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Banned by Customs

Shirley talks about her previous career working with the Customs Department in Australia.

Ray: Well so Shirley, tell me about your career as a Customs inspector.

Shirley: Yes, many years ago in a previous lifetime, I worked as a Customs Officer in Australia. And, I don’t know if you know but that means … basically taking control or monitoring our borders and checking what comes in and out of the country.

Ray: Well that sounds pretty interesting.

Shirley: Yeah, it had its moments.

Ray: Like for example

Shirley: Well, Australia has very strict quarantine regulations so we’d often get people trying to smuggle in prohibited food or seeds or plants and I remember one time there was a man who had an entire sapling, a small tree strapped to his body. He had the roots kind of in his shoe and it was strapped to his leg all the way up his body and along his arm and of course his clothes on top so that we couldn’t see them.

Ray: Well that’s a, are now you sure he was a person and not an “ent”?

Shirley: I don’t know. He was doing a good disguise if he was in fact a walking “ent”.

Ray: That’s true, so what’d you do to this poor guy?

Shirley: We didn’t do so much to the poor guy, I think he probably

Ray: so what did you do to his poor tree then I guess.

Shirley: Well his tree was confiscated and would be destroyed. Probably he was fined and went to court and would have to pay a fine.

Ray: What other things do people smuggle?

Shirley: All sorts of strange things. Sometimes they smuggle things that they don’t even realize are prohibited. So for example canned foods like pate or canned meats are also completely prohibited

Ray: Oh boy

Shirley: Yeah, I mean a lot of those things they can hold, for example foot and mouth disease, I think, is resistant to very high temperatures and it’ll last for about seven or eight years. So those things are also prohibited. Birds, which is pretty sad because when people bring in something like birds or small animals the death rate for the animals is extremely high so

Ray: Goodness, yes.

Shirley: Usually only about ten percent (10%) survive and if they get caught, then they can’t have them anyway.

Ray: Can’t imagine how, if you were trying to smuggle a bird I have visions of somebody anasthetizing the poor thing and, stuffing it into their backpack or something of that sort and

Shirley: Yeah

Ray: that can’t be good

Shirley: there’s lots of imaginative ways to do that but all in all, none of them are very good for the birds.

Ray: Any reptiles?

Shirley: Yeah well, people do smuggle them in, although actually in the case of Australia I think we have a bigger problem with them going out because Australia has, I think, the highest number of venomous reptiles in the world and also different types of reptiles so people taking them out illegally is a big problem. I personally never saw any, fortunately. I actually quite like snakes but I have a healthy respect for them so I don’t really want to be, you know, engaging with them on a one-to-one personal level.

Learn Vocabulary from the Lesson

in a previous lifetime


Many years ago in a previous lifetime.

Something that happened in 'a previous lifetime', happened so long ago that is seems very distant or far back in one's history. Here are some examples.

  1. About 10 years ago, in a previous lifetime, I used to go out and party every night, but now I just stay at home and watch TV.
  2. In a previous lifetime, I used to run marathons. Now I can hardly walk around the block.

had its moments


Yeah, it had its moments.

To say something or someone 'has its moments' is to say that there were good points about it, even if it was sometimes difficult. Note the following examples.

  1. My dad was grumpy a lot of the time, but he did have his moments.
  2. Janet is generally a mediocre tennis player, but she does have her moments every so often.

death rate


The death rate for small animals is extremely high.

The 'death rate' is the percentage of deaths for a given population at a given time or in certain circumstances. See the examples below.

  1. The death rate for children at the turn of the 19th century was much higher than it is now.
  2. The death rate from car accidents is much higher than parachuting - but my mum still won't let me go!

something of that sort


Stuffing it into their backpack or something of that sort.

'Something of that sort' is a common expression to suggest a similar activity, action or thing. Note the following examples.

  1. If you bring cake to the picnic, please make it a cheesecake or something of that sort.
  2. His jeans were the baggy kind that hang low on your hips, or something of that sort.

all in all

There are lots of ways to do that but all in all, none of them are good for the birds.

'All in all' is an expression highlighting the final reason or feeling of something. Here are a couple of examples.

  1. Even though it rained, people had lots of fun and at a ton of food, so all in all, it was a successful barbecue.
  2. Your idea that we could take the train to Madrid is good, but all in all, I think I would prefer the bus.

Vocabulary Quiz

previous life • death rate • all in all
moments • of that sort
  1. The for all groups goes up as income goes down.
  2. In my , I was a musician .
  3. It is talk that makes me mad.
  4. I would say that it was a good day.
  5. I love New York but it has its .
Answer the following questions about the interview.

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