Doubt, Tea and Christmas Eve

In homage to an old Glasgow haunt of ours, we’re drinking today’s tea in what they would call ‘Russian style.’ That is, loose leaved and less the tea infuser. Also, whatever the technical term si for drinking a cup of tea while a cat waltzes around one’s space, not just lap, but back, shoulders, desk, keyboard…there’s a technical term for that, yeah?

Anyway, the tea itself is called Fireside Mocha, and we really hoped we’d misread Firside Matcha. No such luck. Question; if your fruit based infusion lacks tea leaves but does have coffee grounds, in what way is it not flavoured coffee?

This year’s attempt to convert us to the taste of coffee went about as well as anyone whose old hat at this tea-and-a-poem blog of ours would expect after three odd years of it.  There’s grimacing, noises of distress and quoting of Nancy Mitford. Specifically that old saw, ‘Aren’t I grown up Fanny? I drink tea and almost like coffee.’ It’s one of Don’t Tell Alfred‘s truly funny moments, with the caveat that we still don’t like coffee. Not even almost. And we absolutely, unconditionally, definitely do not want the stuff in our tea. Got it, universe? If we want coffee – which event is doubtful – we’ll have coffee. If we want tea, we’ll make tea. And if we want a fruit concoction steeped in hot water, we’ll have a fruit flavoured tisane and thank you to leave coffee grounds well out of the mix.

Anyone still unclear on the Gospel of Tea as preached by us, raise your hand, post a note, or otherwise reach out to us. We solemnly promise not to victimise any lovers of coffee.

To go with a tea of dubious merit, here’s a Christmas poem with doubt at it’s thematic centre. We don’t know enough Betjeman, and obviously neither does the internet, since it’s convinced we’ve misspelled his name. What we have read though, we’ve always found interesting. He shares Hardy’s trick for elevating the mundane and weaving it in to a sacred space.

There’s probably something interesting to be said about the fact that two of the best Christmas poems going are rooted in the wavering faith of these two poets. Something about the frailty of humanity and our impermanence, or something. But it’s late, much too late for theology. So here’s the poem instead, and if you happen to have any more brainwaves about doubt, Advent, mundanity and the poetic, you know where to reach us. Or you could just get in touch about tea. We’re really good with both.

Either way, a happy Christms from Canada, from us, the Dawlish Dachshunds, and Miss Marschallin.


John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

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