Saturday, 28 May 2022

Northern Italy pays special tribute to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with unexpected downpour

Torrential rain falls in Milan as Italians salute Her Majesty's 70th year on the throne. 

Only yesterday, the city of Milan was as humid and clammy as the armpit of a commuter holding onto the handrail of a suburban train. As pigeons struggled to find cool, shady spots and cats lounged luxuriously, thermometers turned blood red as the unrelenting heat slowly reduced the city to a burnt frazzle. But in a surprise move, the region has decided to send a positive post-Brexit message to the people of Britain and to Her Majesty the Queen in particular as she marks her 70th glorious year on the throne.

With perfect timing for the weekend, co-ordinated rain and hailstorms were delivered, completely crushing even the vaguest notion of enjoying a day out or just having a walk to the shops. Taking its cue from the UK, Lombardy has suddenly turned itself into a miserable, sodden island of depressed people glued to the TV and hunting for jumpers they had carefully packed away for the summer.

“I really feel like I’m back home in London,” said one long-term British resident of Milan, as he added two heaped spoons of tea leaves and one for the pot to the heavy brown ceramic teapot on his kitchen table. Sales of Marmite in the city’s expat shops have spiked and demand for crinkled orange cagoules at the region’s lakes has soared. Reports of disconsolate people sitting in caravans and playing Cluedo have yet to be confirmed, but it is understood that a woman in wellies with a Labrador was seen trudging across Piazza Duomo under a Radio 1 Smiley Miley golfing umbrella.

“We want to show the people of Great Britain that there is more to Italy than sunshine, outdoor aperitivos with Aperol Spritz and elegantly-served appetisers. We too are capable of producing gloomy, rain-soaked Saturday and Sunday afternoons when it actually seems like a good idea to sort your socks and underpants for the week ahead, rather than attending a chic gathering on a rooftop terrace with a DJ in a dinner jacket and a spectacular sunset,” said a spokesperson for the Lombardy Regional Planning Committee. 

While appreciated by the loyal subjects of Queen Elizabeth, the gesture on the part of the Milanese is not expected to interfere with the preparations for Republic Day on June 2nd, which should see hordes of cheerful Italians basking in bright sunshine. However, the traditional Bank Holiday deluge in the UK may still be averted due to the extended length of the break, which includes two extra days of festivities to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Since public holidays almost never fall on a Thursday, the fine weather that invariably accompanies the working week in Great Britain should still be available, even though people will be outside in the street sitting at long tables and toasting the Queen with plastic cups of lukewarm Tesco’s prosecco.

© Robert Dennis 2022

Monday, 2 May 2022

Funny Conversation: the Swab Test

Mary is talking to Salvatore.

Mary: Hi, Salvatore. How’s it going? 
Salvatore: Oh, hi Mary. Fine thanks, what about you?
Mary: Yeah, not bad. So, what have you been doing?
Salvatore: Well, yesterday, I made a tampon test.
Mary: (drops her cup of coffee and there’s a loud CRASH!! and coffee goes all over the table). I beg your pardon???!!!!!
Salvatore: What do you mean… I beg…?
Mary: Oh, erm, “I beg your pardon” is a very formal way of saying “Excuse me?”. You say this when you haven’t heard what someone said – or you don’t understand it.
Salvatore: Oh, I see. Say it again.
Mary: (drops her coffee again) I beg your pardon???
Salvatore: I made a tampon test.
Mary: Er, what do you mean?
Salvatore: Well, I went to the clinic and I made a test…
Mary: Sorry, do you mean, you HAD a test? … You DID a test?
Salvatore: Yes, that’s right. I did a test.
Mary: For what?
Salvo: To see if I’ve got coronavirus.
Mary: Oh, I see! So, you did a swab test?
Salvo: What’s that?
Mary: Well, a swab is like a big cotton bud.
Salvo: A cotton bud?
Mary: Yeah, it’s a sort of stick with a piece of cotton wool on the end.
Salvo: Oh, you mean a cotton fioc?
Mary: A what?
Salvo: A cotton fioc. You know, like Johnson’s cotton fioc.
Mary: I’ve never heard of that.
Salvo: Oh, I thought that was the English name.
Mary: No. No-one in the English-speaking world has EVER used the expression “cotton fioc”. We say “cotton bud” in the UK and in America they say “cotton swab” or “Q-tip”.
Salvo: Oh, that’s strange.
Mary: So, what happened?
Salvo: Well, they put this big… cotton BUD in the back of my throat and up my nose and made a sample.
Mary: Do you mean they took a sample?
Salvo: Yeah, they took a sample.
Mary: Ah, OK, I see.
Salvo: So, you don’t say tampon test?
Mary: (drops her coffee again). NO!! That’s a really strange thing to say, Salvo.
Salvo: Er, why?
Mary: Well, a tampon is something that women use once a month.
Salvo: (silent, mouth open) Uh?
Mary: Yeah, a tampon is “un assorbente”.
Salvo: Oh my God!
Mary: So, when you said you did a tampon test, that sounds… hmm, really strange, Salvo, unless you work in a company that makes tampons.
Salvo: Oh my God!! I’ve been saying to all my international colleagues “I am doing a tampon test” and no-one replied.
Mary: Yeah, I’m not surprised.
Salvo: So, I should say “I did a swab test”, then?
Mary: Yeah, exactly. You did a swab test, not a tampon test.
Salvo: Hmm…. English is really confusing, isn’t it?
Mary: Yeah, I suppose it is. Anyway, what was the result?
Salvo: It was negative.
Mary: Oh, well, thank God for that.
Salvo: Yes, indeed.

Vocabulary and Notes

How’s it going? - Come va?

I beg your pardon? - Mi scusi? 

have / do a test - fare un'esame / test (NOT "make a test")

a swab test - test del tampone

swab - tampone  

cotton bud - cotton fioc (marca di Johnson & Johnson in Italia)

cotton wool - ovatta

cotton swab - cotton floc (US)

Q-tip - cotton fioc (US) di Unilever)

take a sample - prendere un campione

tampon - un assorbente

I did a swab test - ho fatto il tampone

anyway - comunque 

result - risultato

© Robert Dennis 2022, Milan English Blog

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Under Milk Wood comes to Milan with a stunning performance to help Ukraine

Guy Masterson-Mastroianni in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, J Productions

Tonight was a rare opportunity: the chance to see the incredible Guy Masterson-Mastroianni performing all 69 roles of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in a special charity performance for Ukraine at the Filodrammatici Theatre in Milan, thanks to Julia Holden and J Productions

Guy Masterson-Mastroianni was absolutely incredible, transforming himself physically and vocally into all the characters of the 20th century classic set in the fictional Welsh town of Llareggub (or "Bugger All" in reverse). With minimal staging – literally, just a chair – and a few props (sunglasses, pint glass), Guy brings the story to life, switching between the various personalities that inhabit Thomas’s dreamscape – from the blind Captain Cat, reliving his seafaring times, to the baker Dai Bread with his two wives, the Mrs Dai Breads, and from Organ Morgan, obsessed with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to Polly Garter, pining for her dead lover. Masterson-Mastroianni’s performance veers from a portrayal of skipping and chanting children in the playground to surly, hawking fishermen on the quayside, and from the poetic Reverend Eli Jenkins’s sermons to Sinbad the lovestruck publican at The Sailors’ Arms, who yearns for schoolteacher Gossamer Beynon.

The lighting and audio were matched flawlessly, with the almost cinematic precision of sound effects and atmospheric music by Matt Clifford, combining to create a rich, lyrical texture complementing the performance (in English).

Guy Masterson, who is actually the great nephew of Sir Richard Burton, was inspired to become an actor by his great uncle’s rendition of Under Milk Wood, which was commissioned by the BBC in 1954 as a radio drama by Dylan Thomas and later adapted for the stage. Guy has performed the piece over 2,000 times and, as he told us after the show, it is actually a “symphony” which carries him along with its intricate rhythms. Running at 100 minutes, his performance is not only a dramatic tour-de-force but also an impressive feat of memory in its own right.

All proceeds from the show, which was supported by law firm Trevisan & Cuonzo, will go to helping Ukrainian refugees.

Robert Dennis

Guy Masterson-Mastroianni, Julia Holden and the J Productions team

Guy Masterson-Mastroianni with Robert Dennis

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Swingin' London comes to Milan, courtesy of Mark Worden and Alfredo Marziano

A Field Guide 
by Mark Worden and Alfredo Marziano 

The term Swinging London entered the language in 1965 when Time magazine ran a cover story on the subject. More than fifty years later, the idea is still very much alive. This book takes the reader to the places that made London swing. 

Fully illustrated throughout, Swingin’ London: A Field Guide looks at some of the most important locations in the scene and reveals what became of them. It is based on extensive research and entertaining reminiscences by the bright young things who frequented them. They include Private Eye cartoonist and A Whole Scene Going presenter Barry Fantoni, Groupie author Jenny Fabian and musician Brian Auger, as well as some late greats like actress Anita Pallenberg, ‘Social Deviant’ Mick Farren, artist Duggie Fields and album cover designer Storm Thorgerson. The result is an affectionate and informative tribute to a bygone era – a time when London appeared to be the centre of life on earth.

Multi-media Presentation

Après-coup, Porta Romana provided the perfect setting for Mark and Alfredo's presentation of Swingin' London on Thursday 25th November 2021, with music and video clips from the interviews, entertainingly and expertly narrated by Mark (mainly in Italian with some English for good measure). He was also joined on stage by James Clough, who shared some reminiscences from the heady days of the 1960s. It was a truly memorable evening and a chance to see "old" friends and make some new ones. 

Swinging London: A Field Guide by Mark Worden and Alfredo Marziano is available in both print and digital format (Kindle) from Amazon, and in all good bookshops. It's the perfect Christmas gift for anybody visiting or living in London who wants to explore this fascinating part of the capital's history.

Monday, 19 July 2021

39 fashion words: video and language activity

 Do you love fashion? Are you excited by great design, colours and textures? Do you like to create a unique look that expresses your personality? Watch this video from featuring 39 words that you can use to talk about fashion! Learn some useful vocabulary that you can use to talk about looking your best in the day and going out in the evening. Then, try the vocabulary exercises which use all the words and phrases from the video. You have to choose the correct verb – and sometimes the correct form of the verb – to complete the sentence.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Try this exercise to help you learn 37 action verbs in English!

How often do you, run, walk or ski? Have you ever surfed or been skydiving? Do you ever rush, scream, sprint or ride a bike? If you look out of the window, can you see people bustling about?
Watch this video, created by Robert Dennis, and then try this vocabulary exercise which uses all the verbs from the video. You have to choose the correct verb – and sometimes the correct form of the verb – to complete the sentence.

Good luck! I hope you enjoy this practice exercise.

Check out the other videos in my YouTube channel Business English. Remember to “like and subscribe”!

Monday, 7 June 2021

Welcome to Milan! Robert Dennis walks and talks in the city centre

Welcome to Milan! In this video, Business English teacher Robert Dennis talks about where he's from - a "leafy suburb" just outside London. Find out what "commute" means, experience some street life in Italy's business capital, Milano, and spend a few minutes in the company of Robert. 

Check out the Business English YouTube channel for some useful and fun videos to help you learn English!