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Newsletter December 15 - 2008FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

Nowadays the word "green" has become very popular. It has always been used to describe the colour of course and has often referred to someone who is inexperienced as used in the expression: "green behind the ears." But now it has spread its wings and denotes people''s behaviour, their way of living and to some extent their philosophy. I am referring, as you must realise, to what all of us are doing more and more these days with our recycling, our protection of the environment, our preference for walking rather than using the car and our choice to keep our flying to the minimum in an endeavour to save our little planet.

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No wonder "green" is walking around with a broad grin on its face. It''s never felt so important. If you insist on driving around in a gas guzzler (a big car using a lot of petrol) all the time, making frequent trips by plane and throwing all your rubbish in the dustbin together and cutting down healthy trees, then you''re definitely not green. More than fifty years ago the government in the UK conceived the idea of creating a green belt around London. This was to stop London spreading outwards too far and consuming all the green fields around the edges. Sadly this belt has been nibbled at, eaten into and been acquired for more and more houses over the last half century. In our present economic situation governments tell us we must tighten our belts (make economies).

Sadly our green belt has literally done just that and in consequence has shrunk. So many of us now live in towns and spend our lives driving up and down roads and tramping up and down streets that we forget what the countryside really looks like. We can fortunately, when the traffic shuts up, catch the sound of birds singing. Mind you they have a hard struggle to be heard. Some of them have even resorted to copying the noises we make like mimicking the sound of a telephone. If our feathered friends could laugh, they surely would at the sight of people running around the house picking up receivers and speaking to ghost callers.

And then we mustn''t forget those who are fascinated by birds and spend hours studying the habits, colours and flights of these creatures. I am talking about the pursuit of bird watching. Those who practise it are known as birders or in extreme cases, twitchers. As you probably know, "twitch" means "tremble" or "quiver". Such is the excitement of these types of bird watchers that they literally twitch when they hear that a rare bird has been discovered somewhere in the country and they will travel miles and miles to see it. Once they''ve seen it, they stop twitching! Invariably this "rare" bird was off on its summer holidays minding its own business and making, as we all do, for a warmer climate when a strong wind has blown it off course and it has been forced to land in the UK. For some reason, which is a mystery to me, it will often end up totally bewildered in a supermarket car park. Having just about accustomed itself to its new surroundings and wondering where on earth it is, it then has to face a crowd of watchers all armed with the traditional equipment of "bins" and "scopes", or to you and me binoculars and telescopes. You never know whether it will stay and chum up with another bird and maybe start a family. One thing is for sure and that is it will never forget the reception party it met on first arrival.

Now watching birds is one thing but wanting to be like one is another.matter altogether. For centuries man has tried to emulate the bird, put on a pair of wings and attempted to fly, usually with disastrous results. Perhaps the saddest example is the story of Icarus. Daedalus was a master architect in the time of King Minos of Crete. If you wanted a fancy building or a clever arrangement of lanes from which it was impossible to escape, then Daedalus was your man. The trouble of course with ancient kings was that they could change their minds at the drop of a hat (at a moment''s notice) and one day Minos picked an argument with Daedalus and had him imprisoned in a tower. But Daedalus conceived a plan by watching the gulls flying around the island on which he was held captive with his young son, Icarus. Over many months he collected hundreds of different sized feathers lying around the place and fashioned them together with thread and wax to form two large wings. He then experimented once or twice with his wings and mastered the art of flying. Next he set about making a smaller pair for his son. Finally a suitable day dawned with just the right wind for them to take off. Daedalus warned his son to fly at a reasonable height not too low to avoid the fog and not too high to avoid the sun. But of course Icarus like all young people ignored his father''s advice, flew too near the sun and fell into the sea and drowned. Daedalus identified a pile of feathers floating on the surface of the water as the spot where Icarus had drowned. Sadly he returned to the temple of Apollo in Sicily presenting his wings as an offering and a promise never to fly again.

Birds also play a part in the English language and turn up in several idioms. One of my favourites is: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This suggests that something you actually own is of much greater value than things you might possibly acquire in the future. After all one bird in the bush or even two could well fly away. Now for a cruel one: Kill two birds with one stone. This is where you manage to carry out two plans with just one action. You do business in another country and also enjoy a holiday while you''re there. When we are presented with a question from a child like: Where do I come from? Then is the time to tell the child about the birds and the bees or what we call the facts of life. One experience for a comedian to avoid at all costs is to be given the bird. This is when the audience shows their disapproval of the act and starts hissing like geese. And finally a sound piece of advice: The early bird catches the worm. If you are the first to arrive, you get the best advantage.

Now I''m not very good at distinguishing one bird from another but the one I always recognize is the Robin Redbreast, which also has the very posh and official name of Erithacus Rubecule. He''s very aggressive towards other birds who come near his territory but he has a soft spot for humans (he quite likes them). There''s one (well I say one but it''s probably not always the same one) who always does a quick check over where I''ve been digging in my garden. I bumped into him the other day as I was clearing away the last of the autumn leaves and thought: It''s funny that you''ve got red feathers in the front because you''re a very "green" little bird. I mean you''re always flying here, there and everywhere but you don''t contribute in the slightest to global warming. Well done, Robin!

Alan Townend

How did you like Alan''s essay? As usual, we are looking forward to your feedback which you can post on the forum here: How green are you?

Hush hushEnglish goes to America
How good are you at managing your time?All about poets
Figuratively speakingTake your time
Looking aheadMore haste, less speed
I didn''t mean to do that, honestlyA bit of a laugh
Come fly with me 
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