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George's Chocolate Factory

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Martina Lopez has sent me an e-mail. She suggests that every week, I should tell you about a phrasal verb. Good idea, Martina. There are hundreds of phrasal verbs in English, and there is, I am afraid, no easy way to learn them. You just have to remember what they mean! So, in every podcast, I will try to introduce a new phrasal verb. Today’s phrasal verb is “to take over”.

Kevin has just changed jobs in his company. His job title used to be “Sales Analyst”. Now he is “Assistant Sales Manager – South East England”. Wow, it sounds exciting, doesn’t it! The man who used to be the “Assistant Sales Manager – South East England” is called Jimmy. He has resigned from the company. He has decided to open a bar on an island in Greece. It will be called “Jimmy’s Bar”, and it will sell English beer to English tourists. So Kevin has taken over the job of Assistant Sales Manager. That means – Jimmy used to be Assistant Sales Manager, but now Kevin has the job.

“Take over” has another, related meaning. If a company buys another company, we can say that it has taken over the other company. It has made a takeover offer, or a takeover bid; that is, it has said that it is willing to buy all the shares. So, the company where Joanne works, Global News, has recently taken over another company called Media Design. It now owns Media Design.

In Birmingham, where I live, people have been very worried in the past few weeks about a takeover bid for the Cadbury chocolate company. George Cadbury founded the Cadbury company in the 19th century. His father was a tea and coffee merchant in Birmingham, and when he was only 22 years old, George and his brother Richard took over the running of the tea and coffee business. George expanded the business into chocolate. This was a very natural thing to do, as in the 19th century chocolate was something to drink – like tea or coffee – and not something to eat, like we eat a chocolate bar today.

The chocolate business was very successful, and it became too big for the factory in the centre of Birmingham. George bought land in the countryside south of Birmingham, in a place which today is called Bournville, and built a new chocolate factory there. He thought that it was important that his workers should have good housing, so he built houses for them, close to the factory. They were much better than most working-class houses at the time, and had big gardens where the children could play and where the family could grow flowers and vegetables. He built a school, and a training college, and a swimming pool and sports facilities for his workers. The Bournville village which George Cadbury built still exists today, and is a very pleasant part of the city.

In the 20th century, Cadbury became the biggest chocolate company in Britain, and expanded into many other countries. The company is no longer owned by the Cadbury family. It has shares, which people can buy and sell on the Stock Exchange, just like most other big companies.

However, now an American company called Kraft wants to buy Cadbury. Kraft are famous for making a processed cheese that looks and tastes like plastic and may even be made of plastic. Kraft have made a takeover bid for Cadbury, and it seems likely that the people who own shares in Cadbury will agree to sell them to Kraft. So Cadbury will no longer be a independent company, but a subsidiary of a big American corporation. People in Birmingham are very worried that in a few years, Kraft will close the famous chocolate factory in Bournville, and move chocolate production to another country. People are angry, too, that investment bankers have made large profits from the takeover, at a time when many people have no jobs.

But lets end with something a bit more cheerful about takeovers. One day, perhaps, someone may want to take over these podcasts. Perhaps Google would be interested, or Apple, or Microsoft. But they will need deep pockets. Unless their takeover offer is at least $100 million, I will not even return their telephone calls.


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Remembering Snow

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snowy street

Night Snow. Photo by drew leavy/flickr

It is very cold here in England, and there is lots of snow on the ground. What do you think about snow? Yes, snow can be cold and wet and miserable. But it can also change familiar things – our houses and gardens, our streets and our cities – into something strange and new and beautiful.

Good poetry is like snow – it too can change familiar things into something strange and new and beautiful. So I looked for a poem about snow to read you, and I have found one by a poet called Brian Patten.


Brian Patten

Brian Patten was born in Liverpool in 1946, which means that he is nearly as old as I am! In the 1960s, he was one of a group of young poets from Liverpool whose poems became very popular and widely read. It is easy to understand why – the poems are direct, simple and often funny. Brian Patten is today one of Britain’s leading poets, and he has written lots of poems both for adults and for children. There are links to some of his poems, and to more information, on the website. I sent him an e-mail, to say that I would like to use this poem in a podcast, and he has kindly agreed that I can. So here it is, Remembering Snow.

I did not sleep last night.
The falling snow was beautiful and white.
I dressed, sneaked down the stairs
And opened wide the door.
I had not seen such snow before.
Our grubby little street had gone.
The world was brand-new, and everywhere
There was a pureness in the air.
I felt such peace.
Watching every flake
I felt more and more awake.
I thought I had learned all there was to know
About the trillion million different kinds
Of swirling frosty flakes of snow.
That was not so.
I did not know how vividly it lit
The world with such a peaceful glow.
Upstairs my mother slept.
I could not drag myself away from that sight
To call her down and have her share
The mute miracle of the snow.
It seemed to fall for me alone.
How beautiful our grubby little street had grown!

(Copyright Brian Patten. Used here with permission.)


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Baking a cake - vocabulary note.

Here are some words about cooking and baking for you to learn.

  • bake
  • baking powder
  • batter – a mixture of flour, milk and eggs used to make eg pancakes
  • beat – using a fork or spoon or an electric beater
  • boil – to cook in boiling water
  • bring to the boil – to heat water until it boils
  • chop – cut into little pieces
  • dough – a mixture of flour, water and yeast for making bread
  • fry – to cook in hot fat or oil
  • grate – using a grater
  • knead
  • liquidise – generally, in a liquidiser
  • melt – heat something (eg chocolate) until it becomes liquid
  • pastry – a mixture of flour, fat and a little bit of water
  • peel – to remove the skin or peel from eg a potato or an apple
  • pour
  • roast – cook in the oven. We roast meat or vegetables; we bake a cake or dessert.
  • roll – to make eg pastry flat using a rolling-pin.
  • season – to add salt, pepper or herbs to something
  • self-raising flour – flour with some raising agent (eg baking powder) added
  • serve – when we have finished cooking we put the food on the table or on plates ready to eat.
  • sieve – you put flour or sugar through a sieve to break up all the lumps
  • simmer – to boil something very gently
  • stir


Changing your name

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Pudsey Bear (the real one!)

Every year the BBC asks its TV viewers to give money to a special appeal called Children in Need. The money is used to help charities which work with sick or disadvantaged children. The last Children in Need day was last Friday. For the whole evening, BBC television had programmes which asked people to give money to Children in Need, and appearances by celebrities who told us about all the wonderful things that Children in Need was doing, and news about special fund-raising events all over the country. Children in Need has been very successful. Since 1980 it has raised over £500 million to help needy children.

Children in Need has a mascot. He is a large yellow bear called Pudsey. There is a picture of him on the website and, I hope, on your iPod screens. Pudsey has a bandage over one eye. Has he injured his eye? Or perhaps he is a pirate? I am not sure.

Last year, a woman who lives in Wales, called Mrs Eileen de Bont invented a new and interesting way to raise money for Children in Need. She asked people to sponsor her to change her name – that is she asked them to promise to give money to Children in Need if she changed her name. She even allowed her sponsors to choose her new name. And the name they chose was – Pudsey Bear.

In Britain, we often complain that we do not live in a free country any more. There are too many rules and regulations which prevent us from doing what we want to do. But in one area we still have perfect freedom – we can call ourselves by whatever name we want. There is a simple legal process called a Deed Poll which allows anyone who wants to change their name to whatever new name they like.

Over 50,000 people change their name by Deed Poll every year. Many of these changes are connected to marriage or divorce. For example, when people get married they may decide that they want to use the woman’s family name (or surname) instead of the man’s name. Or they may decide to use both names . When John Smith and Wendy Brown get married they might want to be called Mr and Mrs Smith-Brown. And then, a few years later if their marriage breaks down, they might want to go back to their old names. These changes of name are not a problem in Britain. John and Wendy just need to fill in a few legal forms, and they have new names.

Naturally, a few people change their names for more frivolous reasons. Last year a football fan in Scotland changed his name to Motherwell Football Club. Another young man thought he would be more attractive to the girls if his name was Elvis Presley. And the former Mr Daniel Westfallen is now called Mr Happy Adjustable Spanners. These people are mad, of course, but in Britain you are free to be mad if you want.

So, it was no problem for Mrs de Bont to fill in the forms to change her name to Pudsey Bear . No problem to get her employer, the gas and electricity companies, her bank and the tax people to change her name in their records and computer systems. Then she applied for a new passport. She received a bureaucratic letter from the Passport Office saying, no, they could not give her a passport with the name Pudsey Bear because …well, because it was silly. Mrs de Bont (or Mrs Pudsey Bear as we must now call her ) said that her sponsors had paid a lot of money to Children in Need for her to change her name; and that everyone now called her by her new name, and even her children called her Mummy Bear.

Mrs de Bont (sorry, Mrs Bear) then told the newspapers what had happened, and for a few days we could read all about it. The newspapers were on Mrs Bear’s side (I got it right that time). The Guardian, for example, roared “The right to call yourself whatever name you please is one of the small but great British liberties. Who do the passport people think they are? If a citizen can change her name, she must have a passport in that name too.”

And then we heard no more. The story disappeared from the newspapers. So we never heard whether Mrs Bear or the passport people won. Perhaps you can help. If you meet any British tourists in your country, ask to see their passports. And if you find a passport with the name Pudsey Bear on it, send an e-mail to Listen to English.

In your country, are you able to change your name if you want to? And have you ever thought that it would be wonderful to have a new name? Please put a comment on the Listen to English website to tell us about it.


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Making a comeback

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The red kite is making a comeback…

Hello, and welcome back to Listen to English. I hope you all had a good summer break.

Today, I will tell you about an expression which you often see in the newspapers – “making a comeback”. What does it mean, to “make a comeback”?

Imagine that you are a pop singer. Your records sell really well. Your concerts are a sell-out. You earn millions of dollars, or pounds, or euros, every year. Then your fans get bored. They want something new. They stop buying your records. They stop going to your concerts. There is a new band, composed entirely of 13-year olds, which is now top of the charts. People have forgotten about you. Then perhaps 10 years later, people rediscover you. They thought you were dead, and are surprised and happy to find that you are still alive. You make a new record and people buy it, because it reminds them of the old days. You are invited to sing at some big music festivals. You have made a comeback.

Here is another example. Kevin, as he generally does on Saturdays, goes to a football match to watch his team, United. The first half is a disaster. The other team score two goals. The crowd is sure that United will lose. The second half starts badly – the other team score again. And then, in the last 15 minutes, United start to play proper football. They score a goal, and then another one, and finally a third goal in the last minute. The newspaper report of the match talks about “United’s big comeback in the second half “. And Kevin is very happy!

The newspapers are very fond of writing about “making a comeback”. Here are a few of the things which the newspapers tell us have made a comeback, or are going to make a comeback:

1. sewing machines. Because of the economic recession, people think it would be good to make their own clothes, and sales of sewing machines have gone up. Sewing machines are making a comeback.
2. ripped jeans. Do you remember when you could buy jeans which already had holes in them? Well, they are making a comeback, or so the newspapers say!
3. bow ties. I have no idea why bow ties are making a comeback. Indeed I don’t think they are.
4. English cricket. After several years of despair, the English cricket team has beaten the Australians, and we are all very happy. English cricket has made a comeback.
5. red kites. The red kite is a bird of prey, which became extinct in England over 100 years ago. Over the last 20 years, conservationists have released red kites into the wild in several parts of England, and there are now several hundred of these beautiful birds. The red kite is making a comeback.
6. cider. Cider is an alcoholic drink made from apples. For years, sales of cider have been falling, as people preferred beer or wine. Now people are interested in cider again. I went to a pub last week which sold 20 different sorts of cider. Cider is making a comeback.


..so is Vera Lynn!

But the most amazing comeback is this.

That was Vera Lynn. She was a very popular singer during the Second World War, when her sentimental songs on the radio helped to keep people’s spirits up. But that was a long time ago. You have to be in your 70s to remember Vera Lynn on the BBC in wartime. Now a CD of some of her songs has just been re-released, and it is in the Top Twenty. Who is buying it? Are there queues of old people outside the record shops? Or do people buy the CD for their grannies? Or is it just that we English are in love with the past? I don’t know, but Vera Lynn – who is now 92 years old – has definitely made a comeback.


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