Festivals and Celebrations in Oxford and the UK. January

Burns Night 25th January

This is a big Scottish celebration of the Scots poet Robert Burns (25th January 1759 – 21st July 1796). He wrote poetry and songs in both Scots and English, his most famous Scots language poem is probably ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which is sung at New Year’s celebrations around the world.


Traditionally the Scots eat haggis (see above), ‘neeps’ (swede) and ‘tatties’ (potatoes), recite Burns’  poetry and drink on this day. If you’re in the UK, it should be quite easy to find a pub celebrating Burns night, you might even find a Ceilidh (Scottish party, usually with dancing and folk music) somewhere near you.

If you’re in Oxford, you could go to: BrewDog on Cowley Road, The Holly Bush, Bridge Street or St Aldates Tavern, St. Aldates or get tickets for the Burns Night Ceilidh at Exeter Hall in Kidlington (http://www.oxfordpipeband.co.uk/ceilidh-2020/) 

Make Your Own Burns Night Supper

Haggis (Main Dish)

Unless you have your own sheep to butcher, you’ll probably have to buy this as it is made of the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep mixed with suet, oatmeal, onion and spices, packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. You can buy it at Waitrose. They also sell a (nicer) vegetarian version.


Salmon smoked or baked, maybe in a salad, or ‘Cullen Skink’ (delicious smoked haddock soup) or ‘cock – a – leekie’ soup.

Side Dishes

Roast swede and potato. Mashed potato with cream or quick fried leeks or cabbage.


Whisky (or Irn Bru, which is non-alcoholic, if you can get it). 



570 ml double cream

85g porridge oats

7tbsp whisky

3 tbsp honey

450g raspberries

1.Gently toast the oats in a frying pan.

2.Lightly whip the cream and fold in honey, whisky, oatmeal & berries.


125g butter, 55g caster sugar, 180g plain flour.

1.Heat the oven to 190C

2. Beat the butter & sugar together until smooth

3. Stir in flour. Take out of the bowl and put on the table, gently roll until about 1 cm thick.

4. Cut into circles or ‘fingers’ and place on a baking tray. Sprinkle caster sugar on top and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

5. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until pale golden-brown. Let cool.

Notes Someone should read Robert Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’ when you bring the haggis to the table https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5f_yDLZBaA , you can find an English translation here: https://inews.co.uk/culture/address-to-a-haggis-robert-burns-poem-words-translation-burns-night-2019-146960

Put on some traditional Scots music https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFM7iH9lwQw and maybe dance around a sword or two https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUFR4LcSKrs

Chinese New Year 25th January 2020

Marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat. The biggest celebration in the UK (and the largest outside Asia) will be in and around Chinatown and the West End in London on Sunday 26th January. There will be parades, performances and displays (https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/event/4733685-chinese-new-year-in-london)

If you’re in Oxford, you can buy tickets for the celebration at the Town Hall on Sunday 2nd February (https://www.cheney.oxon.sch.uk/student-news/invitation-to-chinese-new-year-celebration-on-sunday-2nd-february-2020-9th-day-of-the-chinese-new-year/).


January 2020 Newsletter:

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 9

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language

No. 9 Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

This is a much-loved children’s classic about a boy, a bear, a little pig and various other animals who live in a wood. It has been translated into many languages since it was written in 1925 so, chances are, you already know the characters and stories.


Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 7

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language

No. 7 Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is a short novel published in 1886. Part horror, part detective story, I can’t say any more about the plot in case you don’t already know the story.

Themes It is about good and evil, the conscious and unconscious mind, Victorian respectability, and an early interest in multiple personality disorders.

Words & Phrases

Jekyll and Hyde \ˈje-kəl-ən-ˈhīd also ˈjē- or ˈjā-\ used to describe a person who changes completely from one situation to the next: The rally was the latest example of Trump as a Jekyll and Hyde public performer, coming just 24 hours after a sober speech to the military setting out future strategy in Afghanistan.


Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 6

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language 

No. 6 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

The story of a man – Robinson Crusoe – shipwrecked in the Caribbean. Much of the action centres on his efforts to survive on a deserted island, while much of the narrative is concerned with Crusoe’s relationship with God and the possibility his predicament is punishment for being a slave trader.

At some point Crusoe rescues a man from cannibals and the man stays with him as a servant). Crusoe names the man ‘Friday’ and teaches him English because it doesn’t occur to Crusoe to learn the man’s actual name or language.

Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 5

British Novels Which Have Added To The English Language

No. 5 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

An enduringly popular gothic horror story published in 1818. It has been claimed that this was the first proper science fiction novel. It’s the story of a sea captain who sets out to explore the North Pole and meets a chemist called Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein tells him of a creature he made and brought to life which turned out to be a hideous, murderous monster (or possibly just very misunderstood). You may prefer to read an abridged version as the original uses rather a lot of old-fashioned English. 

Themes Quest for knowledge, dangers of knowledge, nature vs nurture. 

Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 4

British Novels Which Have Added To The English Language

No. 4 Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carol

This 1865 fantasy novel was written by an Oxford don, it is a children’s classic and a must-read if you are visiting Oxford. Alice is a little girl who follows a white rabbit and falls down a rabbit hole into a Wonderland of nonsense. The book is filled with nonsense characters, figures from English nursery rhymes, riddles and wordplay. Although written for children, it was reportedly one of Queen Victoria’s favourite books and everyone knows something of it. 

Words & Phrases:

A Cheshire Cat smile/ To smile like a Cheshire Cat /ˌtʃeʃə(r) ˈkæt smaɪl/ (idiom) To smile very broadly, to grin. 

Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 3

British Novels Which Have Added To The English Language 

No. 3 A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle wrote 60 Sherlock Holmes stories. It doesn’t really matter which one you read as neither of the phrases these books have given the language actually appeared in his writing. You may as well start with the first: A Study in Scarlet. Written between 1887 and 1927, the stories are set in Victorian and Edwardian England and provide an interesting portrait of the manners and mores of the time – a time from which, arguably, many British stereotypes originated. Holmes is a great detective who solves many overcomplicated crimes with his partner, Dr Watson. 

Themes Crime, detection, justice

Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 2

British Novels Which Have Added To The English Language

No. 2 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Most of Dickens’s novels are considered classics. A Christmas Carol is the shortest and has always been the most popular. Set in Victorian London it tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an awful miser, who is financially rich but spiritually and emotionally poor and his path to redemption via three ghosts. 

Themes: Poverty, inequality, injustice, friendship, family, ghosts. Dickens was a social campaigner whose novels highlighted the terrible poverty in Victorian London and brought it to the attention of the wider public. This book also had a great influence on shaping the traditional English Christmas. 

Continue reading

English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 1


British Novels Which Have Added To The English Language

Fiction or factual, poetry, newspapers or magazines, lengthy books or short stories – they can all help improve vocabulary, grammar, writing and, ultimately, speech. However, while all books may be equal in this respect, some books are more equal than others!* 

Here is the first of my top ten books which have contributed to the English language. While it isn’t strictly necessary to read the books to understand the meaning of the words or phrases they have given English, you’ll probably find them easier to remember and use if you do (and, who knows, you might even enjoy the books!).

No. 1 Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

Intro: Orwell wrote this in 1948 after becoming disillusioned with the Communist regime in Russia. The novel is set in a future dystopia in which people’s lives are almost wholly controlled by The Party. It is regarded as a classic and its themes are as relevant today as they were in 1948. So relevant, in fact, that this book has given more words and phrases to everyday English than any other work of fiction I can think of.   Continue reading