Gerry’s Diary 167: Winter storms, driving, shopping, Christmas parties (18th December, 2015)

Hi, this is Gerry and this is my Diary for Friday 18th December, 2015. Before I start, a word about the vocabulary trainer on our prize-winning PodClub app. It can help you practise and learn the new words in this podcast.

20151218 E Storm damageLast time I told you that we just had our first big storm of the autumn. It was called Abigail, which was a great name for a storm. It’s a girl’s name but it sounds like “a big gale [1]” (a strong wind). Anyway after Abigail we had three more big storms in four weeks: Barney, Clodagh and Desmond, and Desmond was the worst. The wind blew for nearly two days and in the north-west of England they had about 35 centimetres of rain in 24 hours. Perhaps you saw pictures of the floods [2] there. After the last big floods in 2009 the government spent £35m to protect [3] the town of Carlisle, but it wasn’t enough. Storm Desmond flooded the town again this year. Every year since 2007 one or more regions of Britain have had bad floods. In North Wales we had some floods but not as bad as in England and Scotland this time. In my garden a wall fell down one night in the middle of the storm. I’ve put a photo on the website.

20151218 E Sash windowsJust before I tell you about what’s on today’s show, a last word about windows. Last week I was in London. I went to visit our daughter and I took a photo of the windows in her street. It’s a street of traditional terraced houses [4], and they have the old “sash windows”, or modern versions of them. These are windows that open vertically.

Before I come to my latest pub quiz question, let me tell you the other stories on today’s show. I’m going to tell you about a funny thing that happened when I went to buy some new clothes. Then, because this is our last show before Christmas, I’d like to talk a bit about what the Christmas season is like here. But first let’s talk about driving.


On my last show I asked you: Why do the British drive on the left? Everybody else in Europe, except for the Irish, drives on the right. So why are we different? I don’t think there’s a simple answer, but let’s have a look at some of the possible reasons. Michèle and Doris wrote to me on the website. They both talked about knights [5] in the Middle Ages [6]. Most people are right-handed. It’s better, therefore, to ride your horse on the left so your right hand with your sword [7] is in the middle of the road. Or maybe you just want to be friendly and shake hands with somebody. It was more convenient [8] for everybody to ride on the left-hand side of the road in the Middle Ages – all over Europe. So why did things change? One answer that I like is that it was because of Napoleon. Napoleon liked to make laws, and he was the first person to make a law about riding or driving. So, why did he change to the right? Perhaps it’s because at that time there were big carts [9] that were pulled by a lot of horses – six or eight horses, for example. The driver used to sit on the last horse on the left and he had his whip [10] to hit the horses in his right hand. He liked to be in the middle of the road so he could see other horses and carts coming towards him. The other European countries with land frontiers [11] with France followed the example, but Britain was an island. And the British at that time never wanted to follow the French. I had a tweet from RGVids who said: The British drive on the left because of habit. Perhaps that’s right. They didn’t want to change. What do you think? A good answer? Doris pointed out, by the way, that ships all over the world sail on the right. When it comes to trains, the Swiss, the French, the Italians and the British all drive on the left. It’s Germany that’s the odd one out this time. German trains as well as those in Austria and other central European countries generally drive on the right.


For my birthday, my mother gave me a gift voucher [12] from a menswear shop in one of the towns near where I live. This shop is a very old-fashioned [13] one. In the old days they used to call shops like this “men’s outfitters”. Most of them have now gone. People buy clothes today online or from big companies that have chains of shops all over the country. But this little shop is still independent. It sells good quality clothes. Classic clothes, I guess we could say. Anyway, I found a woollen pullover that I liked. My wife was there as well and she found a nice wool scarf [14]. While she was chatting to the shop assistant about the scarf at the front of the shop I went to have a look at things at the back. I was thinking: “Is there anything else I need?” And I thought: “A winter coat or jacket, perhaps.” In the corner of the shop there was a rail [15] with some things hanging on it. It looked like a sales rail – things at a reduced price [16]. Well, I always like a good bargain [17], so I had a look at this rail, and there was a nice, short, winter jacket. Was it the right size [18]? Yes, it was just right. I tried it on [19] and it felt good. But there was no price on it. My wife came to have a look. She liked it, too. So I went to find the shop assistant. I was wearing the winter jacket, and I asked: “How much is this?” “That’s my jacket,” he said. “You can’t have that.” It turned out [20] that the rail at the back of the shop was a rail for the staff to hang their clothes. This winter coat was new. The shop assistant bought it (from the shop) the day before. He went to have a look to see if they had another one in the same size. No luck. “We can order one for you,” he said. But it was expensive and I didn’t really need a coat. I just liked his one!


“Christmas is coming. The goose [21] is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!”
That’s an old Christmas rhyme. These days most people eat a turkey for Christmas but the traditional Christmas bird was a goose. A ha’penny was half an old penny. And the rhyme is about giving money to poor people at this time.

In the weeks before Christmas, Advent as we call it, we have lots of parties here. Every club, and choir, and office and sports team seems to have a Christmas party before Christmas. My wife and I have had meals with my badminton club and with friends from the choir. My wife also had a Christmas dinner with her book club. And then there are concerts of Christmas music with drinks and mince pies. (Mince pies are the little sweet pies that we eat at Christmas.) All of these parties take place before Christmas. In the old days, Advent was a very quiet time – like the time before Easter. It was a time for fasting [22], not eating and drinking. Then when Christmas came there were twelve days to eat and drink and have parties. Now when Christmas Day arrives, it’s almost like the end of Christmas, not the beginning.

The old name for the Sunday before Advent was “Stir up” Sunday. Why was it called “Stir up” Sunday? The first reason is because one of the old Church prayers for this Sunday started with the words: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. What do those words mean? Well, the prayer asks God to give people the energy to do good things. To “stir [23]” means both to move and to mix. So in the prayer people ask God to help them move and make them want to do good, but people began to think that this was the day to go home and mix up their Christmas pudding. So this Sunday became the day when most people made their Christmas pudding. The British Christmas pudding is a very heavy and rich sort of cake. It isn’t baked in the oven like a normal cake, it’s cooked in steam [24] for about six hours. And then you can keep it for months. We eat it hot, usually “flambé” – we set fire to it with brandy. When we lived in Switzerland we invited a colleague for Christmas Dinner once. She loved the Christmas pudding. She said it tasted a bit like “Birnenbrot” or “pain d’épices” – one of those rich, winter tastes. So to come back to “Stir up” Sunday, the pudding is very heavy and it’s hard work to stir it, so when the family came home from Church everybody had to help to stir the pudding. And when you stir the pudding you’re allowed to make a wish [25].

This Christmas my daughter and her partner will be here with their two little children. Yes, two! They have just adopted a little brother for Lulu. And our son from Switzerland and his partner will also be here. Only Owen will not be here. He’ll be in Beijing – as you know! So on Christmas Eve we’re going to eat “raclette” – that’s our Swiss evening. Then on Christmas Day it’s the big dinner with turkey, and Christmas pudding for dessert. Then there’s our Christmas cake, the big traditional cake that we always have. And mince pies. And champagne, and sherry and port. We won’t be hungry or thirsty!


A special word of thanks to Ruth who wrote to me after the last show: It was nice to hear from you again. And everybody can write to me now with an answer to my next pub quiz question. Here it is: Every year, January 25th is a special day for one part of the United Kingdom. Why? What do some people celebrate on January 25th? Write to me with your answer on the website or you can use Twitter. My Twitter address is @gerrypod. The next show on January 15th 2016 will be from Owen in China. I’ll be back on January 29th. Until then have a wonderful Christmas, a great time on New Year’s Eve, and I wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful 2016. Thanks for listening and take care!

[1] gale: a very strong wind
[2] floods: a situation where water covers the land
[3] to protect: to keep safe
[4] terraced house: a house that’s in a row (joined to other houses on both sides)
[5] knight: a sort of soldier (a fighting man) on a horse
[6] Middle Ages: the years from the end of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance (approx. 500 – 1500)
[7] sword: a weapon (something you fight with) to hold in your hand, made of iron or steel (like a very big knife!)
[8] convenient: easy
[9] cart: a vehicle with four or more wheels that is pulled by a horse or horses
[10] whip: a stick with a long thin piece of leather at the end of it that people use to hit a horse to make it go faster.
[11] land frontier: the border (edge) of a country that is not the sea
[12] gift voucher: a piece of paper from a shop that is worth a certain amount of money and that you can use in that shop to buy something
[13] old-fashioned: not modern, not fashionable
[14] scarf: something that goes round your neck to keep you warm (or to look good!)
[15] rail: here: a metal bar that you hang clothes on
[16] at a reduced price: cheaper than usual
[17] bargain: something that you buy that costs much less than normal
[18] the right size: not too big and not too small
[19] to try on: (for clothes) to put something on to see if it fits (the right size) and if it looks good
[20] It turned out that…: here: I found out in the end that…
[21] goose: a big bird with a long neck (like a swan)
[22] to fast: to stop eating or drinking
[23] to stir: 1. to move 2. to mix
[24] steam: when you boil water (at 100C), the water becomes this
[25] to make a wish: to think about something that you would like to happen


Doris 25-12-2015 19:32
Hi Gerry
Burns Night in United Kingdom.Burns Night celebrates the life and work of Robert Burns and Scottish culture in general.It is on or around January 25 each year.
Now,I wish you all the best for 2016 good health,happines s und luck.
Best wishes
Pia 22-12-2015 08:21
Hi Gerry, I like your podcasts because they are interesting and funny. I can always learn a lot and the new app with the vocabulary is very helpful. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy 2016! Pia
Sr. Raphaela 21-12-2015 17:11
Hi Gerry
Thanks for every podcast you gave us in 2015! They’re always really interesting, helpful to increase the English language, and often amusing and humorous!
I think the answer for the pub quiz question is: It’s the special day for Scotland! It commemorates the life of the poet Robert Burns, born on the 25.of January in 1759. They too celebrate Burns’ contribution to Scottish culture.
Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year 2016 to you and your family members. Enjoy the special moments of the Christmas season.
Sr. Raphaela
Ruth 20-12-2015 17:39
Dear Gerry
Your comment about the different storms which you have had was very impressive and make me scared. After I have seen your photo on the website I could imagine that you were very surprised and sad when the first big storm had damaged your nice stone wall. Recently when we came back from our holiday I found my two big palms laying on the terrace, although I put them to a sheltered place. Friends told us that we had a very storm too during our absence, but fortunately without big damages.
Then I amused me about the story from the gift voucher which you have got from your mother I had to laugh. It’s always interesting to read and hear your diary.
I wish you and your family Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2016.
Margrit Lang 19-12-2015 16:58
The yearly celebration of Scotland`s most famous national poet Robert Burns is held on Jan. 25th.
Dear Gerry, I like your podcasts very much and I can use many of them for Claudia, my English learning pupil.
Always looking forward to reading your stories and news from Goggled Cymru! By the way , did you hear more about the music project between the Welsh orchestra and the Rumanch speaking choir ?
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you and all your loved ones!
Margrit Lang, Stans