This, gentle readers, is not a story for the more delicate among you. Be warned, it contains unsettling – disturbing even – information. I have had to let time pass before I could bring myself to write to you about what happened.
Before you read further, you may wish to fortify yourself with a nice cup of tea.
We had arrived in England, the land of my birth and formative years. The Old World, full of Old World charm, manners and etiquette. Or so I had imagined.
I remembered fondly stopping for morning coffee or afternoon tea in tea-shops and even corner houses. I looked forward with growing anticipation to a gentile, pot of tea for two. The teapot having been properly warmed with boiling water – the tea leaves scalded with water that had reached a rolling boil. Milk in a lovely milk jug, and sugar cubes (one lump or two) in a sugar bowl with little tongs. And the cup, fine china, set in a delicate saucer. Perhaps there would be scones and jam, or battenburg cake on a nice china plate.
We went to a coastal resort town. I won’t name it due to the embarrassment to follow. We walked along the promenade, it was a little breezy, but sunny for September. I drew deeply of the salt and seaweed scented air. The only thing that would bring even more joy would be a nice cup of tea.
I warn you, this is where things turn ugly.
We found what looked like a nice sea-front establishment. We found a table. I waited. In fact that’s exactly what I had to do, become the waiter – no table service anymore. I took the orders of our little group. Two of us were having tea.
I went happily to the counter and ordered a pot of tea for two. “Wha’?” “I would like a pot of tea for two please”. I think Manuel of Fawlty Towers fame would have said “Que?” and meant the same thing as the “Wha’?” and puzzled frown I received.
Two teas please, said my daughter. “Oh, two teas, do you take milk”. “yes please” I replied.
Then things started to deteriorate very rapidly. Two heavy mugs were thumped onto the counter. They were almost clean. Then to my horror, (you may not want to read any further), a teabag was plunked into each mug. Warmish water was poured over the bags in the mugs. And then it happened, the final straw, she poured milk into the mugs.
I’m sorry, even now it brings tears to my eyes. I need to stop and collect my thoughts.
In our home we have discussions about whether or not the milk should precede or follow the tea into the cup. But never did I think that outside of the US would they put teabags in mugs and pour milk on top.
In sadness and close to despondency I carried this awful mixture back to our table, but not until I had paid out more than ten pounds ($15US/$17C) for this privilege.
I wish I could report that this was an isolated occurrence. It was not! Can you believe that even in the home of some of our relatives, close relatives, they brewed their tea by putting teabags in mugs? My poor father would be turning in his grave if he hadn’t been cremated.
But the horror doesn’t end quite yet. We discovered that family members had a teapot, but no tea-cosy. Everyone knows that the British keep their houses a little on the cooler side when compared to North Americans, and it is essential to warm the pot and cover the pot with a cosy to keep it hot whilst the tea is steeping.
We decided to purchase a tea-cosy and present it to the family as a wonderful surprise gift.
There were none to be found! This is England. Remember Beyond the Fringe? In the war-years story, at each crisis the punch-line was “Never you mind that my dear, put on the kettle and we’ll have a nice cup of tea”.
We did find some nasty little tea-cosies in Scotland. Touristy tea-cosies, in plaid made of a really cheap, rough material, on sale for an exorbitant price.
Then in Marks & Spencer’s in Edinburgh we finally found some tea-cosies that had been made for the Queen’s Jubilee. They were very large, and well stuffed, even if the pattern of crowns and corgis was a little over the top. Actually they were rather bright and quite suitable for use in the kitchen. They fit any sized tea-pot.
We returned south and were able to enjoy tea brewed in a teapot and allowed to steep in glorious heat.
In case you are wondering, I prefer to put the milk (never cream) in the cup first. The very hot tea scalds the milk and releases the flavour.
I hope I haven’t upset you too much by this expose. But the truth must be told.
Next time, I can’t wait any longer, I have to share our visit to Henry and Irina Moore’s home where we enjoyed seeing so many pieces of his work with the added pleasure of a Auguste Rodin exhibition.
In the words from Despicable Me, BBN SYL