On tea, elephants and cabbages
” ‘. . .do have some more toast, or something . . . shall I pour you another cup ?’
Aunt Isobel reigned over the silver pot like a determined if somewhat vague and inept hare; one with a busy day ahead. ‘I’ve been talking to Charlie, and as I really need to have the place cleaned up before the ball, I suggested a trip of some sort, and Charlie mentioned – ’
‘Yes what fun I thought as we’ve always liked we could you know try the what’s it called where we used to go not far from Morton Manor you remember and eat at Harlequin’s just outside Fradley what do you think?’ Charlie dive-bombed a sausage and continued munching industriously. Julia gazed down at her grey porridge, and regretted her choice. If not immediately eaten, it had a habit of sitting there, congealed, and looking solidly back at one. She poked at it nervously.
‘Which place did we use to go to? There were so many.’
Tea trickled out of the spout.
‘I think Charlie means the old ruins by the river. I must say, I can’t see the others taking much interest in that, but the idea of Harlequin’s ought to appeal to everyone.’ Aunt Isobel had evidently found this most recent batch of Bunty’s acquaintances more than a little trying. There was a rare tinge of determination in her demeanour this morning, connected with the polishing of silver and the waxing of floors that would, however delicately, brook no argument.
‘That sounds wonderful. Lovely idea.’ Julia tried to swallow the porridge. She gratefully accepted Isobel’s offer of a cup, and forced the glutinous mass down with molten liquid. After she’d finished spluttering, she inquired when they should start. ”
Greenwood Tree, Chapter 11
I have been told by a reliable source and authonomy chum that Greenwood Tree contains oodles of tea. I have not yet made a head count of every cup that is poured . . . but I suppose there is a fair amount of pouring, stirring, slurping throughout. Verisimilitude is my only defence. Gossiping ? Put the kettle on. Freshly arrived home from the big city ? Put the kettle on. House guests at the breakfast table ? Put the kettle on. (A good hostess who did not supply her visitors with plentiful supplies of the stuff was simply not doing her job). Just been hit on the head by unseen assailant ? Put the kettle on. No wait, stop, I don’t think I put tea in that particular scene, actually . . . but they probably did anyway, whether I wrote it in or not. Indeed, every British film ever made would be incomplete without a gentle pouring from the spout. A comforting sound, redolent with promise of things to come (did someone mention fondant fancies ? I’m quite happy with a jam tart, more likely a sandwich . . )
Twining was the man of the hour : after starting out as weaver’s apprentice, he then moved into commerce and ended up converting the drinking habits of a nation – in the face of coffee culture Britain (at least, London) he saw a niche in the market and seized it – so you can blame it all on him. Nobody suffers from a surfeit of tea in Greenwood, at least, I have had no complaints from the characters to date (“I say, old thing,” says Richard, pulling at my sleeve, ‘couldn’t pass the scones along, could you ?”, while Aunt Iz pours out another cup . . .)
Among all the rites, rituals, customs and paraphernalia surrounding tea, I can’t leave off without mentioning at least the evolution of the teapot . . . from genteel Wedgewood to cheeky Japanese elephants through political comment on stamp duty(see here : http://teapotsteapotsteapots.blogspot.com/2009/04/1765-no-stamp-act-teapot.html )
back to the humorous, bizarre, even grotesque pots, designed to represent various vegetables : cabbages, cauliflowers, corn cobs . . . I wonder they didn’t suffer from indigestion just looking at the squat horrors, in their unrepentant gaudiness . . . (wraps wet towel around head) …am in need of tea sustenance; when I am feeling stronger, I might, just might write about tea caddies. . .
Quote : “I comfort myself, that all the enemies of tea cannot be in the right”(Dr Johnson in defence of tea, while reviewing Mr Hanway’s Essay on Tea (http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/tea.html )
(The English Tea Set in the slideshow was photographed byJenny O’Donnell)
A history of Twinings here : http://www.twinings.co.uk/about-twinings/history-of-twinings
Some interesting details on Mr Twining, tea-merchant here : http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.asp?ContentID=176
Japanese elephant teapot here : (he is rather cute)http://thebluelantern.blogspot.com/2009/12/im-little-teapot.html
A well-illustrated history of tea gardens : janeaustensworld.wordpress.com
A fine assortment of tea services here : http://naturalisticspoon.com/Rococo_Tea_Equipage.html
A delightful gallery of living 18th century history from re-enactors :
Tea trends from the British Tea Council : teawithmarykate.wordpress.com
V&A ceramics gallery : http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/m/masterpieces-of-ceramics-timeline/