Advent III: Gaudete from the Choir Stalls

It was our Nine Lessons and Carols tonight, and we were an exceedingly good former chorister and resisted joining in the descants. Well, all right, we confess to fellow choristers and the body of the church et& et& to joining in on two separate lines to Hark the Herald. The thing is, we don’t know the melody to the third verse of that particular hymn. We’ve only ever sung the descant. So we were effectively sight-reading without the music this evening. And that’s a cruel thing to do to a soprano.

It’s also Gaudete Sunday, which means we can relax our Advent discipline a bit. ours, such as it is, would appear to be the blog, and to that end we’re doing something a bit different. We’re still thinking musically after the Nine Lessons, so we’re cobbling together more than the usual single anthem for you. Not to worry; not only will there not be nine of them, we promise no more earworms in the being of last night’s hornpipe.

We’ll start, because it’s Gaudete Sunday, with Hills of the North. This is far and away our favourite Advent hymn -who wouldn’t like a glad rush towards the Apocalypse? We’re being sincere there too, there are shades of Revelations about this hymn. And we’re giving it an airing because it’s woefully absent from the Anglican Hymnnal of the Church of Canada. We freely admit to grousing more than the average person about hymnals not called New English, but honestly, the selection in this one boggles us. It’s not just Hills of the North, the whole Advent section is weirdly curtailed. It doesn’t even have Lead Kindly Light. But that’s a rant for a different time. Here is Hills of the North -our version. There are two.


You’ll notice it’s slow enough to turn the choir blue. That’s not usual. But our only alternative was Songs of Praise not only with the wrong words but at such a clip as to be still more lunatic.  There is an average between the two -we’ve sung it -but it’s not prerecorded apparently.

To follow it, here’s one we used to air with regularity this time of year. It came with a good deal of gentle ribbing from the choir (all 5 of us) about Stainer’s lack of subtlety, but we love it anyways. Even if it does stick in our head for weeks after the fact of singing it.


You see what our choir meant about the subtlety? Even so, we miss it. But we won’t leave you to the endless musical loop that is that particular anthem. We’ll close with another omission from the Canadian Hymnal.


Nt quite Nine Lessons -more a ramble through music we miss this year. There are others too -we haven’t had any antiphonies – but these are high on our list. We’re listening to them accompanied by caramel shortbread tea. It would be heresy if it didn’t put us in mind of another thing we can’t get over here, Millionaire’s Shortbread. It’s the one aberrations to our rigid shortbread recipe we have time for. And the tea tastes the way we remember Millionaire’s Shortbread, though without the chocolate. It’s another sweet, dessert tea that doesn’t cloy, and it’s a lovely way to cap an evening of music and fellowship.

After all that, we can’t quite break with discipline after all, so here’s an irreverent thing that used to circulate through choir circles we knew whenever performances were coming due. Sing it to the tune of Immortal, Invisible and see if you ever sing the normal words again. We still have to think fractionally too long about it.

Immortal Impossible

 Immoral, impossible, God only knows
how tenors and basses, sopranos, altos
at service on Sunday are rarely the same
as those who on Thursday to choir practice came.

Unready, unable to sight-read the notes,
nor counting, nor blending, they tighten their throats.
The descant so piercing is soaring above
a melody only a mother could love.

They have a director, but no one knows why;
no one in the choir deigns to turn him an eye.
It’s clear by his flailing, he wants them to look,
but each singer stands there with nose in the book.

Despite the offences, the music rings out.
The folks in the pews are enraptured, no doubt.
Their faces are blissful, their thoughts appear deep,
but this is no wonder, for they are asleep.

*We would like to stress that whatever his sins, our conductor never flailed. Seemingly though, Thursday is the universal day for choir rehearsal. Funny the things that are unfailingly the same.


Dance Away the Hours Together


It’s not quite the middle of night by the castle clock, and there aren’t any owls, this being Toronto, but it’s certainly late enough. We spent the evening out at the Christmas Dance for Toronto’s Scottish Country Dance set, and only sat out two dances. To say we’re still beginning, and didn’t know them all, that’s no small thing. We muddled some, and we stumbled through a few, but we’re terribly proud of the fact that we negotiated the Anniversary Dance – sprung on us a fortnight back without warning -almost without error. Our most egregious sin was slipping a right shoulder instead of left in a reel, and considering how confusing we found the dance when it first leapt out of the woodwork, this is a triumph of the highest order. Okay, it is if you’re us and if you understand about reels and slipping shoulders.

To make it make that much more sense to you, here’s our favourite of the dances to be getting on with. It’s a reel that goes to the name of Jessie’s hornpipe. They don’t here, as they did this evening, veer wildly into Christmas carols midway through, but no matter. At least our wittering will have a bit of context for you.


We’re relaxing now with Sleigh Ride tea, evidence that not all sweet teas are cloying. Hibiscus and beetroot make it pink, and there’s apple, cinnamon, and raisins in it among other things. Almond gives it a subtly nutty taste, and while this, like previous calendar teas in it, has coconut in it, it doesn’t overwhelm the tea. And because we lack a musical off-switch, we’re still humming Jessie’s hornpipe. It was the last dance of tonight’s set and a good note to end on.

Back in November when we went to a workshop, we were advised ‘Dancing is friendship set to music.’ This evening was a testament to that. We never wanted for partners, and whole sets were generous with advise, and gracious when we absolutely mangled the sequence. It’s a highly social thing, Scottish Country, which is why we love it so much. We’re not much good at improvised dancing. In fact we’re bad at all kinds of improv, whether it’s charades, dancing or those add-a-sentence stories. But Scottish Country Dance has steps, sequence, and always you’re in conversation with someone. Don’t know where to go? Look at your partner. Waiting in fourth place? Look up the set to the dancing couple. It’s not Austen’s dances exactly, but nor is it a far cry from them either. And dancing them, we can well see why so many of her set pieces hinge on dances.

With that in mind, here’s another Pat Batt poem, all about what to do when dancing. a Scottish Country Dance, and how to spot those of us who know what we’re doing (or even just look like we do).

Eyes Right!

Part Batt

If you ask the question
How to know a Scottish Dancer
It’s really very simple
For there only is one answer.

The easy way to spot him
Is his roving, rolling eye,
And if you don’t believe me –
Well, I will tell you why.

He has one eye on his partner
And one eye on the set,
He has to watch a lot more things
I haven’t mentioned yet.

He has to cover up and down
And watch his teacher too –
How else is he supposed to learn
The footwork he must do?

One eye swivels to his corner,
One eye squints along the line –
When he’s completely cross-eyed
The you know he’s doing fine!

And often you will notice
A fleeting, haunted glance –
That’s when he copies someone else
Who really knows the dance.

Well there’s the explanation – but
I’ll tell you one thing more –
There’s one place where he must not look –
and that is at the floor.

(Previously published in Reel 229)

Back in Scotland the only way to end a dance was hands joined, singing Auld Lang Syne -crossed arms on the last verse. We didn’t do it this evening -Scottish Country is much too refined for that – but it doesn’t feel right to close the night without it. So here’s a second poem as we make up the difference. We bet you know it, but maybe not all the verses.

Auld Lany Syne

Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.


Season of Rinsed Mist and Raspberries

Incongruously, for a wintery night powdered in snow, the tea is called Raspberry Cream Pie.  It’s a rooibos, and its full of rose petals, honest-to-goodness frozen blackberries, and crystallised pink sugar. If you’re very disturbed, don’t worry. You’re in good company. The pink crystallised sugar gave us a turn too.

It’s not a bad tea though. Exceedingly sweet, but after the revelation about the crystallised sugar, that’s hardly a surprise. It also tastes powerfully of raspberry, which shouldn’t be surprising except for the utter lack of raspberry in evidence. All told, it’s a strange tea. Not, as we say, bad, but we’re not sure rooibos is supposed to be sweet. What we love about rooibos is its spice and zing, and it’s hard to detect any of that under all the crystallised pink sugar. Of course, it might help if we had a sweet tooth for things that weren’t peppermint squares and lemon-flavoured.

It’s billed as a dessert tea, and it’s undeniably that. Decadent on a level that’s worthy of a pre-Raphaelite painting. We have to say, our favourite dessert tea was called Secret Weapon. It was a white tea, full of almonds, liquorice root, orange peel and cornflowers. It was also our get-out-clause when we wanted a sweet after a meal during Lent seasons past. They don’t make it any more that we know of. But we say this because we want to drive home that a sweet tea doesn’t have to taste like confectionary or candy floss. Now, to be fair, Raspberry Cream Pie tastes more like a Cranachan that someone left the oats out of, but that’s hardly what your average tea-drinker goes into a cup of rooibos expecting. It certainly wasn’t what we were expecting.

But perhaps what’s most incongruous is that we’re getting this tea in an Advent Calendar.  A few sweet teas in winter don’t warrant a raised eyebrow, not really. But raspberries in December? Where are they getting them from?

After all that, here’s a poem a bit more in season. It talks of mists and steam, and the kind of weather that we associate with a Scottish winter, and the kind of china that by rights belongs in harbour cafes. Blue and white pottery, you know the kind. We first came across it -the poem, not the pottery – in Ten Poems about Tea and at first reading we glanced off of it. It wasn’t obviously witty, it didn’t make us laugh, it didn’t rhyme -and yet it’s better stamped on our brains than some of the more obvious pieces in that collection. Without further ado then, here is Eavan Boland’s In Season.

In Season

Eavan Boland

The man and woman on the blue and white
mug we have owned for so long
we can hardly remember
where we got it
or how

are not young. They are out walking in
a cobalt dusk under the odd azure of
apple blossom,
going towards each other with hands outstretched.

Suddenly this evening, for the first time,
I wondered how will they find each other?

For so long they have been circling the small circumference
of an ironstone cup that they have forgotten,
if they ever really knew it, earth itself.

This top to bottom endlessly turning world
in which they only meet
each other meeting
each other
has no seasons, no intermission; and if

they do not know when light is rearranged
according to the usual celestial ordinance –
tides, stars, a less and later dusk –
and if they never noticed

the cotton edge of the curtains brightening earlier
on a spring morning after the clocks have changed
and changed again, it can only be

they have their own reasons, since
they have their own weather (a sudden fog,
tinted rain) which they have settled into

so that the kettle steam, the splash of new tea are
a sought-after climate endlessly folded
into a rinsed horizon.


Do Not Sequester Our Common Sense

Tea tonight is called Lemon Pound Cake. Unlike some teas we’ve had, this one tastes the way the name suggests it will. It’s an especially lemony oolong that  is long in the mouth, the lemon we presume. We’ve only made up a cup -it’s late and we need sleep -but we’ll be going back to it. We have yet to meet an oolong we cannot drink, and citrus has long proven itself a good pairing with the tea. Something about it means that unlike jasmine, which grows bitter, or black tea, which stews, an oolong properly flavoured won’t oversteep. You have to be careful about it though. Our first year of university tastes of a now defunct tea called Vanilla Oolong. That could oversteep, and often if we were absent-minded and chatting with people, it did.

It’s one of our defying memories of first year though, something we mention since earlier in the evening we got talking books with people, and one of the questions to crop up was about what book defined our university experience. The thing is though, we’re Romanticists at heart. We dabbled in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Edgeworth and Wollstonecraft. None of those are really writers that define our degree. We looked at Austen too, and because of degree stipulations we even traded a bit in Old English and Restoration Literature. Again, much poetry. Though translating passages about Aelthelthryth’s neck tumour was, we grant, a pretty definitive moment.

Sometimes we railed against those degree stipulations. Never the Old English, we could read it happily forever, but Restoration literature is…weird. This from the woman who has read articles on whether there are zombies in Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner or not. Mary Pix’s The Innocent Mistress stands out as grievously bad. So bad in fact, that it’s no longer on the course. The Old Arcadia is also on our list of Seriously Bizarre. But sometimes after being strongarmed into a course, we’d get handed a gift of a text. Old English was like that, but over in the land of Restoration Literature, so was the poetry of Katherine Phillips.

She doesn’t get talked about much -a monarchist under Cromwell, why would she? But the great thing isn’t so much that she wrote independently, it’s that she defended her politics. When people went after her husband for her loyalty to the crown, she published a poem insisting she was responsible for her own opinions. And that was in-between the great hymns to love and friendship among women. This is none of those. It is, however,  our personal favourite. We want Do Not Sequester Our Common Sense to be the next sampler we stitch. Perhaps in whipped chain and herringbone stitches? What do you think?

On the Double Murther of a King

Katherine Phillips

I think not on the state, nor am concerned
Which way soever that great helm is turned,
But as that son whose father’s danger nigh
Did force his native dumbness, and untie
His fettered organs: so here is a cause

That will excuse the breach of nature’s laws.
Silence were now a sin: nay passion now
Wise men themselves for merit would allow.
What noble eye could see, (and careless pass)
The dying lion kicked by every ass?

Hath Charles so broke God’s laws, he must not have
A quiet crown, nor yet a quiet grave?
Tombs have been sanctuaries; thieves lie here
Secure from all their penalty and fear.
Great Charles his double misery was this,

Unfaithful friends, ignoble enemies;
Had any heathen been this prince’s foe,
He would have wept to see him injured so.
His title was his crime, they’d reason good
To quarrel at the right they had withstood.

He broke God’s laws, and therefor he must die,
And what shall then become of thee and I?
Slander must follow treason; but yet stay,
Take not our reason with our king away.
Though you have seized upon all our defense,

Yet do not sequester our common sense.
But I admire not at this new supply:
No bounds will hold those who at scepters fly.
Christ will be King, but I ne’er understood,
His subjects built his kingdom up with blood

(Except their own) or that he would dispense
With his commands, though for his own defense.
Oh! to what height of horror are they come
Who dare pull down a crown, tear up a tomb!

The Business of Cats

Tonight’s tea was confused. It’s called cinnamon rooibos chai, and while all of those are good things they do fight a bit when it comes to flavour. We should here double back a bit and add that it’s only chai in the sense of chai meaning tea. We can’t find evidence of the constituent parts of chai present. Just as well, considering the cinnamon barely registered. This may be our fault. We’re not of the ilk that leaves tea to brew for the request 4-5 minutes, mostly because we like to have the blog up this side of midnight. So it tasted primarily of rooibos, no bad thing, but less subtle than the smell of the tin promised. But it’s a good tea and warm. The kind you can drink to stave off a winter chill, and there’s certainly enough of that going around.

Along those lines we were going to find you a nice, topical poem about tea and winter, or one or the other. But then the Marschallin-Cat put in an appearance She variously sat on us, attempted to write the blog for us, and failing in those efforts, sat with her back to us, Sulking. The Sulking, if you’ve never observed it, is quite the spectacle, and not to be confused with that well-known book of similar name The Shining. Though we fancy there are horrors in store for anyone who ignores a Sulk. We, being disinclined to find out, took the hint. So much for tea and winter. Here’s a poem about life with cats instead.


Busy, Busy

Francesco Marciuliano

It’s 8 AM and it’s time to nap
It’s 10 AM and it’s time to relax.
It’s 12 PM and it’s time to doze off
It’s 3 PM and it’s time to zonk out
It’s 6 PM and it’s time to slumber
It’s 9 PM and it’s time to snooze
It’s 12 AM and time to sleep
It’s 4 AM and it’s tim to hang upside down
from your bedroom ceiling, screaming.

Here we hasten to add that Miss Marschallin never screams. She’s not adverse to a light touch of singing at preternaturally early hours though. With that in mind, from the Marscahllin-Cat and us both, it’s goodnight. At least until 4 in the morning.



Life’s Little Absurdities

You’re getting a well-known poem today. We couldn’t resist, even if it does skip the calendar by weeks. We were out today doing our Christmas shopping, things for parcels, things for socks, and that rarity, cards that weren’t treacle-y. We’d like them to be vaguely Christmas themed (rather than, say, wintery), but provided they aren’t soppy, we’re disinclined to be fussy. Imagine our delight then, to read in a piece of poetical trivia, that The Journey of the Magi was supposed to line Christmas cards.

Christmas cards! Think of it. Set down this/ Were we lead all that way for / Birth, or Death? Or earlier, A cold coming we had of it. Not forgetting, I should be glad of a second death. Christmas cards! There were times when we regretted /the summer palaces  on slopes. We can’t decide if Faber & Faber commissioned the next Coventry Carol and got, well, Eliot in a theological mood, or if 1927 was the year of the unsentimental Christmas card.

Incredulous we might be, but we wouldn’t dare accuse those cards of soppiness. In fact, we’d probably buy them. Do Faber & Faber still do a line in them? We’ll take half a dozen stamped with that line about the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory/lying down in the melting snow to start with. Maybe if they go over well we’ll look into some inscribed with that bit about the innkeepers dicing for silver.  In the meantime, three guesses as to the poem of the evening.

As for the tea…A note on our poetry and tea ritual: Normally we brew the tea up in our little tea for one. We’re not doing that tonight. We took one look at the tea and recoiled in horror. Why? Someone, somewhere was struck with  the brilliant inspiration that what tea was missing was…youu’ll love this…coffee. Look, just because little Jassey Radlet, deep in the obscurity of Don’t Tell Alfred, feels (almost)  liking coffee makes her grown up, doesn’t mean we do. We can’t abide it. Not just the taste, but the smell, and the texture too. And here it is infiltrating our tea. We’re not sure we can even reasonably call this heresy. Someone has defiled the eighth sacrament. It is wrong.

So we’ve brewed tea in a mug. A teacup, actually, currently stranded from its saucer. Are we being a wee bit hyperbolic? Not really, no. Maybe a little. The thing is, we’ve been ambushed in previous years by coffee-infused tea, and the consequences were not good. And since our innate horror of pouring tea down the drain is strong, a mug it is.

Being reasonable though, coffee-tea doesn’t work as a concept. Watching it in the mug has brought this home to us. The coffee grounds escape the infuser and sink to the bottom of the cup, and that’s before they swamp the taste of the tea. What we really seem to be drinking is coffee that’s on nodding terms with tea, and it’s awful. We think it’s supposed to taste nutty, or something. How does one describe coffee? We don’t have the vocabulary for that.

But look, enough of this. A hard time we had of it indeed. Let’s move on to better things. And as you read, remember -Christmas cards!

The Journey of the Magi

T.S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

The Wintry Year; Alpine Punch and Lambs

We’ve had our first real snowfall of the year today. At six this morning it didn’t look of the staying kind, but sometime between then and now it turned into powder, and now it’s boot season as well as felt hat, scarf and gloved hands season. It makes today’s tea selection especially appropriate. Nothing says winter warmth more readily than a cup of rooibos tea.

This one is called Alpine Punch, and we’ve been buying it for years off our own bat, one of the inheritors of the much-mythologised Crumble Tea. They aren’t the same at all (nothing is the same as that tea was): this one is warmer and rounder in tone, with ginger and almonds as well as apple and cinnamon. It’s longer in the mouth too, and the rooibos means it has more spice in the taste than Crumble Tea ever did. We’ve used it before now to take the chill out of many a dreich Scots day, the kind when the wind comes rattling over the water from Norway and the haar is rolling in heavy off the sea. But it does in a pinch for a snowy day too.

Certainly we’d much rather be indoors nursing a cup of tea when the snow comes, than traipsing about in it. We like our weather the other side of a window, where it always looks lovely and we don’t hear Nelly Deane mentally telling us off for the acquisition of damp stockings. That, by the way, is what comes of studying English Literature. You remember all the most unlikely quotes and are duly ambushed by them at strange, improbable intervals.

Having said that, here’s a poem about snow that speaks to the hopefulness of the season. We initially supposed it was about spring lambing, but then we remembered that before now we’ve heard of winter lambs over in Ambridge, and people who know us know we get quite a lot of our agricultural understanding from that fictive idyll. The rest of it we owe to Hardy, and we recall he also has winter lambs in spots. Gabriel Oak mismothers one around this season, if we remember right. Anyway, this is neither Ambridge-isnpired nor more Hardy. It’s a poem by Phillip Larkin, and, like snow, rather lovely in its imagery.

First Sight

Phillip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Here fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.


Advent II: Roses, Skis and White Tea

We’ve said before we’ve never met a white tea we disliked. And while all rules allow of an exception, Walnut Orange Scone, today’s calendar tea, is not that aberration. It doesn’t taste of scone, but we weren’t really expecting a tea to do that. Scones are, for lack of a better word, solid-tasting. You feel the effort of eating them. Tea on the other hand, and this white tea in particular, isn’t like that. It’s delicate, and floral, and whoever thought to combine white tea with orange blossom is, in our book, akin to genius. The warmth of the walnut laced through it is a lovely touch, and gives an extra weight to the tea. The company behind the calendar errs in only one particular; they think this is a morning tea. It’s not. It’s a comforting wrap of a tea to be drunk before bed. That would henceforth be our routine, but for the fact that we don’t think you want to read everlastingly about Walnut Orange Scone white tea, though we put ever so many poems next to it.

In liturgical news, it’s Advent II, which means Mary and Joseph have joined the tabletop crib, and here and there people are beginning to attend Nine Lessons and Carols. Ours isn’t until Gaudete Sunday, but over the water in Lang’s Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews, the service has been and gone, held deliberately early so the students can catch it.

This news was passed on to us today by a friend as we chatted on Skype, and it got us thinking about our early memories of the service. We were still nominally Presbyterian then, so knew nothing of what to expect. (Theological quarry; can one be nominally Presbyterian still and be possessed of a rosary?)

We remember very little about that first Nine Lessons bar the crowd, the candlelight and Crown of Roses.  We talked last Sunday of the glad expectation of Advent: Crown of Roses is the flip side to that coin. It’s slow, solemn, and hints at the Crucifixion. It has a weight to it that explains as no priest yet successfully done for us, why Advent is so often folded into talk of the Apocalypse.

In the event that you, like us that first Nine Lessons, don’t know Crown of Roses, it’s an anthem by Tchaikovsky. Normal people hear ‘Tchaikovsky’ this time of year and think Nutcracker. We hear his name and think Crown of Roses. Practically speaking, it’s scarcely done because it calls for a divisi from the basses, and it’s a well-established truth that there are never enough men in a choir. Back in St Andrews, our three-person-choir dared not touch it because our Sometimes Tenor would have inevitably had to carry the baseline alone, and that would have been an unkindness. Speaking seriously though, and not as a tongue-in-cheek chorister, it’s a rare, rich anthem, and the world should know it better.  It’s sung here by the All Saints’ Choir of Northampton.


Advent though, as we’ve said, is a funny, twofold season. Solemn on the one hand, almost giddily ebullient on the other. This was best typified by the Presbyterian minister we grew up with. Faced with a near-empty church in the winter months, he didn’t wail doom and End of Days but urged everyone instead to Get off your skis and onto your knees. This in spite of the fact that no god Presbyterian is in the habit of kneeling. That’s dangerously Romish. (Cf our leap to Scottish Episcopacy by way of Marian devotion if you doubt this.) But in the spirit of his old idiom, here’s a limerick for Advent II.

Winter Weather: Drift Into Church

From The Church Year in Limericks, Christopher M. Brunelle

With skis, on foot or by sleigh,
Your arrive is welcome today,
And your timely behaviour
Improves on our Saviour:
The Christ Child is still on his way!

(N.B. In the course of annotating this poem for posting, we’ve discovered these limericks began as an effort to enliven the beginning of choir rehearsals. We’ve had our share of those, and we love this book of verse all the more for its testament to the wilful ecclesiastical humour of the choir stalls. Not to mention we feel doubly vindicated about pairing these limericks with anthems!)

Tea and Friendship: Sacraments 8 and 9

A dear friend wrote to us today, and having heard of our Advent blogging effort, gifted us a rare gem of a poem. We had never come across it before, and loved it so much that we resolved immediately on reading it to send it out as this evening’s missive.

We’re drinking Forever Nuts this evening, as prescribed by the calendar. We know it well, the larder is full of it. People give it to us so that we won’t have to ration the last of our beloved ‘Crumble Tea.’ But the Crumble Tea is sacred to the Anglican Inquisition and only to be drunk when it is in session, so still we hoard it. In the meantime we make do with Forever Nuts.

It isn’t the same, the store is wrong about that; it’s too light, a herbal tisane with no underlying tea to balance the apple and cinnamon sweetness of it. If Crumble Tea (they called it Mom’s Apple Pie) was crumble in a cup, this is perhaps an apple turnover in a cup. Not wildly different, but not the same either. It’s still a good herbal tea though, a lovely way to round off a meal. And it tastes of autumn, confirming the serendipity of this gift by our friend back in St Andrews. It’s longer than we’d usually post, so pour a cup of tea, or something of your own choosing, and take a quarter hour to enjoy it.

Poem in October

Dylan Thomas

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.


Not as We Were

Tonight’s tea is an odd duck, a blend of white, green and jasmine tea with hibiscus for flavour. It’s called Buddha’s Blend, but that’s not the odd thing. It doesn’t taste the way it smells. That is the oddity. We opened the tin and observed to Miss Marschallin-cat that it was reminiscent of a blend we bought once from Wittards, Jubilee blend, a black tea flavoured with mango, mandarin and peach. That’s what Buddha’s Blend smelled of -suddenly we were back in the kitchen of the Grotto, number 68 North Street, spooning specialty Wittards tea into our teapot.

It doesn’t taste of those things though. Well, it wouldn’t, would it, with not a touch of mandarin, peach or even mango among the ingredients. That’s not to say it wasn’t lovely -it was – but it didn’t taste the way it smelled. A disconcerting culinary schism, by the way, if you’ve never experienced it. You might even say it was not as it was -for which reason, we’re giving you Hardy tonight.

Our love of Thomas Hardy’s poetry is well-documented. It might be the most beautiful in the English cannon to us. It conjures the England of coffee-table books as nothing else does, and is exhilaratingly playful in its word choice. Sometimes Hardy will even invent words wholecloth, like ‘norward’ here, or ‘illimited’ of The Darkling Thrush. At least, we’ve never seen anyone else make use of them.

More academically, Hardy, like Emily Dickenson, favours Common Metre -the metre of most hymn tunes. You can, if you’re so minded (this chorister is), set his poetry to everything from Helmsley to Aurelia, and quite a few others besides. It doesn’t work with this poem though. This one’s Dactylic Tetrameter, and if that sounds like a mouthful, suffice it to say you can waltz to this poem, more or less. Music and metre; preoccupations of ours. But here endeth the lesson. For a tea that’s not as it was, here’s a poem that breaks all its own -and Hardy’s -rules.

The Voice

Thomas Hardy

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.