Month: September 2008

Bill Clinton on Comedy Central

I really enjoyed watching Bill Clinton on Jon Stewart’s interview segment for Comedy Central last night. Usually this is a very funny part of the show, when a guest comes on and there is some undertone of seriousness, but always Jon Stewart reserves the right to poke fun at anything his guest says.

Last night it was as though all gratuitous humour had been suspended, because Bill Clinton went into an explanation of the economic crisis, and there was a hush in the audience- even Jon Stewart refrained from his usual wisecracks. I think it was because everyone has been feeling very confused about the whole economic crisis. Apart from a few people who are financially savvy, there is a general feeling among Americans of wandering about in the dark, not knowing how they got there in the first place.

 So when Bill Clinton started his explanation- which was thorough and yet accessible- people realised that this was their chance to get the real picture. There was no fudging and no agenda. Just facts and a reasonable analysis that any layperson could understand. The closest comparison I can find is from Harry Potter.

Hang on- Harry Potter? That’s right. In the second book, the students are all worried about the heir of Slytherin opening the Chamber of Secrets and don’t know how to sort fact from rumour as both fly fast and furious around the school. So when Professor McGonagall is asked in class (I think it is Hermione who asks her) about the issue, she realises that everyone really needs to know what is going on. So she suspends the lesson and gives a clear and complete explanation, which everyone- Gryffindor and Slytherin alike- pays close attention to. Just for that moment, learning is taking place not because it is a classroom and people are supposed to listen to the teacher, but because the students have a vested interest in gaining the knowledge- their lives depend upon it.

At the end of the Daily Show, it was as though Bill and Jon were father and son.  Never have I seen Stewart look so respectful. I must say that while I enjoy his satire and sarcasm, this was a nice change. And Bill Clinton completely deserved the respect.


Matt Harding Interview

Remember Matt the dancing guy? Here is a youtube video of him being interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel. I thought you might find it interesting. He has a certain charm, doesn’t he? It comes from the smile and the ease of movement, I think. The vocabulary leaves a lot to be desired though- notice how much trouble host and guest have getting the ideas phrased! I must apologise for one slightly risque joke, but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so here is the interview in its entirety. Viewer discretion is advised!

One for the Phrase Book

This is a very well written article about teamwork versus individual glory. I include it here for you because there are some very good words and phrases that you can pick up and add to your phrase book. The article appeared in the Straits Times today (Tuesday, 16th September, 2008).
Priceless lesson in teamwork

By Rohit Brijnath, Sporting Life
Englishman Nick Faldo, the European Ryder Cup captain, is a fellow of cold calculation. — PHOTO: REUTERS

SOMETHING has to be seriously commendable about a sports event that makes jet-owning millionaires want to throw up all over their cashmere sweaters when there’s not even a cent at stake.Something has to be praiseworthy about a Cup that turns well-groomed individualists into knee-shaking wrecks just because the fate of other men hangs on their six-foot putt.

How arduous the Ryder Cup, to be held this weekend, can be, was best explained by Billy Casper way back in 1967: ‘Did you ever try to hit a golf ball without any oxygen in your system?’

Golf needs this every-two-years, nail-chomping continental showdown as much as tennis needs its annual Davis Cup. Because every now and then, men, who swear by the cult of individualism, need to be introduced to the idea of team. Especially in a self-absorbed sporting world whose hymn is ‘I Me and Myself’.

Top athletes work hard and are pampered harder. They don’t pay for anything, often even their indiscretions.

In tennis, it is not unknown for the odd player to use a new, free pair of shoes every match. In golf, Anthony Kim, after two tournament wins, is not a potentially good player, he is already a ‘superstar’. In the air-conditioned cocoons they live in, hype is served for breakfast.

But in these Cups, the best teams are made of those who put ‘I’ away in temporary storage. Here, individual ego is not invited, entourages are to be left at home and a whole new mindset learnt.

Golfers may not like a fellow pro for 51 weeks, but must now trust him as a teammate; they may have been outplayed by a rival the previous week but must now sacrifice for him. Welcome to the idea of teamwork.

Severiano Ballesteros, the brilliant Ryder Cup player, was once teamed with a rookie and quickly felt the pressure. As Laurent St John recounted in her book Seve, the Spaniard said: ‘Every shot, I’m trying to play my shot, I’m trying to play his shot. I feel like his father.’.

To which European captain Tony Jacklin tapped his temple and replied: ‘Seve, you are his father in here, that’s why you’re playing with him.’

Ballesteros and the rookie did not lose a match.

Although jingoism is known to flare, these Cups still have the scent of old-fashioned sport. No ranking points are on offer, nor crass mentions made of bonuses.

Individual sport is a hard, rewarding business, but competing in a nation’s name, or in the cause of a continent, offers that rare feeling of playing for something larger than yourself. It is a humbling responsibility to give your everything for a Cup your name will never be on.

John Newcombe, the legendary Australian, reminded his players when he was Davis Cup captain: ‘Roy Emerson once told me that if you lose when playing for Australia, you better leave your blood on the court.’

In golf, too, a man may give less than his best on tour when playing for himself, but not when playing for other men in this Cup. And when it is all over, no stiff cardboard cheque with an oversized amount awaits, but emotional hugs and sloppy kisses from fellows who most weeks settle for a brisk handshake.

America did not lose a Ryder Cup between 1957 and 1977, and now has lost five of the past six Cups. In general terms, this is a nation that courts individualism; Europe, which hasn’t had a No.1 since 1993, has relied on team. The team are known to share cigars; Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, when paired together, barely shared a glance.

ESPN STAR Sports commentator Alan Wilkins suggests ‘there is more harmony on the European tour’. Richard Harries, a British teaching professional in Singapore, points out that US collegiate golf focuses on strokeplay. But in Britain, even juniors play foursomes a lot, and ‘you’re used to carrying the burden of your partner’.

Pride is mostly what the winning team leave with, and pride is precisely what sparks emotion. Certainly it will not be a quiet Cup this week.

Ballesteros once said of the present US captain: ‘The American team have 11 nice guys … and Paul Azinger’, while American Scott Hoch once noted of the present European captain, ‘Nick Faldo is as much fun as Saddam Hussein’.

Eventually, the Americans have to win a Cup, and Faldo may have given them a gentle assist by leaving out Darren Clarke. The Northern Irishman would have brought emotion (the story of his wife’s death and his own brilliant performance thereafter in the 2006 Ryder Cup is unforgettable), form, jokes and cigars to his team.

But Faldo, who used to cycle home as a boy with his blistered hands dripping in blood, is a fellow of cold calculation.

Perhaps this brilliant, methodical golfer, who has won more Ryder Cup points than any man, has his campaign perfectly worked out. But, perhaps, a noted individualist is not quite certain what exactly the ingredients of team are.

Answers to grammar exercise

Here are the answers to the exercises on tense that we did in class. Just for your information, they are taken from Raymond Murphy’s “English Grammar in Use”, which is a good book for teaching grammar, but tedious to learn from on your own unless you are highly motivated.

Unit 13: Present perfect and past (1) (“I have done” and “I did”)


2. has gone to bed

3. has fallen/ has dropped/ has gone down

4. has turned on the light/ has turned the light on/ has turned it on

5. has grown

6. has taken off


3. went

4. has gone

5. have forgotten

6. forgot

7. had

8. has been

9. haven’t finished

10. has just gone

11. arrested

12. gave… have lost

13. was… has disappeared

14. have improved


3. wrong- did Shakespeare write

4. right

5. wrong- was

6. right

7. wrong- My grandparents got married

8. wrong- were you born

9. right

10. wrong- was the scientist who developed


2. has broken; did that happen; fell

3. Have you had; cut; Did you go; did

Unit 14: Present perfect and past (2) (“I have done” and “I did”)


3. right

4. wrong- I bought

5. wrong- were you

6. wrong- Jenny left school

7. right

8. right

9. wrong- wasn’t

10. wrong- When was this book published


2. The weather has been cold recently

3. It was cold last week

4. I didn’t read a newspaper yesterday

5. I haven’t read a newspaper today

6. Ann has earned a lot of money this year

7. She didn’t earn so much last year

8. Have you had a holiday recently?


2. got… was… went

3. Have you washed it? (Also possible- Did you wash it?)

4. wasn’t

5. worked

6. has lived

7. Did you go… was… was

8. died… never met

9. have never met

10. I’m afraid he has gone out. When exactly did he go out?

11. How long have you lived there? Where did you live before that? And how long did you live in Chicago?

14.4 (Example answers)

2. I haven’t bought anything today.

3. I didn’t watch TV yesterday.

4. I went out with some friends yesterday evening.

5. I haven’t been to the cinema recently.

6. I’ve been swimming a lot recently.

Unit 15: Past perfect (“I had done”)


2. It had changed a lot.

3. She had arranged to do something else.

4. The film had already begun.

5. I hadn’t seen him for five years.

6. She had just had breakfast.


2. I had never seen her before.

3. He had never played tennis before.

4. We had never been there before/ we had never been to Denmark before.


1. called the police

2. there was… had gone

3. had just come back from holiday; looked very well

4. had a phone call from Sally; was; had written to her; had never replied to his letters


2. went

3. had gone

4. broke

5. saw… had broken… stopped

Unit 16: Past perfect continuous (“I had been doing”)


2. They had been playing football.

3. Somebody had been smoking in the room.

4. She had been dreaming.

5. He had been watching TV.


2. I had been waiting for 20 minutes when I suddenly realised that I was in the wrong restaurant.

3. At the time the factory closed down, Sarah had been working there for five years.

4. The orchestra had been playing for about ten minutes when a man in the audience suddenly began shouting.

5. Example answer: I had been walking along the road for about ten minutes when a car suddenly stopped just behind me.


3. was walking

4. had been running

5. were eating

6. had been eating (also possible- had eaten)

7. was looking

8. was waiting… had been waiting

9. had had

10. had been travelling

In Mrs V’s past life…

I think I have pretty much shared this with everyone I have come into contact with, but just to put it on permanent record (or at least- as permanent as it can be when it has no actual tangible form!), I took a looong break from teaching to raise my children before coming back to Swiss Cottage last year. In that time there were quite a few things I did that helped me to become who I am today. One of the things was to head the Parents’ Support Group of St Anthony’s Primary School. Yes- I was Chairperson from 2004 to 2008, so some of you who are from that school may have found my face familiar when I stepped into your classroom. In this role, I learned a great many lessons about how to get things done efficiently while allowing people to retain their self-respect, how to handle conflicting demands on time and energy, and how to manage people and situations such that opposing viewpoints do not mushroom into a threat to the organization as a whole. It sounds like heavy-duty stuff, doesn’t it? Well, I am not going to pretend that it was on the same level as running the country or anything (after all, no one from the government has approached me to run for Prime Minister yet!), but it gave me valuable experience in many areas, and I have no regrets about taking on the job.

The best part about the whole thing was that I got to meet very special people. The children we read stories to and jumped around with in the hall while the teachers were having contact time, the other parents I made paper lanterns with and decorated the school with for festive occasions, the teachers we planned events with and the principal, Mr Thomas Koh, who gave my team so much support and whom I respect and still approach for guidance and advice about so many issues.

I made lasting friendships with women of compassion, courage and wisdom. Even today when I am no longer with the group, I know that I have only to ask, and they will come to my aid, just as I would to theirs were they to ask it.

I have just stepped down from the School Council of which I was a member for the last 3 years. It was with difficulty that I cut the last ties with the school. I spent very happy years in a school that, with characteristic generosity, allowed me to be a part of it. Everytime I come to work at Swiss Cottage I look up at the St Anthony’s building, and when I see the words written there, I am comforted: “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” I don’t think it matters which god you believe in. Divinity is something that is in all of us, and the more we share it, the more it grows.

The staff, students and parents of St Anthony’s are blessed because they live this important lesson everyday.