It never rains, it pours

Of all the strange idioms we have in the English language, this one is definitely at the very strange end of the spectrum. For those not native speakers, or just not familiar with the term, it really means when something bad happens, it’s not just bad, it’s really, really bad!

In some ways it is actually very strange that we use this expression in the UK as in meteorological terms, we are quite the opposite in the British Isles and in reality we are far more likely to have damp, drizzle, persistent rain or the odd cloudburst rather than continuous days of monsoon like pouring rain.

In the UK we actually seem to specialise in non descript weather and this is to our disadvantage. Go to a country like Canada where consistently the winter temperatures are acutely sub zero night and day and you will find it’s all taken in their stride.

Underground heated shopping malls, spectacularly efficient and monster sized snow clearing equipment and as a standard for most cars the capability to plug in ‘ car style electric blankets’ to protect the engines and remote control devices that allow the car to be started from inside your home to let it warm up (but keep the doors locked).

And it is not just winter weather. When we have a hotter than average summer, most of our public buildings and almost all homes will not have any form of air conditioning unlike their Mediterranean or North American counterparts. Result…during a heatwave people struggle to sleep or be productive in the workplace.

And if you think it’s just the weather, we struggle with seasonal variations of the environment. The UK rail system is notorious for problems with ‘leaves on the line’…somehow we are almost unique in the world that our trains struggle with mashed up damp leaves!

We are by nature a stoic nation and when the current generation grumble about these challenges, the parental generation is often quick to retort with…it was worse in my day!

Probably very true, but in the same way that we eradicated the black death and other historical ailments, our present day objective must be to facilitate our managing the challenges thrown at us rather than just grudgingly accepting them.

I think the fact that we are no longer wandering the earth wearing loin cloths and carrying a club demonstrates our success to date!

New tricks for old dog….

You cannot teach an old dog new tricks is a well used idiom in the English language.

I am not sure if it exists in other languages but it probably translates quite well as compared with more confusing expressions such as ‘this is the exception that proves the rule’ , or even more confusingly ‘pardon my French’ uttered when people are indeed not speaking French, but speaking English, but with words you wouldn’t want your mother to hear!

The etymological origins of this are quite interesting in that way, way back some French was used in England and occasionally in error people would intersperse English with some random French phrases and then realise their error and apologise for it.

It is true that it takes longer for an old dog to learn new things, but it is not impossible, and the same for us humans. At one time there was almost an acceptance of once beyond a certain age, you really don’t do new things or make changes other than really radical things such as changing the day you go to Aldi from a Monday to a Tuesday!

If you think I am joking, I am aware of elderly couple who recently took this dramatic move and it was such a big thing they felt it merited being broadcast to all interested parties via a Whats App group message and then the services of a family member who happens to be trained counselor to assist them through their trauma!

But it seems we are as a nation and a generation getting better at doing new stuff.

Running clubs have new members joining in there 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in part helped by the popularity of Parkrun – if you are not familiar with the concept of Parkrun….Google it.

TV cookery programmes such as Masterchef and Bake off have inspired countless thousand to be more adventurous in (or even just find…) the kitchen.

And then there are the thousands or indeed tens of thousands of people writing – whether they are novelists or just simple bloggers…more than ever thoughts and ideas are being translated into the written word.

The opportunities to do new things are endless…ok, some of them are very expensive and costs and time exclude these for many people.

For me I would love to learn to fly and really hope that one day circumstance will allow this but that certainly is on the ‘one day, but not now list’, but meantime for all of us the chances to learn and enjoy unmeasurable new things are boundless and very accessible.

So, Carpe diem !

….and one day you will remember this blog as your starting point for learning Latin !

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That takes the biscuit….

I work for a German company and spend a lot of time conversing with German colleagues whose English is one thousand times better than my German!

In fact they are so fluent I sometimes forget it is not their native tongue…until I use some idiom that gets me puzzled looks.

I used the phrase ‘that takes the biscuit’ in a recent conversation and with dawning realisation I saw that this was causing some confusion. The etymological origins of this actually took me longer to explain than the whole original conversation so in this instance, using an idiom was not a good shortcut.

For those not in the know, its meaning is from 1800’s Naval times basically saying ‘well that takes the prize’ , and not necessarily for something good and  in reality probably something bad like running out of food and even using the last ships biscuit,  very much a last resort food item!

Anyway, I digress a little but still on biscuits………..

In the same way that choosing a coffee has become a university degree course,  and using the right name for a bread roll in different parts of the UK requires a phrase book (see my previous blog  ‘Please come to visit us’ on the joys of buying coffee and   choosing bread rolls in the uk…click on the  highlighted words to link..), the art of biscuit selection requires at least some higher level training to be completed before a simple purchase can be made. It is a complex subject….

As a child, based on my limited biscuit expertise (i.e. what darkened the door of our house and biscuit tin) I would have sworn in a court of law that only 4 types of biscuit ever actually existed in the world: namely rich tea, chocolate digestive,  regular (boring!) digestive and custard creams.

But now when asked to ‘pick up a packet of biscuits’ when at the supermarket can leave me totally overwhelmed. The range seems endless now….Balzen biscuits from Germany, Hobnobs, Jammy Dodgers , Penguins (no Penguins are harmed in the making of those biscuits…to reassure those of you from non Penguin biscuit countries)  and Chocolate Chip cookies. And don’t even go down the route of Wagon Wheels or Oreo biscuits (why are they a very strange colour and indeed  remind me of dog biscuits? ) or numerous others untasted and unknown in the array that will welcome me  in the supermarket.

And then of course there are Kit Kats……..

As a child I think they were seen more of being in the confectionery world but have now absconded to the biscuit aisle joining their new younger cousins Breakaways and Rocky Road. And then  I find some UK regional items have sneaked in.

Tunnocks Caramel wafers: as plentiful in Waitrose in Harrogate as in Aldi in Glasgow now. I think I have also seen them for sale  in the Middle East!

There are whole hierarchies of biscuits and their usage to be understood …everyday biscuits, luxury biscuits, speciality biscuits, biscuits only served with coffee, hand made, home made, Christmas biscuits and a whole lot of crossover products that are somewhere in the middle! Give a man inadequate instructions on the social standing of the occasion and it is guaranteed the purchase will be wrong one….

I realise for my non UK readers this is very UK centric but I suspect in your countries too the dilemma is the same!

And in the USA of course then there are biscuits that are in a whole new world of living on dinner plate…with gravy! My first ever visit to Georgia, USA has that experience etched on my mind.

But one final thought going back to second languages…the word biscuit is not an English word at all ….but derived from two French words ‘bis-cuit’..simply meaning twice cooked.

Vive la France!

Look forward to your comments.  Biscuit choice is of course a very subjective matter!

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