Welcome to my mini blog series
Marked words in my post below refer to content covered in my books:
Good morning from London
One day way back in the summer of 1996, when my son Daniel was born, I fancied treating myself to lunch at Belgo Centraal, Covent Garden (sadly no longer in existence). People used to go to this marvellous Belgian-style restaurant especially for the mussels
and chips (frites) and 100 different types of beer, or lager as we call it in the UK. This was a large, busy restaurant and you had to sit where they told you, and just like in Brussels itself, the tables were very close to each other, so you couldn’t help eavesdropping on the people you were seated next to. Well, I say “couldn’t help” but actually I love eavesdropping; it’s one of my favourite hobbies in fact, and, as you will see, the major source of words for all my books.
So, anyway, I was sat (yes, this is correct grammar for this sentence) next to a young woman and a friend/boyfriend? The woman, I could see, was clearly of an Oriental family background, but when she started speaking, I immediately realised that she had been brought up in England having gone to a posh school. She spoke beautiful English; the Queen’s English; one might say. I heard her say one sentence to the guy she was with which was to change my life forever. Yes, I’m being serious.
This is what she said:
“When it comes to whingeing, Tom takes the biscuit.”
How many of you non-native English speakers and learners reading this blog can understand this sentence? Not many, I would guess.
So, what does it mean exactly?
Something like this:
“If you want to talk about a person who complains all the time, there’s nobody like Tom.”
What a strange, but beautifully rich language English is.
Pretending not to eavesdrop by turning my head in the opposite direction, I carried on listening to what this very interesting and intelligent woman was saying:
“Sarah was raving about this film she had seen with Tom and other friends last week. It was about some guy who had been made the scapegoat in a political corruption scandal; something sounding utterly tedious to me. Anyway, she said the film was a bit slow to start, but once it got going, she found herself totally absorbed in the story. But Tom being Tom complained about everything; the weather, the cinema, the people sitting next to him eating crisps (noisily). And as for the film itself, he said he didn’t really catch on to the plot or much of what the actors were talking about. Not that he made the slightest effort to enjoy the evening. He said he didn’t want to go out in the first place, but just went with the flow because that’s what everyone else wanted to do. He looked at me presumably expecting sympathy and he asked me “Why do I have to go out spending money I don’t have? Everybody knows that I’m really feeling the pinch at the moment.”
Fortunately, at this point in the conversation, just when I was beginning to get bored and unsuccessfully trying to switch off my eavesdropping left ear, my lunch arrived. I can’t remember now what came with the chips, but whatever it was, must have been of secondary importance. Chips, as I’m sure you’ll agree, are of primary importance; always the best part of ANY meal…and, for some reason, other people’s chips always seem to taste better than mine. I don’t know why that is or what it says about me. A few loose screws, maybe?
But that wonderful sentence “When it comes to whingeing, Tom takes the biscuit”, stayed in my head for the rest of the day, including on my tube journey back home to Kilburn Station. I felt inspired to do something, but what? As I approached my street, an idea came into my mind: why don’t I write a book of English words and expressions for foreign students of English who already have a very strong basis in the language, but who struggle to understand high level English conversation, particularly phrasal verbs and idioms? What a fabulous idea!
So, here we are twenty six years later and I have written four such books (and one mini- grammar book: Everyday English Grammar). Once I start writing, I’m on a roll and nothing can stop me (not even the dog asking to go out), but when I stop, it can take me literally years to start again. This is because I have a very strong lazy streak running through me; I find it very easy to do absolutely nothing and rarely get bored in my own company (other people get very bored in my company, I should add).
I do hope I haven’t bored you all and that it’s not too late to wish you all a:
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
There’s a glimmer of hope that things will get better this year for all of us…isn’t there?