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 !

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?

Back to Shakespeare again folks. But not because I have an intense fan girl  obsession with our favorite English playwright, nay but because of Halloween.

That’s right, double double toil and trouble, something wicked this way comes! Halloween is nigh and with it brings a legitimate reason for me to be able to put too much effort and excitement into a costume undoubtedly nobody but perhaps an english or film studies student will get.

This year I am going as a star crossed lover  – masquerading this October 31st as  good old Juliet Capulet ( I’m in the middle of sourcing an apothecary to acquire poison as well as a blood stained dagger so that perhaps more people may know who I am actually meant to be. )

But it got me thinking. Romeo and Juliet is  a cultural staple, its plot forms the foundations of most modern day rom-coms; a classic tale of forbidden love which ends tragically . But, if it is such a well recognized play and so engrained in popular culture, why is it that it is so frequently misinterpreted ?

O Romeo, O Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

The scene is set. Juliet sits at her balcony and – as one  does – declares her feelings in regards to her undying (and slightly hastily decided) love for Romeo – a 16th century Bridget Jones’ diary.

Now the above quote is often thought to mean ” where are you Romeo?” Now this makes sense grammatically and is in context with the play. Nevertheless the actual meaning of ” Wherefore art thou Romeo” makes even more sense grammatically and is even more in context with the play.

Wherefore art means ” why do you have to be.” So Juliet is not yearning for the longitude and latitude of her lover, she doesn’t want his GPS location, she’s not clingy like that. No she wants more. Our gal Juliet is a philosopher, she wants to know why he had to be born a Montague, born a son of the sworn enemies of her family.

So ladies and gentlemen this time it’s a case of why rather than where for both Romeo and Juliet and myself.

WHY will people not understand who I am dressed up as this Halloween?

Maybe it’ll be because people will expect me to be looking for my Romeo . But we all know now that I won’t be looking for him, but rather I’ll be sitting somewhere, dram of whisky in hand, questioning and pondering his bloodline and heritage.

Wherefore art thou indeed .