Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

“I want this room shipshape and Bristol fashion!” my mother would say, usually while clapping her hands to show she meant business. I can still hear her voice. As a kid, I never knew what that phrase meant, really, and the fact that we lived in Bristol, Connecticut at the time added to the confusion. The bottom line was that I knew I had better get off my fanny and clean my room.

My mother did tell me it was a nautical term. She probably got it from her father, who was a Merchant Marine during World War II. (In fact, he died when his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. My mother never fully recovered.)

That just popped into my head, and I decided to do a lazy Google search of the origin of the phrase. I stumbled upon this fascinating article.

My first surprise was that it referred to the city in Great Britain. So much for the notoriety of my little Connecticut berg. But then it went on to say that their port has about a 30 foot difference in water level from high tide to low, so the ships would often be beached at precarious angles at low tide. So all their cargo had to be efficiently stowed, or it would be a disaster. (Now Bristol has a floating dock, so the ships don’t have to be quite as shipshape as they once did.)

Another theory is that Bristol was known as the most efficient port in the 1800’s, and that’s all it had to do with. Who knows?

Just a little something for your next trivia contest.


Read any good books lately? Try mine!


How Easily We’re Taken In

If you’ve got a website, you must be legit, right? Hmph. Anyone can have a website. What apparently is much harder to acquire is critical thinking.

Case in point, The Shed at Dulwich. For a few weeks, it was London’s number one ranked restaurant, according to TripAdvisor. It was the place to be. Their phones were ringing off the hook, but it was a wasted effort on hungry diners’ parts, because they were so exclusive, they were booked for weeks in advance.

The food on the website looked delicious. Their meals were mood themed. My favorite one is “Comfort”. It consisted of “Yorkshire blue Macaroni and Cheese seasoned with bacon shavings and served in a 600TC Egyptian cotton bowl. Comes with a side of sourdough bread.”

And even that didn’t raise eyebrows? I guess the thread count was high enough to give it authenticity. No pilly-sheeted bowls for their patrons!

Here’s the thing, though. The Shed was, literally, a shed. In someone’s back yard. No address, as it was “by appointment only”. No food to be had, unless you wanted to share the resident’s TV dinner. The food in the pictures was actually made of shaving cream and urinal cakes and even, in one case, the author’s foot. It was a huge hoax. It was all just an experiment to see if he could punk TripAdvisor, and wow, did he ever.

Before you say you’d have never fallen for it, ask yourself how many times you’ve bought something that was completely unnecessary simply because it was popular. Can you deny that you’ve ever regretted an impulse buy? Have you ever stood in line for the latest iPhone when the one you have is perfectly functional? Who among us doesn’t look at pictures of ourselves from 35 years ago and think, “What the devil was I thinking when I bought that shirt?”

Let’s admit what the advertising industry has known all along: Humans will follow trends even if it takes them over the edge of a cliff. Even the Russians know this. It’s why we have a buffoon in the White House.

This destructive tendency is even more acute now that we have the internet. Now we can have our misinformation more quickly and act upon it with even less thought. How lucky are we?

We need to teach ourselves and future generations to ask questions and check sources and listen to that little doubtful voice inside our heads. We need to value education and actually apply that learning to our daily lives. Otherwise we will plunge off that cliff to our urinal-caked doom.

Urinal Cake
Urinal Cake, anyone?

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!