Humanity… we’ve got your tests back. Not looking so good, I’m afraid.

The Cosmic Medical Centre was busy, but Humanity had to wait just five minutes before the nurse called them.

“Humanity? Earth, isn’t it? This way please.”

The nurse opened the door and there, behind a solid oak desk, the cosmic doctor looked up peering through his bi-focals.

“Aaah, yes, we’ve been expecting you Humanity. Please sit down. We’ve got all your tests back. Not looking so good, I’m afraid. Sit, sit please…

“Hypertension, anxiety, stress and depression. Middle age and its aches and pains have come quickly to you Humans. Faster than most species.  Millions of years faster. The dinosaurs make your look like amateurs. By the way, your fertility has dropped considerably, probably a result of the above. This current pandemic probably doesn’t help.

“A change of lifestyle would be good, but unfortunately as you know,” he paused, and looked up at the patient, “it’s rather difficult to change your genetic predisposition.”

You have such an odd sense of superiority


“Impossible, actually,” the doctor smiled, paused and then continued, “…despite your fantastical efforts. You are blessed and cursed. You are conscious, unlike most of your fellow life forms. But still, more than a touch conceited to imagine that you can shape your own future. You are just current in the drift of genes, just like all the other life forms that come here. You have such an odd sense of superiority. You come in here calling yourself Humanity. Do you think the frogs and the cows have a collective belief that they can take charge of their destiny? There is no such thing as Humanity, nor is there Frogity or Cowity. Just another of your many misguided myths.


Do you really think the lottery you call Progress and Science can free you from the life of an animal?


“You know you were once animists who shared a common destiny with the other animals and now you think you are in charge, of not only your own destiny, but also that of the Earth. I mean, really, do you think the lottery you call Progress and Science can free you from the life of an animal?”

The doctor raised his hand. “No, I don’t want to hear anything from you. Not yet.”

“You know, we had Earth in last week for a complete examination. There was long list of ailments; excessive gas, heat rashes, breathing difficulties, hot and cold flushes, dry surfaces, artery poisoning and loss of surface vegetation.

“We traced all these disorders back to one cause: you. Yes, you.”

Humanity shifted uneasily in its chair. The doctor raised his hand again.


You have infected your host. You have become a pathogenic organism like the cells of a tumour. Or a virus, if you like.


“No, it’s my turn to speak. You have infected your host. You have become, for want of a better term, a pathogenic organism like the cells of a tumour. Or a virus, if you like.

“Look here’s the report here: Read the first line. Read it for yourself.”

The doctor thrust the paper in front of Humanity’s eyes. Humanity began to read: “The Earth (solar system B-1873HGFY74) is suffering from a plague of humans.

“Yes, a plague, that’s right,” the doctor said.

“Your population is now around 7.8 billion. It has doubled in less than 50 years. Honestly, it’s not the numbers that are the problems. It’s your predatory and destructive abilities.

“We’ve already got a name for the next geological period – the Eremozoic – the era of solitude when little remains on the earth. Basically, you’ve killed it all. It’s sad, but understandable that you’re all getting rather obsessed with space.

We call it a correction. You might call it Armageddon.


“But before that new epoch rolls in, you are most likely going to suffer considerably. We call it a correction. You might call it Armageddon.

“Population spikes don’t rise forever. You just have to look at mice and rabbits. The collapse, when it comes, will occur over a relatively short period of time, but will see your population fall to one or two billion at the most.

“You know you cannot destroy the Earth, but you can easily wreck the environment that sustains you and other life forms.”

Humanity slumped in its chair, then raised its head: “How long have we”…


It’s not always about you


The doctor cut Humanity off with a deep sigh and hand in the air. “You haven’t been listening, have you? It’s not always about you.”

A silence.

“What can we do then?”

“Not much really,” the doctor replied.

“Perhaps give up the idea that progress will somehow preserve your oblivion. Being idle is not a sin. Try doing nothing sometimes. Stop pining for meaning in life. And stop pining for immortality. Sanity is in the stillness. It’s just life.”




Many of the ideas expressed in the above article come from the book, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals, by John Gray. He is an English political philosopher and author with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas. He retired in 2008 as School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

His books include:

False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism (1998)

Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern (2003)

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007)

The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (2013)

Put some sugar in your English

(Level A2 and above: Idioms and phrases related to sugar and honey – with songs)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


Sprinkling (saupoudrer) some sugar on your English is a piece of cake. It can put the icing (glaçage) on the cake. And it’s as easy as pie. For example, you can call your loved ones “honey” or “sweetie” or “sugar”. You can say “isn’t it/he/she sweet?” or, “it was so sweet of you to do that” (sweet: sucré, doux, adorable).

After all, you can catch more flies (mouches) with honey than vinegar.

Do it in your own sweet time. Do it when you want to say something serious: as the proverb says, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine (médicament) go down. But be careful, too much sugar will make you as nutty as a fruitcake. You’ll start believing you are Mary Poppins. And if you do too much sweet talking, people will start to take what you say with a pinch (pincée) of salt. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. That’s a recipe (recette) for disaster.


George Harrison: My Sweet Lord





  1. A piece of cake – too easy.

The interview was a piece of cake.

  1. The icing on the cake / the frosting on the cake – If something is the icing on the cake, or the frosting on the cake, it makes a good situation or a good result even better.

I’m really happy playing here, and if we win today, that will be the icing on the cake.

  1. Easy as pie – very easy.

Michael understood at once. `Why, that’s easy as pie,’ he said as the rest of us scratched our heads.

  1. “Honey” – pet name. A pet name is an informal friendly name for a friend or member of your family.

Hi, honey, I’m home!

Have you seen the film “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”?

  1. “My sweet” – you can address someone as “sweetie” or “my sweet” if you are very fond of them.

Pass the sugar, sweetie.

Do you know the song “Sweet Home Alabama”?

  1. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar – you are more likely to get the results you want from other people if you treat them with kindness or flattery, rather than being aggressive, demanding.

I think the kids would visit you more if you were nicer to them. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you know.

  1. In (one’s) own sweet time – At one’s own preferred pace, without consideration for how it will affect others.

He certainly took his own sweet time getting here.

  1. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down – something good makes something bad more tolerable.

I’m going to put on some fun music while I work on this boring project because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.



  1. As nutty as a fruitcake – Very strange or completely mad.

The man is a charmer – intense, funny, and nutty as a fruitcake.

  1. Sweet talk – to talk to someone in a very nice way in order to persuade them to do something.

He even tried to sweet-talk the policewoman who arrested him.

  1. Take with a grain of salt / take with a pinch of salt – If you take what someone says with a grain of salt, or with a pinch of salt, you have serious doubts about the truth or accuracy of what they say.

“Listen,” he said, “you must take what Bob says with a grain of salt.”

  1. You can’t have your cake and eat it (too) – it’s impossible to have something both ways, if those two ways conflict.

He wants to stay with his wife but still see his girlfriend – talk about having your cake and eating it!

  1. A recipe for disaster – Something is a recipe for disaster if it’s going to cause trouble or serious problems.

The new parking rule is a recipe for disaster.




MORE idioms and expressions (B2+): Idioms are not a piece of cake



Zaska: In your own sweet time





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Can you walk a mile in my shoes?

(Level B2 and above: Reading about empathy – with quotes, phrases, vocabulary quiz, videos and songs)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


Empathy is kind of a beautiful thing. When we are the recipient of empathy , it can be deeply engraved in our memory forever: our distress is acknowledged, without even an ounce of prejudice, judgement, self-interest, or pity. Empathy helps us back on our feet in record time. A problem shared is a problem halved, it is said. Empathy has the power of healing.

Empathy is quite beyond whether you deserve it or not; it is in neutral territory. It is about recognising another and thereby sharing her experience. And we all do it to a greater or lesser extent; it is part of our nature.

Mister Rogers, the creator and host of the U.S. preschool television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, which ran from 1968 to 2001, was a well-known empathetic (or empathic) figure. He said, “I think the best thing we can do is to let people know that each one of them is precious.”


Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in the film: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


All words in bold are in the vocabulary quiz below 

What exactly is empathy?

Empathy is not to be confused with compassion and sympathy, which are often thought to involve more of a passive connection. Empathy generally involves a much more active attempt to understand another person.

Verywell Mind categorises empathy thus:

  • Affective empathy is the ability to respond to other people’s emotions appropriately.
  • Somatic empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. People sometimes physically experience what another person is feeling.
  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand someone’s response to a situation.

Apparently, empathy can also be expressed through self-control: If you feel empathy towards your future self, you will exercise self-control and not eat that chocolate cake today.

By definition, empathy is the opposite of apathy. Apathy is defined as “a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.” Furthermore, narcissists are known to often show a lack of empathy or pretend to be empathetic.

Related post: Lessons in narcissism with the stable genius Donald

Animals, such as elephants and even rats, are capable of feeling empathy toward each other. And dogs are man’s best friend thanks partly to their power of empathy.


Ben E. King – Stand By Me (with lyrics)


A learning curve

Empathy comes with time. We may show a little of it in childhood, but we grow to understand others better as our life experience and our self-knowledge expand.

We may also feel more empathy towards those we know than towards those we don’t.

The Guardian tells the story of a woman from Adelaide Hills, Raye Colbez, who did not feel sorry when she heard about the death of asylum seekers  who drowned near Christmas Island, in the north of Australia, in 2010. When asylum seekers moved to a detention centre not far from her home, she railed against it. But when she travelled to Africa and Malaysia to meet people hoping to find refuge in another country, her perspective changed.

“My empathy goes towards the people who are incarcerated with no future,” she said. “It made me feel as though I at least owed them more … There’s always two sides to a story so I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, I shouldn’t hop on the bandwagon and discriminate.”



Can you teach empathy?

Following the shocking news from the Australian political scene in March 2021, disgraced MP Andrew Laming  was ordered into “empathy training” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Related post: Sick and shameful culture in the highest office in the land

From this sprung many commentaries on empathy training. Is it really possible to teach empathy?

Katherine Teh, managing director of consultancy Futureye, has for 19 years helped corporations and governments anticipate and understand community sentiment. “You can absolutely teach people empathy,” she told “I’m constantly learning skill sets in relation to it.” A lot of her courses are about how to listen properly, she added.

There is plenty of evidence that empathy can be taught in childhood, but it gets more complicated when it comes to adults, reports The Guardian. Some believe that there are some effective methods to teach adults to be more empathic, if it is taught as a skill – like teaching a new dance for example. But there is no guarantee such training methods work all the time, or in the long term.

The key is, you have to want to learn empathy – otherwise, the training efforts might go to waste. Employees who are forced by their boss to take an empathy training session may see it as punishment. This may result in a backlash.

But remembering a few key principles could help increase our empathy level, with practice: listen carefully, keep an open mind, no judgement, no prejudice, try to understand.


Watch this Ted video on empathy as a skill:

We are experiencing an empathy shortage but we can fix it together


A more empathetic world

What would a more empathetic world be like? On the micro level, those that have been dealt a bad hand might be better supported by their community. Violence, rape and even theft and mistreatment of animals would lessen.  On the macro level, well, one might imagine fewer wars and more diplomatic meetings; less self-interest among corporations and leaders; and a better management of the eco-system.


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Phrases related to empathy

  • To be in someone else’s shoes: to experience something from someone else’s point of view
  • From where I’m standing: from my point of view
  • Spare me a thought: think about me as well
  • I see where you’re coming from: I understand your situation
  • I feel for you: I understand your problem
  • If you have a problem, call me 24/7: call me anytime


Alanis Morissette – Empathy (with lyrics)


Quotes about empathy

  • When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you. Susan Sarandon, American actress
  • I’ve been fascinated by the idea that evil is the absence of empathy. John Connolly, Irish writer
  • Artificial intelligence is growing up fast, as are robots whose facial expressions can elicit empathy and make your mirror neurons quiver. Diane Ackerman, American poet
  • Negotiation is empathy. It’s almost trite to say that if you can’t put yourself in the seat of the other person you’re speaking with, you’re not going to do well. It’s not about being a bully, not about making offers people can’t refuse. Marc Randolph, American businessman
  • We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old – and that’s the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges. Barack Obama



Vocabulary Quiz

Match those 17 words from the text with their definition:

  1. Disgrace
  2. Acknowledge
  3. Record time
  4. Rail (against)
  5. Incarcerate
  6. Owe

a. (in this context) If you say that you owe someone gratitude, respect, or loyalty, you mean that they deserve it from you.

b. to express strong anger about something

c. very quickly, or in the fastest time recorded

d. the loss of other people’s respect because of something bad that you have done

e. to accept or admit that something exists, is true, or is real

f. to put someone in prison

Answer key: 1:d – 2:e – 3:c – 4:b – 5:f – 6:a


  1. Hop (or jump or climb) on the bandwagon
  2. Genuine
  3. Backlash
  4. Be dealt a bad hand
  5. Lessen

g. a strong, negative, and often angry reaction to something that has happened, especially a political or social change

h. to join or give support to a party or movement that seems to be assured of success

i. to become smaller in amount, level, importance etc

j. real, rather than pretended or false

k. if you get ‘dealt a bad hand’ it means you find yourself in unfavourable circumstances due to something you can’t control.

Answer key: 7:h – 8:j – 9:g – 10:k – 11:i


  1. Evil
  2. Elicit
  3. Quiver
  4. Trite
  5. Bully
  6. set one back on one’s feet


m. to shake with short quick movements

n. very bad or cruel behaviour

o. a trite remark is not interesting or original because it is what people usually say in that situation

p. (in this context) someone who uses their influence or status to threaten or frighten someone else in order to get what they want

q. to make someone react in the way that you want

r. To restore one to a stable position after a downturn or misfortune.

Answer key: 12:n – 13:q – 14:m – 15:o – 16:p – 17:r





It’s about time – and other time-related phrases

(Level B2 and above: English phrases with the word “time” – with reading, exercise, video, songs, quotes quiz and vocabulary quiz)

 Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


“Time” is one of the most-used words in the English language.

We talk about time all the time. You can lose time, find time, save time, spend time, make time, take time, give time, call time and run out of time. You can even kill time. Kill another human you will most likely do time or serve time.

Time flies, time stand stills, time is on your side and time waits for no one. You can be on time, in time, out of time, behind time, from another time and ahead of time.

So, take the time to read this blog about time and, in your own time, you will be able to talk about time, at all times.

It’s a timely subject. Timeless you might say. It’s big time. Oh, and by the way, you reading about time on the website of Le Temps.



So, what is time?

In everyday language, time is the quantity that you measure using a clock (what time is it?), an amount of time (a long time), a period in history (the Roman times) or in life (his time at university), an experience (a good time), a moment (at the time of writing), and more.

There are a great many phrases and expressions using the word “time”. Here are just a few:


30 expressions with the word “time”


  1. Time spent planning is time well spenta good use of someone’s time.
  2. Things seem bad now but if you give it time, they might get better –wait, be patient.
  3. Here they are, and about time too – it’s overdue.
  4. They’ll be working against time to get it finished – do something quickly to finish on time.
  5. As an artist, he was years ahead of his timemore modern than others.
  6. Deal with each question separately, one at a timeseparately.
  7. She was fun to be with at timessometimes.
  8. These styles were a bit before my timeexisted before I was born.
  9. I’m afraid we’re out of timeno more time available.
  10. By the time we arrived, the other guests were already there – something has already happened.
  11. He did time for robbery – he was in prison.
  12. I still think of him from time to timesometimes.
  13. These days, I have all the time in the worlda lot of time available.
  14. We’ll have that fixed in no timevery soon, very quickly.
  15. In your own time, start the engine and put the car into gear – when you are ready.
  16. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt – it will definitely happen.
  17. I started cleaning the windows, just to kill timedo something instead of waiting.
  18. After the way Dave talked about me during the meeting, I wouldn’t give him the time of dayrefuse to speak to someone.
  19. The train was on timenot late.
  20. Things will get better over timegradually.
  21. We played cards to pass the timedo something instead of getting bored.
  22. Well, there’s a first time for everythingsomething is very strange or surprising.
  23. We get time and a half for working on Sundays – 50% more than the usual money that you earn.
  24. Let’s do it now, time is of the essenceshould be done as soon as possible.
  25. The good thing is, time is on your sideyou have a lot of time to do something.
  26. OK everyone, time’s up. Please turn in your spelling tests – no more time available to continue.
  27. Let’s do it now, time waits for no onedo something soon while the time is available.
  28. Time will tell whether he made the right choice – you will know in the future if something is true or right.
  29. You will feel better with timegradually.
  30. Barbara wasted no time in spreading the gossip – to do something immediately.


Source: MacmillanDictionary.comm


Read more about time:  During, while, for and since

It’s time we had a talk about time: during, while, for and since…


Time is on my side: The Rolling Stones



 Fill in the gaps (1-11) in the dialogue with the correct phrase (a-k) below.

a. wasted so much time     b. all the time in the world     c. time is of the essence

d. about time    e. against time    f. waits for no one    g. on our side   h. on time

i. out of time    j. in no time    k. by the time


Running out of time


A : Well it’s (1)…….! Where have you been ? We’re working (2)……. here.

B: Really? I thought that time was (3)……..

A: No, (4)……. here. We have to finish that job (5)……..

B: We’ll have it done (6)……., don’t worry.

A: (7)……. they arrive, we’ll be (8)……..

B: But they’re not coming back from holiday before tomorrow. We have (9)…….!

A: Haven’t you heard? They’re coming back tonight at 9 pm.

B: Oh no, I wish I hadn’t (10)……..

A: You should cut that window there, as planned. Time (11)……...


Answer Key:

1:d – 2:e – 3:g – 4:c – 5:h – 6:j – 7:k – 8:i – 9:b – 10:a – 11:f


A : Well it’s about time. Where have you been ? We’re working against time here.

B: Really? I thought that time was on our side.

A: No, time is of the essence. We have to finish that job on time.

B: We’ll have it done in no time, don’t worry.

A: By the time they arrive, we’ll be out of time.

B: But they’re not coming back from holiday before tomorrow. We have all the time in the world!

A: Haven’t you heard? They’re coming back tonight at 9 pm.

B: Oh no, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.

A: You should cut that window there, as planned. Time waits for no one.


All words in bold are in the vocabulary quiz below.


Time by Pink Floyd


Time, perception and science

(Reading: Level C1 and above)

The way we see it, time flows, it passes, it goes in one direction, forever. But time is very much about perception. When you’re waiting for a bus, time seems to slow down. When you are focusing on something you are passionate about, time seems to move quickly. When you are asleep and dreaming, time ceases to exist.

We may, at times, go through an existential crisis when we think that we are finite (limité), or ephemeral. But in the end, time is really all about how we spend it. It is a resource and we get to choose what to do with it. It is the most valuable thing we possess. In this sense, time is indeed “money”.


The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at onceAlbert Einstein


Scientists have given us many theories on time because they think the simple explanation that time flows forward is not enough. To them, the “arrow (flèche) of time” is not built into the nature of reality.

According to Einstein, time is relative; time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object. So “now” does not mean anything. His theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous. Spacetime is a conceptual model combining the three dimensions of space with the fourth dimension of time.

Carlo Rovelli, theoretical physicist and author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, says that time is human perception. Why can we know only the past, and not the future, he told The Guardian. There is a lack of symmetry there: we have records (or we can make inferences) of the past but not of the future. The key is the one-directional flow. Take heat for example. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. And the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street.

Time is also entropy – a lack of order or organization in a system. Milk spoils at room temperature but its entropy will slow down if you put it in the fridge for example.

Entropy increases over time. According to cosmologists, the Big Bang, which (probably) started time as we know it, started at low entropy. Entropy in the universe is now higher than at the time of the Big Bang because gravity pulls everything together. Ever-increasing entropy is life, and so the passage of time, says Sean Carroll, another theoretical physicist.

But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong to our superficial observation of it.

“If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

The quantum theory describes nature in terms of atoms and subatomic particles. Theoretical physics tries to make the quantum theory and the theory of general relativity work together. One answer, according to Rovelli, is the loop theory, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular (broken into separate items), a fine structure woven from loops.



In this video, Sean Carroll explains time:

The Passage of Time and the Meaning of Life

What is time? What is humankind’s role in the universe? For much of human history, these questions have been the province of religion and philosophy. What answers can science provide?




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Quiz: Quotes about time


As Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev said, “Time sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail; but a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly.”

Match these quotes with their author:

  1. You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all  the people all the time.
  2. Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
  3. Tough times never last but tough people do.
  4. It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.
  5. Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.
  6. Lost time is never found again.
  7. If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.


  1. Elizabeth Taylor, American actress
  2. Robert H. Schuller, American Christian televangelist
  3. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States
  4. Abraham Lincoln, 19th U.S. president
  5. Bruce Lee, Chinese American martial artist
  6. William Gibson, American-Canadian speculative fiction writer
  7. William Penn, 17th/18th English writer and religious thinker


Answer Key:

1:d – 2:f – 3:b – 4:a – 5:g – 6:c – 7:e


Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time (with lyrics)



Take the vocabulary time quiz

Match each word with its respective definition.

  1. Flow
  2. Pass
  3. Perception
  4. Seem
  5. Cease
  6. Crawl
  7. Swiftly


a. to appear to be something, or to appear to have a particular quality

b. a particular way of understanding or thinking about something

c. to move forward very slowly

d. to move continuously in one direction

e. quickly or immediately

f. if time or a period of time passes, it happens and comes to an end

g. to stop happening or continuing


Answer Key

1:d – 2:f – 3:b – 4:a – 5:g – 6:c – 7:e


  1. Resource
  2. Heist
  3. At once
  4. Relative
  5. Weave
  6. Loop
  7. Key


a. having a particular quality when compared with something else

b. to make clothes or other material by weaving cloth

c. the thing that will do most to help you to achieve something (in this context)

d. an organized attempt by thieves to steal something

e. At the same time (in this context)

f. something that you can use to help you to achieve something, especially in your work or study

g. a round shape or curve made by a line curling back towards itself


Answer Key

8:f – 9:d – 10:e – 11:a – 12:b – 13:g – 14:c


  1. Reversible
  2. Vanish
  3. Province
  4. Fool
  5. Tough
  6. Effect


a. a change that is produced in one person or thing by another

b. to disappear in a sudden and mysterious way

c. to trick someone by making them believe something that is not true

d. a subject that someone knows about or is responsible for (in this context)

e. able to return or be changed to a previous state

f. strong and able to deal with difficult situations or pain


Answer Key

15:e – 16:b – 17:d – 18:c – 19:f – 20:a




A fly-on-the-wall exclusive: Alone at last. Vladimir and Joe in Geneva.

(Coffee break June 16, Villa La Grange, Geneva. Time: 14.56pm – 15.09pm. Present: Russian president Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden)


V: Two sugars and a dash of almond milk isn’t it, Joe?

J: Vlad, you’ve got your spies everywhere, haven’t you?

V: (shoulder shrug) You might think that. Anyway, you can’t talk Joe. You have got big ears everywhere. You even spy on Angela and your so-called EU friends. Don’t get all innocent with me Joe. You’re not as lily-white as your teeth.

J: Touché.

(pause… stirs his coffee)

How did the 45th president like his coffee? You know, “your man in Washington…”

V: You mean “Putin’s puppy”.

(They both laugh)

Donald was more a Diet-Coke-and-straw-in a-cup president. He was a real slurper and what you Americans say…,a… um, a straw president. He was softie, like his soft drinks.

(They both laugh)

J: Well, he’s on the rocks now my friend.

V: Be careful, my friend. Old Russian proverb: Never trust a wounded bear.

(pause Vladimir sips his coffee. Puts down his cup and looks Biden in the eye)

By the way, do you want the tape? You know, the “pee-pee tape” at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow. I’ve got it here in my pocket. In fact, I’ve got a “Best of Donald” dossier that we can talk about.

Easy swap. Let’s see… Ukraine becomes Our-kraine, and it’s yours. What do you think?

J: No, no, no … please Vlad no tricks. Please. You wily, old KGB coyote.

(pauseVladimir sips his coffee. Joe’s coffee remains untouched)

Yeah, you had 45 in your pocket, didn’t you?

V: No, it’s you Americans that like your 45s in your pockets.


J: Seriously, though Vladimir… is it true?

V: Is what true?

J: You know the pee-pee tape…?

V: Well, it’s up to you. “For Your Eyes Only”,  as your Mr Bond would say.

J: Okay.

(Joe looks around).

Just put it on my saucer.

(Vladimir pulls a tiny USB stick out of his pocket and places it on the American president’s coffee saucer. Joe takes it and puts it in his pocket)

Thanks. So, how’s the bear wrestling?

V: Great. Aaah… yes, of course, we are friends on Facebook. The bear shoots take a bit of time and energy. We’re all getting a bit long in the tooth, aren’t we, old Joe? It takes a bit out of you. These days even riding bare-back, bare-chested with a crossbow makes my bones ache. It’s unbearable.

J: Yeah, well my friend, I’ll be basking in the sunshine in Florida in a few years. You’ll be president for the next 22 years. So that’ll make you about 90, eh? Makes me look a like a spring chicken. God, you guys love the old iron dictator, super-glue grip, don’t you? Just can’t let go.

V: Keeps me young. I’ve got lots of projects. (smiles)

J: I bet you do. They tell me you’re a closet fan of climate change.

V: Best thing that happened in Russia for ages, and I mean since the Ice Age. Siberia will be the new riviera. We’re turning Solzhenitsyn’s camp into a theme park. The Arctic Sea will be the new Suez. The old Suez will be in the sewers. That’s a joke, Joe. C’mon drink up Joe… your coffee is getting cold.

J: No, not really thirsty. You might call it the Navalny effect. What is with you guys? Is that the only thing you learned from Chernobyl?

V: Come on Joe, that was a cup of tea, or so I’m told. And I had nothing to do with it. I was bear wrestling at the time with Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu. You should try it.

J:  No, bears are not my cup of tea. Panda wrestling seems to be my new sport. I think I might need to borrow your crossbow. Anyway, I’m just glad that you wore a shirt and suit for Geneva, Vladimir.

V: Ha ha… (smiles)  C’mon! Next summit in Geneva. And, we can have a judo match instead of talking all this hot air. We might actually get a result.

J: Well, we better get out there and at least agree on something. The world is looking for a “stable and predictable” relationship.

V: Well Joe, I do like the Villa la Grange. Let’s agree on another summit. That’s about the best I can do… How can I trust you with all the other stuff? You won’t even drink your coffee. When are your free?  Drink up and let’s go and face the world.

J:  Okay Vladimir, let’s go. You talk about bear wrestling. I’ll talk about panda wrestling. See you soon back in sunny Geneva.


(The two men exit to the sound of flashing bulbs and journalists’ questions)









Let’s sing: The path to glory is built by the bodies of our enemies

I like La Marseillaise, the French national anthem (hymne nationale). It’s inspiring and exhilarating. But then, I found a translation. I now sympathise with French footballers and others who seem to be tongue-tied when it thunders, pre-match or pre-ceremony, over the loudspeakers.

Why would any vaguely responsible person in 2021 really wish to enthusiastically sing the following lyrics?

Do you hear in the countryside, the roar of these savage soldiers, they come right into our arms, to cut the throats of your sons and women! May impure blood water our fields!

(Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!)

Anthems are generally pretty ugly songs, both musically and lyrically. In the next few weeks, you are going to get an earful. The UEFA Euro 2020, which like anthems, seems to have got lost in a time warp, will offer up the pre-match cringe spectacle of tattooed primates in their prime stumbling over the words of nations’ calls to war, followed by the awful theatre of crowds booing as players take the knee against racism.


We encourage our children to give blood, not to irrigate our lands with it


We educate our children to be compassionate and non-violent. We speak to them of fair play, respect for ethnic and sexual diversity. We encourage them to give blood, not to spill it or irrigate our lands with it.

Yet, we expect them to fervently chant racist and violent diatribe with a hand clasped over their hearts.

Anthems are frozen in time. Often times of war. Many anthems are tribal calls to war. They speak of rivers of blood, death to the foreigners and our own selfless death in defence of the sacred lands within our glorious borders. It’s all a bit Kim Jong-unesque.  A little outdated and uncivilised in this day and age, you might say.


It is sung to the beat of war; the melody of machine guns and the rhythm of gunpowder


The Algerian national anthem Qassaman (We Pledge) written in 1956 by poet writer Moufdi Zakaria is as dire as Le Marseillaise. It is sung to the beat of war; the melody of machine guns and the rhythm of gunpowder.

We swear by the lightning that destroys,

By the streams of generous blood being shed.  

When we spoke, none listened to us,

So we have taken the noise of gunpowder as our rhythm,

And the sound of machine guns as our melody…

This cry for war is perhaps understandable, as it was allegedly written on the walls of Zakaria’s cell in blood between spells of torture in a French colonial prison.

Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians) was written by a 20 year old.

As you can imagine, it speaks of lazy summery afternoons, floral dresses, fine wines and a delicious plate of Pappardelle ai Funghi. No, of course it doesn’t.


We are ready to die


The over-riding message is sacrifice:

We are ready to die (siam pronti alla morte). This line is repeated four times in each chorus and the chorus is sung four times. That is 16 times each anthem. That’s brainwashing according to a UN charter.

Mercenary swords, they’re feeble reeds.

The Austrian eagle has already lost its plumes.

The blood of Italy and the Polish blood it drank, along with the Cossack.

But it burned its heart.



They’re just the kind of merry songs that unite us.

The Turkish national anthem İstiklâl marşı elevates martyrdom to a new level.

Render your chest as armour and your body as trench!

For only then, shall my fatigued tombstone, if there is one,

prostrate a thousand times in ecstasy,

and tears of fiery blood shall flow out of my every wound,

and my lifeless body shall gush out from the earth like an eternal spirit.


If the Americans had heard (and understood) the Vietnamese national anthem in the 1950s they would have quickly understood that dominoes was a game to be played at home, rather than a political theory to base a war upon


If the Americans had heard (and understood) the Vietnamese national anthem in the 1950s they would have quickly understood that dominoes was a game to be played at home, rather than a political theory to base a war upon.

The Vietnamese anthem, The Song of the Marching Troops (Tiến Quân Ca) basically translates as: I wouldn’t make me angry, if I were you….

Our flag, red with the blood of victory, bears the spirit of the country;

The distant rumbling of the guns mingles with our marching song;

The path to glory is built by the bodies of our foes; 

For too long have we swallowed our hatred. Be ready for all sacrifices.

Hats off to Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and San Marino. They are the only countries that have wordless anthems, a trend that should definitely be adopted worldwide.  Besides, who actually knows all the words to their anthem and, for that matter, who would really want to sing with pride about gushing rivers of blood?

Thankfully, there are some anthems that lift hearts and souls, rather than swords and guns. One is called the European Union Anthem.



Anthems to listen to (with English subtitles)


France – La Marseillaise


Italy – Il Canto degli Italiani


Vietnam – Tiến Quân Ca


The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen


Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner


The Swiss anthem is wordy (especially in four languages) and God-centred. The enemy is the weather.

When the morning skies grow red
And over us their radiance shed
Thou, O Lord, appeareth in their light!
When the alps glow bright with splendor,
Pray to God, to Him surrender!
For you feel and understand
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.

In the sunset Thou art night
And beyond the starry sky
Thou, O loving father, ever near!
When to Heaven we are departing
Joy and bliss Thou’lt be imparting!
For we feel and understand
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.

When dark clouds enshroud the hills
And gray mist the valley fills
Yet Thou art not hidden from thy sons!
Pierce the gloom in which we cower
With Thy sunshine’s cleansing power
Then we’ll feel and understand
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.

Towards us in the wild storm coming,
You yourself give us resistance and stronghold,
You, almighty ruling, rescuing!
During horror and nights of thunderstorms
Let us childlike trust Him!
Yes, we feel and understand,
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.


Sorry. So sorry. Terribly sorry. The English sorry reflex.

Level B1-C1 (saying sorry in English: reading, expressions, quote quiz, vocabulary quiz)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House


‘Sorry’ must be one of the most over-used adjectives in British English – and to a lesser extent in North American and Australasian English too.

A survey in 2016 found that that the average British person says ‘sorry’ about eight times per day. Not that the British have more to apologise for than others. Besides, ‘sorry’ is not just about good manners which require you to apologise when you have done something wrong. In fact, the British say ‘sorry’ even when they are not at fault. Someone bumps into them in the street, they say ‘sorry’. You tell them the weather is bad in Switzerland, they say ‘sorry’. Your cat is sick – ‘sorry’. They want to ask you for some information – ‘sorry’. They would like to sit next to you – ‘sorry’.


“Only the Japanese seem to have anything even approaching the English sorry reflex”


Saying ‘sorry’ is a reflex. According to social anthropologist Kate Fox, “Only the Japanese seem to have anything even approaching the English sorry reflex.

“Our excessive, often inappropriate and sometimes downright misleading use of this word devalues it, and it makes things very confusing and difficult for foreigners unaccustomed to our ways,” Fox told Still, she added, “I don’t think saying sorry all the time is such a bad thing.”



Sorry’ is not just for apologising


‘Sorry’ is not just about expressing remorse. It is also used to express sympathy, to acknowledge an unfortunate circumstance, or to show a non-confrontational stance, humility, to create trust, to get someone’s attention, and to require clarification.

For example:

I’m so sorry this happened to you.

I’m sorry to hear that.

I’m sorry for your loss.

I’m sorry for him.

I’m sorry about you losing your job.

I’m sorry for barging in on you like that… / for interrupting…

Sorry to bother you

Sorry,  is anyone sitting here?

Sorry? (I did not understand what you said. Could you please repeat?)


Sorry can also be confrontational or threatening:

I’m sorry? What did you just say? When you are not happy about what someone said.

Don’t you dare do that again, or you’ll be sorry! As a threat.


You also use ‘sorry’ as an introduction when you are telling a person something they may not want to hear:

No, I’m sorry, I can’t agree with you.

I’m sorry, but Miss Lee is resting and can’t be disturbed.

Sorry–no baths after ten o’clock.

Sorry, wrong number.


As you can see ‘sorry’ is used all the time. It’s definitely not the hardest word.

Elton John – Sorry seems to be the hardest word – with lyrics



Using ‘sorry’ to apologise


Saying ‘sorry’ to apologise might be enough in some circumstances, but it does not count as sufficient in others. Best to add words around it, such as:

  • I’m truly sorry for what I have done. It was wrong. I regret it now. I will never do it again. What can I do to make it right?
  • Looks like I gave you the wrong phone number. Sorry about that.

Sorry about that: for minor mistakes

  • “I lost the book you lent me. I’m so sorry!“

I’m so/very/really/terribly sorry: I understand I caused a problem

  • “I’m sorry if I caused you pain / for causing you pain.”
  • “I’m sorry (that) I behaved in such a childish way.”


All the words in bold can be found in the vocabulary quiz below.




Tracey Chapman – Baby, Can I hold you tonight


Other ways to apologise


My apologies (or ‘I apologise for’: more formal than ‘sorry’)

My apologies, but your order will not arrive until Monday.

In business English, we often use phrases like “We sincerely apologise” (apologize in

the U.S.) or “Please accept our apologies.”

Pardon / pardon me / I beg your pardon (formal)

  • Pardon me; I didn’t mean to offend you.
  • Pardon? I didn’t catch what you said.

Excuse me (when you interrupt a conversation or apologise for committing a social no-no)

  • Excuse me; I didn’t realize that wearing shoes indoors was impolite in this country.

Mea Culpa (to apologize or take responsibility for wrongdoing)

  • The witness wrote a statement of mea culpa after he was caught lying in court.

Oops  / Whoops (used for mild errors or social blunders)

  • Whoops, I am so sorry, I broke your coffee mug.

My bad (slang expression used to claim responsibility for an action). American English. See song by Khalid below.

  • I lost the book you lent me. My bad! I will buy you a replacement.

My fault (admitting responsibility)

  • It was my fault that we didn’t get to the airport on time. 

Take full responsibility (more formal situations)

  • I take full responsibility for failing to train the employees properly.

I messed up / I screwed up (informal ways to say you did something wrong)

  • I can’t believe I forgot your birthday. I messed up.

I owe you an apology (often used to open or to begin the conversation)

  • I owe you an apology. I said some horrible things to you.

I should have / I shouldn’t have (talk about what the correct action would have been)

  • I shouldn’t have taken your camera. I should have asked you first.

That was wrong of me (or ‘it was wrong’: my action was not morally correct)

  • I gave you the silent treatment, and that was wrong of me.

Ashamed of (I feel bad about it)

  • I haven’t been helping you around the house at all. I’m ashamed of my behaviour.

I truly/really/sincerely regret (I feel bad about it)

  • I truly regret my offensive comments.

How can I make it up to you? (what can I do to compensate for my mistake)

  • I’m sorry I had to work late, and missed our date. How can I make it up to you?

I hope you can forgive me (or ‘will you forgive me?’)

  • I know that what I did was wrong. I hope you can forgive me.


Khalid – My Bad


Expressions with the word ‘sorry’


  • What he must not do is to sit around at home feeling sorry for himself. (keep thinking unhappily about his problems)
  • The fire left Kuwait’s oil industry in a sorry state. (in a bad state)
  • She is a sorry sight. (in a bad state / miserable)
  • They were a sorry lot. (in a bad state / wretched)
  • I’ll take my backpack; better safe than sorry. (it is better to be prudent)
  • A sorry excuse for a man (disappointing)
  • We’re going to have to lay off 100 employees, I’m sorry to say / report (talk about something bad or disappointing)


Sources:; Expressoenglish;;


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Quote Quiz

Match these quotes with their author:

  1. Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
  2. Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.
  3. An apology is a good way to have the last word.
  4. Apologies only account for that which they do not alter.
  5. Never apologise, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.
  6. Apologizing does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.
  7. An apology is the superglue of life! It can repair just about anything!


a. Mark Matthews – author (The Protector)

b. Unknown

c. Benjamin Franklin – founding father of the United States

d. Lynn Johnston – Canadian cartoonist (For Better or For Worse)

e. Robert Brault – author

f. Benjamin Disraeli – 19th century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

g. John Wayne – American actor


Answer key:

1:c – 2:e – 3:b – 4:f – 5:g – 6:a – 7:d


Justin Bieber – Sorry


Vocabulary quiz

Here are 18 words found in the text above. Match them to their corresponding definition.

  1. Apologise
  2. Bump into
  3. Misleading
  4. Devalue
  5. Sympathy
  6. Remorse
  7. Acknowledge
  8. Stance
  9. Barge in


a. to treat someone or something as if they are not important

b. to accidentally hit against something (in this context)

c. to accept or admit that something exists, is true, or is real

d. a natural feeling of kindness and understanding that you have for someone who is experiencing something very unpleasant

e. to tell someone that you are sorry for doing something wrong or for causing a problem

f. to enter a room suddenly and noisily, usually interrupting someone in a rude way

g. intended or likely to make someone believe something that is incorrect or not true

h. a strong sad and guilty feeling about something that you have done wrong

i. an attitude or view about an issue that you state clearly


Answer key:

1:e – 2:b – 3:g – 4:a – 5:d – 6:h – 7:c – 8:i – 9:f



10. Bother

11. Confrontational

12. Count

13. No-no

14. Wrongdoing

15. Blunder

16. Slang

17. Offensive

18. Excuse


a. a careless or embarrassing mistake

b. something that most people do not approve of

c. to annoy someone by interrupting them when they are busy or want to be left alone

d. a reason that you give to explain why you have done something bad, or why you have not done something that you should have done

e. words or expressions that are very informal and are not considered suitable for more formal situations

f. behaving in a way that shows you want to have an argument or fight with someone

g. to think of someone or something as a particular thing, or to be thought of as a particular thing: Does geography count as a science subject?

h. behaviour that is illegal or not moral

i. unpleasant or insulting, and likely to make people upset or embarrassed


Answer key:

10:c – 11:f – 12:g – 13:b – 14:h – 15:a – 16:e – 17:i – 18:d


Paul McCartney – Uncle Albert  – with lyrics






My tailor is rich. Where is Brian?

(Where is Brian? Learning English. B2+)

French comedian and actor Gad Elmaleh calls it the great existentialist question.

It’s a question that has traumatised millions of French people learning to speak English.

Where is Brian?

The answer is more architectural than philosophical. We all know Brian is in the kitchen. For many English learners who never got past the first lesson, Brian is still in the kitchen. Forever in the kitchen. His sister Jenny, however, prefers the bathroom. Brian does get to wander into different rooms if students continue to turn the pages of Speak English 6éme (for children in the first year of secondary school), first published in 1972 and popular throughout the 1980s in French schools.



Here’s Gad Elmaleh:



There is another weird piece of language that has embedded itself in the minds of generations of French speakers learning English:

My tailor is rich

My tailor is rich, (but my English is poor) was in lesson one of the Assimil method of L’anglais sans Peine, (English without Toil) first published in 1929.  It was also the very first spoken phrase in the first Assimil L’anglais sans Peine vinyl record released in the 1960s.

This was lesson one. Page 2.



Lesson one page 1 had useful phrases like.

Your cigarette is not finished.

Our doctor is not good.

Your flowers are not beautiful.



The phrasema tehya eez reesh’‘ (my tailor is rich) even appears in the French–dubbed version of the horror film The Exorcist (NB: not for the weak-hearted). A giggle amongst the horror.



The catchy phrase appears in the Astérix chez les Bretons comic book. It is the name of a musical group and the title of an album released by the Belgian group The Vogues.

It became a household term thanks to slapstick comedian Louis de Funès in the film Le Gendarme à New York released in 1965.



The programme Karambolage on Arte  made this linguistic homage to my tailor is rich in 2010.



Pretty weird!  These banal phrases have been scarily imprinted into the memory banks of many would-be English speakers.

They are neither the simplest, nor the most practical phrases to slip into a conversation, despite being lesson one, exercise one of two popular English learning methods developed for French speakers.


Le singe est sur la branche


Likewise, English speakers learning French are armed with equally brilliant first-lesson phrases such as le singe est sur la branche (the monkey is on the branch), le chat est sur la chaise (the cat is on the chair), and la souris est en dessous de la table (the mouse is under the table).

These are challenging phrases for English tourists. There’s not a lot of jungle in France and monkeys are rare in Paris. The UK comedian-actor-activist and executive transvestite (travesti executif), Eddie Izzard, explains (with some swearing):



Finally, here’s a song dedicated to Brian, forever in the kitchen. It was a pop hit, later used by IKEA to great success.

Man Like Me – You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties (written by and first performed by Jona Lewie, who appears in the video)




Short adventure turns into a near-fatal COVID nightmare

(COVID nightmare. A true story. Level B2- C2)


The worst night of his holiday in Africa, Roberto recalls, was the night the doctor came to his bungalow.

His body was racked with 41-degree fever. The chloroquine medicine prescribed by the doctor to fight the Coronavirus was triggering debilitating palpitations. He thought his racing heart would burst. On top of that, he’d had severe food poisoning and his insides felt they had been pulverised.

His eight-day adventure with friends to a country in Africa, which will remain unnamed, had spiralled into darkness and despair.

“I was thinking about recording my final words into my telephone to send to the person I love. I was, as lucidly as I could, framing my farewell,” Roberto said.

That night, Roberto (not his real name), a transformation and self-defence instructor from Geneva, said the doctor sat half-hidden in the darkness outside the bungalow. The doctor looked to his left and right to make sure no-one was within earshot. He then spoke to Roberto.

His tone was cold. All semblance of the Hippocratic Oath had gone. The voice from the shadows said:

“Now, this is what you are going to do. You’re going to buy me a car in Geneva and send it to me. Do you understand?”



Let’s be clear. This is a true story. It happened in April this year.

It was meant to be a short adventure. On-the-road again. Time to break the shackles of the pandemic which had grounded most of us.

Two couples, Roberto and his girlfriend and another couple, flew from Geneva to Belgium and onto their African destination where a mutual friend had planned an adventure safari.

It all went pretty well, until the four had their Covid tests before flying back to Geneva.

Three were negative. Roberto was positive. He reassured the others he would be back soon. Reluctantly, they departed, back to their busy professional lives in Geneva.


I felt like a chicken being slowly plucked and then slowly roasted.


Roberto was confident. He is a well-travelled man, fit and strong, physically, and mentally. He has undergone advanced military training and is a qualified instructor of Krav Maga, the self-defence method used by the Israeli army.

Despite his impressive pedigree, he was lucky to get home alive.

“I was a prisoner. I couldn’t leave without a negative test. I was a hostage. The hard reality came the night the doctor told me, if I wanted to get onto a plane to Geneva, I would have to buy him a car.

“I felt like a chicken being slowly plucked and then slowly roasted.

“I was helpless. I was in a zombie state in the 35-degree heat and with a 41-degree fever. I had no sense of taste or smell and I had eaten something that destroyed my insides.”

In the end, the 8-day adventure turned into a 32-day marathon. Roberto lost 6.2 kgs. When we spoke, almost two weeks after his return, he said his energy level was still at only 25 per cent.


“I knew that if I reacted angrily or violently in any way, shape or form, I would have more problems and probably end up in jail


“The worst was the mental torture. I was completely isolated and at the mercy of people who wanted to milk me for anything they could get. The doctor was accomplished. He knew how to play mind games. He had me on a string.

“I promised him I would do my best when I got back. Luckily, I couldn’t withdraw cash with my credit card. My cash reserves, of which he had taken most, were almost finished. I tried in my poorly state to remind him of the oath he had sworn when he became a doctor – ‘to do no harm’.

“I knew that if I reacted angrily or violently in any way, shape or form, I would have more problems and probably end up in jail. I had to keep my cool.”

Roberto had just enough strength to communicate with his girlfriend of nine years in Geneva, when the Wi-Fi was working. The heat played havoc with the keyboard of his iPad. One day it took him five long hours to fill-in an immigration-exit form.

He spent his days in feverish isolation on two phone apps – one to learn Greek and another to learn to play the ukulele. He watched bits of Netflix, of which he remembers nothing. He also prayed and meditated.


It was not unlike the pages of a Stephen King novel, where impending doom grows day by day, hour by hour


What was meant to be a relatively simple recovery became more and more twisted and dark, not unlike the pages of a Stephen King novel, where impending doom grows day by day, hour by hour.

He stopped taking the medication after he almost died twice, unable to breathe as his heart rate accelerated into techno beat. He didn’t tell the doctor.

“I was saved by my loving girlfriend, my two wonderful travelling friends, family and Touring Club Suisse (TCS). My girlfriend kept me sane, positive and fed me love. My friends spent hours listening to me rambling on. TCS called me regularly. They told me to immediately stop taking the medicine. They were polite, respectful and professional and contacted the doctor. It was no longer just mind games between him and me. The outside world knew what was going on.

“I owe them all a debt of gratitude. They kept me afloat.”

In all, Roberto had five COVID tests. The doctor told him he had to take two tests two days before his flight left on a Sunday. On the Saturday he paid for the tests. He finally got the results only minutes before he had to take the taxi to the airport.

“I still wasn’t safe. I had to pass through five security check points before I could get on the plane and the doctor who primarily worked at the airport had subordinates at each check point on the road and at the entry and inside the airport. I was very aware they might not let me get onto the plane. I was checked and double-checked and triple-checked. I was followed inside the airport. Luckily, I was flying business class so I could wait in a private lounge, away from the airport public area. I then tried to hide myself in the crowded section of the airport. It was a game of cat and mouse.

“As I got on the plane the doctor started calling, texting and emailing me. I turned off my phone.


I was sitting there in a fog of emotional exhaustion


“Only after we took off, I started to feel relatively safe. The flight attendant gave me a glass of Perrier with ice and a slice of lemon in a clean glass. It was surreal. I was sitting there in a fog of emotional exhaustion.”

“When I turned my phone on in Geneva the next day, there were 17 messages and videos demanding money. Just crazy,” Roberto said.

In hindsight everything is clear. Roberto says the decision to travel was immature and selfish and he paid the price for this.

“I did something stupid,” Roberto said.

He has plenty of suggestions for would-be travellers in these pandemic times.

“Map everything out before you leave. Make sure you have good insurance. Know where you can find reliable medical help. Know the contact details of the nearest embassy. And if you can, take medicine with you. Don’t go without a laptop. Prepare for the worst. Sometimes it arrives.”

There are more relaxing ways to learn the ukulele, Roberto said.


Check the meaning of the words in bold:


to be racked with – suffering great physical (or mental) pain

to pulverise – to feel crushed or defeated

to be within earshot – near enough to be heard. Opposite – out of earshot

the Hippocratic oath – the promise that doctors make to keep to the principles of the medical profession

to break the shackles – to unchain yourself, break free

to be grounded – cannot fly – the flight has been grounded.

pedigree – a person’s history, often used to talk about dogs of the same breed.

to pluck – to pull the feathers off a bird before cooking it.

ukulele – a small, four-string guitar – Somewhere over the Rainbow – Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole

in hindsight – the understanding that you have of a situation only after it has happened and how you would have done things in a different way.




The seven deadly, and very human, sins

(Level B1-C2: the seven deadly sins described in English: reading, expressions, quotes quiz, vocabulary quiz, and songs)

 Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


It pays to reflect on one’s sins (péchés) every now and then. Are you envious? If so, you are a sinner and you are suffering from one of the seven capital sins, according to Christian theology.

Christian theology has dictated the lives of millions of people for centuries, and it does not allow for grey areas; you are either a sinner or you are not. Since none of us is perfect, we are all sinners.

But it is not all bad: you can repent, confess and atone (expier) for your sins, one way or another. Or be punished. Just not the way it is described in Seven (or Se7en); one film noir I know I’ll never watch again, Brad Pitt or no Brad Pitt.

The seven capital sins are so bad that they can engender other sins. For example, if you are greedy, you could commit theft (a mortal sin) or you could think about theft (a venial sin). A mortal sin can be compared to a malignant tumour in your soul, and a venial sin to a minor infection.

Here is the parade of the seven capital sins – also known as the seven deadly sins:

(1) Pride: pride can be a positive feeling. You can feel proud when you have done a good job, or if your child succeeds at university (she’s “my pride and joy”), or if you have self-respect. But on the negative side, pride is the feeling you are better or more important than other people. You can also call it conceit, vanity, arrogance, pretension. A common saying: her pride will be her downfall. Many think pride is the mother of all sins. It can lead to (result in) tribalism, racism, vendetta and wars. Pride can be overcome with its corresponding virtue, that is, humility.


(2) Greed: greed is the desire to have more of something, such as food or money or power, than is necessary or fair. You can also call it avarice, covetousness, hunger. It is in my opinion the king of all sins. It can lead to corruption, theft, murder and. wars. And really bad politics. What would the world be without greed? Its corresponding virtue is charity.


See Garry’s recent blog: Madoff made off with billions. The name says it all.


(3) Lust: lust is a feeling of strong sexual desire for someone. Nothing wrong there – and a lot of fun, but it starts being wrong if you lust after your neighbour’s wife or husband. You can also call it lechery, sensuality, licentiousness. It can lead to adultery, sex addiction, and so many more undesirable acts – as well as the occasional STD (sexually transmitted disease). The corresponding virtue is chastity.


(4) Envy:  envy is when you wish you could have what someone else has. You can also call it covetousness, jealousy, resentment. There is a fine line between admiration and envy. Don’t cross that line, or you’re in for a roller coaster of unjustified anger, self-pity and murderous thoughts. It is also bad for your complexion, apparently – you could become “green with envy”. The corresponding virtue is gratitude.


(5) Gluttony: gluttony is the act or habit of eating or drinking too much. You can also call it greed, rapacity, voracity. The sheer amount of diet books and programs and alcoholic-related diseases out there says it all: we are, in the rich world at least, real gluttons. And our planet is suffering from the amount of hamburgers we consume. You only have to read about the farting cows. The corresponding virtue is temperance.


(6) Wrath: also known as anger, rage, or temper. Very frightening. It can lead to vengeance and violence. Angry people spread chaos and fear. Keep away from them. The corresponding virtue is patience.


(7) Sloth: so lazy it has to come last in this parade of sins. Sloth is laziness. It is the friendliest of sins: a lazy person is less likely to succumb to greed or lust or pride, simply because he can’t be bothered. But sloth will lead to a life of short cuts, sagging sofas, sweat pants and divorce. Nothing can be achieved with sloth. Set a little time aside for sloth if you need a break, but not too much … The corresponding virtue is diligence.



Note: the seven sins and seven virtues, e.g. pride, humility, greed, charity, etc. are uncountable nouns.


Vocabulary: all words in bold are in the vocabulary quiz below.



Pet Shop Boys – It’s A Sin (with lyrics)


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Expressions with the word “sin”

I wouldn’t buy that painting, it’s ugly as sin. (It’s very ugly)

He was a terrible person but now he wants to atone for his sins. (He wants to show he is sorry for what he did.)

We went to Sin City and lost a lot of money gambling. (Las Vegas, Nevada)

She was living in sin with her boyfriend. (They lived together but they were not married).

‘Strong, centralized government’ is a term that can cover a multitude of sins. (It does not reveal its true nature.)


Quotes about sin

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist, famously said the seven deadly sins are:

“Wealth without work,

pleasure without conscience,

science without humanity,

knowledge without character,

politics without principle,

commerce without morality,

and worship without sacrifice.”


Here are seven more quotes for you to match with their author:

  1. All of the seven deadly sins are man’s true nature.
  2. I am Envy… I cannot read and therefore wish all books burned.
  3. Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.
  4. Satanists are encouraged to indulge in the seven deadly sins, as they need hurt no one; they were invented by the Christian Church to insure guilt on the part of its followers.
  5. Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins. Facebook is ego. Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed.
  6. Beware of monotony: it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.
  7. All the seven deadly sins are peccadilloes but without three of them, Pride, Lust, and Sloth, poetry might never have been born.


a. Reid Hoffman, American internet entrepreneur

b. Joseph Epstein, American writer

c. Christopher Marlowe, author of Doctor Faustus

d. Edith Wharton, American novelist (1862-1937)

e. Vladimir Nabokov, 20th Russian-American novelist

f. Marilyn Manson, American singer and songwriter

g. Anton Szandor LaVey, 20th American author and occultist



1:f – 2:c – 3:b – 4:g – 5:a – 6:d – 7:e




INXS – Original Sin (with lyrics)



Vocabulary quiz

Match the words in the text above with their definition:


  1. Commit
  2. Theft
  3. Venial
  4. Downfall
  5. Overcome
  6. Fair
  7. Fine line


a. a sudden loss of power, status, or success

b. to do something illegal or morally wrong: commit a crime, an offence, murder, a robbery, adultery, suicide.

c. to succeed in dealing with or controlling a problem

d. if there is a fine line between two things, they seem very similar and it is difficult to see a difference between them

e. The crime of stealing.

g. Not very serious, and therefore easy to forgive.

h. reasonable and morally right / where everyone is treated equally



1:b – 2:e – 3:f – 4:a – 5:c – 6:g – 7:d


  1. To be in for (something)
  2. Complexion
  3. Can’t be bothered
  4. Short cut
  5. Be no fun
  6. Tap into (something)
  7. Peccadillo


a. a way of saving time or effort in doing something, often a method that produces a result that is not good enough (in this context)

b. to understand and express something such as people’s beliefs or attitudes

c. used for saying that someone will not do something because they feel lazy or because it is too much effort (I said I’d go out with them tonight, but I can’t be bothered).

d. an immoral action that is not very serious or harmful

e. to not be enjoyable

f. to be going to experience something, especially something unpleasant (It looks as if we’re in for some stormy weather).

g. the appearance of the skin on someone’s face.



8:f – 9:g – 10:c – 11:a – 12:e – 13:b – 14:d



Lady Gaga: Sinner’s Prayer (with lyrics)