Oxen Kneeling

Appropriately for tonight, we’re drinking a Santa’s Secret, a sweetened black tea with pieces of candy cane. We could be liturgically snippy and say really this belongs in the December 6 box, for St Nicholas, but this is a Canadian Calendar, and Santa has long been associated here with Christmas Eve, never mind the liturgical calendar.

Besides, we’ve always loved the little human embroideries of the biblical narrative. Christ falling three times during Stations of the Cross, for the humanity and frailty it gives Him, the tabby cat who got her M-shaped marking on her forehead when Mary blessed her for keeping the Christ warm in the manger, or the cherries she plucks from that cherry tree in the carol. Did any of them happen? Impossible to say, but someone, somewhere once believed that they did, and ever since people have cleaved to them in various degrees, and have kept adding. Santa and his sleigh, the tree that craved great purpose and so became the Cross -and here’s another for you.

An old English superstition says that on Christmas Eve the oxen kneel at midnight to greet the Christ. It’s immortalised forever by Thomas Hardy in poetry, who crammed such superstitions into all his writing. We’ve shared superstition and poem before, but the old-world awe of the image of the oxen kneeling is one that never loses its beauty for us.  Perhaps we’ll find a better Christmas Eve poem in the New Year, but until we do, have the oxen kneeling.

The Oxen 

Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
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No oxen to kneel here, but all the same, a happy Christmas from all at Dawlish-uder-snow!

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White Cranberry Bark and Advent Carols

We spent this afternoon catching the last performance of The Messiah for this season’s run. It was wonderfully done, with zest and energy even in the slower pieces. The orchestra had a light touch, and the highlight of the performance for us was the choir. (No, we’re not biased at all, why would you think that?) Their diction was good, their sound bright, and they were -oh rarity -always together. In a large choir, that’s no easy feat.

As ever with The Messiah there was a fair bit of elasticity, and pieces were sung by parts we normally associate with others. On that note, we wanted to give you this communion hymn that ambushed us the other week. We never expected to like anything with a tambourine (they’re too often used to soppy effect) but the jocundity here is contagious. You may or may not recognise the text as Comfort Ye My People. We associate it with Handel’s Messiah, but that’s about all they have in common -well, that, and as it happens, we love both arrangements. We hope you will too.

 

Now, the concert over, we’re drinking a tea billed as being White Cranberry Bark. It’s herbal, pink, and tastes tart -the cranberry, presumably. You have to let this one steep. Our first effort was impatient and it tasted mostly of hot water, but about ten minutes into brewing the cranberry came through, and the white chocolate is merely a culinary afterthought. So you see, we can like a tea with chocolate in it after all. Though we still think it’s a bit odd.

And on the subject of oddities, we’re taking a risk here and giving you a poem we haven’t made up our mind about. We first heard it two or three years ago when the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, St Andrews, premiered a carol cycle arranged by a composer we now forget -possibly John MacMillan. It was interspersed with poetry, and we found this Advent Carol in verse. See what you make of it.

The Midwife’s Carol

Michael Symmons Roberts

Deserts freeze and oceans glaze,
The polar sun turns blue,
Then on winter’s whitened page
A single star prints through.

New-made maker, helpless king,
Born to joy and suffering,
Our rescuer, our child,
Our rescuer, our child.

I haul my catch into the world,
I shake him into breath,
His cry, so clear it splits the skies,
Could wake a man from death.

He cries for milk who gave it taste,
He aches for touch of skin,
Yet he spun every human hair,
And ushered love begin.

I count his fingers, wipe

his eyes,
Then whisper in each ear.
I wrap him in my thickest shawl,
Bound tight to keep him here.

My hands have cradled many heads,
Cut countless cords and cauls,
But never held eternity
Within such fragile walls.

The maker of all worlds is made,
Infinity becalms,
From speed of light to feet of clay,
My saviour in my arms.

For our money, if you’re interested, if that italicised bit is a chorus, it’s unnecessary. Strictly speaking, its superfluous anyway, but if it’s meant to repeat, well, look for us cowering in a corner somewhere waving a cross in the general direction of all things uncomfortably sentimental. And yes, there are probably quite a few Victorian hymns that fall under that description too, we include them here. But strange italics aside, there are some lines here that give us shivers even on the nth rereading. For years people have been trying to articulate the strange duality of the infant Christ, and for us this comes as close as anything to articulating His humanity and divinity simultaneously. If nothing else, it has nerve. That’s a great thing in poetry.

What do you think? Are we too hard on the italics? Is it altogether gloopy anyway? Let us know. We’re collecting opinions.

Lyrical Ballads in Peppermint

It’s late here, and the end of a long week. Christmas is approaching apace, and in the spirit of that we’re drinking something by the unlikely name of Candy Cane Crush. To be clear; we have no great love for candy canes. We think they were largely invented to hang on Christmas trees.

We do like this tea. Whereas the Moroccan Mint of earlier in the calendar was too minty even for us, this is a black tea with added peppermint, and it’s more like drinking a peppermint cream. Peppermint creams in liquid form are, according to us, an entirely acceptable way to greet Christmas.

It’s still Advent on the calendar though, so here’s that poem we’ve been promising, with hints -we think -of Advent in it. Snow, otters, dreams, and the journey we take on trust. We found it quite by accident the other day, but its opening lines won us over immediately. There’s almost a Lyrical Ballads feel to it, the glorifying of something as mundane as an otter in the river. See if you agree.

Midnight Snow

James Crews

Outside in the creek that feeds the lake
and never freezes, an otter slaps the water
with his paw to feel the current’s pulse—
Slip in, lie back. Slip in, lie back. He shuts
his eyes and obeys, knowing the layers
of hair and underfur will warm him while
he floats on a faith we wish could carry us.
The sound of his splashing fades, but not
his joy in being pushed, light as driftwood,
back to the mouth of the den I have seen
carved out beneath the roots of a fallen fir
now packed with snow and lined with leaves
that promise his sleep will be deep.
Because no dreams wait softly for me,
I open the woodstove and strike a match,
hold the bloom of the flame to kindling
that catches quick as my wish: To be that
slick body sliding into the lake that holds
the moon, bright portal to glide through
without so much as a shiver, no doubt
about where I’m going, how to get there.

Cause for Carolings

It was Hot Chocolate Tea tonight, for the shortest day. We don’t usually care for chocolate in tea, but we make an exception with this tea because the creaminess of it is a nice compliment to the chocolate. It’s also more black tea than it is chocolate, not a balance people always get right when they blend the two. It’s featured before on this blog, and at the time we wondered if milk would enhance the taste or confuse it. We still haven’t experimented, and don’t think we will. As a flavoured black tea it is rich and full-bodied, and we’ve mostly decided adding milk would make it cloying. It would also drown the hints of vanilla that run through it.

Now, we promised you a poem the other night, but you still have to wait on it. Don’t worry, no Apocalyptic Wailing tonight about technology. But we wanted something hopeful for the shortest day -it’s such a drear, dark occasion. We did dither about giving you this one, as we’ve used it before here, and haven’t established what our rules are about repeating a poem. But the dithering was before we got a repeated tea. We think that completely justifies us in going back to what is for us the most beloved winter-themed poem of the English canon. Read it, enjoy it, and carry a bit of light through the growing gloom with you.

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.
*Remember a while back we said you could sing most Hardy to any hymn tune? Try it with this one. Our especial favourite is Aurelia, but Repton is good too. Don’t cleave to those though -be inventive!

Do Not Pick Up the Telephone

Look, we’re sorry. You were going to get a lovely poem about snow, otters and dreams. You’re getting it tomorrow. Somewhere between now and then Skype demanded our password, we failed to guess what it was, Skype attempted to make us reauthorise the account…you don’t want the details. Suffice it to say we railed against technology, gave it access to the keychain (whatever that is) and somehow got technology to work.

But it was such an ordeal that now you’re getting a poem from the man who invented fear of technology. We, meanwhile are making more of tonight’s tea. It’s called Carrot Cupcake, and this slightly dubious name hosts a rooibos with carrot cake spices and cinnamon. It should be dire. We love it. It tastes of autumnal warmth and the crackle of a fire. You know, the kind of fire you can use to destroy recalcitrant technology if you’re so minded and then curl up with a book beside.

Do Not Pick Up the Telephone

Ted Hughes

That plastic Buddha jars out a Karate screech

Before the soft words with their spores
The cosmetic breath of the gravestone

Death invented the phone it looks like the altar of death
Do not worship the telephone
It drags its worshippers into actual graves
With a variety of devices, through a variety of disguised voices

Sit godless when you hear the religious wail of the telephone

Do not think your house is a hide-out it is a telephone
Do not think you walk your own road, you walk down a telephone
Do not think you sleep in the hand of God you sleep in the mouthpiece of a telephone
Do not think your future is yours it waits upon a telephone
Do not think your thoughts are your own thoughts they are the toys of the telephone
Do not think these days are days they are the sacrificial priests of the telephone

The secret police of the telephone

0 phone get out of my house
You are a bad god
Go and whisper on some other pillow
Do not lift your snake head in my house
Do not bite any more beautiful people

You plastic crab
Why is your oracle always the same in the end?
What rake off for you from the cemeteries?

Your silences are as bad
When you are needed, dumb with the malice of the clairvoyant insane
The stars whisper together in your breathing
World’s emptiness oceans in your mouthpiece
Stupidly your string dangles into the abysses
Plastic you are then stone a broken box of letters
And you cannot utter
Lies or truth, only the evil one
Makes you tremble with sudden appetite to see somebody undone

Blackening electrical connections
To where death bleaches its crystals
You swell and you writhe
You open your Buddha gape
You screech at the root of the house

Do not pick up the detonator of the telephone
A flame from the last day will come lashing out of the telephone
A dead body will fall out of the telephone

Do not pick up the telephone

The Theology of Dogs

. We’re drinking spiced green tea tonight, a worthy successor to the Crumble Tea sacramentalized by the Anglican Inquisition. If that sounds like dubious theology, it probably is. You must understand that the Anglican Inquisition is comprised of one Anglican, two Presbyterians and an atheist, among others. Ecumenical Inquisition is just a mouthful though -even if not even the tea shops expect them. Besides, we’re not the only ones with suspect doctrine.

Pictured above are the Dachshunds of Dawlish. We don’t mention them as often as we do the Marschallin-cat, which is a grievous disservice considering their adoration of the the Human Pillow. Though as you will gather from the pictures, the theology of Dachshunds is fairly fluid. Buffy (she sits right) is also a sun-worshipper and a coveter of warm floor tiles and heat vents. Augie (pictured left) is braw, blue, and frequently pays fealty to the Fabulous Orange Ball. No one, not even his fellow Dachshund, understands why. Of course, he’s not averse to a spot of sun-worship either.

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Or to crossword solving:

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Or, as it turns out, to baking, though we failed to document evidence of this, being too taken up the other evening with the shortbread. Here they are petitioning for food though. All that hopeful watching is hungry work when shortbread is at stake.

Anyway, in loving and long-overdue tribute to the Dancing Dachshunds of Dawlish (who are also by turns delightful, devious, and decidedly stubborn) here’s a poem about their canine contemporaries and the things they put their trust in.

Pete’s Theology

Donald Marquis

god made seas to play beside
and rugs to cover dogs
god made cars for holidays
and beetles under logs
god made kitchens so thered be
dinners to eat and scraps
god made beds so pups could crawl
under them for naps
god made license numbers so theyd find
lost pups and bring them home
god made garbage buckets too
to pry in when you roam
god made tennis shoes to chew
and here and there a hat
but i cant see why god should make
mehitabel the cat

pete the pup

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The Marschallin-cat, by the way, has no doubt about why God made Dachshunds. They exist to have their noses hit. Dachshunds, are, after all, at optimum nose-hitting level. What you see in the picture is the rare and amicable convening of the Dachshund Embassy with her Imperiousness. Augie, alas, has yet to make any headway. Only girls allowed in this particular club. But he lives in hope. And in the meantime there’s spiced green tea, illicit sandwiches, shortbread crumbs, rugs and cars and beetles under logs. Dachshunds really do have an idyllic existence.

 

Culinary Inheritances

We made shortbread this evening -our grandmother’s recipe -in a bowl beloved by a great-great-grandmother, repaired by our father when we were in hospital years ago. We stir our tea with apostle teaspoons that came by way of a great-great-grandmother, whose crucifix we also have; no one else was quite catholic enough for these, apparently. There’s a tea cozy quilted by our aunt to see if she could, and the long-handled teaspoon, a gift from our academic daughter when we moved house to the Scotland flat years ago. She gave it us with tea towels and some tea, wee mindings all, but the long-handled teaspoon is the best thing we have for measuring tea, and we still use the tea towels. The tea we used up long ago.

There’s the lavender-stamp china that came to us early when our other grandmother, who uses a different shortbread recipe -one with salted butter -moved from Guelph to Toronto, and it only gets an airing at Christmas. There’s our jumble of everyday china too, Dresden plate (a birthday gift) knocks elbows with Cloudough (now too cracked for practical use) and Gladstone Blue Ribbon, to name a handful.

Most of this is now in boxes, but the kitchen is still the beating heart of a house to us. We’re mulling it over while contemplating a cup of Cream of Earl Grey, smoother than usual, but to paraphrase Dr Johnson on Edinburgh, about which not a lot can be said that hasn’t been said already. Naturally there’s no poem for Earl Grey along those lines, but imagine our surprise, and delight when we found this one on the familial histories kitchens tell.

When I Am In the Kitchen

Jeanne Marie Beaumont

I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend’s
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt’s sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband’s grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother’s
teapot, my mother’s Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law’s Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin’s egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father’s hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, “sift and mix dry ingredients”
with his note that this makes “3 waffles in our
large pan” and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.

 

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

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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.

spode