The Business of Cats

We’re tempted to hand this one over to Miss Marschallin, quite frankly. It’s called Valarian Nights, an not for nothing, but Miss Marschallin adores valerian. More even than catnip, and she loves catnip.

A funny thing about valerian; it puts humans to sleep but it revs cats up like nothing on earth. Valerian Dolphin (the one handmade in Germany that we had to replace after much improbable internet googling) remains her stand-out cat toy by a country mile.

So, Valarian Nights. Presumably intended to wake up your drowsy feline around the same time you drift off to sleep. Possibly simultaneously. Ever tried having milky tea with a cat around? We’re assuming a similar principle is in effect here.

Anyway, we didn’t give it to Miss Marschallin. Her schedule was taken up with murdering the carpet. It’s evil, is our carpet. It’s staging a coupe with the green chairs. They’re conspiring for independence, or maybe a Dawlarture (that’s Dawlish Departure, if you too were wondering) or something. Must be stopped. Anyway. Tea.

It tastes surprisingly of apple, which is good because we’ve never had much love for Camomile, which is mixed in with the valerian root for good measure. Good luck to anyone staying awake and drinking this cup. But it’s a pleasant sleepy-time tea, thus proving anything is indeed possible. Up to and probably including the departure of the furniture in a fit of outrage from the house. Or something. Look, I don’t keep up-to-date with Miss Marschallin’s internal politics. That way madness lies.

Point is, there is a veritable cat parliament out there, and they need valerian to keep on top of the murderous rugs and plotting chairs.

We’d send you pictures but the tablet is throwing a spectacular strop. So here is a poem, with pictures, and credit to Medium-large.com for managing to do with this poem what we cannot.

Poem by Kevin Fang, photo credit medium-large.com

 

Advent IV: Prose and Christmas Cake

This last stint of Advent is sponsored by Spontaneous Congregant Participation, ensuring you never know what you’ll be asked to do next! A special mention to the Wheely Donkey Manufacturers, keeping Sunday Schools everywhere in clean, reliable, portable donkeys for every occasion, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

To start with,we recant. Today’s black tea makes for 9 non-herbal teas out of 24, and even if the next two join the herbal ranks, that’s still a better balance than we were anticipating. There weren’t enough oolongs, but there are never enough oolongs.

Anyway, today’s tea is Satsuma Spice Cake, a foursome name that purports to be packed full of sweet caramelised citrus. Think Christmas Cake in a cup. N.B. There’s some fierce competition here, because Kusmi Tea does a black tea blend that really is Christmas Cake in a cup and it’s a staple of our tea cupboard. It has a very different taste, though. While Kusmi’s tea is a sturdy black blend with cloves, spices and the odd bit of caramelised orange, this is much sweeter.

We happen to quite like it. The satsuma comes through strongly, and it’s probably the use of satsuma rather than garden variety orange that adds an extra burst of sweetness. There is some additive sugar, but it’s largely there to bring out existing flavours. Of course, as we say, it does add a bit of extra sweetness, and Christmas cake puritans will probably prefer Kusmi’s Christmas Tea blend. It’s darker, subtler and without the sweeter.

But sweetness have been the harmonising note throughout this calendar. The tisanes use stevia, this black tea uses sugar. Still others had candy cane or marshmallow outright. With the exception of the marshmallows, we mostly enjoyed it, but we do gently suggest that sometimes tea is allowed to just be tea. Add the orange peel and the caramelised bits and bobs by all means, but it doesn’t have to be sweet. It can be tart, or tannin-heavy, or potently gingery; the variety is partly what brings us tea-drinkers back, especially to Advent Calendars like this. One of our favourite teas remains a daring blend of almond and liquorice root in oolong; it smelled awful but it brewed the loveliest cup of tea. We were sorry when it was discontinued.

Coming back to Satsuma Spice, though, and talking of taste, it’s that rare tea that doesn’t grow bitter with steeping. Anyone who’s ever left a black tea alone too long or not rescued a tea infuser from an oolong or jasmine in time will appreciate this. Here the satsuma sufficiently overwhelms the tannin that it keeps the tea pleasantly citrusy. And the stronger it gets, the more it tastes of Christmas cake and less of additive. Indeed, as we sit here taking our notes, it is shaping up to be a lovely tea. We may yet go tea shopping in the New Year.

Here’s a nice, long poem to read while it steeps. No Christmas Cake, but gingerbread houses get a mention. If you’ve ever attempted one you’ll appreciate the frustration they can generate – more than just cause for begetting poetry.

Advent
Mary Jo Salter

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think

nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins

it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.

We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable

we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,

the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:

prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.
Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.

When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find

three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read

on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning

inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel

and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap
under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,

Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene

of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.

Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young
child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof

with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck

to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

Our Christmas tradition is Christmas cake, not gingerbread houses, and personally, we’re sticking to it. We’ve done both and while the cake dough takes two to mix, it begets far fewer tears. Trust us on this one.

We’ll leave you this Advent IV with the Advent Prose. Somehow our church never gets to them sooner, and coming from a background where we opened the Advent season with them, we’re perplexed by the choice every year. Three times is a tradition etc cetera, ad infinitum.

 

Sleigh Rides and Snow Sprites

Today’s herbal tea is Sleigh Ride. The ingredients rattle off a whole thwack of stuff mixed into the blend, but all we could taste was the hibiscus and cinnamon. It’s a curious, tart combination, but not an unpleasant one. We’re reminded faintly, drinking it, of rhubarb crumbles we used to make. Of course, there’s none of the sweetness the descriptive tag features, but maybe we didn’t let it steep long enough. As established, the art of getting one of these tisanes to steep has eluded us all month. Mind, it had time enough; the pot sat there for a good ten minutes while we did auxiliary kitchen chores.

It doesn’t particularly remind us of sleigh rides, we have to say. We used to ski out west, and you could sign up for sleigh rides of the horse-and-sleigh variety. There was hot apple cider afterwards, and we roasted marshmallows over candles. Nothing about it involved hibiscus, and while there’s apple somewhere in this tea, the hibiscus drowns it. (It drowns the raisins too, because as discussed, raisins don’t really come through in any tea at any strength.)

So we are mostly sipping this tea and thinking how lovely and tangy and tart it is. Warm enough for winter, though, and on that note, here’s a wintery poem to pair with it.

The Snow Fairy
Claude McKay
I
Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol’n away.
     II
And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter’s night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,

The lonely actor of a dreamy play.

Perhaps our favourite part of poetry, and indeed of hunting down poems for this blog is the discovery of new phrases. You can bet anything you like that snowflakes hereafter are snow-sprites to us. It’s too lovely an image not to nick into everyday parlance, don’t you think?

Hot Chocolate (Tea)

Hot Chocolate today. No, not the drink. Well, sort of a drink. But not the drink; not hot chocolate. Not the kind made up with hot milk, cocoa powder, cream mixed in for extra richness. No, this is a tea and it’s called Hot Chocolate, purely to make this blogging thing we do an exercise in confusion.

It’s a pu’erh tea, which makes it the eighth non-herbal tea in this month’s selection. We’re almost at 33% ! That’s almost balanced! Incidentally, because we weren’t sure last go, we went and dug more into the nature of pu’erh tea, and it turns out that like oolong, the leaves are partially fermented. No wonder we have such a good track record with it. Something about that process has always worked for us with oolongs, too.

It’s smokier than its predecessor, which you’ll recall also featured chocolate. Hot Chocolate (Tea) lacks the spices of S’mores Chai, though, and also unlike that chai, benefits from a dab of milk. It gives the chocolate a creaminess that blends nicely with the smokiness of the tea. It also stops it being overwhelmingly chocolatey, and as we’re still not chocolate in tea types, that’s not bad thing.

We associate it with ski lessons, and winter evenings in Scotland. But we’re in Canada at the moment, writing this off the back of watching the very Canadian Anne with an E. We know, we know, we’re behind by about three years, and we definitely have opinions. We’ll get to them some other night. For now, have on a related note, the equally Canadian L.M. Montgomery on winter.

A Winter Day
L. M. Montgomery

I
The air is silent save where stirs
A bugling breeze among the firs
The virgin world in white array
Waits for the bridegroom kiss of day;
All heaven blooms rarely in the east
Where skies are silvery and fleeced,
And o’er the orient hills made mad
The morning comes in wonder clad;
Oh, ’tis a time most fit to see
How beautiful the dawn can be!
II
Wide, sparkling  fields snow-vestured lie
Beneath a blue, unshadowed sky;
A glistening splendour crowns the woods
A bosky, whistling solitudes;
In hemlock glen and reedy mere
The tang of frost is sharp and clear;
Life hath a jollity and zest,
A poignancy made manifest;
Laughter and courage have their way
At noontide of a winter’s day.
III
Faint music rings in world and dell,
The tinkling of a distant bell,
Where homestead lights with friendly glow
Glimmer across the drifted snow;
Beyond a valley dim and far
Lit by an occidental star,
Tall pines the marge of day beset
Like many a slender minaret,
Whence priest-like winds on crystal air
Summon the reverent world to prayer.

She has a very particular fingerprint, doesn’t she? Anne comes by her rhapsodising honestly.

More Lessons in Teaming

Shall we tell you what doesn’t steep? We can’t believe it needs saying, but obviously it does, so here goes; marshmallows do not steep. Steep marshmallows do not. They might melt in hot water, we grant you, but there’s a reason no one is marketing marshmallow water or hot marshmallow gloop in coffee shops. You put them on cocoa and they go nicely halfway-liquid, but they do not infuse hot water.

Okay, they sort of steep. They must because what they are currently doing is melting into our lovely, lovely tea infuser and manifesting the most cloying herbal tisane – yes we’re back at tisanes – in creation. What they’re also doing is stopping what stuff does infuse from infusing, because it’s all sitting in melted marshmallow.

Why? Well, this year’s creative reimagining of Forever Nuts, which is by itself a charmingly spiced tisane we’re quite partial to, is Forever Frosty, and Forever Frosty is the Forever Nuts tea with bonus marshmallow, at least as far as we can tell.

Somewhere in here is a lovely tea with almonds, cinnamon, and we suspect nutmeg. We’d like to taste it but we can’t for the marshmallows. They taste soppy, and universe, tea should not be soppy!

Consequently, in a shocking turn of events, this is the first cup of tea from the calendar we won’t finish. There’s always one (it’s usually coffee-flavoured) and this is it this year. It’s probably lovely if you like marshmallow (we do not) or have a sweet tooth (we don’t particularly). Or maybe you just want a particularly watery tea. Though if that’s the case, just wave a teabag in the direction of some hot water. We guarantee it tastes better! Probably better for your teeth, too.

After all that, we’re more than a tad leery of the saccharine. With that in mind, here’s a poem about music – and sopranos particularly. Apparently we still can’t forgive last night’s tenor nicking the best soprano aria in The Messiah. Not when they had a first rate coloratura who was more than up to the part. Oh, and whatever else might say about this poem, it’s very definitely not cloying.

The fury of Guitars and Sopranos
Anne Sexton

This singing
is a kind of dying,
a kind of birth,
a votive candle.

I have a dream-mother
who sings with her guitar,
nursing the bedroom
with a moonlight and beautiful olives.

A flute came too,
joining the five strings,
a God finger over the holes.

I knew a beautiful woman once
who sang with her fingertips
and her eyes were brownlike small birds.

At the cup of her breasts
I drew wine.

At the mound of her legs
I drew figs.

She sang for my thirst,
mysterious songs of God
that would have laid an army down.

It was as if a morning-glory
had bloomed in her throat
and all that blue
and small pollen
ate into my heart
violent and religious.

As we say, emphatically not saccharine. Unlike some teas we could mention. Featuring marshmallows. But we’d never point fingers, like that. But tell you what, universe, do a proper herbal tomorrow, all right? Undiluted sage, or ginger root extract, or hibiscus or something. Anything. Just let it steep, and let it be strong, and for god’s sake let it be tea and not confectionary-turned-infusion. Please?

Exsultate in the key of Green

Truly there is serendipity in the multiverse! Today’s tea is Green Passionfruit. It is, needless to say, a green tea.

 

No, we are not melodramatic. It is absolutely an occasion to give Leontyne Price’s High C an airing. It’s to die for. (Can one sing Alleluia in Advent? Probably not, but if The Messiah gets to break that rule, we can too.) Rejoice greatly while you’re at it. Shout, tea drinkers of your many and varied nations. Etc, Etc.

We could go on. We’ve just spent the evening at The Messiah. It was the Mozart arrangement, completely uncut and moved at a good pace for a Wednesday evening. Fewer ornaments than usual, which is an odd turn for Handel, whose arias are supposed to showcase the vocal acrobatics of the performers, but still good.

Mind you, the pieces were all playing musical chairs. The tenor had Rejoice Greatly, the soloists stole the fun part of For Unto Us from the chorus. This last is bad form, by the way. The chorus should always be allowed its musical jokes; we don’t get to show off as much as the soloists!

We know, we know, there are as many versions of a Handel Messiah as we’ve had hot dinners. More probably. It swaps up the vocal colouration, is all. Literally, in the case of a good friend, who once wailed, on hearing the soprano was doing double duty and covering for a snowbound tenor, ‘It will sound green and not yellow!’

We don’t hear colours, but we do get used to certain cadences. We enjoyed this performance, but you can bet we’ll stick on Lucia Popp’s Rejoice at some point over the holidays because it means Christmas to us the way wreaths and Advent Calendars and tress do for other people.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, back to this morning’s tea. It had come up before, and part of our delight was its familiarity. We remember that it tasted good, and, indeed, it still does. Steeped for about five minutes, green passionfruit makes for a tania-rich tea that is kept from turning bitter by the passionfruit. In fact, the two balance each other out nicely, so that while the passionfruit isn’t as overt as, say, the cranberries in the White Cranberry offering of some days ago, neither is it dominated by the green tea. They harmonise like a plagal cadence or a major triad or something. The website wants us to believe this makes for a lovely iced tea, and while it probably does, we’re not sure why anyone would bother when its such a lovely cold-weather drink brewed hot.

It’s becoming remarkably clear as we write how much enmeshed we are with certain habits. Not breaking news exactly, we’re Anglican after all, and no one has us beat on tradition. As the old saw goes, once is an event, twice is a habit, three times is a tradition. In that vein, here’s an old but well-worn poem, where if the speaker doesn’t quite agree with us, his animal absolutely would.

Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Good tea, good music, and good poetry. Does it get better than this? We don’t think so, but we send commiserations to the horse for disrupting its routine. Somewhere,  there’s a congregation waiting to welcome it onto the sides persons team or the refreshments committee, or something. Anyone who knows of one is encouraged to be in touch.

Experiments in Tea Drinking (With Apologies to Dachshunds)

We made a proper study of today’s tea for you. S’mores Chai is a pu’ehr blend with chocolate lacing it for good measure. The name was sufficiently confusing that we tried it with milk and sugar on the second cup; chai is just about the one tea that benefits from being milked and sweetened if you know how. So, we find, do chocolate teas, because the creaminess of the dairy works well with the chocolate pieces.

Not so this tea, which is much better plain. It’s not so much chocolatey (in spite of what it says on the tin) as it is spiced; there’s lots of cinnamon in there, and it risks being overwhelmed by milk. Mind, the sugar reemphasised it nicely, so while it doesn’t need it, it’s certainly a tea that might benefit from a bit of extra sweetness. And really, by the point you’re sitting down to a cup of pu’erh with honest-to-goddess pieces of marshmallow in the blend, is anyone keeping track of calories? Maybe that’s a quirk of ours. We never bother with hot chocolate either; we figure there’s no point in doing the thing by halves and make it properly rich. A similar policy works well with this tea, and you can bet we’ll be circling back to it.

Of course, the whole leisurely tea process offended the Dawlish Dachshunds, not least because they didn’t get to sample any. Honestly, they really do love chocolate! They think. They dream. They’ve never been allowed to sample any. So we’re making it up to them now with this charming poem dedicated to Dachshunds everywhere. And you thought we’d used up the Dachshund poetry quota!

img_3810

Dachshunds
William J. Smith

The Dachshund leads a quiet life
Not far above the ground;

He takes an elongated wife,
They travel all around.

They leave the lighted metropole;
Nor turn to look behind
Upon the headlands of the soul,
The tundras of the mind.

They climb together through the dusk
To ask the Lost-and-Found
For information on the stars
Not far above the ground.

The Dachshunds seem to journey on:
And following them, I
Take up my monocle, the Moon,
And gaze into the sky.

Pursuing them with comic art
Beyond the cosmic goal,
I see the whole within the part,
The part within the whole;

See planets wheeling overhead,
Mysterious and slow,
While morning buckles on his red,
And on the Dachshunds go.

img_3731.jpg

Here’s Tae Us

It was our Christmas Ball tonight. Terribly grand, you know, the Scottish Country Dance Christmas Ball, with lots of complicated footwork and once figures.

Actually, the occasion is billed as the Family Dance, and never was a program more accessible. We’d walked quite a lot of it before in social groups, but you don’t get much more beginner-friendly than the dance selections we had tonight.

Even so, every year we make mention of this ball, and every year someone says ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Well, tonight you’re getting a lesson, because us Scottish Country Dancers like our rhymes.

For instance, when dancing the poussette, the adage is:

Away from the centre, quarter turn,
Up or down, quarter turn;
Into the centre, halfway round,
Fall back, fall back.

And here, for reference, is the poussette, danced beautifully by more elegant people than us.

 

Remember, Away from the centre, quarter turn…

You watch even the experienced dancers still reciting it to one another as they go. We had a wonderful teacher who used to joke that they’d inscribe it on her headstone someday. (They probably will; she dances more than she doesn’t.)

Meanwhile, to dance crossover reels – that’s a reel of three on the opposite side of the set – the rhyme goes:

Ones dance over to begin,
Twos dance out,

And threes dace in.

As for the rest of it, you mostly grab the hands that get offered to you, keep alert to people advancing towards you, and it all sort of muddles out. Occasionally, when it’s done very well, it looks elegant while you’re at it. We’re working on that bit.

Currently we’re unwinding to today’s tea. It’s another tisane, and we’re not taking notes here, but surely there have been more herbal teas than anything else in this calendar? Readers at home, what do you think? This one it White Cranberry, wherein white chocolate meets dried cranberry, apple, raisins and papaya. The cat mug is once again earning it’s keep, now we’ve cracked how to use it without being scalded, and yields up a tea that is surprisingly tropical tasting. We’d blame the papaya, except we couldn’t actually taste it in the cup. The cranberry dominates, as you’d expect, while the white chocolate gives it a burst of sweetness.

The apple tempers both a bit, though we’re not sure the raisins come through. Honestly, there must be raisins in every second tea we sample, and we’re not clear why, because they really don’t steep well. Anyone who has ever soaked raisins in hot water for baking will probably understand this; not for nothing you have to add other stuff to a fruitcake to draw out their flavour!

So that’s tea and two wee verses for you, tonight. But the traditional way to close out a dance is with Burns. Specifically Auld Lang Syne. Only that’s for New Year, and that’s still a ways off. So instead, have Green Grow the Rashes, O. It makes for a lovely strathspey, but doubles as an equally enjoyable read – with or without tea.

Green Grow the Rashes, O
Robert Burns

Chor. – Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There’s nought but care on ev’ryy han’,
In ev’ry hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o’ man,
An’ ‘there na for the lasses, O.
Green grow&c.

The war’ly race may riches chase,
An’ riches still may fly them, O:
An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne’re enjoy them, O.
Green grow &c.

But gie me a canine hour at at e’en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
An’ war’ly cares, an’ war’ly men,
May a’ gae tapsalteerie, O!
Green grow &c.  

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw,
He dearly lov’d the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest works she classes, O:
Her prentice hand she try’d on man,
And then she made the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Hopefully you have less trouble with the Scotts than did the glaikit computer, which made a braw, effort to translate it into garden-variety English. You, naturally, not being robotic, will notice it does that anyway on the last verse, spontaneously switching to High English instead of Scotts vernacular. The genius of Burns is arguably how fluidly he mixes both.

We’ll send you off now to dance the hours away as per yet another rhyme, or maybe just enjoy oddly tropical tea. Until tomorrow,

Here’s tae us!
Wha’s like us?
Gey few, and they’re a’ deid!

Tea for a Winter Night

We opened the Advent calendar to an orange tea packet today, prompting the revelation that in spite of all these herbals, blacks and that one oolong, we hadn’t yet had a rooibos tea. There’s still time for this to all balance out, but it’s a glance we wouldn’t mind seeing redressed going forward.

Today’s rooibos is Alpine Punch, a staple of ours. It’s flavoured with almonds and brings back memories of damp, Scottish afternoons when we drank it to stave off the cold and put some heat back into our fingers. The almonds are a lovely compliment to the rooibos and give the tea a toasted flavour that tastes glorious.

To go with it, have a glorious poem by Hardy. We know, we know, we’ve used it before. But every Advent calendar has that one, recurrent thing. In children’s calendars its the St Nicholas, but it might be a particular chocolate, or tea, or, as in this instance, that one beloved poem. We’re writing by grey, wintery light, and it elevates the atmosphere like nothing else. Without further ado, here’s The Darkling Thrush.

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 outlet,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Wash shrunken, hard and dry,
And every creature upon earth
Seemed desolate as I.

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

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

And remember, should you be overtaken by whimsy, pick a favourite hymn tune and set it to music. The thrush would almost certainly appreciate it.

Dance the Hours Away

Tonight our local social group for the RCSDS (that’s the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society to the unfamiliar) hosts its 40th anniversary celebration. Clearly it’s a bit of a week for parties. Strictly speaking, we’re imperfect dancers with wobbly timing, but it’s our Christmas send-off before the ball, so we’ll be going and, as is writ in The Dashing White Sergeant, we’ll dance the night away.

In preparation we’ve made up a pot of today’s tea. Remember we said there were herbals we were partial to? This is one of them. It’s called Caramel Shortbread and given our affinity for Millionaire’s Shortbread, this is a combination of things that was always going to go well. It smells strongly of caramel, and while the colour never gets dark, it shouldn’t, being herbal. And unlike other tisanes this calendar has had us trial, it comes to a healthy strength in decent time. Better still, the caramel gives it a nice taste, and infills some of the grounding you would typically get from a more full-bodied tea. It blends nicely with the raisins and apples, and really does taste surprisingly like Millionaire’s Shortbread in a cup. This is no bad thing.

But soon we’ll be off dancing, where it’s fairly good odds someone has actually made up Millionaire’s Shortbread for the occasion. (The RSCDS here is terribly proud of its roots.) And talking of occasions, here’s one of Pat Batt’s wee poetical gems about dancing. Here’s hoping our evening turns out better than her speaker’s! Mind you, since Scottish Country Dance is the elegant cousin to the ceilidh, that’s a pretty conservative bet. Especially since we’ve never met friendlier people.

The Ceilidh
Pat Batt, 1992

I’m supposed to run a Ceilidh
For our next St. Andrew’s night –
But I’m in a deep depression
For the future’s far from bright.Our gallant Demonstration Team
Is now reduced to five –
Fiona’s in Australia
And Ann’s run off with Clive.

John could do a sword dance
Or perhaps a Highland Fling –
But he will do it in trousers,
Which isn’t quite the thing.

And Ian plays the bagpipes –
He plays them fairly well –
But always full fortissimo,
And indoors that’s sheer Hell!

Mrs Gertrude Macintosh –
Our President’s close friend –
She’s bound to play that waltz in C
That never seems to end.

The vicar’s daughters – Faith and Hope
Are keen to do a turn –
They’ve started ballet classes
And they’ve got a lot to learn!

Their mother plays the cello
And makes a nasty sound
Whilst her offspring, like young kangaroos
Leap round – and round – and round.

And that woman who does monologues
(She looks a bit like me) –
There’s no way you can stop her
As far as I can see.

They say it’s only jolly fun –
It’s more than I can bear,
And the only way to dodge it
Is to make sure I’m elsewhere.

I know – I’ll join the navy
Seasick and homesick daily –
I might loathe every minute,
But at least I’ll miss the Ceilidh!

 

N.B. We happen to love a good ceilidh. In fact, in missing them we stumbled into the RSCDS thinking they were the same. They are not. But we tell you what; she’s not wrong about indoor bagpipes!