Gerry’s Diary 166: Windows, cars and the autumn fair (20th November, 2015)

Hi, this is Gerry and this is my Diary for Friday 20th November, 2015. Before I start, a word about the vocabulary trainer on the PodClub app. It can help you practise and learn the new words in this podcast. Let me know if you’ve tried it out.

What was your autumn like? Here in Wales it was fantastic. We had over a month of calm, 20151120 E autmnwarm weather. The autumn colours were spectacular. Usually the autumn storms blow [1] all the leaves off the trees, but this year was different. I’ve put a photo on the website. It shows the river at Betws-y-Coed. At the end of October it was nearly 25 degrees on the coast in Wales – the warmest place in Britain. However, things began to change at the beginning of November and the wind and the rain came back. We had our first major storm of the winter, called Abigail. Our big storms now have names!

So, what’s on today’s show? Well, I’m going to start with my pub quiz question from last time. There were three of you who answered the question but there were also other messages from Oreilly and Aurélie. So thanks to all of you for getting in touch. I’m also going to talk today about cars. I had to get my car tested and my mother also had a problem with her car. After that, some news of our big autumn fair. A lot of people were very unhappy with it this year.


In my Diary last time, my pub quiz question was about windows – not the Microsoft product, but real windows in houses. I asked: What’s the main difference between most British and some other northern European windows compared with most windows in Switzerland, Germany, France or Italy? What’s different about British windows? Well, thank you to Ella, Michele and Petra who all had a go at answering this question. Ella and Petra both talked about the traditional sash window that you can find in Britain. These windows open vertically [2]. They slide [3] up and down. I think they are special to Britain, but most modern houses don’t have windows like that. Modern houses have windows that open like doors, or books – these are called casement windows, as Ella found out. But you have casement windows in Switzerland, too. Michele wondered about bay windows, or bow windows as she called them. These are curved or round windows that stick out from the side of a house. It’s nice to sit by a bay window because you get more light and you can see better to read, for example. And you see a lot of these windows in Britain, too, but that was not my answer. I was thinking of something very simple. When you open your windows, do you push or pull?

Most British windows open outwards. You push them open. But Swiss windows usually open inwards. You pull them open. Generally speaking France and Germany and all countries to the south have windows that open inwards, and in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia you’ll find windows that open outwards. Why? One reason is that in southern countries people like to have external blinds [4] to protect against the sun. On the other hand it’s easier to get good protection against wind and rain if the windows open outwards. So that’s perhaps why British windows have traditionally opened outwards. That’s also why you don’t often see window boxes with flowers outside British windows. But you will see flowers or ornaments [5] on the inside of British windows. British windows don’t usually have outside blinds but they have curtains [6]. It’s easier to fit curtains if the window opens outwards, and heavy curtains also help to keep the room warm in the winter. One other important thing about your Swiss windows is that you can clean them easily. We can’t clean our upstairs windows from inside. We have to get a ladder [7]. And that’s why we have window cleaners in Britain, people who come to clean your windows. This is a good job here. Our window cleaner comes every 4-8 weeks. I never saw a window cleaner in Switzerland!


It was time last week to take my car for its MOT test [8]. My car is more than three years old and so it has to be tested every year to make sure it’s safe. I go to my local garage for the test. Most garages have a licence [9] to test cars. This is different from the Swiss system. And in the British test, they don’t look at the engine [10]. They just check the structure of the car, the wheels, the brakes [11], the lights, the windscreen wipers [12], the mirrors [13], the horn [14], etc. And, of course, the emissions [15] – the gases that come out of the engine. It cost me about £55 this year for the test, but the car passed [16], so that was good. I don’t think the test is as strict as in Switzerland, but it’s every year here [17]. In Zurich I had to go every three years, I think. And in Switzerland I had to take the car to a garage first to get it ready for the test because the car and the engine had to be cleaned before the test. That was something new for me. And garages in Switzerland are very clean – not in Wales. People who work in garages here look a bit like coal miners [18] – with black hands and often black faces from the oil and dirt.

My mother had some problems with her car last month. One morning she wanted to drive to the shops but the battery in the car was dead. She couldn’t start the car. Well actually, the problem started before that. She went out to her car and tried to unlock [19] the door with the electronic key. Her key is one of those keys which is a normal key but with a button to push to unlock the doors electronically. Because the battery was dead the electronic key didn’t work [20]. Gwilym from the garage came to help her. “I can’t unlock my car,” she said. “When the battery’s dead how do you open the doors of the car?” she asked. Gwilym answered: “Well, with the key.” “But it’s an electronic key,” she said. “No, it isn’t,” said Gwilym. “Give me the key.” He took the key and put it into the lock on the car door. He turned it and opened the door. My mother was very surprised. She had forgotten that you can open the car manually as well as electronically. For years she has just used the electronic key. “Oh, I feel so stupid,” she said.

My car is now about eight years old. It’s a Citroen and it has a diesel engine. I’m a bit worried about the emissions now. In Britain you pay more road tax [21] for your car if your car is a “dirty” car. For the smallest, cleanest cars you pay no tax at all. And for the biggest, dirtiest cars you have to pay over £1,000 for the first year and then £550 a year after that. At the moment my road tax is not too bad but I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I saw an advertisement on television yesterday from a big car dealer in Wales. It said: “£2000 off the price [22] of any German car.” Not just VW but all German cars! The emissions scandal is getting bigger.


20151120 E rock candyAt the end of October, the big fair comes to our little town. It’s called Ffair Borth and lots of people come to it, but a lot of people who live in the town and the people who have shops and restaurants don’t like it. In the old days people tell me it was very different. It was a fair where you went to buy things. There was a roundabout [23] and a couple of rides, but not so much as today. Now it’s only fairground rides [24] and so on and junk food: doughnuts, sweets, chips, sausages, candy floss [25] and so on. I like some of the food that you get at the fair but I don’t need so much. One thing that I like is traditional rock. This is a kind of hard candy [26]. It’s made in the shape of a stick but I bought a bag of pieces of rock. I took a photo of it.

Another problem, for some people is that the fair people use all the car parks in the town and they use the main street. The fair was on a Saturday this year so the main street was just closed for one day. On Sunday morning, everybody 20151120 E fair1and everything was gone. But the fair people were in the main car park for two weeks this year. We have a big parking problem anyway, so if the big main car park is closed nobody will come to the town to shop and so on. That’s why the shop keepers and the restaurants don’t like the fair. A lot of them just go on holiday for a week.

On the main street the fair people put their stands in front of people’s houses and shops, so for a day it’s very difficult for people to come in and out of their buildings. I took a couple of photos of what it looks like. And there are lots of funny stories about the fair people taking electricity and so on. In the past the fair people looked to see if they could get into a garage or somewhere and find an electrical socket. If they found one, they plugged in their caravans and used the electricity! I don’t know if this happened this year.

So what’s going to happen in the future? I guess that young people like the fair, especially children and teenagers. I liked fairs when I was young. They were very exciting to go to with your friends. But the old people and the shopkeepers don’t like it. Who will win the fight for the fair?


And I think that’s all for today. Except for my last pub quiz question for 2015. One of the first things that visitors to Britain see is that our traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road, not the right-hand side like America or the rest of Europe. Why do the British drive on the left? There are lots of possible answers, but what do you think? You can write to me with your answer on the website or you can use Twitter. My Twitter address is @gerrypod. Don’t forget the new vocabulary trainer on the PodClub app. In two weeks you can hear more from Owen in China. I’ll be back in four weeks. Thanks for listening and take care!

[1] to blow: what the wind does, when the air moves
[2] vertically: (move) in an up and down direction
[3] to slide: to move smoothly across a surface (like skis on snow)
[4] blind: a window cover (NB A ~ moves from top to bottom, but a shutter is opened and closed like a door.)
[5] ornament: something that looks pretty
[6] curtains: cloth covers for the inside of windows (NB You open and close them from the side.)
[7] ladder: a thing that you use to climb up the side of a house, for example. (You put it against the side of the house and then you climb up it.)
[8] MOT test: the name of the annual check-up for cars (from the Ministry of Transport!)
[9] licence: a permit, something that allows you to do something
[10] engine: the motor part (of a car)
[11] brakes: the part of the car that stops it when it is moving
[12] windscreen wipers: the part of the car that takes water (rain, for example) off the front window so the driver can see better
[13] mirror: the part of the car that the driver uses to see what is behind him/her
[14] horn: the part of the car that makes a noise to warn other people
[15] emissions: gases that come out of an engine
[16] to pass: to succeed
[17] NB Every year after the car is three years old!
[18] coal miner: somebody who digs the black stuff out of the ground that you can burn on a fire
[19] to unlock: to open the part of the door that stops other people from opening it
[20] to work: to function
[21] road tax: the money that a car owner has to pay every year to the British government in order to drive the car on public roads
[22] £2,000 off (the price): a £2,000 reduction in (the price)
[23] roundabout: here: carousel, merry-go-round
[24] fairground rides: a machine at an amusement park or fair that you can go on for fun and excitement
[25] candy floss: something sweet made with sugar which is spun and is usually sold on a stick
[26] candy: something made out of sugar


Edith Suisse 05-01-2016 16:36
I agree with Michèle.
An English man told me the same story with the knights.
And he continued that the French wanted to change and show something else. That the reason we are diving on the right side
Doris 29-11-2015 19:02
Dear Gerry
my answers are also from the internet.The knights in the Middle Ages were mostly right hander,and therefore they held her swords in the rigth hand.In fights ride one then on the left side.
Another idea came from the navigation of the Britons,Starboa rd was mounted on the right.
The best wishes
Ruth 22-11-2015 16:01
Dear Gerry
After a long break a started again to read your Diary’s because I noticed when I read your stories I can find many interesting expressions in your sentences.
This helps me better to express if I want to write a letter.
From middle September until Friday 20th November we had really beautiful weather here in Winterthur too,. Our autumn was rather a spring. Walking around this area was great. Forests, meadows, bushes, everywhere was a blaze of colours, you thought you have never seen this before. I took a lot of photos.
Your topic are always interesting I do learn a lot of new things and how different things from country to country is.
I also started to read the stories of Owen, it is very entertaining, he can tell it right fascinating, but he read it a little faster than you but I like it a little slower
Till now I didn’t use the PodClup app but I want to use it. First I have to ask my friend to help.
The best wishes
Michèle 20-11-2015 17:34
hello Gerry
I'm still impatient to listen to your diaries . The weather in France has been also nice and warm until today . It now looks like winter.
As for your pub quizz question , a funny answer would be :the British are out of step with the rest of the world but more seriously (I looked it up on the internet) this strange habit might date back to the Middle ages . Knights used to joust and as most of the people were -and still are -right-handed ,they passed each other on the left to be able to use their sword and to protect themselves with their right arm . Maybe that's the answer you are looking for
Bye and take care