldn’t that be ‘hear it ?’” replied Tommy with a smug, alcohol grin.
“No, Einstein, it’s also another verdammte (bloody, fucking) performance.” Kai clarified.
“Stefan is really good. On cello,” added the blonde. Kai looked down at her, as if seeing her for the first time, then seemed to remember,
“I liked her paintings,” he said by way of explanation, then moved into the other room.
The music stopped as an announcement was made, and people began crowding into the largest room, for what was rumoured to be the main event of the night.
When all space was taken, the lights dimmed and a tall and slightly overweight man dressed in dark trousers and tails walked onto the stage and took up the cello. A woman with long auburn hair and evening dress sat next to him, a folio on her lap. She nervously altered the position of it in her hands. Then the eagle-headed man from before reappeared, with wooden fork, and took up his position in the gravel box. He looked around, commanding silence and was about to commence, when there was a giggle. Andreas turned to those around him, and made a gesture of apology.
Eagle-head started again, raising his fork as a baton. The cellist looked over, an expression of earnest concentration, eyebrows furrowed, eyes squinting behind round lenses. He slowly drew his bow across the instrument and played a gentle passage of quite unexpected beauty.
The room was silent. Monika and Gabi rested their heads against each other. Sabrina looked at Tommy with an ambiguous glimmer in the eye. Kai, standing at the back, had begun softly stroking the hair of the young artist at his side. Richard and Chris desisted drinking. Andreas went to find the toilet.
Softly, almost inaudibly, the woman in the evening dress began speaking, her head facing down into the folio before her.
Above the music and voice, there was an excruciating nails on blackboard shrill. The speaker gained in volume, though people still had to strain to understand. The cello continued, then suddenly made some savage scrapes across the strings, as the woman jumped up, an unexpected occurrence and not altogether easy in such an outfit, and began shrieking, answered by more metallic scrapping.
The woman began screaming, unaccompanied, then more scrapping. Chris stood on tip-toes, and could see the hunched, eagle-headed figure, bent double, holding his fork above the gravel, then bringing it down at an exact spot and dragging it back and forth.
As suddenly as she has jumped to life, the woman sat down. There followed a conversation between cello and fork, though they didn’t seem to be speaking the same language.
The performance dragged on and people began trickling out, all drawn to the bar.
The woman actually seemed relieved, the cellist angry, and Eagle-head oblivious to the loss of audience.
By the time they had finished, there was barely half a dozen people left. The woman immediately jumped down and ran to a couple of friends. The cellist took inordinate care of his cello, as if not sure what to do and Eagle-head starting complaining about something to do with the box, or the gravel, or both, or neither.
Kai’s young friend said that she had to say hello to Stefan, the cellist, who she explained was in his last year of music studies, and was going to be a great conductor.
Meanwhile, the cultural appetites of The Gang having been assuaged, they began making plans for escape.
Chris was going to stay with Monika, who was going to drive Sabrina to Gabi’s flat.
Tommy had found two Danish girls who had a car and wanted to see some of the underground bars that Tommy had told them about. He conferred with Richard. Andreas came over and asked what the plan was. Tommy decided. He, the two Danes, Andreas and Richard would go to Friedrichshain, Richard suggesting Café Kinski.
The Gang said their farewells, hugs and kisses all around, except Gert whom no one had seen for hours, and Kai who was occupied with a kissing thing of his own.
Tommy walked between Anna and Karin, the Danish girls, while Richard and Andreas followed to the car parked a few streets away.
There was a little skirmish as Tommy claimed shot gun but Andreas, who had taken a fancy to Anna, the driver, said that as Tommy was so short, he should get in the back.
He was about to object, then noticed that Karin had a great, healthy, Scandinavian body, and orchestrated himself into the middle seat, keeping her away from Richard, with a sickly grin at his opponent.
Andreas gave directions, suggesting they drive up to Bismarkstrasse and then a straight run, past the Siegessäule, through the Brandenburger Tor, and on to Alexanderplatz, an easy journey and sight-seeing tour combined.
The car was full of screaming and joking and laughing, everyone speaking the lingua franca of English.
As they passed through the arch of the Brandenburger Tor, Richard remarked about the amazing turn of events, that less than five years previously, this wouldn’t have been possible, that The Wall had been there, watchtowers and armed guards and dogs and tanks and the might of Moscow.
They began speaking about when The Wall had fallen. It, of course, made the day’s news in Denmark and England. Andreas said he was stoned in Bavaria and more concerned about being busted by the local police (“Bavarian paranoia” a complaint shared by all the Bavarian members of The Gang.)
Tommy allowed the conversation to flag, before speaking up.
“I was living in Berlin, West Berlin. And I’ve got a story. Who wants to hear it ?”
Encourage students to speak in long, interesting sentences.
Making the use of adjectives and adverbs a natural part of their English
Develop their ability to express themselves, giving reasons (because) and examples (like, such as)
Show them how much fun English can be by the use of idioms (once in a blue moon, it’s raining cats and dogs)
Match the word(s) to the meaning
gigantic / enormous __________ everywhere
tiny / petit _____________________on time
delicious / mouth watering ___very rarely
difficult ________________________ yummy / tasty
once in a blue moon ______ big / huge
intelligent ____________________ hard
ubiquitous ____________________ very small
once in a blue moon
piece of cake (very easy, no problem)
it’s raining cats and dogs (very heavy rain)
NOW … practice:
Street food in Vietnam is (everywhere) ___________________ .
Thay Paul loves fish and chips because it is (yummy)_________________ and _____________________. However, it is not very healthy so he only eats it __________________________________________(very rarely)
The man is (very big) however the lady is (very small)
Mr Paul is saying hello to an elephant which is a very (clever) __________________ animal.
This rabbit is always (on time) _________________
Is it (hard) ____________________ for a gorilla to play drums ? No, it is easy – it’s a piece of cake.
Vietnamese coffee kept warm in a three lions bowls, the lions being a symbol of England. If you love coffee, you’ve come to the right place; coffee shops are _________________ in Sai Gon, and throughout Viet Nam.
Lady Thu stated that she would (try) ___________ to learn more vocabulary.
I expected the students to pass with flying colours, but instead I was very _______________________ by their low scores.
Mr Sang knew every answer, he was really _________________________ last night.
Passing a driving test in Vietnam is easy. _______________________________ .
Those Armani T-shirts are absolutely fake ! At that price, no way are they ____________ .
Street food stalls are ubiquitous in my neighborhood; the food is (tasty) ______________________ and the prices are quite ___________________ .
Mr Lee (adverb) _____________ promised me he would be on time for the meeting.
We also covered some basic introduction phrases which you categorically have to memorise:
Some standard opening lines:
That’s a very interesting question
Well, that’s a great question
Well, there is so much to say about that subject, where shall I start ?
It’s funny you put that question to me because earlier today I was just thinking about …
As a young Vietnamese (add your own nationality), I …
And now, a typical IELTS question: What do you do in your free time ?
Remember the first rule of introductions: never answer the question immediately. Remember the second rule of introductions: never answer the question immediately.
So, how to pass with flying colours ? Ah, c’mon, Man, you should know by now ! OK, breaks down like this. Give me:
A great introduction
An organised speech, point by point (use ‘signpost’ language).
At least one idiom
Ideas linked by discourse markers
Appropriate intonation, stress & body language
Well, that’s quite an interesting question because, as a young Vietnamese student, I don’t really have much free time. I have to study all day, then do homework in the evening; I’m really burning the candle at both ends. However, when I have time to myself, I like to hang out with my friends and forget about school.
Firstly we meet in coffee shops, which are ubiquitous in Sai Gon, and talk and laugh. Highlands in my favourite because it has free WiFi as well as being very comfortable although some of the coffee prices are sky-high.
Additionally, I love swimming which, in my opinion, is incredibly healthy, and it doesn’t require much equipment. Subsequently, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
However, my absolute favorite past time is to sing karaoke, which I believe comes from Japan, in a private, sound-proof room. For me, it’s a perfect way to relax and forget all my stress about work, life and my parents !
Finally, just before lunch time on Sunday afternoon, Chris woke up, got out of bed and showered. Richard was finishing off his Hemingway, then emptied the fridge in preparing two plates, using all the remaining bits of food.
“Ah, a moveable feast !” joked Chris.
“You OK ?”
“No. Not really.”
Richard didn’t know how to help. Usually they would just drink, but that had only sent Chris into oblivion. Now he had returned, and the pain remained.
“Well, anything, I can do, just ask. Probably won’t be much, but … well, let me know.”
Richard knew that it wasn’t the time or place for his own dog-dance.
Instead, he made up a pretext for going out, so as to give Chris some space.
Left alone, Chris sat and smoked, numbing his mind with the BBC World Service, re-tuning when the news came on in German.
He envied Richard a little. He had Chris to fall back on, to answer his questions and to explain the mysterious workings of this schizophrenic city. Despite being the capital of the newly re-united Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, Berlin still had so many traces of it’s recent, Eastern Block past. Opening hours were seemingly arbitrary, queueing systems, non-existent.
The public telephones all worked and he had never seen any vandalism, which was taken for granted in England, but they had an irritating choice of being either card operated, or coin, only rarely both. By now, he knew the pattern in his area, but had been caught out, trying to call Monika, happy to find a phone, only to realize he only had coins for a card machine, or vise-versa.
Then there was the paranoia. This was caused by not understanding enough of the language and being confronted by important-looking letters, or notices, or announcements, or street talk, and always having to ask what it meant, and there being no one to translate for him, a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability.
There was one final custom in Berlin that was going to have an immediate effect. The shop opening hours. All shops, with barely a few exceptions, closed all weekend. Food shopping had to be done on Friday mornings, or the only choice would be take out food or restaurants.
Chris looked at the phone, willing it to ring but refusing to call Monika, and smoked his last cigarette. Having to buy more was a good reason to go out and he walked to a street vending machine to buy more smokes, the Vietnamese not working the U-Bahn on Sundays.
But then his spirits lifted slightly. Where else would he find a city with cigarettes available by machine on the street. They wouldn’t last five minutes back home.
He opened the packet of Golden American’s, not his usual brand, but it was from a vending machine, he had to make allowances, and flicked his lighter. The flame flickered and went out and he had to cover it with his hand to keep it burning. He turned up his collar. The air was getting chilly. Winter was on its way.
Richard came back as it was getting dark, and found Chris in much the same position as when he’d left him, sitting in the kitchen, chain-smoking, starring off into space.
But now they were starting to get hungry.
They waited a little, staving off the hunger with cigarettes and coffee, but eventually they had to get food.
Not having the money or feeling for a restaurant, their only choice was to find an Imbiss. This is usually not a problem. They were ubiquitous in Berlin, and there were some in Stargarder Strasse, some by the U-Bahn, and in most of the neighbouring streets.
Tonight, they all seemed to be closed.
It took a little time, but by a very circuitous route, they ended up in a Turkish Imbiss on Stargarder. The kebabs, however, were finished. All meat, in fact, was out. All that was left, before the staff emptied the displays to prepare for the new week, were pitiful salads or large, yellow objects.
They looked at each other, their hunger taking precedence over their judgement, and they cleaned out the large, yellow-object tray. They were wrapped in tin-foil and put into a thin, plastic bag.
On the way home, they were more curious than famished. Then they took their first bites.
Pure, deep-fried fat, barely warm.
Then Chris let out a sound of disgust.
“What the … ?”
Richard echoed the sentiment.
“In the name of … ?”
Hidden in the centre, amidst layers of cold, stodgy fat, were florets of cold, barely cooked cauliflower.
There was silence in the flat. They studied their plates, examining this alien food. Grease oozed out when they prodded the lumpen mass.
Chris slowly put his plate down, took a fresh cigarette and said,
“Fuck this, I’m going for some real food. Not this … fucking, old … Socialist shit. This Commie crap. Mush for the masses. Fuckin’ … I mean, school dinners had nothing on this, this … Cack ! That’s what it is. Cack ! Hello, Mr Imbiss Man, I’d like some cack, please. And, yes, my good man, pile up the cack and put more cack on top. Don’t stop there, give me a side order of …’ “
“Good idea, side order of cack. And, to pass the time, while you’re filling my order, give me a glass of cack. Fucking hell. All right, you wait here, I’ll bring back some proper food.”
Richard waited. Nearly an hour later, Chris returned. He held out a bag, with a bottle clearly delineated.
“OK, here’s the bad news; I could only get Bells Whiskey.”
By the time Richard left for work the following day, he still had a hangover.
Chris hadn’t made it into the studio at all.
One of the first thing that caught Richard’s eye when he began working at Bar Biberkopf was that the crockery, cutlery and glasses matched the ones in Chris’ flat. Sometimes his own naïvety amazed even himself.
He thought back to his early days at café Kinski. A man had sat at the bar, skinning up a joint, in front of Silvio, and this had shocked him, thinking how could he be so blatant, right in front of the barman.
The work was pretty easy, if not tedious and mind-numbing. In addition to cleaning plates (which a machine did), there were minor preparation jobs, such as peeling vegetables or fetching things from the cellar.
The staff were generally friendly, though no one to match Hannah’s beauty. And he was slowly learning German, albeit kitchen terms and swear words.
The benefit was cash in hand (every night), access to alcohol, free food and, apparently, home furnishings.
On Wednesday night, he got home around one-thirty, the journey requiring two night buses, and found Chris in an even deeper depression.
Richard decided to take him to The Anchor on Stargarder, opposite the red brick GethsemaneKirche, hoping it would still be open and that the cute little waitress would be working. It was, she wasn’t.
Fearing that it would soon be ‘Feure Abend’ (last orders), Chris ordered four beers and two large whiskys.
The next day Chris again missed work, and while Richard was out buying food, he had an idea. He checked his change, making sure he had enough large coins, and went to the coin pay phone. He called Melanie.
When he returned home that night, he found Chris in a much better mood, and there was a bottle of Sekt waiting, which Richard was grateful for, as the whisky drinking was starting to take its toll.
“Melanie phoned. Out of the blue. Can you believe that ? We had a really good talk and … well, dig this, ya ready ? I’m back with Monika.”
“Sekt ! Open the bloody bottle, let me hear that cork pop.”
Chris told how Melanie had helped and, afterwards, he felt strong enough to call Monika, not even knowing if she were at home. They talked for nearly an hour and decided to get back together.
“Oh,” said Chris, “one more thing. Lorelei’s left her stupid boyfriend and has moved in with some old fruit. Also, there’s an art student, music student open-house event, gathering, thing, on Saturday, and we’re all going. Lorelei sans boyfriend.”
Chris raised his eyebrows up and down several times.
“Just pour the Sekt.”
Richard hid his smile by his ex-Biberkopf Sekt glass.
Richard awoke and, jolting up, looked around the strange flat, wondering where the hell he was. Then it came back to him, with the audio aid of Chris’ snoring. He looked on the sofa and saw that Chris hadn’t moved for … he looked around, feeling for his watch, but it was too dark to make out the time. The next stage was to search for his wallet. It was in his jeans pocket. He opened it and though depleted, there were still some DeutscheMarks remaining.
Domestic noises from behind the large, double doors; footsteps on creaking floorboards, a tap running, a container lid popping open.
A door slowly opened, and Burkhard peeked in, raising his hand to Richard’s wave. Richard got up, put on his jeans and went to the bathroom, grateful that he always had a travel toothbrush with him.
He would have preferred waking up next to a beautiful German girl, but that would have to wait.
After brushing, and washing his hands and face, he went into the kitchen, where the coffee was waiting for him. Burkhard offered him one of his Malboros.
“Your friend is still sleeping. I hope he is OK. I was going to look at him, to make sure he was breathing, then he began snoring. Was it that loud all night ?”
“Oh, yes. The brandy really helped.”
Burkhard had to go to his shop, so Richard thanked him for his help, and went to wake Chris up. But, again, the irresistible force of Richard’s shaking met the immovable object of Chris’ comatosed slumber, until Burkhard suggested leaving him to sleep it off.
“Well,” said Richard, “that may take a few hours.”
“Do you want to see my shop ? I have to make office things, but we can play records and drink coffee. Just leave a note, saying we’ll be back later.”
“Good idea, but I’m guessing he’ll still be asleep.”
“Haha. We can see.”
The small shop was on Stargarder Strasse, at the Prenzlauer Allee end, which Chris considered the poor man’s Schönhauser Allee. The two north-south main roads ran parallel, tapering into Wilhelm Pieck Strasse at the southern end, and were linked by the S-Bahn line, and dissected by the dreaded Danziger Str.
It was mid morning, and apart from some small bakeries and general paper/drink/sweet shops, everything was closed and quiet.
Burkhard opened up, turned on the lights, and told Richard to feel free to look around. Then he went behind the counter to turn on the sound system.
“We have a CD player, cassette deck and stereo, of course,” he laughed, waving his hand over the carefully arranged racks of vinyl records. “Please, play anything you like and I’ll make some coffee.”
“Can I smoke in here ?”
Burkhard came back and with an expression indicating what he thought of such a silly question, answering,
“Ja, of course!”
Richard looked around, acquainting himself with the organization of the shop, the different areas for different genres.
Records, tapes, books, magazines and CD’s were everywhere, yet clearly ordered. The walls had various picture discs on them, or posters and magazine covers. Behind the counter were more records, either Burkhard’s choices or rarer pieces.
Richard moved over to the jazz selection, a small, but quite comprehensive collection, with most of the jazz giants represented. He picked up a Miles Davis disc, ‘Star People’, turning it over in his hands, then a Dizzy Gillespie compilation, a Mingus LP and was studying a Charlie Parker double set.
Burkhard came back with two mugs of coffee, a Malboro firmly grasped in the corner of his mouth.
“Anything you want to hear ?”
Burkhard had on black, leather trousers, a shirt of bold, colourful vertical stripes, leather jacket and thick, square glasses. Richard was expecting some hard-core, industrial German noise from the early Eighties. Instead, the jaunty, almost twee introduction of The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice ?’ came on, the thump of a bass drum launching the song into its infectious verses.
“Sixties music is my passion. I try to buy everything I can from that time. It sells OK. I don’t have anything really rare, just some interesting albums from different countries. I wish I had been there. Imagine, living at that time, all this great new music coming out. Not knowing what was going to happen next.”
Richard moved over to the book section and saw that most of them were indeed about Sixties artists.
“Have you read these ? Some of them ?”
“All of them. I’m very boring, I know !”
“No, not at all.”
“But they only tell a part of the story, they only focus on one particular artist, but I think the power of The Sixties was that they were all part of a much larger scene, it was all connected, they all influenced and helped change each other.”
“Like The Beatles hearing Dylan, The Stones hearing The Beatles ?”
“Yes, but much more, much … “ Burkhard searched for the appropriate word in English, but his gesture and expression were eloquent enough.
“That is what I want to do; write a book on all the music, how it all fitted together. I always read the same things, as you said, Dylan went electric after hearing The Beatles, who began writing longer songs, then The Stones made their concept album. What I want to show is how all of the competition lead to greater and greater music and creativeness.”
He broke off to listen to a particular section of the ‘Pet Sounds’ record that was playing. He continued,
“Let’s take the big three: Dylan, coming from the Folk background, The Beatles from Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Stones from Blues. The Beatles take their influence and give it something of their own. This gives an example to The Stones, to write their own music. The Who follow The Stones, seeing that it was possible to be successful, without looking like Paul McCartney, and that writing original songs was what separated the great bands from all the others. Meanwhile, in America, The Byrds listen to Dylan and Folk, but see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Roger McQuinn goes to buy a 12-string Rickenbacker and make one of The Sixties most iconic guitar sounds. They cover Dylan, making his name bigger. He already has critical approval, now comes mass success. All the time the music is going back and forth over The Atlantic, The Beatles hear all these great words, and feel embarrassed by their simplistic lyrics, and Dylan loves the power of the beat. He goes electric at a folk festival, the crowd go crazy, half love it, half hate it, hate him for doing it. Meanwhile, we have these boys, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson writing, playing, producing. He gets into a contest with Lennon-McCartney, who can write the most perfect, sophisticated pop song ? The Beatles, listening to Dylan, listening to The Byrds, mix jangly guitars with deeper lyrics, come out with ‘Rubber Soul’, The Beach Boys hear this, as well as Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and start working on Pet Sounds.
Burkhard pointed off behind him at the music coming out of the speakers.
“The Beatles hear Pet Sounds and realize the bar has been lifted, not by a small amount, but higher than they thought possible. McCartney calls ‘God Only Knows’ the best song ever written. They have to top it. Meanwhile, Mr Dylan releases ‘Blonde on Blonde’. In August 1966, The Beatles put out ‘Revolver’, what a collection of songs, what a cover. German artist, naturally. Brian Wilson hears this, begins work on an album to be even better. The first result is soon heard; ‘Good Vibrations’. They use a theromin, and create a totally new sound. Now the race is really on. Who is going to win ? The Beatles are working on what will be ‘Sgt. Pepper’ but rumours come over about a project called ‘Smile’, a work so powerful that it would blow the minds of all who heard it. Then The Beatles had ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’. Brain Wilson, for … whatever reasons, put the ‘Smile’ project aside. And it was never released.”
Burkhard let out a sigh, a requiem for all the great music that never was.
“Some songs crept out, some bootleg recordings of backing tracks and finally a watered down version, to fill the contract. And never more would The Beach Boys be a major band. Their following LP’s sold bad, some not even making the Top 100.
“Music is like an arrow that never falls, but carries on, forever. Bands get to ride along, for a while, then fall away. After ‘Smile’, The Beach Boys fell away.
“Meanwhile, The Beatles won the contest. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ came out in 1967, the ‘Summer of Love’. Of course, I have seem photos, they recorded it in the freezing cold, London winter. Then what happened ? No more Brian Wilson, Dylan had disappeared. And they bring out ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, not exactly a flop, but no masterpiece. And The Stones continue to follow The Beatles, and release ‘Their Satanic Majesty Requests’. I’m a Stones fan, but even I have a hard time listening to that. It seemed as if the arrow has fallen. What better time for Mr Dylan to reappear. Missing all of the hippy scene, in January 1968, one of his best, ‘John Wesley Hardin’. People always write about The Stooges, or The Ramones making simple Rock ‘n’ Roll, or stripping down the music to the bare essentials and starting again. Ah, Mist ! (bullshit). I love those bands, but it is shit, they played like that because they couldn’t play any better ! Johnny Ramone said, in interviews, “We didn’t play any covers, because we couldn’t play anybody else’s songs.” It was Mr Dylan, and The Band who really stripped music, cut out all the excess and brought it all back home. And after Mr Dylan comes back ? The Beatles make ‘The White Album’ and The Stones make ‘Beggar’s Banquet’.
“Then we have the trio of Rock deaths, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But what about the other trio of drug casualties ? Pink Floyd’s Sid Barrett ? Peter Green, a guitarist as good as, if not better than Clapton ? And, our old friend, Brain Wilson ? If he had finished ‘Smile’, how would he have followed it ? What would The Beatles have written in response ? Not ‘I Am The Walrus’, I’m sure. Who knows what great music was waiting to be written ?
“Do you know what the first bootleg was ?” Burkhard asked, rather abruptly.
“Yeah, it’s Dylan, ‘Great White Hope’, I think.”
Burkhard smiled and gave a single nod. He moved over to a corner, to the Classical section that Richard hadn’t seen, and pulled out a record with a dark sleeve, showing a wooden Crucifix.
“Good answer, but not right. This. Miserere Mei by Allegri. Do you know the story ?”
Richard didn’t, so Burkhard changed The Beach Boys for the new disc and waited for the first notes, so as to adjust the volume.
“It was kept by The Vatican. One of the Pope’s thought it was so beautiful, that it mustn’t be allowed to leave Rome. Not only that, it was only to be played in the Sistine Chapel, only at Easter. One year, a young man was able to hear it, maybe once, possibly twice, but certainly no more than that. He went straight to his room and wrote it out, note by note, from memory. The boy’s name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He could have been facing excommunication from the Church, but the new Pope was so impressed by his talent, that he permitted it. And if Mozart hadn’t been there, in Rome, at the time, maybe we wouldn’t be able to listen to it today.”
They sat in silence, just listening to the extraordinary, heavenly singing. Burkhard spoke, but no longer to Richard, his remarks were addressed to an unseen audience.
“I like to think that the arrow continues, that other bands can get a little of that creativeness and inspiration and, who knows, maybe again, we will have a Golden Age of classic after classic, after classic.”
After the piece had finished, Burkhard caught up on paperwork, and Richard played Pet Sounds and John Wesley Hardin.
When they returned to the flat, Chris had only just woken up and was feeling hideous. He refused a coffee, made a very embarrassed ‘thank you’ and left with Richard, who agreed to re-visit the store in the near future. He kept putting it off and when he finally did go back, it was gone, a Head Shop taking it’s place, a store selling Oriental merchandise and marijuana paraphernalia.
On returning home, Chris went straight to his bed and was asleep immediately. Richard took a shower, then went to the Kino (Cinema) and later to a few bars in Kreutzberg, just hoping to bump into Monika and therefore Lorelei. But he saw no one and drank alone.