Cup of Joe

Americano

Machiato

Espresso

Cortado

Ristretto

Coffee. A way of life to some, and to others a means to fuel each hazy morning. From the millennial sipping on their instagrammable paper cup to the middle aged mechanic with his morning brew – we all have a little time for a cup of  Arabica.  Myself for example, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with it. Starting out like most-  with an utter disgust for the smell let alone taste – reminding me of my french teacher : a certain je ne sais pas.

Then I reached 16 and it was  cool to have an iced drink doused in sugar, cream and syrup. I realised quickly that this was not sustainable for both my health and wallet at almost 3.50 a pop. Exams came and the next rung up Jacob’s ladder was the warm embrace of a hot, smooth milky latte – essentially an adult milkshake, not proper coffee but not all milk – so 100% judgement free!

And then one summer I became a fully fledged adult – I moved on to the big boy – a nice, fresh Cup of Joe.

But how does a cup of coffee become anthropomorphised into Joe? And why Joe and not Tom, Dick or Harry?

The origins of this phrase are thought to originate on the sails of the American Navy in the early 20th century . Josephus Daniels held the elusive role of Secretary of the Navy and his lasting legacy was that of banning alcohol on navy ships.   Like flotsam, the sailors found themselves lost at sea and so replaced a cold beer with plenty of hot coffee – naming it aptly after the man causing their caffeine fuelled vendetta.

Another belief is that Joe is used to represent that it is a drink of any man and everyman – Joe around the corner enjoys a coffee so why shouldn’t you?

All I know is that life is too short for bad coffee – in an instant it will all be over . All the memories of the past will filter through your mind and you’ll ask yourself if given another shot would you have done anything differently?

Open your eyes – it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

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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.

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.

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.