Mind your language

  • What a Pantomime!

    What is a Christmas Panto?

    I know it’s not quite the season to talk about Christmas but, after visiting Dublin in March, I felt an explanation was due as to what a “pantomime” is.

    According to Wikipedia it is

    ..a British institution. Pantomimes take place around the Christmas period and are nearly always based on well known children’s stories such as Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc. Pantomimes are performed not only in the best theatres in the land but also in village halls throughout Britain.


    A British Tradition

    To most non-British the word ‘pantomime’ refers to the act of ‘miming‘ (to use no sound i.e. only gesture or movement to act out a role) and can lead to some confusion. The modern-day pantomimes are a musical theatre production for the whole family which usually takes place around Christmas and New year.

    Most cities in England put on a pantomime (or panto) and it has become a family Christmas tradition. I remember going to York Theatre Royal to see Peter Pan with my family – ranging from 6 months to 70 years old- a good time was had by all. My 3 year son old went home with vivid memories (slightly traumatised by the baddy, Captain Hook) and a plastic sword and hook.

    The Essentials of a Pantomime

    The typical panto has 2 layers of humour: slapstick, buffoonery and gags which the kids love and then a more subtle array of mild sexual innuendoes and in-jokes. If you ever go to one these are some of the conventional ingredients you’ll find:

    • a storyline based on a fairy story e.g. Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella or Dick Whittington
    • audience participation: be it shouting or singing. The most popular examples: to warn our hero we shout “Behind you!” or we argue “…oh no you’re not!” or boo when the baddy comes on stage.
    • tomfoolery: the throwing of custard tarts, a messy kitchen scene
    • a final act sing-a-long including performers and audience.
    • A happy ending

    The traditional characters

    The principal boy, who is nearly always a girl dressed in breeches

    The Dame, who is nearly always a man in drag

    A pantomime horse (or cow or camel), which is played by 2 actors in an animal costume

    A villain e.g. a wizard or wicked stepmother

    A good fairy

    Celebrity Appearance

    To add to the entertainment and marketing value, celebrity guests are invited to take part in the piece. It can be rather curious and amusing to see a TV soap opera actor playing “Buttons” (a male servant) in Cinderella.

    Dame Mother Goose 2023

    One of the current greats in pantomime is Sir Ian McKellan, the Shakespearean actor, who has mastered his role as the pantomime dame. A critic said of Ian McKellen in a 2004 Aladdin that he:

    “lets down his hair and lifts up his skirt to reveal a nifty pair of legs and an appetite for double entendre:

    Michael Billington

    We were witness to McKellan’s Mother Goose performance on the Dublin stage. It was brilliant. Not bad for a 83 year old.

  • What’s in a Name?

    How do you say that?

    I have learnt from many of my German friends that English is not the most logical of languages – especially when it comes to the pronunciation of certain words. What I love about German is, generally, what you see is what you get.

    Place Names

    Have you heard of these places? How do you pronounce them?

    • Leicester ( pronounced Lesta): The name of this city probably first started to cause irritation after its football team unexpectedly won the Premier League in 2015-2016. How people love an underdog!
    • Worcestershire (Wustasha): A county located in the West Midlands of England. A lovely brown sauce (Lea & Perrins) which has become a culinary favourite for many.
    • Edinburgh (Edinburra/Edinbru): The capital of Scotland. Spoken in a strong Scottish accent can add to the confusion.

    Letter combinations

    Unlike some languages in which one letter corresponds to one sound, English uses a complicated (and largely irregular) spelling system in which most sounds are represented by groups of several letters.

    I am amazed how a native English speaking child masters this so early in their education. Learning to spell words with “ee”, “ch”, “ai”, “wh”, “ow”, “th” or “ough” is no easy matter. How do you pronounce though, through, thought or Slough?

    Irish Names

    I must apologise to the Irish illustrator, Niamh Sharkey, because I recently pronounced her name completely wrong. How ignorant am I! The Irish pronunciation was “fremd” to me but after a little research I am a little more familiar…until next time. Have you ever wondered about these lovely names?

    • Siobhán (pronounced: Shiv-awn)
    • Niamh ( Neev)
    • Sean (Shawn)
    • Pádraig (Paw-drig or paw-rick)
    • Aoife ( Eee-fah)
    • Eoghan (Ow-an)
    • Caoimhe (kwee-va or kee-va)
    • Roisin (ro-sheen)

    Let’s not get started with this Welsh place name Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.

  • Playing by Ear

    I recently came across the expression “to play it by ear” which means basically “go with the flow”; in other words – act according to the situation depending how it develops. What a lovely saying!

    Having checked the derivation it confirmed what I thought. Musicians ‘play by ear’ when they reproduce music without written notes. It’s usually done from memory and the player uses his or her ears to work out whether the notes are correct.

    Be Spontaneous!

    When it comes to reproducing music by ear I think I am ok. In real life, however, I must say I’m not very good at playing things by ear. Improvisation is not my strength and I like to plan ahead. Maybe I should try to be more spontaneous.

    How good are you at “playing it by ear”? Some people are prone “to winging it” but this is not the same. That’s another post I think 🙂

  • That’s Crowned it!

    Just in case you didn’t realise it – I am a fan of Netflix and I especially enjoy watching a good old historical drama. At the end of 2020 all the talk was about season 4 of “The Crown”. For some reason I’m not interested in watching this drama which follows the royal “ins and outs” during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Maybe it’s because I was part of that history and don’t want to admit that I’m getting old!

    A Trip to the Dentist

    The mention of the word “crown” brings to mind my recent visits to my dentist. I must admit to having a fear of dentists (dentophobia) or rather, not of the actual person, but more of the pain they may inflect.

    It’s important that you find a dentist who you trust and understands how you feel. Being able to communicate is vital. Of course this is not easy when you have someone poking around in your mouth. Here are some useful words I have had to master over the years….maybe they will be of use if you have to visit the dentist (God forbid!)

    Dental Vocabulary

    • der Zahnarztstuhl: dentist chair
    • die Zahnschmerzen: toothache
    • die Karies/das Loch; tooth decay/cavity
    • ausspühlen: to rinse out
    • der Mundgeruch: bad breath
    • Arzthelfer(in): medical/dental assistant
    • zur Kontrolle: check-up
    • die Füllung ist dicht: the filling is ok
    • dir eine Spritze geben /eine Betäubung machen: give you an injection/anesthetic
    • Wirkt die (örtliche )Betäübung schon? Has the (local) anesthetic working?
    • Meine Lippe und Zunge sind taub: my lip and tongue are numb.
    • der Bohre: the drill
    • Weisheitszahn gezogen: wisdom tooth pulled
    • das Provisorium gemacht: provisional e.g. a provisional crown
    • man beugt Zahnbeleg vor indem man Zahnseide benutzt: you prevent dental decay by using dental floss
    • das Eiter: pus
    • der Speichel: saliva
    • fädenziehen: to remove stitches
    • Zahnfleischbluten und Entzündungen/: bleeding and inflammation of the gums

    I am almost looking forward to my next dental treatment because my dentist has now got laughing gas (das Lachgas). You could say that “it’s no laughing matter” but in this case I hope I am wrong!

  • Words of the Week Update

    I have had fun over the last few weeks deciding what word to take as my Word of the Week (WOW). Unfortunately I haven’t got round to posting them weekly – the last being in November.

    Strangely enough I now have time because of the restrictions which have been caused by the infamous corona virus.

    So here is a list of the WOWs that I chose. I think my customers have had fun using them either because they are simply funny words or because they have lightened the mood recently.

    When I first introduced the Word of the Week I intended to introduce each with the phonetic symbols to help people with pronunciation. Due to my lack of staying power I will just write a list of my WOWs with an example of how they can be used.

    10.12.2019 appreciate : schätzen

    I really appreciate the advents calendar you gave me last week. I am very appreciative and would like to show my appreciation by giving you a big hug.

    25.12.2019: seasons greetings : Frohe Fasttage

    Seasons Greeting to you all!

    7.1.2020 : prosperous : wohlhabend

    I wish you a prosperous 2020. (Little did I know what was to come!)

    14.01.2020: recuperate: sich erholen

    I hope you recuperate from your flu. I wish you a speedy recovery.

    21.01.2020: gobbledygook: das Geschwafel

    Sometimes I think I speak a load of gobbledygook.

    28.01.2020: snug: gemütlich/kuschelig

    You look as snug as a bug sitting there on the sofa.

    04.02.2020: Cheer up!: Kopf hoch!

    Cheer Up! It’ll never happen.

    11.02.2020: higgledy-piggledy: wie Kraut und Rüben/durcheinander

    My plant pots are all higgledy-piggledy because of yesterday’s storm.

    18.02.2020: merry-making: die Lustbarkeit/Belustigung

    There will be lots of merry-making over Carnival

    25.02.2020: blustery: stürmisch

    At the moment it is very calm outside but the weatherman says it will be a little blustery later today.

    13.03.2020: blossom: die Blüte/blühen

    The tree in my garden is in full bloom – the blossom looks gorgeous.

    There will be more to follow.

  • Grumpy (WOW)


    /ˈɡrʌmpi/ : mürrisch

    • bad-tempered
    • crabby
    • irritable

    It’s advent time and you can hear Christmas music everywhere. The traditional Christmas carol (Wiehnachtslied) “Deck the Halls” is all about preparing for Christmas or yuletide guests:

    Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
    Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
    ‘Tis the season to be jolly,
    Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

    Thomas Oliphant.

    Grumpy Old Man

    Tis the season to be jolly” means that it is the time of the year to celebrate.  Sometimes I wonder!  When I am out and about I see so many “grumpy” people. It reminds me of the Charles Dicken’s tale of Ebenezer Scrooge who despised Christmas.  After being visited by the Christmas spirits, the grumpy old miser transformed into a kind old man.

    Grumpy Cat

    I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous “grumpy cat” – a real hit on social media. She was a cat with a grumpy appearance who everyone adored. Unfortunately she passed away in May this year. 

    The 7 Dwarfs

    The other grumpy with whom we can all relate is the one from the Disney film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Oh what a sweety!

    I am sure we all have days when we feel like him.

  • Household Chores


    (tʃɔ): (Haus)arbeiten

    • routine (household) tasks
    • things to be done
    • a job or piece of work that is often boring or unpleasant but needs to be done regularly


    The word “chore” originates from the old English “char” which means odd job*. You may have even heard of a “charwoman” – a woman who’s hired to do jobs around the house. I must say that I do not particularly like doing household chores. Who does? My mum would be “turning in her grave” (würde sich im Grab herumdrehen) if she could see the state of my house. She was always very house-proud. Thank goodness that my husband has no problem helping with the household chores!


    Here is a list of typical domestic jobs. Are there any you actually enjoy doing?

    • ironing
    • dusting
    • window cleaning
    • hoovering
    • cooking
    • tidying up
    • doing the washing

    Murder the Ironing

    The chore I least like doing is the hoovering.  I always end up sweaty, agitated and angry.  What makes it worse is that I know that the dust will reappear within days. Where does that grey fluff on the floor come from?

    My favourite household job is ironing because I can watch mindless TV programmes  where you don’t have to concentrate too much. I find “Midsummer Murders” (“Inspector Barnaby” in German) perfect. In the summer months I love hanging the washing out on my washing line in the garden, as long as it doesn’t begin to rain!

    A Tidy House is a Tidy Mind

    I know that some people find housework therapeutic and, of course, being tidy does make life easier. Generally I would say that most of my (female) friends have a much higher standard of household cleanliness than me, but I think they have learnt to accept me as I am.   I just don’t consider it so important…. maybe because I spend my time writing my blog!

    Happy cleaning!

    *Do you remember the baddy in the James bond film called “Odd Job”?

  • Word for the Week: Scrumptious

    Some of my customers asked me how to improve their vocabulary so I have decided to post a new word each week with an example of how it can be used. Here is this week’s english word. Have fun trying to think of your own sentences!


    (skrʌmp.ʃəs): lecker

    • delicious
    • tasty
    • delectable

    “At the weekend I made some ginger parkin. It was scrumptious.”

    Yorkshire Parkin

    You may ask what on earth is “ginger parkin”. Well, it is a sticky ginger cake made with treacle or mollasses (die Melasse/Zuckerrübensirup) and oatmeal. It tastes a bit like Lebekuchen.

    It is traditionally eaten in November in the North of England, especially on *Bonfire Night, 5th November. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but having tried the BBC Goodfood recipe below I can recommend it.

    Ginger Parkin Recipe

    • 200g butter
    • 1 large egg
    • 200g golden syrup
    • 85g treacle
    • 4 tbsp milk
    • 85g soft brown sugar
    • 100g oatmeal
    • 250g S.R. flour
    • 1 tbsp ground ginger

    Remember to use a tablespoon (tbsp) and for S.R. flour you must add baking powder (Bachpulver).

    Truly Scrumpious!!

  • The Queen’s Speech

    Today my husband I witnessed one of the most bizarre traditions of the British Parliament, the Queen’s Speech. Admittedly it was only on TV.

    Amidst all the chaos of Brixit, the Queen announced on behalf of the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the plans of the new government in what is called the State Opening of Parliament.

    I can understand why non-British observers are bewildered at the behaviour of our politicians, whether it be the constant shouting and name-calling in the House of Commons or the pomp and ceremony of such days as today.

    Pomp and Ceremony (and maybe a little bizzare)

    Queen Elizabeth II (93) is a special lady. She has participated in this ceremony 65 times so knows what to expect. Having arrived at Westminster in her carriage, guarded by her Household Cavalry, she dons her robes and enters the House of Lords. Nothing too unusual, you might say.

    Then comes “Black Rod” the House of Lords official who parades through the Houses of Parliament wearing his or her traditional attire. The job of Black Rod is to request the presence of the Members of the House of Commons at the reading of the Queens’s Speech. This year there was a break in tradition because Black Rod was a woman.

    Knock three times

    Things are never straight forward though, are they?  Black Rod’s way is blocked as the doors into the second chamber are shut in his or her face. He or she has to knock 3 times with a stick before being allowed to enter. Weird!  This tradition is said to symbolise the independence of the Commons from the Monarch.

    Once bitten, twice shy!

    I have since discovered that there are other rituals which take place behind the scenes before the Queen enters stage:

    • Royal guards (Beefeaters) armed with gas lamps search the cellars below the Houses of Parliament. For those of you who have heard of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, you will know why.
    • A MP is held hostage in Buckingham Palace to guarantee the safe return of the Monarch. This too is based on historical royal “bad experience” stemming from the time of King Charles I who was beheaded for interfering in parliamentary affairs. Have you heard of the expression “Once bitten, twice shy”?
    • The royal regalia (a crown, a golden mace and a sword) is transported to the Palace of Westminster from the Tower ahead of the Queen and kept under close guard. The Queen can no longer wear the Imperial State Crown because it is too heavy.

    British life is steeped in tradition and this is just one of many examples. 

    Some would say it is time for change. However, a word of warning! One thing I have learnt since I left, is that England thrives off tourism.  People travel to Britain because they love its history and culture. Please don’t close your doors to the very people who feed you.

  • When does a door open inwards?
    A typical english front door with wisteria

    As I may have mentioned before, I have a fascination for doors, especially old English front doors.  I am not sure when or where this started.  It’s probably because English doors are very individual and different to those here in Germany. They have become one of the things I miss.

    Two years ago I visited family in Hornsea on the east coast of Yorkshire and became obsessed with taking photos of old doors. My aunt and uncle were very obliging and even drove me around the area looking for “doors”. I was actually a little disappointed because most of the wooden ones had been replaced with cheaper plastic ones. No good at all!

    Those I did find were a real mixed bag . Different colours, shapes and sizes. One of my favourite ones was this little blue door in the village of Bempton where my mother and father got married. 

    Sometimes the older the better –  although this barn door doesn’t look so secure!

    I recently got thinking and asked myself the following question:

    Why do some doors open inwards and some outwards?

    I found the answer on good old google.  It’s actually quite logical. Either for security, or for safety.

    • Doors which open inwards (normally doors of private houses) are deemed to be more secure because all the hinges etc are inside the house and that means it’s not so easy for someone to break into.
    • Doors which open outwards (normally doors of public buildings) need to open quickly so that people can exit in an orderly manner in an emergency.

    So now I know!

    Here’s a terrible joke about a door:

           Q: “When is a door not a door?      A: “When it is a jar”

    You think that is bad! Don’t get me started with the traditional “knock, knock” jokes. I’ll save them for another time.

    My latest mission is to photograph old German doors. I’ll keep you posted how I get on.