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.

May The Force Be With You

There is nothing as unfair in the world as injustice. Now in the grand scheme of things the following count of injustice is by no means comparable to some of the world’s most horrific inequalities, but nonetheless somebody has been cheated.Let me set the scene:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. one man is severely robbed of a fantastic quote.

This inequality is so brutish, for it does not involve the outright, beat-him-down, dismissal that you would expect to get if you suggested bringing a salad to a BBQ. No this injustice is by all means far, far worse. Imagine if you were invited to said BBQ and you spent all day marinating, roasting, braising and grilling a colossal beauty of a ten bird roast. You smile with pride, eyes glazed over like the golden brown skin of your trophy turkey, as you arrive at the party. You lay your contribution to the lunchtime soiree down next to some measly spare ribs some novice has brought. You turn your head to wipe your brow , you’ve sweated out all day in the heat of your kitchen whilst you were being simultaneously a domestic god and savage brute. ( Stuffing ten different forms of poultry in one another is not for the faint hearted.) When you turn back to the table you see a crowd around your turkey. You smile inwardly, you didn’t do it for the praise but hey – perks of the job right? And then you see it. People patting some random , not you, guy’s back, aplauding his efforts and praising him for his “way too much”, “so kind” and “skilful” contribution. And what’s worse, the chump is standing there not saying anything – he’s taking all the credit! You don’t want to be that guy who ruins the mood and draws attention to himself by correcting everyone – its too late now anyway, ownership has well and truly been lost. You’re like the songwriter of a hit pop song, lurking behind the stage, happy that your song is number one, but at the same time dejected at the fact that nobody will ever recognise the poetic lyrics as yours.

This my friends is exactly the case in ” May the force be with you.”

Yes our silent hero here is in fact General Dodonna of the Galactic Republic Army. He wishes that the force be with the rebel pilots during the attack on the Death Star. ( Now the details of understanding the circumstances surrounding the quote are not paramount, but essentially he’s wishing the pilots good luck.) Alas General Dodonna is no competition for the American Film Institute’s number 14 ranked best film hero – Hans Solo. But in fact Hans did not solo come up with “may the force be with you.” But it is nonetheless misquoted to being said initially by him. Now General Dodonna is a good guy, he’s not a main character, he’s not got Hans Solo’s looks or hairy handymen. What difference would it make to him if he were to kick up a fuss and shout about how “he said it first” anyway? The fact is, that the quote was so damn inspirational, epic and profound that in every following Episode of Star wars it was said.

Doing things in life for the fame and fortune is rarely a fruitful endeavour- that would be a Wookiee error. (I am so proud of that one) Although it is nice to have your efforts acknowledged,sometimes its more rewarding when its the things we least expected to, that make the biggest impact.

So here’s to the silent heroes. The General Dodonna’s amongst us – our time shall come.

“Patience you must have – young padawan ” Yoda

The Die Is Cast ( Alea Iacta Est )

” Without an element of uncertainty, life is a meaningless game” John Galsworthy

Call me boring but there is no tune as sweet to my ears as that of the promise of an evening well spent with good company and a good old fashioned board game.( That is of course assuming that I am on the winning end of the team , nobody likes a sore loser and unfortunately I am as painful as they get when it comes to losses.) That said, it is not the winning that I enjoy as much as the pursuit of it; the adrenaline rush that comes with the quiet, mental, elegant competition of scrabble – oh you think you can make a 7 letter word, well just you watch what I can do. Boardgames are reminiscent of childhood, times when there was little to worry about other than hoping desperately with fingers and toes crossed that you rolled a double six.

But then adulthood hits. And you realise that all those “life is a game” analogies you heard in the movies and songs when you were growing up, were true.You’ve learnt from the hard experiences of growing up the bad moves, bluffs and dirty tactics life can throw at you. Sometimes you’ve been at the receiving end of a bad deal and at other times you’ve been the one with the upper hand.

Either way, when you make your decision, when you decide upon your next move, there is no going back
“The Die Is Cast.”

Now this well known phrase is originally latin: “Alea Iacta Est” And there is nobody in modern history who is more associated with latin and its home – Rome – than our man Julius Caesar ( after all he did come, see and conquer.) Now I’m looking forward to writing about the origins of this because it involves delving into the history of the past – the history of 49BC to be exact. Julius and his men await on one side of the River Rubicon in Italy. In crossing the river Julius would immediately be sending a message to Rome, and the formidable leader of Rome – Pompey – that Julius meant business and would no longer take orders from the Senate. Caesar was at a pivotal point in the game of politics – he would either win or lose. And so, making the first step on the bridge which crossed the river, Caesar looked towards his men and declared that now their fate was sealed: Alea Iacta Est – The Die Is Cast.

Now J-Cae in this moment aptly says it all. In life you have to make decisions and nobody can make them for you. Sometimes the decisions aren’t as easy as picking white or black on a chessboard. Whatever we decide to do , regardless of the outcome, once it is done, it is done. There is not enough time to play the game of life, to make decisions and then to regret. So once that die has been cast – let it roll. See what happens – then make your next move. The trick is to keep on playing.

This Is A Shot In The Dark

I don’t know how long I’ve been writing poetry for – I’m not very open about it and I don’t really know why. But I thought I’d take a “shot in the dark” and share a recent poem with you. I wanted to write a poem which reflected aspects of my faith and so I wrote this poem as a reminder to myself to not forget who I am, my principles and my dreams- that is to have faith in myself, to have faith in my sprit. I’m still working on a title, but for now I’ve just called it:


There is a story that only I can tell,
For I am the author – so listen well.
It is almost time for me to depart,
So my son let me tell you my tale right from the start.

When I was young I did not really know,
Who I was, but hoped that it would show.
I tried to be what was expected of me,
I moulded myself to what I thought I ought to be.

I am my own master , yet I was ruled.
But my child freedom beats through me – do not be fooled !
There was a wind which each day howled to me
that I was the champion of my own destiny.

The years rolled on but still I had hope,
that one day my wildest desires and I would elope.
Others laughed and told me such was life,
to not be a dreamer and continue this strife.

My leathered body now aged as you see –
a victim to time , she has been a temptress to me.
It takes many a year to be accustomed to change
and so the silence of old age revealed to be strange.

But it is here that my journey begins,
where my soul and I do become friends.
In the quiet I realised –
that this friend has always been by my side.

And who is this, my son I hear you say,
this companion I speak of whom I met in old age ?
Alas he was with me all along,
He was the pulsing beat to the melody of my song.

He was the magic that blinded me when I was young,
He was the poet who’s dreams to me were sung.
He was the niggling that ached in middle age.
And now my son, he is my spirit – free from its cage.



Bite The Bullet

It’s that time of year again – the end. And so as we all sit and reflect on this past 2014 we see our year – the highs, the lows, the adventures, the mistakes, the loves and the losses – as if it were an old movie playing on a movie projector whilst we sip on a New Year’s tipple. It is a curious time of year, one where suddenly nostalgia overwhelms even the most brazen of souls. We find ourselves stopping for a moment and looking back on the past 365 days, reflecting on all that we came, saw and conquered. (Can I remind everyone that we survived the end of the world in 2012 – which was really a close call – so really 2014 was piece of cake in comparison. )

This year I learnt that sometimes you have to do things you don’t really want to . In fact the very thought of doing such a task is nauseating and you succeed in putting it off for at least an hour by reasoning with yourself and by the end of those 60 minutes you have a long list of reasons to just call the whole thing off.

But it’s time to finally ” Bite the Bullet”  and get on with it.

It’s pretty easy to work out the meaning of this phrase and the origins of it are equally as straightforward.

Biting the bullet is used to describe gritting your teeth and doing what you have to do , when really you’d rather be washing your dog’s feet after it waded through a cow farm post bovine breakfast time. You get the point – you don’t bite the bullet unless things are really bad, in fact the bullets are usually locked away so it’s a pretty serious situation when the bullets are out and at arms reach let alone anywhere near your dentition.

The saying’s origin is set in one of these bad situations. It is believed to originate in the times of modern warfare. In these times primitive surgeries were necessary with high numbers of wounded soldiers . However the Western Front was no Western General and so access to anaesthesia was minimal. But every cloud; in these times of war, bullets were at hand and so were used as a trench trademarked lidocaine. Soldiers were told to bite down on lead bullets during the most savage surgeries including amputations as a means of enduring the pain and focussing their energy on anything but the body modifications occurring at the end of the bed. And so the saying biting the bullet arose.

Now I’m not suggesting we all risk the quality of our teeth and start carrying pocketful of blank bullets. It wouldn’t look good in the middle of a job interview if  we were to suddenly bring out a bullet nor would our dentists be best pleased. But what I am saying is that life is too short to put things off no matter how unappealing they are and no doubt similar situations will one day arise in the future, and so,  it is better to bite that bullet now before it gains momentum and hits you harder the next time.

Rudyard Kipling says it better than I do, but if there’s one thing I’m taking with me into 2015 it’s the belief that no matter what is expected of me, or what I expect from myself, regardless of the outcome – triumph or disaster – the success is in the bravery of trying.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”

Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

We live in a competitive world. The phrases “dog eat dog” and “rat race” only paint half the picture of what trying to be successful in the 21st century feels like. It’s hard enough trying to find out who exactly you are as a person – what you stand for, your beliefs and your ideals – let alone trying to find your place in society. Millions of us all hungry for success, in some shape or form, all wanting a slice of the american – dream cake. Success , like hunger, is human nature. What would it say about a race if they did not strive for more ? The hunger is what drives man not the appetite.

Alas there comes a time, when in the midst of your frenzied to-do list, that you realise that you have agreed to do too much , that in your quest for pleasing others in the hope that it will help you in the long run, you’ve said yes too many times, you’ve overestimated your body’s capabilities and that hurts not only your sinew but your ego too . That’s when you sit down and you realise, that your hunger,  has driven you mad. Your thirst for the taste of success has led you to lose all grasp of reality, time and yourself. You’ve been hungry for so long that your body has got used to working in overdrive, telling itself that by doing so you’ll get to the goal quicker and its hunger will be replenished by the rich flavours of success.

You’ve biten off more than you can chew.

This well known idiom is used to describe when one takes on more than they can handle, or to warn others not to . The saying itself originates from a scenario similar to what is warns others off – talk about practicing what you preach ! It is thought to derive from the early 19th century where fresh breath wasn’t first on people’s agendas and the chewing gum market hadn’t quite taken off . And so people chewed tobacco instead – a smokeless way to get your daily nicotine fix – passive smoking no problemo.

Now our ancestors – despite having horrendous oral hygiene, bad breath and a tasteless penchant for  spitting tobacco juices in public  – were friendly guys. (every cloud) So tobacco much like modern cigarettes was shared . However it is thought that when asking to have some of someone’s tobacco, certain opportunists would take bigger bites than normal. And so the guilt was well and truly written on their faces when their gluttony was revealed to all by the accentuated jaw movements of a man who’s eyes were larger than his mouth let along his stomach.  And so it became that when offering others a bite of their tobacco , people were warned not to “bite off more than you can chew.”

It is no longer a la mode to nibble on nicotine and so thankfully situations like the above are rare. But biting off more than you can chew is more than that .

Perhaps we are not all truly hungry, perhaps it is our greed for more that drives us crazy with ambition rather than the true hunger for enough to nourish ourselves. Either way, perhaps it is time to slow down,  to savour each mouthful and experience the flavours – the subtle undertones and textures of life – maybe that is the real success of this world.

Pull The Wool Over Your Eyes

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”  Walter Scott

The “art of deception” seems a most  poetic euphemism for telling a lie. But sometimes it can be fair to assign such a lyrical description for such an deceitful action because – well sometimes – the fraud fashioning the lies is in fact a (con)artist. Lies can be so engrained within this opportunist’s own being that like art – with each talented brushstroke – their lie develops more and more layers of elaborative watercolor and charcoal , adding depth and dimension,  which seep into one another until it seems almost impossible that the lie cannot be anything but the truth.

Behold –  you’ve well and truly had ” The wool pulled over your eyes.”

But where did the wool come  from and are we talking lambs wool or fine cashmere? (Quality my friends is always worth paying extra for.)

Pulling the wool over one’s eyes is used  in modern day English as an idiom when describing the act of beguiling a naive soul into believing the web of mistruths that you spin for them. But this isn’t a web of silk , no, you are so outstanding in your act of enchantment, so talented at twining the fabric(ations) together, that you’ve stitched together a wonderous woolen wig to perch upon your victims unsuspecting head.

A wig you say ? A wig indeed. The saying is in fact thought to originate from the 17th century where it was unbecoming to show the world what your momma gave you and thus it was common practice to wear powdered wigs on top of your own hair. These wigs are still worn today however usually only in courts of law – unless of course King Louis XIII of France is your style icon (each to their own.)  Now these wigs were temperamental and so could slip and send the wearer into temporary darkness until readjusted – and so was likened to keeping someone in the dark by hoodwinking them with your lies. Similarly another suggestion for the origin of the saying is that in courts of law where it was etiquette to wear these woolen wigs, as it still is now, it was said that a great lawyer could enrapture the judge regardless of his clients innocence and thus was, through the power of speech, pulling the judges wig down to cover his eyes to blind him from the truth.

So Walter Scott had the right hunch all along with weaving webs of lies – but perhaps what he meant to say was :

“Oh, what a tangled wig we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”

Let The Cat Out The Bag

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”  Benjamin Franklin

Dealing in secrets is a risky business. The founding father of the great US of A Franklin describes this onerous occupation aptly. It is murderous past time to associate yourself with and two let alone three is company, for secrets do not belong to anyone but themselves. Like heavy rainfall, the pressure of keeping a secret, more so when it is not your own, can mount until finally the dam breaks- the secret  washes off your hands and flows into the laps of others.

You’ve let the cat out of the bag.

But why did you put the poor cat in the bag in the first place? And  why of all the animals did the cat get the short straw with the bag? [ perhaps in this case curiosity did kill the cat 😉 ]

Now it’s probably not hard to believe that shady shenanigans such as putting a cat in a bag dates back to the medieval times. If there is any truth to the saying learning from your mistakes, the medieval times is most definitely testament to this, and we can only thank our ancestors for being so crude and aggressive in their actions because it means that we gentle souls don’t have to dabble in such cat bagging activities.

The belief is that the saying originates from the times when livestock was sold at markets . Off you’d go looking for the perfect pig and after perusing the pork on offer and finding the right one –  sturdy hips are a must – the merchant would  “bag” your goods for ease of transport. ( Walking a pig home has never been an acceptable move, neither now nor in the medieval ages. ) Content  with your savvy shopping you return home ready to show your significant other how you have an eye for quality when it comes to pig picking. That is until you open the bag and lo and behold a cat pops out.  This is no witchcraft or black magic, alas this is an example of good old market fraud. You’ve well and truly been cheated out of your chops. Replacing your pig with a cat means that the market salesman not only makes a profit but also gets to keep his high quality ham to continue the real hustle with more oblivious shoppers.

So letting the cat out of the bag can be seen to have a literal meaning and origin. The poor cat got bagged because  cats come a dime a dozen and so were perfect ploys in the great game of farm animal fraud. Nowadays the saying is used to describe letting a secret slip rather than for describing a swindling salesman .

Secrets are guilty pleasures. We all have them and expect to keep them our own  and yet  all too often we are quick to divulge other people’s secrets. It’s a double standard which is a sad reality of life. Perhaps a bag isn’t enough for this feline freight but then again tiger’s aren’t meant to be caged.

Tis the nature of the beast.

“If I maintain my silence about my secret, it is my prisoner…if I let it slip from my tongue, I am its prisoner.” – Arthur Schopenhauer