Out of the Spotlight: writing in times of Corona

    Inez Sharp
    Von Inez Sharp

    Day 15

    Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hearing a lot about virtual dinners. A couple of my friends have tried this and while I was sceptical initially, they seem to be rather fun.  

    Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke has taken digital dining one step further and is offering people the chance to win a virtual dinner date with her by donating money to a coronavirus charity that she has set up.  

    I can’t offer anything as fancy or useful as that, but I would like to invite you to a Friday evening cookery class — one that will help you practise the present progressive tense at the same time.

    Just as a reminder: we use the present progressive to talk — among other things — about what is happening now:

    I am sitting here and writing this blog.

    It’s made using the verb to be and the -ing form of the main verb. And this is how we create questions:

    Are you reading carefully?

    Got that? OK, now let’s go into the kitchen. As I cook dinner, I’ll ask you to listen to what I am doing. Match one of the following verbs to the correct sounds to make a sentence.

    peel, cut up, fry, wash, serve


    That’s all from Out of the Spotlight. Look after yourselves and have a good Easter break!


    Day 14

    So, this is what it feels like to be a Spotlight subscriber!

    As we are all now working from home, I received the latest issue of the magazine through the mail — usually, new issues are plopped on my desk by one of my kind colleagues. This morning, I sauntered out to my post box and was delighted to find Spotlight 5/2020 waiting for me. And here it is in all its loveliness.

    Spotlight Magazin Cover

    We really hadn’t planned the topic of games to coincide with the lockdown — honestly — but we hope that once Spotlight arrives, you will have fun trying out the different activities in the magazine. Take a look at our feature “Play your way to better English!” All the activities are suited to those locked down alone.

    Spotlight Magazin Doppelseite

    On the other hand, if you are quarantined with family or friends, you can play Double up! It’s an adaptation of our latest card game created in partnership with Grubbe Media.

    Spotlight Magazin Doppelseite

    If you prefer puzzles and crosswords, we have expanded our regular crossword page to include more brain-twisters.

    Spotlight Magazin Doppelseite

    Finally, I would like to invite you for a virtual dinner tomorrow. As with all good dinners, there is a little preparation involved. We’ll be cooking and practising the grammar of the present progressive tense at the same time. So, to get ready for our present progressive cooking class, why not take another look here and clue up on the use of this tense?


    Day 13

    The plan was to practise some more grammar today, but earlier on I was witness to a lovely incident — and I want to share it with you.

    Every morning — before the lockdown — I used to pass one of my neighbours as I cycled to work. Come rain or shine, she was always there on the street, in her blue anorak, looking for someone to chat to. I stopped to talk to Mrs Blue, as I call her, every now and again over the years. She knows where I work and that I have a grown-up son. Most often, though, we talked about her son. He’s a hotshot lawyer and she is clearly very proud of him. In fact, sometimes, it’s hard to get away when she starts talking about him. I’ve noticed other people rushing past her, clearly not wanting to be ensnared. Mrs Blue seems very lonely — I sometimes wondered whether her son really existed or whether she had just made him up to have something to talk about.

    So, when I went shopping today, I was amazed and delighted to see Mrs Blue arm in arm with a young man who was clearly her son. She was as proud as can be and gave me a big smile as I cycled past. Has the pandemic brought her son home for an extended visit? I hope so.

    Of course, I don’t want to leave you with nothing to do, so here is the final chapter of our Ms Winslow story to listen to. You’ll find the other chapters on days eight and ten. Enjoy!


    Day 12

    As I mentioned yesterday, we are going to begin by looking at tenses and we’ll start off now with the one that you probably learned first: the present simple.

    We make this tense with the infinitive form of the verb:

    I live in Munich.

    For “he”/“she”/“it” — the third person singular — we add an -s.

    He lives in Chicago.

    We use the present simple to

    • talk about habits and repeated actions.
    • talk about situations that are permanent.
    • give directions or instructions.

    To form negative sentences, we need the auxiliaries “do” or “does”. “Do” / “does” + “not” come before the main verb and are generally shortened to “don’t” or “doesn’t”.
    I don’t live in Chicago.
    He doesn’t live in Munich.

    We also need the auxiliaries “do” or “does” in order to form questions. “Do” / “does” comes at the beginning of a “yes/no” question or after the question word:

    Do you live in Chicago?
    Does he live in Chicago?

    Where do you live?
    Where does he live?

    Here’s how to use the present simple to talk about habits and routines.


    The typical home office day of my dreams

    I get up at 11.30 and have a full English breakfast. At 12.00, I log on and chat with my colleagues. Then, at around 13.30, I make myself a crisps and chips sandwich with barbecue sauce for lunch.

    In the early afternoon, I take a nap or watch old episodes of Call the Midwife. Just after four o’clock, I get dressed and log on again, answer a few e-mails and check the celebrity column of the Daily Mail online. I never really find any stories for Spotlight, but it keeps me up to date with Kim, Gwyneth and co. At five, I join my exercise class on Zoom and work out for around ten minutes. At six, I order in dinner.

    In the evening, I look for inexpensive Christmas presents online and, if I find anything, I order it and update my Christmas present list. I don’t go to bed before midnight.


    Now it’s your turn. What do you do on a typical home office day — real or imagined?

    Please send your text to spotlight@spotlight-verlag.de We’ll print our favourite text in issue 7/2020 of Spotlight.


    Day 11

    Being stuck at home can be good for creativity. On Saturday evening, I mixed myself a quarantini and began thinking about the six stages of a pandemic:

     Online activity
     Reassessment of life values
      Appreciation of friends, family, flora and fauna, (good) fiction, films and freedom!  

    OK, time to lay off those quarantinis. If you liked my (almost) acrostic, you’ll certainly enjoy the next issue of Spotlight. It comes out on 8 April and is all about games — including a mini-game on writing your own acrostic.

    To me, this feels like part of the pandemic, when I really do need to focus and set myself some targets. I will begin by improving my French.

    Perhaps you would also like to take a focused approach to improving your English. If so, over the coming days I will post some basic learning material here. Tomorrow’s lesson will be on tenses. Get a head start by looking here.


    Day 10

    This final blog for the week is dedicated to my uncle Alfred. He would be 90 in early May. I say ‘would’ because I am not sure if he is still alive. I think he is lying in a hospital in north England. Alfred was dying even before the pandemic hit. He has wonderful carers and, as far as I can understand, he was just waiting to be allowed to go home where he could die in peace.

    Now, nothing is sure. If he is receiving any visits at all, they will be very few. I’m sure he is being given the best possible attention by the hospital staff. I believe in our National Health Care system and will be out there clapping them on this evening, even if nobody can hear me. Alfred is a vicar and worked with the dying at his local hospital, so death was his companion on many days.

    I would like to think about two memories I have of him that are very much alive — in my mind. One is of him sitting in our garden, having tea. Before we started drinking, Alfred took the tea cosy — which was exactly in the shape of a bishop’s mitre — put it on his head, put his hands together and blessed the cake. The whole family was in stiches.

    The other memory, in fact these are lots of memories I have merged into one, is of playing cards with Alfred. For a man of God, he did not bring much trust to the card table. He always held his cards under the table, however awkward it was. We joked with him about this, but Alfred played a very serious game of cards.

    Wherever you are, Alfred, I am thinking of you and remembering your humour and kindness — and our card games.  

    Before I sign off for this week, here, as promised, is the second chapter of our Ms Winslow story: I hope you enjoy it.

    Have a good weekend. Stay healthy and happy.


    Day 9

    Pop filter

    Working from home creates many fun challenges. As some of you may know, now and again I’m a speaker for Spotlight Audio. The lockdown means, of course, that we can’t go to the Spotlight studio for recordings. Most of the speakers have reacted magnificently to the challenge, bought all the right equipment and sent demos to our lovely sound engineers, Mr B and Mr R.

    Only yours truly forgot and now I am missing some vital equipment. This thing you see here is called a pop filter.

    As its name suggests, it filters out the pop you get when you say the letter “p” and other pesky sounds. I have been completely unable to find this device to order online, so in desperation I made my own. May I invite you to join me on this DIY journey?

    Step 1.
    Rummage through any sewing stuff you have, until you come up with one of these.
    It’s an embroidery-thingy. This one was last used by me circa 1982.

    embroidery thing

    Step 2.
    Knit yourself a cover.


    Step 3.
    Give up knitting and go to your sock drawer.

    sock drawer

    Step 4.
    Find a thin, clean sock and put it over the embroidery-thingy.

    sock and embroidery thing

    Step 5.
    Hey presto! You have a pop filter. Or should I call that a pop-sock filter?

    pop filter

    Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers… :)

    By the way: I have just discovered how many YouTube videos there are on this topic. It is impossible to be original in this digital age!


    Day 8

    If one more person sends me a jokey corona video, I will force my phone to self-isolate. These videos are a virus in their own right, and it seems that every phone is affected. I know, a few days ago, I still thought they were charming and funny, but now it’s enough. STOP!

    Outside is a cold blue sky and that mirrors my mood today. Blue and feeling a bit of cold anger. A former colleague caught the last plane home from his holiday destination yesterday and called to tell me about his shopping plans for today. Shopping! The man is over 70! My offer to help was met with polite disbelief.

    What helps when you’ve got the blues? A Spotlight story? If you are also feeling a bit low, here’s the first chapter of one of our Ms Winslow stories for you to enjoy:

    In case you haven’t yet had the chance to meet Spotlight’s very own sleuth — Dorothy Winslow once worked in the diplomatic service, lives in Cambridge, but loves to visit friends and family in the little German town of Heroldstein. On almost every visit she finds herself investigating an interesting local crime. The next chapter will be in my Friday blog.


    Day 7

    It’s interesting to see how the corona crisis is affecting my behaviour — albeit rather too slowly. This morning I knocked over a bucket with dirty water. Two toilet rolls later the mess was cleared up. And then it dawned on me that a good old-fashioned cloth would have done the job just as well. Let’s see if I can remember that for next time.

    From life lessons to English lessons: Did you take our test yesterday to find out what your level in English is? Never mind if you didn’t, my learning tip for today is aimed at typical mistakes all non-native speakers make in English. If you have not yet met Spotlight Corrector Woman, you find her here, ready to help you overcome those pesky errors.

    And last but not least, one of my colleagues, I am going to call her Mrs D, wrote a fabulous book review for issue 6 of Spotlight. The book is called The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Part picture book, part life coach, it is full of wise words, I leave you today with this excerpt:

    “Sometimes,” said the horse. “Sometimes what?” asked the boy. “Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”

    Buchcover: The Boy, the Mole, The Fox and the Horse


    Day 6

    How did you spend your weekend? Did you perhaps, like millions of other people around the world, use the lockdown to do some repairs around the home? I tried to attach a container for bags to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. The result: eight holes in the door rather than the two I would have needed, but it is attached. I am useless at DIY — over the years I have cut through a live cable while adjusting a lamp, fallen backwards down a ladder with a bucket of paint and knocked a window out, and emptied another pot of paint over a brand-new Mercedes — so I was quite proud of my achievement this time.

    My other weekend activity was to think up some tips and ideas for you to help improve your English in the coming days. So here goes: Why not begin by finding out exactly what level your English is at? This feature will help: Do your level best. Then you can go straight to our language test here: sprachtest.de to get a definitive answer.

    If you prefer something more relaxing, one of the many corona-related film clips circling online at the moment is an excerpt from the old BBC series Yes, Minister. I was reminded just how good the series was. We might not be able to look behind the scenes at what our politicians and civil servants are saying, but this might give you an (old-fashioned) idea:



    Day 5

    I know I’m not supposed to say this, but not having to go to work — cycle off in the freezing cold and squeeze myself into a crowded train every weekday — is absolutely wonderful! I don’t slop to my computer in my pjs, but I do love having an extra 40 minutes every morning before I log on.

    It was this thought that convinced me it would be a good idea to write Peggy’s Place yesterday at 11.30 pm. No alarm at 6.10? Great! I could go to bed really late. I was watching a very cheesy TV series when I had a good idea for Peggy’s story for issue 6. It’s a real tear-jerker, folks! No spoiler alert, but you can imagine what the coronavirus is doing to pubs across Britain. Of course, some people will want to go to the pub despite all warnings and it seems that Boris Johnson’s dad is one of them.

    Thank goodness Peggy’s Place is fictional! Anyway, I am going to sign off here for the weekend. I’ll be back on Monday with some tips and material on how to improve your English at home with Spotlight. Stay safe and have a good weekend.


    Day 4

    It was really great to see all my colleagues at our weekly video conference today. The best bit? Getting a peek at their home offices. As I sat there listening to questions and answers, this was what was really going through my head: so, that’s your taste in art? Interesting! That’s a nice-looking cupboard. Would it be rude to interrupt the meeting and ask where you got it? Sadly, most of the screen images were so small, I couldn’t really get a proper view.

    In case you are wondering what my new home office space looks like, here it is. There’s my desk, normally my dining table. I always try to have flowers on my desk. Those expensive purple tulips went straight from having closed buds to wilting — without the blooming phase in between. The vase, by the way, is a copy of a Bauhaus design. It was inexpensive, and currently it is one of my favourite objects. Of course, you can also see copies of Spotlight, reference books and recording equipment. The green book is my diary. The little cream and orange pot was a present from my colleague Claudine, who died in January. I like to have it nearby as I work. And the gold-framed painting is of Venice. My sister found it in a junk shop. So now you know my taste in art.

     Inez Sharp's kitchen table


    Day 3

    Today, my mum is celebrating her 85th birthday. Happy birthday, mum! I have been worrying that she would have to spend the day alone. She lives a long way away. Two things, though, have kept her cheerful. First, the latest issue of Spotlight. She reads the magazine carefully and, in the best tradition of mothers, only ever gives me positive feedback. Bless her! Actually, that’s not quite true. Her favourite section is Peggy’s Place — how can it not be when her daughter is the author? — but yesterday she asked me when I would finally get around to including the coronavirus in an episode. Honestly, mum, I’m doing my best! I’ll get to work on the story for episode 6/20 later today. Let’s see how I can get the virus in there and still be relevant — we have no idea how the pandemic will have developed when the issue comes out on 6 May. Second, my mum lives on a farm. At lunchtime today, she sat down in a field with other family members — chairs well spaced apart — and had a picnic. And even though she had to share her sandwiches with a sheep, she seems to have had a good time.


    Day 2

    Today has been a bit dull. There is enough to do, but it’s cloudy and the kids who I could hear playing outside yesterday are gone. It was good to see two of my colleagues on a video conference. I miss them more than I thought. For company, I keep the TV on all day and when this pandemic is over, the BBC news theme tune will be my Corona-melody — like the songs that remind us of past lovers, only sadder. On a more practical note: how will we get the photo for the Spotlight Supper Club for issue 6? It’s King Fluffernutter Pie from the US. If you’ve never heard of it, watch this space. It’s an amazing concoction — if we can get the ingredients.


    Day 1

    My first day officially working from home and it has been different from what I expected. I am worse at understanding technology than I thought — actually the truth is that my partner, now quarantined a few hundred kilometers away, usually helps me and without him things get complicated. A bigger crisis was created by the visit of a bumble bee. Sitting at my desk waiting for a meeting to begin, the windows wide open, I heard what I thought was a drone. In fact, it was a bee the size of a small mandarine. It could never have flown into my office where the windows only open wide enough to throw out sheets of half-written editorials. I did the brave thing: screamed and ran out of living room and called my friend who lives upstairs. “Help,” I shouted, “I’m being attacked by a killer bee and I have to be in a meeting, RIGHT NOW!” Unsurprisingly, by the time my neighbour arrived, the insect had departed, but I let the blinds down just in case and worked by lamplight for the rest of the day.