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Listen to English podcasts are written and produced by Peter Carter, Birmingham, England.
Listen to English podcasts are distributed under a Creative Commons attribution-non-commercial-no-derivatives licence.

I Go Without my Breakfast

Today’s podcast is about breakfast. Probably most people think of “breakfast” as the meal you eat at the beginning of the day, when you first wake up. However, it is more complicated than that.

First, let’s look at what the word “breakfast” really means. As you probably know, the word “fast” has several, completely different meanings in English. One of the meanings of “fast” is a period when you do not have any food to eat. So, for example, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan – they do not eat anything between sunrise and sunset. A “breakfast” is, literally, a meal which you eat at the end of a period of fasting. When you eat breakfast, you break – or end – your fast.

When I get up in the morning, I have not had anything to eat since about 7 o’clock the night before. Now that is not a very long fast – perhaps 12 hours, but not more. However, the meal which we eat first thing in the morning breaks our overnight fast, so we call it “breakfast”.

What do you eat for breakfast? I have a bowl of muesli with milk, two pieces of toast with marmalade, and two cups of coffee. Some people go for a run first thing in the morning, and then have a breakfast of fruit and orange juice. They are slim and fit and healthy and they make me feel guilty so I do not like them. Other people have no breakfast at all – they do not eat until the middle of the day. Nutritionists tell us that it is not a good idea to go without breakfast, because your concentration is poor if you have not had anything to eat. Other people eat huge breakfasts, with fried eggs and bacon, sausages, mushrooms and fried bread. In hotels and restaurants, a big cooked breakfast is called an “English breakfast”. Actually, very few English people eat a cooked breakfast every day. We do not have time. We are in a hurry to catch the bus or the train and get to work.

I am very interested in breakfast today, because I have not had any! The doctor has the silly idea that I may have too much cholesterol in my blood. So, later today, I have to go to have a blood test. The nurse will stick an enormous needle into my arm, and take out several litres of blood, and send the blood away to a laboratory to be tested. The laboratory will of course send back a report to say that my blood cholesterol is absolutely wonderful, and that they have never seen such magnificent blood before. But – and this is the terrible bit – the blood test is what the doctor calls a “fasting blood test”. That means that I must not eat anything for at least 12 hours before the test. So, no breakfast. Now, it would be sensible to have a fasting blood test early in the morning, so that I do not have to wait a long time to have something to eat. However, the nurse who takes the blood tests only works in the afternoon, so I cannot eat anything until about 3 o’clock. You have no idea how terrible this is. It is the middle of the morning, and I am hungry, really hungry. I cannot stop thinking about breakfast. Surely a very little bowl of muesli and one slice of toast with no marmalade would be OK. Surely a very small breakfast would not ruin the blood test. However, the nurse who does the blood tests is big and fierce, and so I stay hungry.

And now the telephone rings. It is the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery. She is very sorry, but the fierce nurse who does the blood tests is unwell and cannot come to work today. Please can she re-arrange the blood test for another day. How do I feel? What is my reaction to this news? First, of course, I am relieved. I can eat my breakfast now! I do not have to fast until the middle of the afternoon. But I am also annoyed. Why? Because I will have to go without my breakfast on another day in a few weeks time.

Finally, I have an English expression for you to learn. I have talked about people who “go without” their breakfast, or “do without” their breakfast. If you “do without” something, or “go without” something, you decide you do not need it – perhaps because you do not have time, or you do not have enough money. Here are some more things you might “do without”.

If you do not have enough money, you might have to do without new clothes or shoes.

If you are very busy at work, you might go without your normal lunch break.

If you feel tired, you might decide to do without your normal trip to the cinema, and go to bed early instead.

And if the blood test tells me that I have too much cholesterol in my blood, I might have to do without butter, and cheese, and chocolate, or all sorts of other nice things to eat. I might even have to go for a run first thing in the morning, and eat fruit and drink orange juice for breakfast. It is too awful to think about!