We Despair of Jelly Dougnuts

More dancing tonight. The Dawlish Dachshunds currently aren’t speaking with or to us because it was our Christmas Party and we got home late. No, not the one on Saturday, a different one. Do keep up. Lots of Scottish Dance here on Dawlish and it’s all wrapping up for the holidays.

We had live music and food afterwards…Actually, Rockingham Napier, charmer of WRENS is speaking to us. This is because he is as incorrigeable a flirt as his namesake and despite courting the Marschallin Cat, has yet to figure out how one holds a grudge. But anyway, Buffy isn’t speaking to us and Miss Marschallin is offended. Very.

So, anyway, because the animals that don’t flirt with us are shunning us, we’re drinking our tea for the evening. It’s called Jelly Doughnut, and it tastes like drinking jam.

We’ve always wondered what that would be like, you know? Back when we studied Eugene Onegin Penguin thoughtfully footnoted a line about passing the jam around. We went looking thinking it would be a lesson on Russian tea prep. Cue the world’s most useless footnote; Jam is a preservative that comes in flavours Raspberry, Strawberry, Blueberry, etc. Really? Really, Penguin?

If we were doing the Penguin debrief on this tea, we would now tell you that this tea tastes specifically like the preservative Raspberry Jam. You can make it by…But we like to be more helpful than Penguin.

What we are driving at here is that this is a ridiculously sweet tea. There’s some kind of confectionary thing in the mix – you know those pink things that aren’t sprinkles but you still decorate cakes with? They’re in here, cheerfully dissolving. So is some kind of currant and apple.

It’s much, much too sweet. Unless you have a sweet tooth, in which case you won’t have any qualms drinking faux jam.

It may also be our fault. We tipped the tin into our quilted cats mug. We only let it steep for about ninety seconds and that was enough to strip the enamel off our teeth. So, if you fancy it, use moderate amounts of tea and pour out immediately. Do not let stand.

On the other hand, it gave us the perfect poem for tonight. Enjoy!

Faithful Jelly Doughnut
Dennis Lee

Far across the ocean,
Far across the sea,
A faithful jelly donut
Is waiting just for me.

Its sugar shines with longing,
Its jelly glows with tears;
My donut has been waiting there
For twenty-seven years.

O faithful jelly donut,
I beg you; don’t despair!
My teeth are in Toronto, but
My heart is with you there.

And I will cross the ocean,
And I will cross the sea,
And I will crush you to my lips;
And make you one with me.

Unless you too cannot stand jelly doughnuts, in which case the fictive Rupert Giles will gladly have your share. He can certainly have ours!

Camomile Lawns

Today’s tea is Calming Camomile. Investigation reveals David spells this the Canadian way, and you know, fair play. But it’s late and we’ve read too much Mary Wesley. It looks wrong if we deviate from British English. Apologies.

Candidly, we aren’t camomile lovers. Unless you stick the stuff in a fictive Camomile Lawn way off in Cornwall and leave us to read about it. That’s quite nice. As a tea, it’s not a flavour that does a lot for us. When we want something soothing, we drink lavender.

So, when we say this one is a decent camomile tea, we aren’t damning with the faint praise we could be. Someone went to extravagant lengths to dress it up with apple and a few other ingredients. Nothing you can do about the awful camomile smell, but at least it tastes more of apples than hay.

On the other hand, we still have other things we prefer when we want something soothing. Like sticking on a video of Orchards of County Armagh and watching the dancers. We’re odd like that.

Just to prove it, here’s an unlikely poem to go with today’s sleepy time tea offering.

Wendy Cope

Some men never think of it.
You did. You’d come along
And say you’d nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts-
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

Why ‘Flowers’? Because we had to write all kinds of gloop for a work assignment today and this was the perfect anecdote. Also, there’s tremendous debate about whether the speaker is being sincere or cynical. Feel free to write in and take sides. We know where we come down.

Nor All That Glisters Gold

Another old favourite today. We ended up brewing it several times. Glitter and Gold is a black tea that supposedly sparkles when you pour it out. We’ve never made that happen.

It’s something to do with the sugar crystals in it, or something. Anyway, the composition has clearly changed a bit, because it used to include little gold balls of what we presume was a variation on hundreds and thousands.

That wasn’t in the tin, so apparently whatever causes the crystalline effect has changed. It hasn’t affected the taste. It’s still a light, sparkling (meraphorically) black tea with a hint of spice.

We associate it with Cambridge, because that’s where a friend introduced us to it. We drank nothing else for the whole of the visit. This was back when David’s Tea still shipped to Britain. After that we stocked up in Toronto and brought a whacking great load of tea across the border. That was when Toronto still had stores you could walk into.

As it happens, we have the perfect poem to go with Glitter and Gold with its sparkling gold confectionary balls. It was a Poetry and Cake staple.

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Bowl of Goldfishes
Thomas Grey

Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but ’midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw;
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch’d, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
A Favourite has no friend!

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.

Apologies cat lovers! We know a few of you read along. It’s not Miss Marschallin’s favourite poem, either, nor ours. But we saw the name on the tea tin and the first thing we thought of was that final line by Gray. It’s was too perfect to leave lying there.

Milk Oolong for Not-Quite Milkwood

The Advent door gave us one of our favourite teas for Gaudete Sunday.

It’s a kind of milk oolong. Rich, creamy, and as the name suggests, a bit milky. We never drink it with milk, though we know people who do and enjoy it. Oolong leaves ferment though. It’s part of what gives oolong its distinctive flavour. And we can’t square that taste with milk.

Still, it was the ideal way to relax our Advent discipline of a Sunday afternoon. We thought it would go well with a bit of ‘Under Milk Wood.’ A friend reminded us it existed, and it used to be a staple of the Poetry and Cake Society, which has more than a little to do with this series of blogs existing.

But pulling out an excerpt of ‘Under Milk Wood’ at no notice is tricky. So, instead, here’s another poem by the same author.

The Almanac of Time
Dylan Thomas

The almanac of time, hangs in the brain;
The seasons numbered, by the inward sun,
The winter years, move in the pit of man;
His graph is measured as the page of pain
Shifts to the redwombed pen.

The calendar of age hangs in the heart,
A lover’s thought tears down the dated sheet,
The inch of time’s protracted to a foot
By youth and age, the mortal state and thought
Ageing both day and night.

The word of time lies on the chaptered bone,
The seed of time is sheltered in the loin:
The grains of life must seethe beneath the sun,
The syllables be said and said again:
Time shall belong to man.

We’ve been to Wales and seen Dylan Thomas’s boathouse. We’ve also seen the place where supposedly he did lots of his writing. It was admittedly spoiling for rain at the time, because it was Wales. That whole day was a bit wet and a bit improvised, because nothing went to plan. But it was fun and the company was good. We think of this now every time we read Thomas.

Dancing Days

Today’s tea was Forever Frosty.

We aren’t sure if it’s supposed to replace Forever Nuts but hope it is. It has a lot of those same flavours but is a superior tea. It’s less sweet, less pink and has a long-in-the-mouth flavour that rounds out the taste.

The ingredients claim it features marshmallow. We can’t taste it, but we did get hints of orange and cloves. Somewhat bizarrely it smells of, but doesn’t taste like pine needles. We’re not complaining so much as observing. It’s a lovely smell and pairs handily with a good herbal tea. But it’s monumentally bizarre.

We’re late on the whole blog thing tonight because it was the Scottish Country Dance Christmas Dance. It was our first monthly dance since covid. We’ve been going to weekly sessions for over a year now, but have been cantering up to the  montly balls.

This one was lots of fun. We can tell we’re where we should be in the intermediate class because in a program rife with corner- and ladies’ chains, we barely registered them. In fact, looking over the selection this afternoon we wrote the lot off as easy. Well, except that one dance with a one-person poussette. Candidly, I think the whole society is pretending that dance never happened. This is why no one dances the old dances.

As is tradition when the blog coincides with the Christmas dance, we eked out a Pat Batt poem for you. She dances Scottish and she has a rare eye for observations. Enjoy ‘The Intermediate Class.’

The Intermediate Class
Pat Batt ©2000

Well now I’m Intermediate –
My feet are doing nicely –
The brain still finds it hard to cope
And work things out precisely.

I sometimes feel that I’m a pawn
In a giant game of chess –
But the pattern’s getting clearer
And the chaos getting less.
I’ve mastered chain progression,
I can do a nifty Knot –
But the Rondel and Espangnole,
I admit they’re not so hot.

So – here you find me in the set
And I am number two.
I’m O.K. for the first few bars –
I’ve nothing much to do.
I’ve stepped up very nicely
(It’s lovely to be dancing!)
But – someone’s coming up the set –
Oh, should I be advancing?
Ah no, it’s just a set and turn
And balance in a line –
My confidence comes flooding back
And now I’m doing fine!

I’ve come in for the Allemande
(Arm over on bar one!)
Now I can do it properly
I’m finding it such fun!
I’ve done 8 slip steps to the left
And 8 back to the right,
I’ve turned, and now I’m casting
And the end is now in sight.
I’ve remembered all the proper things
That I’ve been taught to do –
And the nicest thing about it is
My teacher’s happy too!

We contest the bit about the Rondel and Espagnol. Not only do we dance them ably, but the Espagnol is one of our favourite formations. Now Set-to-Partner-Set-to-Corner…And don’t start us on Diamond Poussettes. Awful, awful things.

Blast Beruffled Plume

Today’s David’s Tea is a wonderful selection. It’s called Salted Caramel Oolong. We always say we have yet to meet an oolong we don’t like, and this is a textbook example of why that’s true.

Oolongs are wonderfully flexible teas. You can mix them with fruit or sweets or leave them alone and you always get a rich combination of tastes. Salted Caramel Oolong is a bit sweet, and it’s long in the mouth. It’s an extravagant desert tea or afternoon tea. There’s enough caffeine to get you through the afternoon but not too much to keep you wide awake.

We drank ours while writing about bird symbolism today. 2000 words of it. It’s been one of our better topics.

That makes our poetry selection tonight apt. Here’s one of our favourite poems in the English language to go with our favourite oolong. It happens to be about a bird. But it’s about so much more than that, too.

The Darkling Thrush
Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
 His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Not that anyone asked, but we could do you a whole Advent of nothing but Thomas Hardy. The man gets damned out of hand for his bleak novels, but for our money, he writes some of the most beautiful poetry there is. And as this one demonstrates, it can be surprisingly hopeful.

About Cats

Tonight’s tea is Mother’s Little Helper.

We always get a kick out of this one because the whole concoction revolves around valerian root. In humans, that makes you sleepy. We never get to have much of it because we open the tin, Miss Maschallin comes nosing, and next thing we know, we are up to our eyes in stoned cat.

The thing about valerian root is that however it works on humans, feline brain chemistry is completely different. It revs them up like nothing on earth. And it stinks to high heaven.

But it’s a really lovely, therapeutic tea if you have, say, spent an evening trying to keep an overactive Dachshund Puppy – let’s call him Rocky – away from the woodpile. And the Christmas tree. And the cat. And…

Tell you what, we’re going to sit down and enjoy our valerian tea, and you can enjoy this lovely poem about cats. Deal?

Pangur Bán
Translation by Seamus Heaney

Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Bán
Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
Adds up to its own reward:
Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
Next thing lines that held and held
Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

So, we can’t translate Old Irish unassisted. But we definitely translated quite a lot of Old English while the Marschallin Cat looked on. We learned soprano descants with her sitting in, too. Very musically snobbish that one, we can tell you.  

The Blind Men And Their Elephants After All

Tonight we drank Organic Orange Spice.  The internet tells us that in another life this was ‘The Spice Is Right.’ We don’t remember it that way, either.

This is one of those bizarre David’s Tea’s that is billed as one thing and tastes like another.

Supposedly, there’s orange in there. See further the name. It also purports to be a blend of green tea and chai.

We are prepared to grant the chai is definitely in there. If there’s any green tea, not only did we not see it, but the taste doesn’t come through. To be fair, no taste comes through except cloves.

Don’t misunderstand. The taste is lovely. It’s cloves-heavy and cloves mean Christmas to us. But we don’t get any orange out of this. In fact, we misread the title as ‘Organic Spice,’ and candidly, that’s more accurate.

Forget what we said about variety. If ever tonight warranted a poem about things that weren’t what they seemed this is it. And we have just the poem.

The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey-Saxe

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!—but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: “Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”


The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”


And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

We don’t know what’s going on with the italics, either. It’s bizarre. On the other hand, that’s true of just about everything Godfrey-Saxe writes. Italics are the least of it.

Candy Cane Crush

Today’s tea was Candy Cane Crush.

This is one of David’s weirder tea selections. It’s a lovely tea but not without issues. The biggest one is the titular candy cane. The tea integrates pieces of candy cane, and nice though it is to know the ingredients aren’t entirely artificial, this means you have to scrub all the tea things for hours afterwards.

Why? Because the melting candy cane covers everything, but especially the tea infuser, in residue that doesn’t come off without a fight.

The other issue is one we’ve never parsed. Something about the candy canes stops the tea steeping properly. We aren’t chemists, so aren’t clear on how this works. But you notice it when you pour out; The tea pours through a film of melted sugar. It makes a very sparkly tea, but it also means it never reaches full strength.

Lest you think we didn’t let it sit long enough, the tea sat there in its pot for a full episode of The Archers. That’s 13-minutes of radio to you non-Ambridgites. And it still came out what our father calls ‘winkles tea.’

If you can get past that, it’s got a lovely flavour. A bit sweet, a bit minty, and a bit of caffeine. The tin does say it never gets very strong, so the issue we notice with the steeping strength may be a feature, not a bug.

We’re posting early tonight, because we are about to head off dancing. The Christmas dance is Saturday, and we haven’t decided if we’re going. It seems like a thoroughly good way to catch covid, so we are hedging. That said, we can run to a three-couple set up at the community centre.

Talking about dancing, here’s some Yeats for you.

Sweet Dancer
W.B. Yeats

The girl goes dancing there
On the leaf-sown, new-mown, smooth
Grass plot of the garden;
Escaped from bitter youth,
Escaped out of her crowd,
Or out of her black cloud.
Ah, dancer, ah, sweet dancer!

If strange men come from the house
To lead her away, do not say
That she is happy being crazy;
Lead them gently astray;
Let her finish her dance,
Let her finish her dance.
Ah, dancer, ah, sweet dancer!

Strange Metemorphoses

Tonight we’re drinking Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait, which has the distinction of tasting shockingly pink.

When we lived in hall, there was a pink doughnut-type thing that used to appear regularly as pudding. Retrospectively we think it was some sort of Aussie creation, because the middle was full of jam. We forget the name, but this is always what we think of when we drink Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait by David’s Tea.

It’s astonishingly pink and incredibly sweet. We left it to steep while we mucked about poem-hunting and that was an error, because while not actually cloying, the flavours distinctly flirt with that possibility.

Mind, as long as you have a sweet tooth that shouldn’t be an issue. And the saving grace of this tea is the rhubarb. Even now it pulls it back from the edge of being overly-sweet with a long-in-the-mouth tartness. You don’t notice until you’ve swallowed, and it’s the perfect antidote to all that strawberry and sugar.

It’s one of our favourite teas, and comes at just the right time, because we’ve had a longer than normal day. To lighten the whole thing we went hunting for verses for you by John Godfrey-Saxe. He’s obscure and overlooked. Candidly, if Lemony Snicket hadn’t devoted a whole exegesis to his poem on six men and an elephant, we wouldn’t know him.

Truth be told, ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ is probably our favourite Godfrey-Saxe. But we’ve used it here before and we do try to give you variety. So, here’s a playful retelling of Ovid. We’re not at all sure what Ovid would make of it, but it’s Saxe at his irreverent best, which is how we like him.

How the Raven Became Black
John Godfrey Saxe

There’s a clever classic story,
Such as poets used to write,
(You may find the tale in Ovid),
That the Raven once was white.

White as yonder swan a-sailing
At this moment in the moat,
Till the bird, for misbehavior,
Lost, one day, his snowy coat.

‘Raven-white’ was once the saying,
Till an accident, alack!
Spoiled its meaning, and thereafter
It was changed to ‘Raven-black.’

Shall I tell you how it happened
That the change was brought about?
List the story of CORONIS,
And you’ll find the secret out.

Young CORONIS, fairest maiden
Of Thessalia’s girlish train,
Whom Apollo loved and courted,
Loved and courted not in vain,

Flirted with another lover
(So at least the story goes)
And was wont to meet him slyly,
Underneath the blushing rose.

Whereupon the bird of Phoebus,
Who their meetings chanced to view,
Went in haste unto his master,
Went and told him all he knew;

Told him how his dear CORONIS,
False and faithless as could be,
Plainly loved another fellow-
If he doubted, come and see!

Whereupon Apollo, angry
Thus to find himself betrayed,
With his silver bow-and-arrow
Went and shot the wretched maid!

Now when he perceived her dying,
He was stricken to the heart,
And to stop her mortal bleeding,
Tried his famous healing art!

But in vain; the god of Physic
Had no antidote; alack!
He who took her off so deftly
Couldn’t bring the maiden back!

Angry with himself, Apollo,
Yet more angry with his bird,
For a moment stood in silence-
Impotent to speak a word.

Then he turned upon the Raven,
‘Wanton babbler! see thy fate!
Messenger of mine no longer,
Go to Hades with thy prate!

‘Weary Pluto with thy tattle!
Hither, monster, come not back;
And- to match thy disposition-
Henceforth be thy plumage black!’
When you’re tempted to make mischief,
It is wisest to refuse;
People are not apt to fancy
Bearers of unwelcome news.
Something of the pitch you handle,
On your fingers will remain;
As the Raven’s tale of darkness
Gave the bird a lasting stain!

That sounds like Ovid, doesn’t it?  All right, it sounds like a thoroughly vexed Classicist’s rendering of Ovid in English. But you can see the Ovidian shape behind the light verse, can’t you?