Archive | July 2017

WEP 290617 – International Brigade Memorial

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Rugby-born and Barcelona-based artist Rob MacDonald wants to create a memorial to honour International brigadistas who died in 1937 when their ship was sunk by a fascist torpedo. ECP coach John Hird spoke with him recently.

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

bigotry: intolerance to those who hold different views.

the Internationale: song of socialism and the international working class.

namesake a person or thing that has the same name as another.

As luck would have it: expression meaning ‘fortunately’

matched: be the same as

nodded: a movement up and down with the head

carved: cut to produce an artistic design.

portholes: to small exterior windows on a ship.


The brigadistas stood for solidarity, justice and freedom; for an equal world for all humanity. In this time when right wing popularism is achieving large votes in various places around the world, it is more important than ever that we combat bigotry and blame towards foreigners, immigrants and refugees.

The International Brigadistas came from across the globe in the late 1930s to stand alongside Republican Spain in the civil war, united to stop the rise of the fascist far right.

On 30th May 1937, the Ciudad de Barcelona, a ship bringing around 300 brigadistas from France, was sunk by a fascist torpedo just off the coast of Malgrat de Mar, Catalonia.

In this the 80th anniversary historical research is still being carried out as the ship was sailing in clandestine conditions. At least 45 people died that day, many unknown, lost in the sea. Local people in Malgrat de Mar rescued many but still more more were trapped in the ship.

Rob MacDonald describes these people as heroes. “These heroes gave their lives for the dream of a better world for all. They were not defending a country, they were fighting for an idea: Complete equality for all humanity.”
“We must not forget them or the local people they came to stand with,” he explains, “What they all fought for are valuable lessons in today’s world. We want to create a memorial to honour both those brigadistas and the local people of Malgrat de Mar and we believe the best way is by bringing the local and international communities together once again. That is what the project Solidarity Park is about!”

The artist’s inspiration was taken from the reports of the Brigadistas singing the Internationale as the boat sank. This includes accounts of the artist’s namesake “Rob MacDonald”.

Solidarity Park is visualised to be a place of use where people can sit, interact and contemplate on these valuable lessons of the past.

The art work consists of 60 sculpted figures depicted singing aboard a conceptual ship, which has seating designed as waves. Each sculpted figure will be identical in form, representing the unity of the struggle of the Brigadistas, but each will have individual carved features thus expressing the diversity of us all.

Included on the sides of the sculpted monument will be “community portholes”. These will be stone carved windows to the past, telling the story of the wider events of the day. It is intended that these will be designed by local secondary school students.

MacDonald ends by saying: “The real ship may have sunk, but this conceptual ship will not. Instead, it will be riding high across a stone patio map of the world, thus making it a symbol of the resilience of human solidarity.”

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

Give reasons for your answers.

  • There are two ‘Rob MacDonalds’ mentioned in the text. Who are they?
  • Had you ever heard of the Ciudad de Barcelona before reading the article?
  • Are you surprised that International Brigadistas came to Spain to fight fascism?
  • Do you think the victims of fascism should be remembered or should we forgive and forget? 
  • Would you be prepared to fight for a cause?
  • ‘’If we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it.’  Do you agree?
  • What would you build a memorial to?



WEP 230617 – Have You Met Any Of These Idiots?

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You will feel better about yourself when you read these short stories

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

outages: a period when a power supply or other service is not available

receipt: piece of paper with the information of a transaction

clerk: a person employed in an office

As luck would have it: expression meaning ‘fortunately’

matched: be the same as

nodded: a movement up and down with the head

luncheon: a formal word for lunch

deer in the headlights: to be paralysed by surprise, fear or confusion

dealership: an establishment authorized to buy and sell specific goods

feverishly: very actively or with great excitement



This week, our phones went dead and I had to contact the telephone repair people. They promised to be out between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. When I asked if they could give me a smaller time window, the pleasant  gentleman asked, “Would you like us to call you before we come?” I replied that I didn’t see how he would be able to do that since our phones weren’t working. He also requested that we report future outages by email. Does YOUR email work without a telephone line?


I was signing the receipt for my credit card purchase when the clerk noticed I had never signed my name on  the back of the credit card. She informed me that she could not complete the transaction unless the card was signed. When I asked why, she explained that it was necessary to compare the signature I had just signed on the receipt. So I signed the credit card in front of her. She carefully compared the signature to the one I had just signed on the receipt. As luck would have it, they  matched!


I live in a semi-rural area. We recently had a new neighbour call the local township administrative office to request the removal of the ‘Deer Crossing’ sign on our road. The reason? Too many deer were being hit by cars and she didn’t want them to cross there anymore.


My daughter went to a local Taco Bell and ordered a taco. She  asked the person behind the counter for “minimal lettuce.” He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg.


I was at the airport,  checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, “Has anyone put anything  in your baggage without your knowledge?” To which I replied, “If it was without  my knowledge, how would I know?” She smiled knowingly and nodded, “That’s why we ask.”


At a good-bye luncheon for an old and dear co-worker who is leaving the company due to “downsizing,” our  manager commented cheerfully, “This is fun. We should do this more often.” Not a word was spoken. We all just looked at each other with that deer-in-the-headlights stare.


When my wife and I arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up our car, we were told the keys had been locked in it. We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver’s side  door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door  handle and discovered that it was unlocked. “Hey,” I announced to the technician, “it’s open!” To which he replied, “I know – I already done that side.”

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

Give reasons for your answers.

  • Tell your favourite story from the article in your own words.
  • Do you have a story of your own? Please tell us.
  • Have you ever been the idiot? Please explain.
  • How did you react in each situation? 
  • How would you have reacted in each of the short stories above?


Adapted from:


WEP 150617 – Are VIP Packages Ruining Rock Festivals?

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“Watching some guy get a pedicure in an air-conditioned tent is not very rock & roll”

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

muddy: mud is a mix of water (rain) and earth

sweaty: when we get hot our body sweats (perspires)

to shuttle: to move regularly between two places

couch: a sofa or a reclining seat with a headrest

restroom: (American English) a toilet in a public area

to check out: get information about something

bunk: a narrow bed, typically one on top of another

hot tub: a typically round container filled with hot water

sweltering: to be uncomfortably hot

to offset: to compensate for something

fees: a payment made to a professional for their services

headline band: the most important band at a festival

revenue: money that comes in from selling products/services

huge: very big


This summer, all over the world, you’ll be able to pay to watch stars like Depeche Mode and Ed Sheeran while standing in a huge, possibly very muddy, field amid tens of thousands of other, probably very sweaty, music fans.

Or you could paid several hundred, or thousand, euros to get shuttled to the side of the stage from the nearby air-conditioned safari tent, which has a comfortable couch, wooden flooring, a queen-size bed and charging points. You’ll be able to drink from a private bar, use a private, air-conditioned restroom, swim in a private pool and get advice on the next band to check out from a personal concierge.

That’s just one example of how some music festivals cater more and more to rock’s one percent. At the Bonnaroo festival in June (Tennessee, USA), well-off fans can opt for the ‘Roll Like a Rockstar’ package, which for $30,000 per group gets you a bunk in an air-conditioned tour bus and three gourmet meals a day. At the Alabama festival Hangout, the beach in front of the main stage has $1,600 hot tubs.

Andy Cirzan, of Chicago-based promoter Jam Productions, sums it up: “While you are sweltering in 30-degree heat you can see some asshole sitting in an air-conditioned tent getting a pedicure. It’s so not rock & roll.”

“When I look at the VIP section, I see people folding their arms, looking serious,” says Alex Chorosevic, a 22-year-old graduate who attends Lollapalooza regularly. “It’s like they paid $1,000 to say, ‘I have more money than you.'”

However, promoters say that the VIP areas help offset the increasingly high fees of the headline bands, as much as $4 million, according to concert-business sources.

VIP packages for concerts began in the early Nineties, when stars, promoters and Ticketmaster executives created a “golden circle” program for high-priced prime seats. Over time, the gap between the cheapest and the most expensive tickets has grown into airline-style “dynamic pricing,” a way of separating first class from economy, to the point that regular tickets for the upcoming Beyoncé-Jay Z stadium shows cost as little as $35 yet platinum seats cost $1,750.

As prices have risen, though, VIP packages have come to account for five to 10 percent of a festival’s overall revenue.

Festivals say that they work hard to design high-end “experiences” that avoid dividing music fans into social classes. But as sales of albums continue to fall, VIP sections have become accepted as a necessity by many artists and managers. “Festivals are a huge risk to organise,” says Buck Williams, agent for Widespread Panic. “Selling sponsorships or VIP packages is a way to guarantee enough revenue.”

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

Give reasons for your answers.

  • Have you ever been to a music festival?
  • If so, describe the experience (the price, the weather, the music, the atmosphere, etc).
  • Have you ever paid extra to fly in Business Class or First Class on an airplane?
  • If so, describe the differences with economy class
  • Describe any ‘luxury’ or ‘VIP’ experiences you have had (restaurants, hotels, breakfast in bed, etc).


Adapted from:


WEP 080617 – Leo Varadkar, Gay Son Of Indian Immigrant, To Be Next Irish PM

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The 38-year-old politician will replace outgoing taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny after winning Fine Gael leadership contest

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

to come out (of the closet): to announce to family and friends that you are homosexual

outgoing (context): leaving a job

step forward: progress

background: a person’s education, experience and  social circumstances

stiff (context): severe or strong

to tally: count

to humble: to (cause feel less important and proud

to devote: to give most of your time or resources to s.t.


The son of an Indian immigrant who came out as gay in 2015 will be the next Irish prime minister, after he was voted leader of the country’s main governing party.

Leo Varadkar’s victory in the Fine Gael leadership contest on Friday, which took place after outgoing PM, Enda Kenny, announced his resignation last month, marks another significant step forward for equality in the country, after 2015’s gay marriage referendum.

As well as becoming Ireland’s first gay prime minister, Varadkar, 38, will also become the country’s youngest leader, and the first from an ethnic minority background. His position will be confirmed later this month when parliament resumes after a break.

Varadkar faced a stiffer-than-expected challenge in the centre-right Fine Gael election from his rival, Simon Coveney. Speaking after the final votes were tallied in Dublin, Varadkar said he was delighted, humbled and honoured to win. Coveney joked that at least his children would be pleased that he had lost.

Kenny said Varadkar had his full support. “This is a tremendous honour for him and I know he will devote his life to improving the lives of people across our country,” he said. “I want to also thank and pay tribute to Simon Coveney for making the leadership election a real contest. This has been a wonderful exercise in democracy for the Fine Gael party.”

Varadkar’s father, Ashok, who comes from Mumbai, met his Irish mother, Miriam, while they both worked at an English hospital in Slough in the 1960s.

LGBT groups in Ireland welcomed the domestic focus on Varadkar’s ideology. “I think it’s really significant that both his party and the media in Ireland focused on his policies, rather than him simply being a gay man who wants to lead the country,” said Brian Finnegan, the editor of Gay Community News in Dublin.

“It is a sign of how much Ireland has changed and moved on that no one really cares if he is gay here. Irish politicians were among the last sectors of our society to come out of the closet but now at least we’ve got one gay man and a lesbian, Catherine Zappone, both in the cabinet. That would have been unthinkable perhaps even 10 years ago.”

In the 2015 interview with RTE radio when he came out, Varadkar said: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician, for that matter. It’s just part of who I am. It doesn’t define me. It is part of my character, I suppose.”

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

Give reasons for your answers.

  • Look at the text again and find 5 adjectives that describe feelings/emotions
  • How have people’s attitudes changed towards homosexuality in the last 10/25/50 years?
  • Do you think it would be difficult to come out? (see vocabulary list) Why/not?
  • How difficult is it to become successful as an immigrant in a new country?
  • Can you think of any advantages of being a gay / an immigrant politician?
  • How many of your friends are gay? Are you sure?


Adapted from: The Guardian


WEP 010617 – My Obsession With Kit Eclipsed My Love Of Running

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Vassos Alexander, sports reporter for The Guardian, explains why ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

gear/kit: the clothes and tools you use to do a sport

tights: thin leggings

to fall for sth: to fall in love with sth

cheerfully: in a happy mood

jog: a gentle run

tracksuit: sweater and trousers for running

sweatband: elastic wristbands to absorb sweat

pursuit: activity

to creep: to move slowly without being noticed

gadgetry: technological items

lurid: too bright and colourful


Cycling, fishing, golf… certain sports come with a love of equipment as standard. But running is meant to be simpler, isn’t it? The purest form of exercise. Just lace up your trainers and get out there. When Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens, he probably wasn’t wearing compression tights.

I only started running because I was putting on weight in my mid-30s. I failed to reach the end of the street on my first-ever run – I set off too fast, paused to breathe, and ended up walking back home. But then I fell for it hard. I soon realised running was doing much more for me than just keeping the weight off. It gave me space – mental, emotional and physical. If I wanted to solve a problem, I’d go for a run. If I was feeling tired, anxious, lethargic, I’d go for a run. The benefits were making themselves felt in every part of my life. I was soon doing it every day, often twice.

Within a few years, I was cheerfully signing up for ultra- marathons and triathlons (I once attempted one of each on the same weekend). I discovered I was living in a golden age of the runner. Back in the 80s, when people went out for a jog, all you needed was a tracksuit – accessorised, perhaps, with a headband and matching sweatbands. The only piece of tech you required was a Walkman to keep you moving to the beat of “Eye of the Tiger”. But now that “jogging” had transformed into the more serious pursuit of “running”, there was endless kit to be had. The tech crept into my life in increments. It started with the search for the perfect pair of trainers. Then came the base layers – top and tights – that promised to be “injury-reducing, temperature-controlling and moisture-managing”. Next, socks. Most weeks I’d emerge from a running shop armed with another must-have accessory. My growing collection of running-related paraphernalia was fast becoming obscene.

You’d think all this gadgetry would be making my runs more enjoyable. But instead they were becoming more stressful. Dressed in my lurid gear, I’d stand in the middle of the road waiting for my watch to find a satellite signal. Even during a supposedly easy run, I’d check it every few minutes to discover how fast I was going.

Eventually, I concluded that the watch and the gear were keeping me away from the simplicity and beauty of running. They had to go. I threw them into my rucksack and took them to a local charity shop.

A sports psychologist once shared with me the wisdom of Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity,” he told me. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

Give reasons for your answers.

  • Look at the text again and find 5 adjectives that describe feelings
  • Do you consider yourself a runner?
  • What items do you think are necessary for a runner?
  • Do you like to buy gadgets and technologically advanced gear for sports?
  • What are some reasons people choose to run?
  • Are there any disadvantages to running?
  • Do you agree with the Leonardo da Vinci quote at the end? Why (not)?


Adapted from: The Guardian


WEP 250517 – Álava/Araba… Unexpected Beauty

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ECP coach Rob has lived in Vitoria for over two decades and as a keen photographer he loves exploring Álava and discovering its varied and often surprising scenery. Here are 10 of his favourite, and perhaps less well-known, places.

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

skirmishes: small, short encounters between armed forces

barracks: the buildings where soldiers live.

overgrown: covered with wild plants

overrun: extending to and occupying a large area


1) Labraza

Rioja Alavesa is one of the most beautiful places in the world and right at the eastern end is this tiny yet monumental village that nobody seems to know about. Completely surrounded by defensive walls Labraza offers views of Logroño and La Rioja and is a great place to stroll round before visiting the more typical sights.

2) Gujuli

After heavy rain this 100m high waterfall is a stunning sight, especially if approached from the north after crossing the railway line. The official view point is on the south side of the canyon and is signposted from the main road.

3) The Hermitage of Santa Teodisia

To see the hermitage and its outstanding views of the valley of Arana first you need to drive  (or cycle) up the mountain passes of Opakua and Iturrieta. Then take a left just before you arrive at Roitegui, Álava’s highest village (957m). Try not to run over any of the hundreds of horses that graze on these high altitude plains!

4) Cerro de Jundiz and Inglesmendi

Everyone knows about the monument to the Battle of Vitoria in La Virgen Blanca but you need to go out past the industrial estate of Jundiz to truly understand how the battle played out on 21st June 1813. Read the information panels to find out more about the battle as well as other skirmishes that have taken place at this strategic point over the centuries. Why is it called the ‘Hill Of The English’?

5) Santa Catalina Botanical Gardens

Built in the 15th century, this monastery was abandoned in 1835. It was used as a barracks in the first Carlist war before being burned down and left in ruins. Luckily, in 1999, the council of Iruña de Oca repossessed the grounds and created the botanical gardens. Slowly but surely, a truly special place has blossomed in this previously overgrown and forgotten valley.

6) The Hermitage of San Formerio

Technically this is Burgos but as the saying goes “Trebiñu, Araba da” 😉  You can drive up to the hermitage from the village of Pangua but it’s much more fun to park the car in the hamlet of Muergas and walk round and up the curves of the hill and then through the shaded woods up top. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of a deer of some other wildlife! Once at San Formerio you can enjoy the spectacular 360º views of the County of Treviño.

7) Aramaio

‘Little Switzerland’, as this area is known, has beautiful walks and alpine scenery, as well as a couple of ‘Cider Houses’ (sidrerías’). Need I say more?

8) The Sanctuary of Oro

This is a well known location overlooking Gorbeia, but what many people don’t know is that there is a great bar at the Sanctuary with some top quality tapas and set meals. It’s perfect for lunch after scrambling up the hill and along the rocky crest to the summit and back.

9) Lalastra

Drive an hour west from Vitoria (60km) and you’ll be rewarded with the wonderful Valderejo Natural Park. In the village of Lalastra the friendly guides in the tourist office will indicate which of the dozen walks would be best suited for you. Some many routes to choose from, so little time!

10) Portilla Castle

This is another historical monument that had been virtually overrun by undergrowth. Now however, it has new information panels and lovely walkways that allow you to take the family up to and around this old castle and enjoy its glorious views. At the foot of the castle, recent excavations have unearthed parts of the old, walled village of Villavieja.

Where would you recommend going in Álava?

See page 2 of the pdf for pictures and questions.

Rob Hextall has lived in Alava since 1994 and has no intention of going anywhere else 🙂


WEP 180517 – When in Rome… (do as the Romans do)

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Spaniards are generally warm and friendly but there are some things that visitors do that provoke raised eyebrows.

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

raise eyebrows: to cause surprise or mild disapproval

glances: take a brief or hurried look

awkward: causing or feeling uneasy embarrassment or inconvenience

spotted sporting: seen wearing

weird: strange

strolling: walk in a leisurely way

to binge:  to do something in excess especially drinking alcohol or watching episodes of a TV series

to be on a bender: to spend a short time drinking a large amount of alcohol


So here’s a guide to help foreigners in Spain avoid provoking sidewards glances and awkward silences.

1) Shaking hands

Spanish people always kiss each other on the cheeks to greet each other. It is always two kisses and it takes place when you are introduced to someone even if it is the first time you meet them. If the greeting is between two men it’s a thump on the back, or a wave of the hand. Any other form of greeting in Spain will be met with befuddlement. Attempt just one kiss and you will leave the Spaniards kissing in mid-air and if you stick out your arm for a handshake then expect it to be pulled in and met with the double kiss.

2) Wearing the wrong sort of clothing out of season

There are strict unwritten rules determining what to wear in Spain. The winter wardrobe is not packed away until the clocks go back at the end of March regardless of an early Spring warm spell. Short trousers are rarely seen as appropriate unless in the height of summer or at the beach and women of a certain age can be spotted sporting their fur coats in cities in central and northern Spain until at least Easter. I think it is also worth mentioning that socks and sandals don’t go.

3) Eating food inappropriately (either early, at your desk, or on the move)

Attempting to eat your evening meal anytime before 9pm is considered just plain weird in Spain, likewise don’t attempt to sit down for lunch before 2pm. And don’t even think about rushing your meal. Meals are social occasions to savour and enjoy.

So no eating sandwiches at your desk and prepare for some very strange looks if you unwrap a bocadillo while on the bus or the metro, or, heaven forbid, while you are actually strolling down the street.

4) Tipping

Spanish people do tip, but not always and never very much. It may be standard in Anglophone countries to add ten percent to your bill when served at a table but Spaniards as a whole are happy to leave a few coins, and only if they consider the service to be exemplary.

5) Drinking too much

Although Spain is full of bars and drinking alcohol is very much part of everyday culture, there isn’t the same culture of binge drinking that exists in northern European countries such as Britain. Ordering a pint instead of the more usual ‘caña’ raises eyebrows in the expectation that the drinker is on a ‘bender’.  Tapas is considered an accompaniment to drinking and not a replacement for dinner.

6) Being too polite

The occasional ‘por favor’ will be forgiven, but Spaniards don’t quite know how to react to those visitors who insist on apologizing willy-nilly for everything from accidentally bumping elbows to arriving five minutes late.

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

Give reasons for your answers.

  • What connection does the title “When in Rome” have to the text?
  • In your opinion, is the double kiss always appropriate?
  • Should men be allowed to wear shorts to work?
  • Are eating habits in Spain changing?
  • Are the Spanish “polite”?


adapted from:


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