IELTS READING –  Clog dancing’s big street revival S7GT5


Clog dancing’s big street revival


The streets of Newcastle, in the north-east of England, have begun to echo with a sound that has not been heard for about a century. A sharp, rhythmic knocking can be heard among the Saturday crowds in one of the city’s busiest intersections. It sounds a little like dozens of horses galloping along the street, but there are none in sight. In fact, it’s the noise of a hundred people dancing in wooden shoes, or clogs.

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The shoppers are about to be ambushed by the UK’s biggest clog dance event. The hundred volunteers have been coached to perform a mass routine. For ten minutes, the dancers bring the city centre to a standstill. There are people clogging on oil drums and between the tables of pavement cafes. A screaming, five-man team cuts through the onlookers and begins leaping over swords that look highly dangerous. Then, as swiftly as they appeared, the doggers melt back into the crowd, leaving the slightly stunned spectators to go about their business.


This strange manifestation is the brainchild of conductor Charles Hazlewood, whose conversion to clog dancing came through an encounter with a folk band. The Unthanks. ‘Rachel and Becky Unthank came to develop some ideas in my studio,’ Hazlewood says. ‘Suddenly, they got up and began to mark out the rhythm with their feet – it was an extraordinary blur of shuffles, clicks and clacks that was an entirely new music for me. I thought, “Whatever this is, I want more of it”.’

Hazlewood was inspired to travel to Newcastle to make a television programme, Come Clog Dancing, in which he and a hundred other people learn to clog in a fortnight. Yet when he first went out recruiting, local people seemed unaware of their heritage. ‘We went out on to the streets, looking for volunteers, but nobody seemed to know anything about clog dancing; or if they did, they thought it originated in the Netherlands.’


 The roots of clog dancing go back several hundred years, and lie in traditional dances of the Dutch, Native Americans and African-Americans, in which the dancer strikes the ground with their heel or toes, to produce a rhythm that’s audible to everyone around. In England, clogging is believed to have first developed in the mid-19th century in the cotton mills of Lancashire, in the north-west, where workers created a dance that imitated the sound of the machinery. The style quickly spread and developed a number of regional variations. In Northumberland, it became a recreation for miners, who danced solo or to the accompaniment of a fiddle.‘The Northumberland style is very distinct from Lancashire clogging,’ says Laura Connolly, a virtuoso dancer who worked with Hazlewood on the programme. ‘Northumbrian dancing is quite neat and precise with almost no upper-body movement, whereas the Lancastrian style is more flamboyant.’


Whatever the region, clogging remains very much a minority pursuit. Yet at the turn of the 20th century, clogging was a fully-fledged youth craze. Two famous comic film actors, Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin, both began their careers as doggers. But the dance almost completely died out with the passing of the industrial age. ‘People danced in clogs because they were cheap, hardwearing and easily repaired,’ Connolly says. ‘Yet eventually, clogs became associated with poverty and people were almost ashamed to wear them.’


Fortunately, the key steps of the dances were preserved and handed down in a series of little blue books, often named after their inventors. ‘It means that we still know what Mrs Willis’s Rag or Ivy Sands’s Hornpipe were like,’ Connolly says. ‘It’s my dream that one day there’ll be a little blue book called Laura Connolly’s Jig.’


 Her biggest challenge to date was to teach Hazlewood and 100 other beginners a routine sufficiently accomplished to perform on television, from scratch, in less than two weeks. ‘I started people off with something simple,’ she says. ‘It’s a basic shuffle that most people can pick up/ Once Hazlewood had absorbed the basics, Connolly encouraged him to develop a short solo featuring more complex steps – though he nearly came to grief attempting a tricky manoeuvre known as Charlie Chaplin Clicks, so named as it was the signature move of Chaplin’s film character the Little Tramp.

‘To be honest, I never quite got those right,’ Hazlewood says with a laugh. ‘We came up with a slightly easier version, which Laura thought we should call Charlie Hazlewood Clicks. The thing about clogs is that they’re all surface: there’s no grip and they’re slightly curved so you stand in a slightly peculiar way. The potential to fall over is enormous.’

On the day, Hazlewood managed to pull off a decent solo, clicks and all. T wasn’t convinced, until the moment I did it, that I was going to get it right,’ he admits. ‘But in the end, clog dancing is not so very different from conducting. Both require you to communicate a beat – only 1 had to learn how to express it with my feet, rather than my hands. But it’s a good feeling.’


‘People forget that clogging was originally a street dance,’ Connolly says. ‘It was competitive, it was popular, and now young people are beginning to rediscover it for themselves. As soon as we finished in Newcastle, I had kids coming up to me saying, “Clog dancing’s cool – I want to do that!”’

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IELTS READING – The Cork Oak Tree (Quercus suber) S22ACT1


The Cork Oak Tree (Quercus suber)

Cork – the thick bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber) – is a remarkable material. It is tough, elastic, buoyant, and fire-resistant, and suitable for a wide range of purposes. It has also been used for millennia: the ancient Egyptians sealed their sarcophagi (stone coffins) with cork, while the ancient Greeks and Romans used it for anything from beehives to sandals.

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And the cork oak itself is an extraordinary tree. Its bark grows up to 20 cm in thickness, insulating the tree like a coat wrapped around the trunk and branches and keeping the inside at a constant 20°C all year round. Developed most probably as a defence against forest fires, the bark of the cork oak has a particular cellular structure – with about 40 million cells per cubic centimetre – that technology has never succeeded in replicating. The cells are filled with air, which is why cork is so buoyant. It also has an elasticity that means you can squash it and watch it spring back to its original size and shape when you release the pressure.

Cork oaks grow in a number of Mediterranean countries, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco. They flourish in warm, sunny climates where there is a minimum of 400 millimetres of rain per year, and no more than 800 millimetres. Like grape vines, the trees thrive in poor soil, putting down deep root in search of moisture and nutrients. Southern Portugal’s Alentejo region meets all of these requirements, which explains why, by the early 20th century, this region had become the world’s largest producer of cork, and why today it accounts for roughly half of all cork production around the world.

Most cork forests are family-owned. Many of these family businesses, and indeed many of the trees themselves, are around 200 years old. Cork production is, above all, an exercise in patience. From the planting of a cork sapling to the first harvest takes 25 years, and a gap of approximately a decade must separate harvests from an individual tree. And for top- quality cork, it’s necessary to wait a further 15 or 20 years. You even have to wait for the right kind of summer’s day to harvest cork. If the bark is stripped on a day when it’s too cold – or when the air is damp – the tree will be damaged.

Cork harvesting is a very specialised profession. No mechanical means of stripping cork bark has been invented, so the job is done by teams of highly skilled workers. First, they make vertical cuts down the bark using small sharp axes, then lever it away in pieces as large as they can manage. The most skilful cork- strippers prise away a semi-circular husk that runs the length of the trunk from just above ground level to the first branches. It is then dried on the ground for about four months, before being taken to factories, where it is boiled to kill any insects that might remain in the cork. Over 60% of cork then goes on to be made into traditional bottle stoppers, with most of the remainder being used in the construction trade, Corkboard and cork tiles are ideal for thermal and acoustic insulation, while granules of cork are used in the manufacture of concrete.

Recent years have seen the end of the virtual monopoly of cork as the material for bottle stoppers, due to concerns about the effect it may have on the contents of the bottle. This is caused by a chemical compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), which forms through the interaction of plant phenols, chlorine and mould. The tiniest concentrations – as little as three or four parts to a trillion – can spoil the taste of the product contained in the bottle.

The result has been a gradual yet steady move first towards plastic stoppers and, more recently, to aluminium screw caps. These substitutes are cheaper to manufacture and, in the case of screw caps, more convenient for the user.

The classic cork stopper does have several advantages, however. Firstly, its traditional image is more in keeping with that of the type of high quality goods with which it has long been associated. Secondly – and very importantly – cork is a sustainable product that can be recycled without difficulty. Moreover, cork forests are a resource which support local biodiversity, and prevent desertification in the regions where they are planted. So, given the current concerns about environmental issues, the future of this ancient material once again looks promising.

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IELTS READING – The Secret Of Staying Young S21AT1



The Secret Of Staying Young 

Pheidole dentata, a native ant of the south-eastern U.S., isn’t immortal. But scientists have found that it doesn’t seem to showany signs of aging. Old worker ants can do everything just as well as the youngsters, and their brains appear just as sharp. ‘We get a picture that these ants really don’t decline,’ says Ysabel Giraldo, who studied the ants for her doctoral thesis at Boston University.

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Such age-defying feats are rare in the animal kingdom. Naked mole rats can live for almost 30 years and stay fit for nearly their entire lives. They can still reproduce even when old, and they never get cancer. But the vast majority of animals deteriorate with age just like people do. Like the naked mole rat, ants are social creatures that usually live in highly organised colonies. ‘It’s this social complexity that makes P. dentata useful for studying aging in people,’ says Giraldo, now at the California Institute of Technology. Humans are also highly social, a trait that has been connected to healthier aging. By contrast, most animal studies of aging use mice, worms or fruit flies, which all lead much more isolated lives.

In the lab, P. dentata worker ants typically live for around 140 days. Giraldo focused on ants at four age ranges: 20 to 22 days, 45 to 47 days, 95 to 97 days and 120 to 122 days. Unlike all previous studies, which only estimated how old the ants were, her work tracked the ants from the time the pupae became adults, so she knew their exact ages. Then she put them through a range of tests.

Giraldo watched how well the ants took care of the young of the colony, recording how often each ant attended to, carried and fed them. She compared how well 20-day-old and 95-day-old ants followed the telltale scent that the insects usually leave to mark a trail to food. She tested how ants responded to light and also measured how active they were by counting how often ants in a small dish walked across a line. And she experimented with how ants react to live prey: a tethered fruit fly. Giraldo expected the older ants to perform poorly in all these tasks. But the elderly insects were all good caretakers and trail-followers—the 95-day-old ants could track the scent even longer than their younger counterparts. They all responded to light well, and the older ants were more active. And when it came to reacting to prey, the older ants attacked the poor fruit fly just as aggressively as the young ones did, flaring their mandibles or pulling at the fly’s legs.

Then Giraldo compared the brains of 20-day-old and 95-day-old ants, identifying any cells that were close to death. She saw no major differences with age, nor was there any difference in the location of the dying cells, showing that age didn’t seem to affect specific brain functions. Ants and other insects have structures in their brains called mushroom bodies, which are important for processing information, learning and memory. She also wanted to see if aging affects the density of synaptic complexes within these structures—regions where neurons come together. Again, the answer was no. What was more, the old ants didn’t experience any drop in the levels of either serotonin or dopamine—brain chemicals whose decline often coincides with aging. In humans, for example, a decrease in serotonin has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

‘This is the first time anyone has looked at both behavioral and neural changes in these ants so thoroughly,’ says Giraldo, who recently published the findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists have looked at some similar aspects in bees, but the results of recent bee studies were mixed—some studies showed age-related declines, which biologists call senescence, and others didn’t.’For now, the study raises more questions than it answers,’ Giraldo says, ‘including how P. dentata stays in such good shape.’

Also, if the ants don’t deteriorate with age, why do they die at all? Out in the wild, the ants probably don’t live for a full 140 days thanks to predators, disease and just being in an environment that’s much harsher than the comforts of the lab. ‘The lucky ants that do live into old age may suffer a steep decline just before dying,’ Giraldo says, but she can’t say for sure because her study wasn’t designed to follow an ant’s final moments.

‘It will be important to extend these findings to other species of social insects,’ says Gene E. Robinson, an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This ant might be unique, or it might represent a broader pattern among other social bugs with possible clues to the science of aging in larger animals. Either way, it seems that for these ants, age really doesn’t matter.

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IELTS WRITING – information about sales of Fairtrade labelled coffee S15AT1


The tables below give information about sales of Fairtrade labelled coffee and bananas in 1999 and 2004 in five European countries.

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.


IELTS SIMULATOR FREE GENERAL TRAINING ONLINE WRITING – information about sales of Fairtrade labelled coffee S15AT1 ....  IELTS SIMULATION


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The table compares the sales of two products, Fairtrade marked coffee and bananas in five distinct European countries in two separate years (1999 and 2004. The units are measured in millions of euros.  

As the data demonstrates, the market of coffee observed a ceiling trend from 1999 to 2004. The largest consumer was Switzerland with accurately 3 million euro sales. The sales in the United Kingdom was half of this figure and the least amount of coffee was sold in Sweden. After a period of five years, the sales of coffee increased in all European countries with a significant improvement in the UK.

For the Fairtrade banana sales, the Swiss market was the largest consumer in both the given years. The sales upsurged significantly from 15 million euros to 47 million euros. The sales in Denmark declined from 1999 to 2004 (2 to 0.9 million euros). In 1999, Belgium had the least banana sales in comparison to the other four countries but in 2004, Sweden had the least figure of sales.

In general, Switzerland was the largest buyer of coffee in 1999 but it was replaced by United Kingdom in 2004. However, Switzerland was the largest consumer of bananas in comparison to the other four European countries.

(207 words)

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