I got a surprising bit of news yesterday. Raman, my roommate from college whom I haven’t heard from in years, is still very much alive and kicking and, hold your breath, teaching in a village school in Nagaland! For a person born and bred in a city like Delhi, that is, indeed, a surprising choice of vocation.
He and I were as different as chalk and cheese. I was meek and mild while his manner was bright and breezy. No on thought that we could be friends but contrary to the popular opinion, we got along like a house on fire. His behaviour with everyone, from the students to the faculty members, was free and easy. And in a hostel whose inmates were not known for their tidiness, it was surprising how he managed to keep his corner of the room spick and span at all times. He would be up bright and early before anyone else, and when I was still rubbing sleep from my eyes, he would walk into the room looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and drag me off for breakfast.
Before we left college, our future career plans were cut and dried, or so I thought, and that is why news of his present assignment comes as a surprise. In all these years I have got only one short and sweet letter from him, but he did mention that he was sick and tired of corporate life and added in the humorous vein so typical of him that if he intended to make it safe and sound till his sixties, he would have to consider settling down in a village. I didn’t take him seriously at that time but on second thoughts, maybe I should have.
Key to idioms used
Alive and kicking: well and active
Born and bred: born and brought up; having spent ones early years
Be as different as chalk and cheese: to be completely different from each other
Meek and mild: quiet, not self-assertive or bold
Bright and breezy: in a cheerful, bright mood, doing things quickly and in a lively manner
Contrary to popular belief/opinion: something that you say before you make a statement that is the opposite of most people believe
Get on like a house on fire: if two people get on like a house on fire, they like each other very much and become friends very quickly
Free and easy: relaxed and informal
Spick and span: clean and tidy, in very good order
Bright and early: very early in the morning
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: looking very cheerful, bright and lively
Cut and dried: if a decision or agreement is cut and dried, it is final and will not be changed
Short and sweet: brisk, without unnecessary detail (speech, letter, explanation etc)
Sick and tired: to be angry and bored because something unpleasant has been happening for too long
Safe and sound: if you are safe and sound, you are not harmed in any way, although you were in a difficult situation
On second thoughts: if you have second thoughts about something, you rethink your position on that issue
The phrase spick and span is used to mean neat and clean. It is interesting to note that neither is there any such word as ‘spick’ in the English language, nor is the word ‘span’ ever used as an adjective. The original form of this phrase was ‘span-new’ which was an Old Norse term and meant perfectly new. For added emphasis, this term was changed to ‘spick-and-span new’, and was finally shortened to its present version. This is an interesting example of how the form and meaning of any expression can change over the centuries for no obvious reason.
(Reference: Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms)