Monday, January 28, 2013


As I was thinking about writing this blog, I decided to ask my wife if she knew what the word meant. "Cut", she said. "No", I replied, "quite the reverse: it means to join two parts." "It also means 'cut', she told me. "My parents would speak of a splice of bread." Since Barbara's wonderful parents were Norwegian immigrants, it was perfectly understandable that they would confuse "splice" with "slice". Many folk have heard the phrase "Splice the mainbrace", and know that it is a naval term, traditionally calling for an issue of rum to celebrate a victory or some royal occasion of joy, such as a wedding, a jubilee, or the birth of a child. Wikipedia has a pretty good article, but flubs the naval term for a half-holiday: it's a "make and mend" day, not a "mend and make". That term stems from the days when the seamen would need to spend some time repairing their clothing. The mainbrace on a "square rigged" sailing ship is the cordage which controls the "yards" carrying the sails. It needs to be very strong--the mainbrace in HMS Victory is five inches in diameter. A sailing ship is helpless if the sails cannot be "trimmed" because of a break in a mainbrace. Most breaks occurred in battle: the "running rigging" was a favorite target of an enemy's cannons. It was vital for repairs to be made as soon as possible, and splicing heavy cordage was hard work. A warship's bosun would put his best seamen to the task. It became the custom to reward those men with an extra tot of "grog"-one-third rum, and two-thirds water. (The bosun would usually take "sippers" from each portion for his work of supervising the repair. A less-well-known Naval expression, remembered from my youth is "Different ships, different long splices", simply meaning that not every action had to be undertaken in the same "Admiralty pattern" way. That was a beam of tolerance in the grey of conformity which is a necessary part of a disciplined armed service.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Slow Clap

When I began acting in dramatic productions at Oxford, it was a fixed principle that the curtain went up at precisely eight minutes after the advertized time. It was explained that those who were punctual would accept that delay, whereas the perennially unpunctual would almost always have made it into their seats at that time. I went along with the system, but I chafed at the idea. I much prefer it when the curtain goes up on time. Fortunately, many theaters, including the tiny Aurora Theatre (yes, they use the British spelling!) to which we have subscribed for many years, have a place where latecomers can hear the play. They are allowed to take there seats at the first intermission--but many plays are acted without an intermission, or are written with a long first act. This isn't really a problem for us, as we take good care to arrive in plenty of time. I dislike long intermissions, especially when the seem to be dragged out to sell more refreshments. In the UK, when there was an inordinate delay, the waiting audience would sometimes break out into a song, featuring only one short lyric"Why are we waiting?" Another expression of irritation which I have occasionally heard in the U.S, but which was more common n the UK when I lived there many years ago, was the "Slow Clap". We would clap our hands in unison, allowing about two seconds between claps. It was a sort of unspoken form of sarcasm. Occasionally, it would induce an explanation for the delay, such as a car breakdown delaying a soloist or essential actor. It was easier to tolerate the delay when there was a good reason for it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Collective Economics

Although Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto" has lost its Charcuterie and Cocolat, the venerable Cheese Board is still there, its finances bolstered by its adjacent offshoot that serves ready-to-eat pizza five days a week The Cheese Board is a "Collective", meaning that its employees all have a voice in decision-making. It seems to work. One of the hallowed features of the Cheese Board has been its policy of allowing discounts to those over 60. Starting with 5% off, the percentage increased every few years. At 100, "What you see is what you get"--in other words, it was free. We could fantasize about reaching that age, and proudly taking advantage of the system. Barbara & I enjoyed those discounts: we were 20% off in our eighties. All this is in the past, because the discount program was discontinued on October 1. I'll miss it, but I think the Collective made the right decision. Ingredient costs have risen somewhat, but the prices haven't changed. Most of the largely middle-class retired customers are doing better financially than many of the younger crowd. Even without the discount, the price is reasonable, and the variety of cheese is impressive. Some ready-wrapped cheese can be picked up and paid for, but most buyers enjoy the tradition of having a small taste of the selected cheese before buying it. We also love the vegetarian pizza, the English muffins, and the baguettes. Yes, we'll continue to patronize the Cheese Board as long as we are able to do so..

Monday, January 7, 2013

Second Thoughts

I don't make New Year's resolutions normally. If I convince myself that I need to make a change, why wait until the next year? But I do think that my very recent understanding of how my style varies from that of my dear wife could be considered a Resolution. I might word it as follows: Don't assume Barbara's first response is her "final answer". This is the politer version of stating that it's a woman's privilege to change her mind. I err in the other direction. When I make up my mind--normally very quickly--I seldom change it, and when I do, it is usually after a long internal struggle. Sometimes, I think it's a miracle that we are still together after over 40 years. ( I am certainly not alone in this wonderment...) Happily, we still love each other, and are usually publicly tolerant of each other's shortcomings. (In private, we do communicate robustly about the other's failings...) I usually make the choice of the breakfast dish, leaving the choice of fruit (cut, raw, or smoothie) to Barbara. As for the main course at dinner, I like to know what we'll be eating in advance, so that I can choose the wine and set the table appropriately. So I am inclined to ask "What's for dinner?". What I need to do is to eliminate the assumption that Barbara's first response is immutable. I am trying to do just that this year.