To boldly brew

My dears, I have been thinking about tea and Star Trek.

To be fair, as a proud daughter of Albion, tea is my default position. It is, as we like to say, a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of English identity must be in want of a cup of tea.

This latest iteration of tea-related cogitation was occasioned by Victoria Coren’s rant regarding the inexplicable re-branding of Assam to “English Breakfast” (she was also ranting about American colonialism, so apologies to US readers if that feels a bit uncuddly. We love you really, and traditionally are only ever rude to people we like). It was a long time before I realised that this had happened. Assam was my preferred brew, and when I couldn’t find it I did start drinking the new blend instead. It was, and still is, quite inconceivable to me that anyone would change the name of Assam for marketing purposes (as I suppose they have done – I’m still not sure why).

Tea marketing, if you will bear with me, inevitably reminds me of Jean Luc Picard and the Earl Grey phenomenon. When Star Trek: The Next Generation was a regular feature of the TV schedules, his fondness for “Earl Grey, hot” saw a consumer boom in purchase of the tea. Each to their own, I say; Earl Grey has its place, although I tend more to the view of Sam Vimes that if you can see the bottom of the cup, it isn’t proper tea.

However, Jean Luc, for all his other perfections, always irritated me with the “Tea. Earl Grey, hot.”

Firstly, what is a Frenchman (even one from Yorkshire) doing drinking Earl Grey at any temperature? It’s the embodiment of the nobility and it’s tea, albeit of a particular kind. Have you been to France? Fantastic coffee; if I was looking for coffee, after Italy, I might try France. Tea, on the other hand, is less successful on the Gallic side of La Manche. It tends to be Lipton’s Yellow Label, which the UK exports to the Continent as the French export their least popular wine to the UK.  Liptons, in my personal experiences, produces a drink that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. In mainland Europe it tends to be served with hot milk or UHT milk.

Secondly, why does he have to specify the temperature? It is possible that a couple of hundred years from now everyone will be drinking cold tea in some kind of perverted corruption of best tea drinking practice. To which I say, don’t. Earl grey is to be drunk hot, unless otherwise specified. It would make sense, for example, for Jean Luc to say “Tea. Earl Grey, iced” to differentiate from the norm. The “hot” is completely redundant.

Thirdly, why does he have to specify his preference for Earl Grey anyway? Voice recognition, anyone?  The computer systems on the Enterprise regularly identify him, and indeed other crew members, for all kinds of reasons: initiating self-destruct, finding lost people, firing on his mark, bringing up medical records, playing his favourite music. If they can pick music they can certainly remember what kind of tea he likes at what temperature and advise the replicators accordingly. He commands the whole ship by voice; if it knows who he is, it can certainly know how he likes his tea. Unless the French accent is a problem for the catering circuits.

Which brings me to: fourthly, why is it not “Earl Grey, chaud”? For once I am on the side the L’Académie française with regard to the use of the French language.

I suspect some of you will be shaking your heads in sorrow, and saying, “EBL, old thing, you’re just over-thinking it. Go and have a lie down.”

To which I replay: tea is too important to be brushed aside like that. Respect the leaf, people, respect the leaf!

Namaste.

 

Carefree

My Grandma had a wealth of sayings, and one of them was “Don’t Care was made to care, and locked in a box ‘til he did.”

She would say it to me whenever I scuffed my shoes mutinously and declared that I didn’t in fact, care about whatever it was we were arguing about. In truth I heard her say it quite often.

Mind you, she also used to say “Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!”, whatever that meant!

However, as time went by, I discovered that not caring was quite a healthy attitude to take, if the alternative was to care deeply but powerlessly. I soon developed my own remedy: the I-Don’t-Care Song and Dance™ which was put into practice whenever things at work became too irritating for any other words. My colleagues soon joined in and we started the IDC Club.

“Well, EBL!” I hear you cry, “That’s very disappointing of you! I thought you cared about Stuff.”

Get used to disappointment, my dears, for EBL has feet of clay, and if not clay, possibly Play-Doh.

Do I care about you, my gorgeous readers? Of course I do. I do in fact care passionately after all, about things that matter to me. I care about all manner of people and animals and plants, and causes and ideas and art and science and beauty. I care about literature and history and adventure and even peace.

I don’t care about having my time wasted or being ignored or under-estimated, or being queue jumped or patronised or taken for granted. I don’t care because caring would waste my time even more.

The alternatives can be explored through the medium of song, much as the IDC Club expresses its philosophy in performance art. Let us compare the fortunes of other exponents of this paradigm.

Afroman might have cared, but he got high.

Will Smith might have cared but he got jiggy.(or possibly fresh, maybe both at the same time)

Paul and Art did care and they got walked over. In a bridging sense.

So, EBL, what are the words/music/moves to your amazing and uplifting song of defiance?

I could tell you, but I don’t care. Nor do I care about the music, nor the steps.

Sing your own song, that’s the secret, and always has been.

Namaste. (I really do!)

Hob-nobbing for peace

Well, my dears, I have had chocolate on the mind. It is a not unpleasant experience. Having actual chocolate would be better, but as luck would have it we have some of that too, sitting in the Salon de Paix in EBL Towers. I shall indulge as soon as I have typed and published; it’s a motivator.

I lay the blame for this quite understandable preoccupation with Kozo at Everydaygurus.com.

Kozo says:

January 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I read that chocolate stimulates the same endorphins as love, so I’m with you, chocolate for peace.

“Chocolate for peace”…well, who wouldn’t subscribe to that life-style choice? Never mind stuffing roses down gun barrels; give ‘em Smarties, to make ‘em smart about peace; or Bounty to take ‘em to a Peaceful Paradise; or even a Wispa, to speak in peace instead of shouting.

I hesitate to rattle on about Quakers again, but they were there from the start. Rowntree’s, Cadbury’s, Fry’s were all Quaker firms. Indeed, George Orwell, who was not a fond supporter of pacifism, tried to blacken the name of George Bernard Shaw by saying that

he ought to have been a Quaker (cocoa and commercial dishonesty)

Poor old George, I bet what he really needed to soothe his ruffles was a bit of chocolate. And possibly a nice cup of tea, because one interesting thing about Orwell (one of many interesting things, as it turns out) was that as well as taking a pop at Quakers, GBS and peaceniks, and producing the occasional book, he also wrote an excellent and important essay on how to make a cup of tea. The man was a genius.

I suspect his previous snarkiness regarding pacifism would have been significantly tempered had he been chums with the chocolate hob-nob. No one could possibly be snarky about anything if they had a chocolate hob-nob to dunk in their cuppa. While George was opposed to sugar in tea – and for jolly good reasons! – he was silent on the virtues of a well-dunked biscuit. Chocolate hob-nobs had yet to be invented when he wrote his essay, so he will have been in ignorance of the full range of possibilities.

For those unfamiliar with this aforementioned divine partnership, allow me to direct you to the last word on the topic and one of favourite websites: A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. This excellent on-line resource contains all you need to know about dunking and tea drinking, with additional cake factoids and a handy graphic for biscuit taxonomy.

What does a cup of tea with a biscuit to dunk not solve? And if it is enrobed in chocolate, what could be better? Can you imagine anyone fighting after a decent brew? As Asterix the Gaul discovered on his trip to Britain, everything stops for tea, or at least hot water, including the battles.

Anything else would be anarchy!

History does not lead us astray, my dears. This kind of evidence cannot be ignored. I beg you, fill your pots, brew your leaves and dunk your biscuits in the cause of peace!

Other bloggers to invite to participate in a Peace Tea Ceremony might include:

Namaste.

Yellow stockings, cross-gartered

My dears, a very happy Twelfth Night to you!

I hope you have taken down the Christmas decorations, otherwise the dreadful wrath of the elves will be visited upon you in 2013. I tremble for you, I really do.

Obviously for a woman with traditional and somewhat classical education, my first association with this date is the Bard’s comedy. We “did” Twelfth Night at school fairly early on. I think it’s supposed to be an easy introduction to the joys of Elizabethan English. I loved poor old Malvolio, thinking that wearing some outrageous garment would make him attractive to the ladies. Bless him, so human.

The season is all about dressing ourselves up to make us attractive but failing in a spectacular misjudgement of taste and significant dissociation from Reality. According to my extensive research, using my own eyeballs, an awful lot of people are afflicted with the Malvolio Syndrome. It proves to me every year that things on your planet are not as they were on mine when I was a young alien.

It’s not just people either. Oh no, nowadays even houses get all dressed up. Sigoth and I are genuine curmudgeons. Ours remained almost nude except for a tasteful wreath adorning the front door to protect its modesty. A Christmas Figgy Leaf, if you will. Personally I think it’s a tempest in a teacup, really just much ado about nothing. Some people (and I can assure you that I am muttering darkly at this point) even have flashing lights and music, and not even for charity, but apparently for pleasure. I shudder, my dears, I simply shudder. It’s just not cricket.

Christmas fashion, be it for party outfits or house couture, is an infinite wormhole of unending horror, fueled by alcohol and commercial connivance, spinning violently and irresistibly out of control. I have stared into the very abyss, like a young Gallifreyan encountering the Time Vortex at my initiation rite. It may have driven me insane.

And so to happier things.

As Twelfth Nights go, today has been a mild and mostly sunny one. We deposited Youngest Offspring at the railway station to return to the Home Counties University where he is studying. We visited Offspring Who Lives Locally to hand over a poster frame for a poster – sadly not the right size, but never mind – and did those kind of necessary things that Saturday mornings so often involve.

Then we took down the gay garlands and shiny baubles. We put the tree outside and phoned a neighbour who collects them for the aviary at the zoo. The parrots will be enjoying our Nordmann Fir soon, and I wish them well of it.

I’ll confess, it is a pleasant thing to be back in old routines. Remember the Bard? He knew that feeling:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That’s Christmas in a nutshell, my dears. Surfeiting, the appetite sickens and dies. By now we are ready to return to our daily round. When the decorations go up I am a giddy girl, and when they come down I feel I can breathe again as the space opens up and light pours in unrestricted by cards and dangling stars and a tree in the window. Honestly, a tree indoors! Whose bright idea was that? Clearly no one who had to sweep their own floors, I can tell you.

This winter’s tale ends happily. It is a comedy after all. Everyone lives happily ever after and gets married and all’s well that ends well. It’s practically a Disney film right there.

So for me, I’m away to watch the new series of Borgen and then to bed. Tomorrow we take flight across the moors to pick up a new netbook for Sigoth, so he can start blogging every day, like a real boy.

And so good night, my dears, may flight of angels sing ye to your rest.

If this blog has offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And EBL shall restore amends.

Namaste (as the Bard would say).

 

Preparations

The solstice confirmed that we will continue to have light and dark, day and night, life and death, for the next year and a day. I was glad. It gave me the go-ahead to complete preparations for the seasonal festivities. Some bunch down in South America also started using a new calendar; apparently there was concern that the change of calendar meant something doom-ridden, and people were going on about the end of the world like there was no tomorrow.

Anyway, EBL Towers is now officially “almost ready” for the big day. All that remains is to collect Offspring who lives on the wrong side of the Pennines from York station later tonight, and the family will be gathered. Thanks to three whole days of Christmas Eve we are relaxed and cheerful, instead of our usual psychotic selves.

Sigoth completed the early prep for dinner tomorrow – cashew nut and mushroom layer with mushroom and sherry sauce. The denizens of EBL Towers are against eating anything with a face on it. In-laws duly arrived and consumed mince pies and Christmas flavoured tea. The tree was brought in and decorated, as was the rest of the house. Yours truly even managed to deliver the cards round the village, despite a wind that tore the hat from my head and the breath from my body. I’m a real hero.

We all contribute to filling stockings these days; everyone puts in a small token gift costing no more than £2 and we all have fun trying to work out who gave what. The Offspringses have worked out that if they include themselves too it makes the games even or fun and they get more stuff. Cunning Offspringses.

I completed my knitting as planned, which partly accounts for my absence, no doubt sorely missed. The whole t’Interweb was in danger of failing so I decided to provide a quick update to keep things going.

I hope your holiday is peaceful and full of comfort and joy. Not everyone is so fortunate, so if you are struggling, I wish you strength and hope and love. I wish them for everyone, but for you particularly. I have had Christmases which I thought I might not survive, and yet I did and this year I am in a better place. None of us know what the future holds, and often it turns out to be better, even if further away than we might like.

Glæd Gēol! (As we used to say in this country about 1500 years ago.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

When I go abroad I am expecting to find “foreign”. It’s what I am looking for, to indulge myself in a little frisson of unexpected encounters and different ways of doing simple things, secure in the knowledge that in a few days I will be able to wrap myself in the comfort blanket of home.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a holiday in Singapore. It was never going to be homelike, being as I live in a cold, northern European, rural environment, and Singapore is hot, equatorial and urban. I had been warned of the need for additional warming layers indoors due to the fierceness of the air-conditioning; of the need to carry an umbrella (but not a coat!) against sudden rain showers; of the chewing gum ban.

I was looking forward to exploring the city, to trying out a day on a tropical beach, and to being somewhere new and interesting. Places to go, photos to take, memories to treasure. I did all those things and it was brilliant! I took loads of pictures of how things were dofferent from hoe. That is what I expect from going abroad – different.

I absolutely loved it for being so new and sparkling to my English eyes. I was tall and pale and out of place, and that was interesting too, because I live a privileged life at home where I am part of the majority so that I don’t really think much about how being different might feel. These experiences are why I find foreign travel nurtures my soul. I can be more aware of my assumptions and expectations by being able to contrast them with foreign-ness.

What I had not anticipated was things tat were, so far from home, just the same; the shock of the colonial past. It was painful to see my own homeland layered upon somewhere so distant, like lipstick on a goldfish. I would wander around wonderful old city streets, soaking up the architecture away from the crowds and modern shopping centres, and clicking away on my camera like a demented zambra dancer on their castanets; then suddenly around a corner – wham! – a red pillar box, completely out of place, as if I had been suddenly transported to London.

It wasn’t just the pillar box either. The old colonial buildings and the Raffles statue and all the announcements in English emphasised the colonial history of the city. The modern buildings were not an issue. Globalisation has hit all large cities, and if it’s a modern form of colonialism, then at least it may include a wider range of sources, such as Pikachu or Cobra beer. At least it’s shared by all of us.

But a red pillar box in the middle of Singapore? No, it’s not right. It’s not a coincidentally red pillar box, after all. It’s Royal Mail red. Specifically Royal Mail red.

This is the kind of sudden shock that makes it real. My ancestral countrymen bullied their way around the world, and their mark remains. I can’t change it, but I recognise it and wish it could be otherwise. I had expected to feel like a gawky Westerner. Not feeling foreign – that was the worse surprise.

The Idea of Yorkshire

You might need to be sitting down for this. It’s a bit of a shock, and it made me feel quite queasy when I heard about it.

 

Did you know it might be the case that Yorkshire does not exist? Yes, I know, unthinkable. It may be that it exists only in the Platonic ideal, say, or as a perfect thought in the mind of God. God’s Own County, whose history can be traced back to within nano-seconds of the Big Bang, may be no more than a collective dream of something better than the humdrum of motley human existence.

 

The proposal for this thesis arose as a result of thinking about government boundary changes, an exciting field for fertile rational debate and a regular subject of passionate and informed conversation across the nation. But take, for example, this anomaly: that until it became a Unitary Authority in 1996, the city of York (happy 800th, by the way) was part of North Yorkshire County. This immediately raises questions about the status of West and South Yorkshire, since the capital had originally been found at the meeting point of the three Ridings, at once within all and none.

 

Yorkshire owes much of its history to the Danish and Vikings, although before them it was part of the Kingdom of Deira. King Aelle was the first recorded Anglo-Saxon King in 559 AD before it merged with Bernicia to form the greater region of Northanhumber. The name, however, is derived from the British people who lived there before the invasion, generally transcribed as “Deywr”.

 

The Romans had founded York (Eboracum) in 71 AD as the northern capital on the boundary of Brigantes’ territory, until their garrison was recalled to Rome around 412 AD. The Angles colonised and subjugated the area soon after and when Northanhumber was finally stabilised the capital was at Eoferwic, formerly Eboracum. Over time and through numerous bloody invasions, the name transformed to Yorvik, then York.

 

The Danish dominance and later the harrying of the North no doubt influenced the development of Yorkshire identity. Historic county boundaries were established by the Norman administration, and based largely on Anglo-Saxon shires, including Yorkshire (hence the infamous Norman role of Sherriff, or shire-reeve).

 

None of these entities are real, in that they are all ephemeral to the eye of History: but what we call “real” in these parts are the (North, East and West) Ridings and the Ainsty, long abolished but living on in the hopes and dreams of true-born Yorkshire men and women. I share their pain, being a native daughter of Middlesex which ancient desmesne suffered the same fate of abolition in 1974 and was parcelled out between Surrey and so-called “Greater” London. We know it still exists, in the shadows, biding its time. It still has a cricket club, as does Yorkshire, so it must be true.

 

The outside edge of Yorkshire remains more or less intact, beyond occasional boundary issues. How it is broken up internally is in the end an administrative matter reflecting but minimally on the soul of the shire. While it may no longer exist in its ancient form according to the clerks and scribes, I respectfully submit, in response to the controversial thesis proposed above, that Yorkshire is as real as any great idea, such as liberty, equality, peace or justice.

 

On the way to Liverpool one day…

Did that really happen? The memory is still sweet…..

On my children’s lives this is no word of a lie!

A few years ago, let’s call it 2003, I was travelling on a Transpennine Express train towards Liverpool for a few days away sorting out a network issue in one of our offices. Let us not dwell on the kinds of network issues, they are not important. They were resolved.

However, if you can imagine such a thing, those were the days before universal mobile phone ownership. Quite a few people used them but a reasonable number did not. It was by no means certain that the person next to you would have such a device, and even if they did, that it would be charged up and able to get a signal, especially on a train chugging sedately westwards towards the Lancashire coast.

One of the advantages of this primeval existence was that on the whole train journeys did not involve listening to half a conversation about what someone did last night, what she said (and never what he said in reply), or indeed, nonchalantly scribbling down people’s credit card details because they inexplicably thought they were somewhere not, well, public.

Imagine the horror, if you can, of having a gentleman of the loud persuasion conversing incessantly between Leeds and Manchester to his accountant / bookie / whatever. In typical English fashion we all rolled our eyes at one another and grimaced and gurned to indicate that civilisation was probably not too far away (almost certainly due before we got to Manchester Oxford Road). And so it went on for what felt like hours but was probably no more than one.

As we travelled I doubt I was the only one to entertain withering comments I wanted to make to my fellow traveller; venomous remarks, dripping acid from every syllable, hoping the shock would produce a miraculous change of character and the recipient of my wisdom would overnight start a new career rescuing wounded puppies and kittens.

However it looked like the object of our collective ire was to be granted an opportunity to redeem himself in our eyes. A guard burst into the carriage shouting out to ask if anyone had a mobile phone because there was a medical emergency. We sneered to see the loud gentleman hastily conceal his.

“He’s got one!” said another man gleefully, pointing like the hand of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. (Fortunately the loud gentleman was more discreetly clad than Adam.)

The guard asked to use it; the loud gentleman indicated in the negative. The guard asked again and got quite physical about demanding he hand it over. In the end he wrestled it from the loud gentleman.

“That’s no use!” exclaimed the guard. “It’s a toy one!” And he rushed on in search of someone with a working phone.

The silence deepened. None of us laughed, but you will forgive us when I say we may have smirked. The loud gentleman found no further occasion to make a phone call for the rest of the journey. Just for this one time, we felt the barbarians had been held back.

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Leornung

A propos of the OE course – I am still working through it with undiminished enthusiasm. But…

I completed Lesson 5 last week (only 3 more to go!) and sent it back with reasonable confidence. However, when the next envelope thudded through the letterbox on Thursday I found I was unable to open it because I could tell there was no Grammar Exercises booklet in it. Immediately I assumed I had failed the lesson and everything was returned with a scornful message deriding my lack of competence.

Tonight I finally got the courage to open it – and guess what? Lesson 6 does not have a grammar booklet; it’s a revision chapter.

I did get some things wrong with the last set of work, which is fine because the tutor for the course has carefully explained what I did and how it should be done and now I understand it all better. But I really wasn’t joking when I posted about fear of failure the other day. Guess I’ll never get over it.

So this is to say I am doing OK really with the course, and can now translate whole chunks of OE (with the dictionary to hand) and feel pretty darn good about it!

I was particularly delighted to find that "ilk" is an OE word. It was very satisfying.

Wes ge hal!

Fandung 3

I got the marked copy of fandung 2 back this week and have now turned around fandung 3. It is all getting very interesting as my abilities with the language improve gradually. Paul found a copy of Sweet’s Anglo Saxon Reader in Oxfam and I have been looking at some of the passages in it. Imagine my delight when I was able to make sense of most of the entry for the Battle of Ashdown – much of the course seems to revolve around this article, so I hope I haven’t pre-empted the final exercise!

I am really enjoying the course – as I think you might have gathered. It makes my brain feel alive again. It has also made me realise that my job is really not very challenging. As I have my appraisal coming up in a couple of weeks I will probably mention this, Unfortunately I fear this might simply lead to an increase of workload volume rather than an increase of complexity. I know I took a job with a more junior title, but I had anticipated the challenges might eb greater than they in fact are. Still, this is not the time to be looking for other jobs and hanging on to employment is currently the priority.

Anyway, I did think of a project which would keep me busy with the OE work, keep both of us working on a shared project, and give me something to get my teeth into. Can you guess what it is yet? Well, I think doing some research on the Saxon period of the village would be interesting. The church here has Saxon stone foundations, which is relatively unusual (although I think the church at Terrington also has similar foundations – item for research!) as most saxon churches would have been built of wood. For example, the original St Peter’s in York (York Minster is St Peter’s in real life) was a first a wooden church in the 7th century.

Still, musings of this nature belong on a different blog, so here endeth the lesson.