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 !

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

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

Heard It On The Grapevine

There has never been a time like now. Information about anyone or anything is at the click of a button. With the advent of the digital world and social media you can find out most things about people online .  In fact social media is the biggest satisfaction to one of man’s greatest cravings . Like a pyromaniac with a zippo lighter, we scroll , eyes glazed over with inquisitive wonder, through online timelines and news feeds, our shameful hunger for other’s people’s business satisfied with each glorious mouthful of virtual information. We are a prying race, we like to know what others are doing and why we aren’t doing it too. The likes of Facebook and Twitter allow the constant updates of peoples lives to be streamed straight to our handheld devices and so, with some form of implicit consent  by their acceptance of your  friend request,   we monitor their activities, thoughts and relationships.

It is a virtual grapevine, thriving in all climates and seasons, gifting us the fruits of other people’s labours and lives.  By word of mouth soon even I know that Jenny’s dad’s cousin bought a new house in Idaho. ( I don’t know Jenny and I have never been to Idaho.)

But where did the saying ” Heard it on the Grapevine” come from?

This phrase was born in the USA ( try not singing that! ) back in the 19th century when Samuel Morse’s telegraph system was the new means of communication. The first telegraphing line built, like most new products on the market , was a basic prototype and so in its unrefined  glory parts of these wires were held shoddily  off the ground by being strung on trees  and so the trailing wires on the ground were likened to un farmed grapevines . Because of this, the first telegraph lines built were prone to damage by weather and hooligans and so information undoubtedly encountered problems in reaching its destination . From there came the term ” heard it on the grapevine” where grapevine was used to refer to the telegraphing system in a mocking manner. The truth was that the information passed on the  “grapevine” was unreliable, transmission had somewhere gone wrong and the true message had been received either tainted and lost in translation or not at all.

We use the term now to describe hearing misinformed gossip from a friend’s sister’s cousin , with information spreading like wildfire, bringing along with it debris that taints the true course of the original flame.

Regardless it was the dulcet tones of Mr Marvin Gaye who brought the phrase to popular culture in 1968. But as the song goes ” people say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear. “

So perhaps it’s best to believe things when it’s straight from the horses mouth! ( But that’s for another post eh !)