Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Gosh – it’s been a while hasn’t it?

That’s exactly what I have kept telling myself each day and yet I have let each of those days escape me, like the sighs that dissolve from my soul into the world around me, a quiet manifestation of the anger I harbour for my own forgetfulness.

Well I wouldn’t call it forgetfulness and I’m not sure I could call it laziness either. I don’t know what it is. The thought and desire to write is always there – but 5 months later here we finally are. I tell myself – where is the time? Where does this mistress hide herself and who is it that she elopes with to leave me here – without a single minute left to spare? She tortures; standing still in moments of fear and threat but running away in times of happiness and haunting me in times of regret.

But – it’s an age old excuse isn’t it – I didn’t have the time to. How could I not have had a single second, in the past 166 days, to do something which I started for myself? Something which is an outlet for me, which I enjoy and which is my own.  I know I want to, but I tell myself I have more important things to do. All this, at the expense of letting go of a part of me which I enjoy and which makes me more than just what the world around me knows.

I’m somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

Life’s responsibilities , the adult lucifer, is a constant pressure. It whispers in your ear when you are about to fall asleep  reminding you of the bills you have to pay and the work you have yet to do. Losing yourself  to your adult life  – is like drowning in the deepest of seas. For who are we if we lose ourselves? What makes me different from you and what makes me more than  just a piece of machinery ?

What then is the lesser of these two evils?

Some say this idiom: between the devil and the deep blue sea, heralds , like all good things, from Greek mythology.

Thought to originate from Homer’s Odyssey, this saying has travelled its own journey to becoming a modern day saying.

In fact, ” somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea” in its Greek origin is known as ” being between Scylla and Charybdis “. But who was Scylla and who was Charybdis?

Our story is set between the waters of Sicily and Italy – known as the strait of Messina. It was through here which Odysseus had to pass on his long journey back home to Ithaca from the battle of Troy. However like most myths, there was a catch. In this strait there lay two monsters. The first was called Scylla who was once a beautiful nymph – but now  a six headed monster of the sea ( the tale of many women’s lives!) who had a hunger for the blood of men ( again, akin to many women’s lives perhaps?!)  The second was Charybdis – another monster but less of the physical kind and more the geographical. Charybdis was a large whirlpool , lying very close to Scylla and capable of swallowing Odysseus, his ship and all his men, in one. These two monsters were so close to one another, that Odysseus had to make the decision of which threat was greater and which had less of a chance of taking them all alive.

Odysseus really was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

The decision? Well as Homer writes:

“Sail on past her—top speed! Better by far to lose six men and keep your ship than lose your entire crew,”

Odysseus sacrifices a few of his men to the appetite of Scylla at the expense of being consumed entirely by the abyss of Charybdis.

And so like Odysseus I too must make a decision – whether to let  the stress  of life consume all of me or make the small moments to stop and enjoy life – pressing pause for a moment –  and dealing with potential consequences later on.

Well at least I’m not stuck between a rock and a hard place – for the sea is a much gentler mistress.

That and I know how to swim.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.