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Winkle Pickers and Pioneers

Ever heard of a winkle picker? It's a kind of shoe. With a pointy toe. Named after the pointy thing you use to pick out the winkle from its shell. So you can eat it. Pretty tenuous connection, I'd say.

It originated in England of course. The land where Cockneys say whistle and flute when they mean suit, or Hampstead Heath instead of teeth, Scotch eggs for legs, mince pies instead of eyes, chalk farms meaning arms. So if you went to a Cockney restaurant with a dress code and a menu which had Scotch eggs or mince pies, you might be forgiven for running out, screaming in terror. Imaginative race, the English, and sometimes they leave off the rhyming part, just to confuse you a bit more.

Getting back to winkle pickers, somebody made the connection one day between a crustacean-gutting tool and a shoe, and somebody else liked and repeated it. At first it was probably a joke among friends, but now it's an accepted part of the English language.

The beginnings of things that we now take for granted is fascinating. Because everything always starts with one person, doesn't it? One imaginative person, doing something inventive and out of the ordinary, possibly even on a whim, to relieve boredom, or as a joke, or because they just had the idea and said why not?

Take coffee. A raw coffee bean is vile. The taste should be enough to ward off any even remote desire to do anything with it or any kind of suspicion that anything can be done. Who on earth decided to roast it, then grind it up, and pour boiling water over it? What would make them think of it?

What about olives? Anyone who's tasted a raw olive knows how absolutely disgusting they are. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Eugh! But some enterprising individual soaked a few in salted water for two weeks and hallelujah, they became one of the most delicious edibles on earth.

Imagine the scene: some dreamer (according to her friends) picks a bunch of raw olives and sticks them in a bucket with salt water. Said friends laugh. "Ridiculous! Absurd! Waste of time! What can that achieve?"

"I don't know," says the dreamer. Because she doesn't. Every day she changes the water. Maybe she's bored, got nothing else to do. Maybe she didn't like being laughed at and needs to prove now that there was a reason for it all. Maybe she just does it for the hell of it. After a few days she nibbles on olive. Still disgusting. Eugh! Spits it out. After a week she begins to think her friends are right. Maybe she should toss the stupid things away. Give up. But for some reason she doesn't; she's kind of stubborn that way.

One miraculous day the dreamer tastes an olive, probably still expecting the same old, same old bitter taste, but miracle of miracles.

"Eureka!" shouts our dreamer, laughing. "You see? You see?"

At first, people who hear about it but weren't there, and only know olives as bitter and disgusting inedibles, don't believe it. Maybe they live far away. They laugh at the idea, and don't bother to try it. Others do, though. Gradually the practice spreads to neighbors or friends, then to a village, a country, a continent, the world. And now? Everybody loves olives. Okay, not everybody. Almost, though.

The creativity of the human race, and some people's capacity to persist in the face of all logical argument that says you're being ridiculous and unrealistic so you might as well give up, boggles the mind.

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Jennifer Stewart has a blog Jennifer Stewart, on US politics, and another Documenting Action, on clean energy. She always has been and still is a great supporter of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party.  

A member of the Writers' Guild of South Africa, Jennifer is a freelance writer/editor, screenwriter, script editor and novelist. 

Jennifer reads the New York Times, The Guardian, Politico and the Washington Post every day, likes strong coffee, dark chocolate, and kind, insightful people. She believes that evil prevails when good men [and women] do nothing, and that Good Trouble is vital.

If Jennifer was American she would be a committed Democrat. She is one in spirit. She paints and sketches, plays piano and guitar, sings jazz standards and walks a lot.

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