Advent II: The Record of John

Advent II is all about John, the record of, crying on Jordan’s banks, etc, etc. Or it is as per our music schedule today. Though we have it on good authority that week two of Advent is actually sponsored by Frobisher Bay; the only winter-adjacent folksong about whaling to go masquerading as a Christmas carol this afternoon. (They’re working on a better tag line.) Note, we’re not complaining. We have great affection for Frobisher Bay, beloved of the St Andrews Madrigal Group forever and ever, world without end. Amen. Or it was when we were attending their concerts.

If you don’t know what we’re nattering at you about, you’re in for a treat. You can listen below, and we envy you hearing it for the first time!

 

 

On the subject of real treats, the calendar gave us one today in the shape of Cream of Earl Grey. We aren’t wild fans of garden variety Earl Grey (it tastes of soap!) but we love this particular blend. It’s creamier and smoother than ordinary Earl Grey and there’s less bergamot. A bit of milk can bring out the creaminess, but we like it black to better luxuriate in the flavours of the tea. We’ve even stockpiled a bit extra for breakfast tomorrow, we like it that much.

But we said today was all about John, and notionally, it is. As per certain schools of thought, each Advent Candle gets a designated theme, and Advent II is almost always John (three is almost always Mary, unless you have deferred John until Gaudete Sunday – but that gets complicated fast). We don’t do candles over on Huron St but we do do good music, and today’s lot included an old favourite that gets nicely reduced to nonsense here.

We’ve said before all good faith needs a bit of levity mixed in, so here’s On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist Cries….with emendations.

On Jordan’s Bank, the Baptists cry.
If I was Baptist, so would I,
They drink no beer, they have no fun,
I’m glad that I’m an Anglican.

This is what choristers resort to when they are made to sing multiple Advent carol services, nine lessons and late masses, if you were curious. And lest you worry we discriminate, this is coming to you from a teetotal Anglo-Catholic, so it’s odds on that somewhere there are indeed gin-drinking, fun-loving baptists. We hazard we even know one or two.

But from the ridiculous to the sublime, here’s a pet Advent Anthem to leave you with. It, too, is about John, and is our go-to example of what you miss out on if you only play Christmas music through December.

 

Nicholas v Arius…and also Cats. Again

St Nicholas Day used to find us baking Bishop’s Bread as recommended by one Judy Plum of Silver Bush. Today found us instead editing a treatise on visions and the nature of the soul for a client. It was a long essay and suddenly we looked up and it was late afternoon, so we forwent baking and had tea instead. We’d earned it.

Today’s tea was Silken Dragon Pearls, which is surely posh enough to send the price of this calendar skyrocketing. It brews a beautiful floral green tea though. It’s made from jasmine, is long in the mouth and has a wonderful smooth texture to it; the silk in the name is fairly won. Like any good jasmine, though, it makes for a pot you do have to watch if you don’t want it to turn bitter. We pulled the infuser out about five minutes in, but mileage may vary on that one. Understand, we grew up on breakfast blends, so never did get the taste for really strong green teas. We like ours somewhere in the middle, and if you get the measure of this one right, its a lovely, indulgent cup of tea.

As we’ve previously lamented, it’s nigh impossible to find good poetry about St Nicholas, because it’s all twee and weirdly saccharine, unless you really, really want The Night Before Christmas. But we tend to think the fun of that one is the illustrations you get with it in various compilations.

Instead, we’ll wrap up the accidental feline three-beat we’ve got going with a poem we alluded to at the start of the month. Miss Marschallin disapproves, because the title strongly hints that the cat comes to a sticky end, but it’s still good poetry.

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfish
Thomas Gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a nonsensical titbit for you; the poem was a favourite of a university contemporary who swore up and down Shakespeare nicked that last line from Gray. Looking at his dates, we have to disagree, but the man was unpersuadable. And for those wondering, Miss Marschallin would never drown in a bowl of goldfish. Not only do we not have them, she has minions for that kind of work. And the minions aren’t drowning either, because the Dachshunds have a healthy fear of the water.

Finally, because it’s St Nicholas Day, we’re leaving you with a bit of Britten. Here’s one of our favourites from his St Nicholas Mass. If you missed your chance to give it a listen today, there’s always tomorrow. It’s lots of fun and not overly long.

 

Didn’t I tell you it was fun? How can you resist a bishop that boxes Arius’s ears? Okay, that might just be us. Specifically it might be that essay on the nature of the soul getting to us. Still. The harmonies are excellent!

On Christmas Trees

Today’s tea was a maple syrup oolong. It’s a promising name and it brews up a lovely, nutty oolong. Confused? The nuttiness comes from the chicory; this and the fermented oolong leaves work to keep the tea becoming cloying. You do taste the maple, but it’s a subtle flavour. The whole thing combines into a lovely desert tea.

It’s also not worlds away from last year’s caramel robois, or even cardamon french toast blend, but we liked both of those selections and aren’t complaining. Nothing wrong with a good oolong. This one also brews up to a nice strength. We were reading the Scottish Country Dancer over our tea and it was probably ten or so minutes before we got to the second cup. It still wasn’t stewed, though. A bit rounder, a little richer, and while we wouldn’t leave it sitting much longer, it was a lovely cup of tea. It can be tricky to judge steeping on a first pot of a new tea, and this held up nicely to scrutiny.

We drank it off the back of an excursion to select a Christmas tree and post the beginnings of the long-distance parcels. Now there are no poems on the dismal thing that is Canada Post, and frankly we dare anyone to write one on the theme. But we did yield up a piece by David Keig on the Christmas tree. So, pour out your tea, maybe mix in a little maple or honey, and enjoy.

A Christmas Tree! A Christmas Tree! 
David Keig

With dark green needled memories
Of childhood dreams and mysteries
Wrapped present-like in front of me.

A Christmas tree! A Christmas tree!
I glimpse a past wherein I see
The child that then grew into me
Not forward fast but haltingly.

A Christmas tree! A Christmas tree!
A time for being with family
A time that’s gone so fleetingly
Yet lives for always deep in me.

A Christmas tree! A Christmas tree!
When twelfth night comes whole hauntingly
One lingered look and then I see
No Christmas tree where it would be.

A Christmas tree! A Christmas tree!
With feelings now felt longingly
No corner in my house to see
The magic of that Christmas tree.

Cats in Profound Meditation

After all that talk about green tea, we finally got one today. It’s called Let It Snow, and gun to our heads we’d have sworn we’d had it before except that the tin (okay, the packet) is billing it as ‘spiced eggnog’ in the little descriptor and that’s…not how we remember it. And in fairness to the packet, there’s a chance we’re conflating it with previous years’ tea, Snow Day. These wintery tea names do bleed a bit together after a while. Mea maxima culpa and all that.

This particular tea is a lovely winter-day tea, though. Green, and well-spiced, full of apple and cinnamon flavour. It’s such a close cousin to the beloved apple crumble tea that we’ll be stockpiling it and gifting it to various friends this holiday. Well done calendar, well done. But then, you were never going to go wrong with a green tea with hefty helpings of apple and cinnamon.

(NB. We took out the infuser after the first cup to prevent over-steeping, but that may not be necessary. Suffice to say in our experience of Let It Snow it steeps quickly and to a good strength. Experiment at your leisure.)

This evening we’re out at a production of Cats. In the spirit of which, and in light of our great soft spot for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, here’s a poem from the source. Eliot lost no love over his feline devotions, but ah well, it kept Faber&Faber in print, and it gave us Gus the Theatre Cat. In token of all that, here’s a how-to on naming one’s cat. (Spoilers: The Marschallin Cat hails from the school of fancier names if you think they sound sweeter. But with a name like Field Marschallin Marie-Therese, you knew that, didn’t you?)

The Naming of Cats
T.S. Eliot
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name

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Profound meditation?

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Deep contemplation?

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Deep irritation with Human Pillow?

Ah well, whatever Miss Marschallin feels about us and the poem, it’s delightful. We shall leave you now to your tea and some deep contemplation of your deeply inscrutable, singular name.

 

An Oldie but Goodie

Just as we were getting used to these ubiquitous yellow tea packets…it turns out the teas are colour coded! This in light of today’s revealing of a black tea in a navy blue packet. Oh, we could sing!

We love a good black tea. Herbal teas are fine when options are limited; we even have one or two we particularly like. We wouldn’t turn up our noses at green or robins either. Whites and Oolongs are lovely for late afternoon and evening, but for a good, old-fashioned afternoon tea with biscuits we favour a black tea. That this one says it’s Breakfast Blend on the tin has deterred us not a jot from sitting down to a pot at gone three of a December afternoon.

This is a lovely breakfast tea with Ceylon notes that add delicate, subtle flavour. It’s worth noting though that we’re among those people who, de facto, take black tea with milk, which will necessarily alter it’s taste. But in this instance we hardly think the effect was adverse. It’s a classic tea and its classic for a reason.

 To go with it, here’s a classic poem. To early for Hardy, you say? Never say we! It wouldn’t be Chorister At Home does Advent and Tea without a healthy dose of Hardy! Besides, we mentioned this one yesterday. So settle down to a cup of your favourite tea, luxuriate in it while it steeps, and have a read. See if you find this Hardy and yesterday’s Lawrence as metrically similar as we do.

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.

I remember, I remember

A nice, relaxing tea today. It’s called Apple Cider, and not only have we had it before, we own a whole tin of the stuff. It’s a nice herbal blend that is supposed to channel mulled apple cider. (The non-alcoholic kind, for reference.)

Now, although we own a tin of this tea, we’ve never actually run out because lovely as this is – the apple and the cinnamon are very much present in the taste – it’s just too sweet to be herbal. Cf yesterday’s post about the herbal tea of choice and how it ,too, needed some kind of underlying tea blend for emphasis. This isn’t about imbalance so much though as emphasis. Ever added lemon to Earl Grey? Or maybe you’ve added milk to a tea with chocolate in? Some things simply help to bring out existing tastes, and we get the sense that this would taste even more like mulled cider with a green tea underneath. Or maybe we’re just nostalgic for Mom’s Apple Pie, the green tea that stole our hearts and was apple crumble in a cup. It was a glorious thing, universe, and no aspiring tisane, however good, can hold a candle to it.

In the spirit of waxing nostalgic, then, here’s a poem that revels in it. It’s by D. H. Lawrence but it uses a metre we’ve only ever before seen in Hardy. Now, the internet assures us that it uses a popular hymn metre, alternating tochees and iambics, and that would make sense; haven’t we said before you can sing any Hardy to any hymn tune? Well, we’ve tried with Lawrence and his nostalgia and it defies a range of beloved hymn melodies. In fact, the poem we think it most echoes is Woman Much Missed, which is just about the one Thomas Hardy piece you’d be hard pressed to sing. But go on, pour out your tea, have a read, and then a wee sing. Did we miss a hymn tune that works? Does it do better as a nursery rhyme? We’d love to hear what you think!

Piano
D.H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appasionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the floor of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

S

Advent I: Tis the Season

It’s that time of year again; another Advent season brings another month of tea and poetry. This year Advent is sponsored by Freezing Rain R Us, which has got the market cornered on making Canada look an awful lot like Christmas, and feeling like it, too.

It even got into this morning’s liturgy, as the assistant priest’s particularly Canadian cadence translated ‘deliver us from sudden death’ to ‘deliver us from sodden death.’ It’s not what he meant, and it’s probably just about the one thing not listed in the prayer for everything ever that is the Great Litany, but we appreciate the sentiment. Freezing rain, snow and subzero weather; deliver us from sodden death indeed.

It’s also the perfect weather for tea. Cue the calendar.

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This year it’s even larger than previous lives have rendered it, and the boxes include not only supersized portions of tea but also gift cards. Today’s was $5 off any robois we happened to purchase between now and Christmas. Since this calendar has got us well stocked on tea into next Advent, the likelihood of me capitalising on this bit of generosity seems unlikely. But it’s a nice thought, calendar.

On to the tea, though Today’s selection is whimsically called Gingerbread Blondie, which makes it sound like some kind of traybake. And if you too made the mental leap to the sort of tea one Harmony Kendal, vampiric nuisance of Buffy  and lately the spin-off Angel the Series, might drink, you’re in good company. If not, no bother.

It’s a herbal infusion, and the ingredients promise apple, pineapple, mango, candied ginger and vanilla in some cocktail or other. Our first cup was nothing but ginger, and scent of vanilla. The second cup was nothing but pineapple, with lingering notes of ginger. It’s a problem we often have with these tisanes; they’re weak to start and then they’re overly sweet on the second cup. Pineapple probably shouldn’t be hot (we don’t care for it on gammon or pizza, either), and it definitely shouldn’t be floating around without the body of a caffeinated tea under it. Green, ideally, but an oolong or even a white might work here. It just needs something to get all the flavours in alignment instead of fighting for dominance like so many cats.

And speaking of, here’s a wee gem of a Christmas poem to start off the month. We’re skipping ahead a little bit with this one – it’s not technically Christmas yet, much less New Year’s – but it’s just such fun. Have a read and see if you, too, don’t come away singing this reworked carol for cats.

We Wish for the Family Goldfish
From Christmas Carols for Cats by John and Julie Hope, 2010

We wish for the family goldfish
Why in bowl and not in our dish?
We wish for the family goldfish
To bring us good cheer!

Of longing we sing, for food to appear;
We wish for the family goldfish to bring us good cheer!

We long for the hamster squeaking
Along to his house we’re sneaking
We long for the hamster squeaking
A snack we revere.

In wonder we sing, why live food is here!
We wish for the hamster squeaking, a snack we revere.

We’re sick of the budgie chirping
Let’s eat him and all be burping,
We’re sick of the budgie chirping
Each day of the year.

The food that can talk we do not hold dear
We’re sick of the budgie chirping each day of the year!

Expecting something longer and grander?

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Not all that glisters is gold, and we have a whole 23 days of poetry to get through. We’ll get there. Until tomorrow, a holy Advent from us, the Dawlish Dachshunds and Miss Marschallin cat. Who does not, by the way, wish for the family goldfish. Though we suspect she dreams of evicting the dachshunds. Shame it doesn’t scan as well.