Cut To The Chase

If there is one thing in life I am really terrible at – it is having serious personal conversations. I don’t know what it is or where it comes from – the irrational fear that being honest will hurt someone and the fear of the sadness of having to say goodbye. The ironic thing is – in my job – I have  important conversations with people about themselves and nothing comes easier. I guess when it’s someone else’s life – the repercussions seem distant, the effects will never be known to you. It’s a job that you’ve done, and the aftermath of which is not your problem anymore. You, the deliverer have delivered,  and now the problem must be reckoned with by that person alone. But when it’s you, your problem, your delivery and your reckoning – it all changes doesn’t it ? For me at least it does. And so out of an inability to get the horrible adulting out of the way – I end up in  a line of traffic –  the “should have saids”  like cars in mind keeping me at a personal standstill whilst the world bustles on around me.

But out of a series of personal revelations  I’ve come to realise that however horrible and sad goodbyes are, it’s not worth putting off things you know you need to do. Life is too short. I’d rather remember the good memories and not of the foreboding anxiety I had when I was constantly putting serious conversations off. That’s right – I’ve learned at last that sometimes you just need to cut to the chase.

The origin of the saying ” cut to the chase” is thought to herald from old silent movies. These 1920’s films usually followed similar plot lines – a tumultuous love affair depicted by longing glances between the hero and heroine. Now for whatever reason, these love affairs climaxed with a car chase.  Unorthodox I know but whatever floats your boat. Perhaps the first 3/4 of the movie was made for the female viewers and the director remembered that the male members of the audience would need a testosterone fuelled action scene to once again arouse their interest at the films end. Who knows, but it is believed that ” cut to the chase” was first used in this context and was a direction from the script of “Hollywood Girl” in 1929:

” Jannings escapes . Cut to the chase”

In modern day it is used less literally and more figuratively to describe getting to the point. It’s easier said than done, and sometimes it is simpler to be a passenger in life. But as easy as it is to go along with things and trundle along in a car that badly needs a repair, in a pursuit of something you know you do not want,  it is better to be the script writer and director of your own film. Cut to that chase and let the end credits roll to one chapter of your life and the titles run of the next.

 

 

Break the Ice

There is possibly nothing worse than an awkward silence – where thirty seconds feels as if the universe could have been destroyed, dissolved and reborn all in that moment.

They say that silence is golden – but there comes a time when somethings are not worth their weight in gold, and  awkward first encounters , and the potential chorus of silence that can ensue from them – is one.

Don’t get me wrong – you can have silence  that doesn’t invoke terror . In fact those moments are one of the most humbling of all – to be so comfortable with someone that there are no need for words and just being is enough. Alas analysing even those relationships  you realise that everything always has to start somewhere. Everything has a beginning – a first encounter.

Sometimes meeting new people is an informal thing and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s a group activity day organised by the powers  high up at work to boost sales by  strengthening team morale. Sometimes it’s a friend introducing  you to a mutual friend and as a result you all having to try and find common ground.

But what is the default setting amongst these type of encounters? It’s the need to

Break the Ice.

Breaking the ice is often used to describe trying to make small dents in the citadel of a introductory social meeting. It is the act of trying to make thing less awkward , to get things going .

But are things always so frosty? Where did breaking the ice come from ?

It is thought that the saying originated back when shipping was the main mode of both transportation and trade. Naturally shipping in the winter was hindered by the cold weather and port harbours would lose out on trade due to ships being frozen  in ice at sea. The trading town would send out small ships known as “ice breakers” to sail towards the frozen cargo , thus creating a break in the ice behind it and forming a path for the frozen ship to follow back to the port.  And so breaking the ice came about.  Ice breakers- the small ships sent out to rescue the frozen trade ships  –  allowed the port harbours to continue to trade and thrive throughout winter months.

Simon and Garfunkel once said that : ” No one dared disturb the sound of silence,” but alas all they needed was a good ice breaker !

 

 

 

 

Start From Scratch

I have been travelling down a road. It is not a main road nor is it a cobbled path. This road has been long and enduring. The terrain at times rocky. There have been pit stops along the road – taverns and inns  – where I have met new people and learned new things about the world and myself – learned who I want to be and how I want to continue along the road. The road had turns – some sharp enough to teach me lessons about the cruelty that life can bring. But the road, at times, was accompanied by beautiful sights – some  enough to teach me that sometimes it is the journey rather than the destination which holds more reward for your soul.

And now this road,  has come to a junction. Abrupt yet subconsciously always expected – this new turn, this new path – is daunting. I have been slowing down in anticipation of it for a while now, yet I had never believed it would arrive. Am I equipped for where this new road goes? Will I be able to join it safely or will fear overcome me and will I need to stop completely? I had become so used to the old road, I could handle its bumps – for I had had years of learning its tricks.

This road  is a metaphor for where I feel I am in life right now . I have arrived at a point in my life which holds new opportunities, new prospects and new goals. But therein lies the rub- everything is new. It feels like everything I had done prior, all the relationships I had built, all the ways I had begun to love and feel at home in a city, all had to be said goodbye to  – not forever  – but for some time.

Everything feels like it has to be started from scratch.

Which got me thinking – why do we start from scratch? What is a scratch ? (Apart from something you itch )

The word scratch in today’s world is used to describe the beginning of something, or the start of something with no advantage in it. Its origin heralds from the world of sport.  Like most sports, cricket involves lines which demarcate  boundaries which cannot be crossed. The most important line for the batsmen  is the crease. Back in the 18th century , these lines – were etched – or scratched, into the ground. This was also the case in the world of boxing, where boxers were not permitted to cross the line on the ground afore them .

And so players were told to start from scratch.

Writing this has taken my mind off of the scratch that lies ahead of me .I am leaving the pavilion, helmet in hand, armoured with pads to protect me from the game of life, bat swinging by my side. I am approaching slowly to the crease. I have looked at the umpire. I have looked at the bowler – the deliverer of all my challenges. I have seen the boundaries that encircle me – the ring for my own battle.  I am taking a deep breath – for only I know, that unlike the ordinary batsmen,  I have to cross the crease, for it is one thing to start from scratch in life, but it is another to be up to scratch.

 

The Big Apple

New York – the city that never sleeps. This insomniac metropolis, fuelled by coffee, is known for its fast paced heartbeat, which keeps the city alive day to night. NYC, like the cool kid on the block, has a host of aliases that its meagre neighbours can use in their gossiping.

Gotham City.The Melting Pot. The Empire State.

The Big Apple

I asked myself – why the big apple?  Why of all the glorious and abundant fruits, choose the apple? Perhaps it had a religious undertone, and the forbidden fruit was chosen to represent the sins the city has bathing in its blocks and alleys.  Perhaps an apple to represent the humble American apple pie – an analogy that a slice of the city is possible for any man or woman who is brave enough to try and survive in the concrete jungle. It turned out that neither of these were true.

The city was first described as the Big Apple  in the 1920’s by a sports journalist called John Fitz Gerald who called his regular section in the Morning Telegraph, “Around the Big Apple.’

Ok…but that still doesn’t explain why he chose that does it? Well like most good ideas – this one was stolen. Well, perhaps not stolen, but in the end credited to the wrong man.

In his own column, Fitzgerald wrote of how the Big Apple came to be – and it began at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Racecourse. He wrote:

“Two stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y’all goin’ from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we’re headin’ for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other.”

The Big Apple was jockey jargon. It was a niche word. A private word used most likely only among the chatter of the men involved in the training and riding of horses who had not yet won big.

The Big Apple was not a place to them – it was a prize, a big win, a platform to the next echelons of the sporting world. A chance to earn the big bucks.

Nobody went to the Big Apple. You wanted it.

And so the name became engrained in daily life and ultimately popular culture. New York, the Big Apple. The city that never sleeps, in the land of opportunities. To many it embodies the American Dream – the aspiration for bigger, for better. A dream that those stable boys back in 1920’s New Orleans had.

And so even with the ticking of time, the aspiration for the Big Apple – continues.

Mad As A Hatter 

It’s been too long since I’ve written – but like most people, life took over and for a moment it felt like I was standing in the middle of a Manhattan road, with everything and everyone passing me by whilst I stood, fixed to the solid earth beneath me.

Like Ross and Rachel , being on a ” break” from writing and doing the things that I wanted to do, but reasoning with myself that I had no time for – never really worked out. In fact, I’ve come to realise that the age old, ” life goes fast” tantra – is in fact – true. I’ve been foolish to put aside the things that I enjoy doing, for the things I have to do. Life is more than that.

I have well an truly been Mad As A Hatter.

And so with that ominous piece of reflection out of the way ( mindfulness is very a la mode) we can get to the top of the matter. In fact we can get to the top hat of the matter. (As much as I do prefer a fedora myself.)

This idiom is commonly used to describe someone who is said to be mad.  The story of this hat’s origins are somewhat dark, somewhat very 18th century.  Most associate it with Carroll’s Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865,  however Lewis Carroll’s character was in fact named – the Hatter.  It was the Cheshire Cat who described him as being “mad” and so the name seems to have stuck in popular culture. But perhaps there’s something more lurking behind the grin of the Cheshire Cat and he in fact  knew more than Carroll because we can in fact use Alice and her Adventure’s to visualise the origin of this saying.

It all begins in 18th century where the production of hats occurred by hand in factories. These hats were made from felt, which was treated with mercury in order to create the desired texture , (you can see where I’m going now. ) Employees who worked diligently for years in these factories were of course chronically exposed to the toxic element mercury. If you’re a science geek, or just remember basic school stuff, you’ll know that chronic exposure to a substance, leads to accumulation in the body beyond a point at which it is no longer harmless.  And so the ” Mad Hatter’s Disease” came to be, where it was seen that those working in the production of hats, and those who wore hats daily for many years, displayed a similar array of odd characteristics, which at the time, people attributed to mental illness. The mercury within their nervous system’s led to symptoms ranging from confusion, dementia, loss of teeth, hearing and tremors. Of course, our naive 18th century selves were quick to associate these behaviours with loss of the mind, and so the saying Mad As A Hatter, was used to describe those described as being “crazy.” Fear not, with the pioneering advancement in medicine at the time, these symptoms were finally found to be due to the exposure of mercury in 1869.

But back to Alice – the Hatter – as he should be called – is known to wear a top hat. Could Carroll have used this literary character to depict the history and going ons of the time, a clever play on current affairs, a sort of ” do you see what I’ve done here?” to the future. Or perhaps, it is just coincidence.

Either way, Hat’s off to you…no really, take the hat off.

Cat Got Your Tongue?

Now if you’ve read some of my previous posts you will know what side of the fence I sit on regarding the polarising opinions domestic cats instil amongst humans. Cats can be selfish, hedonistic and all together rude animals. They are out to get what they want and honey they know how to wrap you around their little paws. But even I know when somebody is getting an undue proportion of publicity and it seems almost strange the number of idioms and sayings that have the word “cat” in it.

– Cat got your tongue?
– Cat that got the cream
– Curiosity killed the cat
– Cat has nine lives

In that order, there lies an epic fantasy of a feline fiend who – got your tongue, felt smug about it, and then for his own curiosity – died – because your tongue had herpes and it gave the poor cat a cold sore which ended its days. Saga complete- no need for a sequel. Oh wait, the cat lives again it’s only life number 3.

But why are cats so damn popular when it comes to sayings? I mean if there’s any animal that could get you’re tongue, I doubt it would be a cat. You’re more likely to see a cat not move at all, basking under the sun and coming inside when dinner ought to be ready, than to see them lunge towards one’s oral cavity.

But if the day comes when cats decide to do something proactive – what does it mean if “The cat got your tongue?”

This expression is often said by a second party to you in the form of a question, when you’re lost for words. That horrible moment when you’re in the middle of a conversation, or passing a face from the past down a busy street, when someone asks you a question or greets you with familiarity, but your mind goes blank and mouth stays closed. That’s when the damn cat comes in – takes your tongue and saunters away, turning its head to mock you as you stand their frozen with nothing coming out your mouth but the empty silence of awkwardness and regret for ever getting a cat in the first place.

Now the saying has disputed origins, but here are a few.

Some say it originates from the Middle East where liars were brutally punished by having their tongues removed. As if being left mute for the rest of your life was not bad enough, you were then made to watch a cat feast upon your loss. Maybe this is where cats and their thirst for human pain began? First it was tongues but now because of political correctness they have to settle for less – not getting off the sofa, defecating on your favourite bag, general impoliteness.

Another equally as wicked origin is during the Middle ages where witches were less Hermione Granger and more grave danger. Feared by all and persecuted by just as many, it was believed that if you saw a witch, her cat companion would steal your tongue , so that you could not inform the law of her sighting and thus save her from death by dunking.

Now, I’m not playing devil’s advocate here, but in both these origins, cats’ characters are not really untarnished. In each of these suggestions cats have some shady behaviour and associations with pain.

Maybe cats feel obliged to live up to the stereotype given to them in sayings and expressions such as “Cat got your tongue.” Like a tortured villain, they feel that the image thrust upon them by history is one which they must endure and so they cast themselves as the anti hero in our daily lives.

There’s nothing worse than people not seeing the real you and having to be what society wants you to be. So cats may not have my heart as yet, but they damn sure have my respect.

Prisoners of the Sky

Butwhosaid the following? I thought I would sit down and write and so I guess this time there is no common saying or a quote but a poem, which I suppose this time – I said !

I never thought the sky could be
inflicting – so cruel.
To keep me trapped underneath her claws
So many miles from you.

She hides her dark eyes
With glitters from the stars
But I have seen her soul tonight
And from far away it shows.

The wind her prey – is howling
For the sky too has captured him
It’s bound us both from what we want
And travellers have no remit.

Caged upon a muddy sheath
I owe the sky debts
My tears but have nourished the soil
On which she dances to no regret.

I cannot pay the wages the sky demands me to
And so she will not lead me to, the brightness that is you
But my love, the wind and I, we whisper in the rain
And plot so that the sky, up above shall feel our pain.

She goes on and on forever and to no end does she forgive
She hides the sunlight from us – and in darkness I must live.
The journey to your arms, though shadowed by her plight
Is not a victim to , a defeated endless fight.

And so I continue, with bruised and battered feet
Walking in the darkness to where we ought to meet.
But then the sky – in her wickedness- she laughed at me with lies
She told me that you’d given up – that you’d severed all our ties.

I told her I did not believe her – but she laughed so much it rained.
And my heart could not take it – for it was beaten and it was drained.
I thought that you would wait for me – that you would understand
That it was worth anything – to lie once more in hand.

A Hollowness inside me – dug away with no pain,
To know that you had given up – my sorrow I could not feign
The wind it tried to help me – he held me in embrace
But I had long been lost to you, that was always the case.

The stars I see now, are not dazzling rays of hope
They are but like the wind and I – victims of elope.
Naïve with lust and wonder, we all set off for love
But the sky all along knew what awaited from above.

And she tried her most to teach us how to be brave
By making us hate her – for keeping us from what we craved
And all the hatred I had once for her- has dissolved away in time
And the love that burned so violently for you – I have written into rhyme.

Make a Toast

Sometimes when I say a word over and over again, or ponder too much about the meaning of it, the word suddenly becomes nonsensical. I cease to believe that the original word, however simple and mundane it may be, is actually a legitimate word in the English dictionary. For example one fine evening, when I was clearly swamped with things to do and people to see, I found myself conversing with myself . ( Internally ladies and gentlemen, don’t send the psychiatrists just yet.) I was lost in the maze of my own mind when I came to a mental block, shaped in the form of the word “cross.” Imagine a 21 year old sitting in a room and muttering the phrase “I’m cross at you” over and over – because that it was occurred. I could not believe that the word was used as a synonym for annoyance, in fact I became so annoyed at that fact, that after repeating the word over and over again I reached the conclusion that the word itself was entirely imaginary and a figment of my imagination. Conclusion of the day : I created a fictional word, it doesn’t exist, time to move on and do something productive.

On reflection however it got me thinking that most words, phrases or sayings have an origin, but sometimes those origins have no relevance to the modern day use of the word itself. So I thought to myself ( all this thinking, I must be Aristotle ) you know what surely doesn’t make any sense?

Why do we make toasts when we drink? I mean surely no fool can believe that the origin of this act has something to do with crispy bread – plus or minus peanut butter and jam. Nay, some sayings are just sayings that have been plucked off the tree of “that will do.”

It turns out that the act of clinking your champagne flutes together and “Making a Toast” is however the plucked fruit of a very relevant, very Elizabethan tree.

Back in the 16th century , winemakers hadn’t mastered that art of making a palatable drink (surely the basic requirement for this occupation?) and many of the Château Suffolk 1678 were tart and industrial strength. But never one to pass up a drink, the frugal Englishman came up with an idea. A piece of stale burnt bread (what my toast always ends up as when I underestimate the settings on my toaster) was placed in the acidic alcohol to soak up some of the tartness and make the wine more easy on the refined palates of Elizabethan England. What’s more, the Nigella’s of the past even used spiced bread to add more dimension and flavours to their ales and wines. And that’s the bread and butter of where the saying “to make a toast” comes from.

So here’s a toast – may your wine always be drinkable and your bread never burnt. If either fails – now you know what to do – cheers to that.

If the shoe fits…

Not everyone can handle these shoes - but they fit - so I'ma work it.
Not everyone can handle these shoes – but they fit – so I’ma work it.

I am bad with criticism. There I said it. I mean equally I don’t deal well with compliments, often not knowing that it is customary to acknowledge said compliment and perhaps return the favour with an equally embarrassing confession of your personal opinion of how godly someone’s chiselled jaw line is or how you want to drown in their rock pool blue eyes. In fact the hardest “would you rather” question you could ask me would be would you rather be blunt force trauma-ed to submission with compliments or repeatedly scarred by a constant bombardment of shell fire criticism. Trapped in no man’s land, somewhere between compliments and a hard place I know when the time came to pick a side, I’d probably pick the side of criticism.

But in my rare moment of Freudian wonder I feel I’ve got to the bottom of the rock pool and found out why this is the case. You see deep down, I know all my faults; I’ve had 21 years of knowing myself and knowing what others think of me, to understand my flaws, faux pas and frustrating habits. Whats more, like an addict who mourns his affliction whilst pushing the needle into his arm, I know exactly when I’m doing something that is ill received. So I think I can deal well with criticism because somewhere submerged under my pride and ego I know that I can be a nuisance. That’s my pressure point, but I can deal with it because sometimes the Shoe Fits.

“If the shoe fits..” is often used to suggest that sometimes a negative comment about someone may be justified by that person’s own actions or behaviour. Now like a well stocked charity shop, the saying has changed over time .Sifting through the armoire of the 16th century we find a delightful number , the original vintage piece “if the cloak sitteth fit.” Roughly translating to “if the cloak fits keep it.” Now the shoe fits is thought to be the younger American sister of the first born British equivalent of “if the cap fits.” Theories regarding to why cap became shoe are varied with one suggestion attributing it to the popularity of Cinders and her “they only make it in my size” glass slipper.

The moral regardless of the apparel in context, is that sometimes it is a case of one size fits all. We all have flaws and in that way we are all the same but nobody wears ignorance well – so don’t try and squeeze into that smaller size when you know that you’ve got a little bit of baggage you’ve yet to deal with. You’ve checked the bags in – you know that you have them – but you still have to get them past customs. In the meantime – you just have to admit that the bags belong to you.