The cat’s song

Tonight’s tea is a seasonal Organic Super Ginger. By that we mean it’s suitable for the season, not that it’s Christmas specific. Besides the obvious, it features several kinds of pepper, peppercorn and rooibos tea.

It’s the perfect wintertime tisane. Caffeine free for late night tea drinkers, plenty of zip to keep out the cold, and a hefty dose of ginger to combat dread lurgies.

We love rooibos and this is the first we’ve had from the calendar, which is shocking considering how close we’re creeping to Christmas.

It odes make your tongue zing a bit after sipping, but we don’t mind. Nothing wrong with a good, long in the mouth tea.

We also have a sample from the German Advent Calendar. It arrived Sunday but what with manufacturing block after block of reluctantly Flying Geese, we didn’t realize it had arrived until late on Sunday evening.

We should by rights open today’s sample now, too, but we don’t want to rush it. Also, it’s a lovely black tea and we’re going to need something to wake us up tomorrow. So more on that then.

We will say that it’s a charming idea for a calender, coupling tea with puzzles. Apparently a director at the museum of history needs us to research something or fix a time machine – it’s a bit of a cross-Atlantic effort since the calendar is in German and our German connection has to play translator. (Shame the story they picked wasn’t about how all flesh is as grass and turns into the moon on wintery evenings, because then we’d be fine!)

Anyway, we chipped away at today’s German door while still quilting the Flying Geese. The cat decided to help, because she’s good that way. Read: The cat decided my spool of thread was staging an elaborate plot with the downstairs carpet and had to be stopped at all costs.

To honour her hard work, here’s a poem. We’ve given it to you before, but it turns out that while we cannot stand Marge Piercey in prose, we love her poetry. This might be the definitive poem about cats. T.S. Eliot, look out.

The cat’s song
Marge Piercey

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

Ingredients Contain…Something…

We spent all day quilting Flying Geese, so we’re only having our tea now. Well, we’re only having the Advent tea now. We had lots of orange pekoe to preserve our sanity while battling a right-handed rotary cutter.

Pausing to ask: Why do people solemnly believe the world is right-handed? Asking for a very aggrieved left-handed quilter and blogger. Anyway, we took the stuff home, where there was Advent tea but as it turns out, inferior scissors, and that was every bit as satisfactory as it sounds. Flying Geese x4 might go fast but it’s fiddly.

So, now we’re having Let It Snow, which is apparently green tea and apparently contains chocolate and caramel. We say apparently because this is not how we remember the ingredients list for this tea. The smell is all wrong, too.

Funny fact about Let It Snow; Last year we also misremembered it, and misremembered it again the year before that. For a tea that’s been part of this calendar since jump we never remember what it tastes like.

In our defence, we’re starting to think they’re reinventing the wheel every year with this one. Last year we said it tasted of apple and cinnamon. This year there’s definitely caramel in there, and it smells like spiced eggnog, which is how last year’s calendar (not us!) describes yet another tea. Are you keeping up? We’re not!

There’s definitely no apple, though. A The ingredients were nice and bitty, so we saw them going in. Raisins, caramel pieces, some green tea…One of our ongoing irritations is that whenever David’s Tea flavours its tea this much, all the pieces of flavour push out the tea leaves, especially in sample boxes. So, in spite of using the entire sample on this cup, we can’t taste any green tea.

We stand by the cinnamon, though. That stuck from 2019.

Now we’re hopelessly intrigued. If you drink this tea more regularly than we do, what does it taste like to you? And is David mucking about with the formula between calendars or have we finally gone certifiably bonkers?

Actually, don’t answer that. The Flying Geese block make a strong argument for madness…

We should now give you a nice poem about geese to be thematic. But we can’t face more geese. Instead, have this lovely Thomas Hardy, to remind us all there are still shreds of optimism and loveliness and things that are not the Flying Geese Block x4 in the world.

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.

You never thought we’d let you get all the way through Advent without this gem, did you? Now we’re off to install the shepherds at the crib.

The Dog

We decorated the tree today. A bit late, seeing as we’re into double figures on the calendar, but December is one of those months that goes at full cant.

So, we were late getting to our tea today. Midway through the TV cuddle with Dachshuds it dawned on us we hadn’t poured out, so we stopped and put the kettle on.

Today’s tea is Peppermint Amour. Taste-wise there’s not a lot to say about this one. It’s mint all the way through, which won’t work for everyone but works for us. It’s a bit like drinking an After Eight. It tastes of summer evenings when we drank Mint tea at the lake, less because we liked it and more because a friend had brought it back from Egypt.

Of course, mint tea is at its best cold, because its more refreshing that way. We could even have made it that way today – it was unseasonably warm. Bizarre, but the Dachshunds were delighted. We all forewent coats and had a distinctly unseasonable ravine ramble. Augie Doggie barked at a few squirrels, Miss Buffy was all dainty about the mud and her feet and did her best three-legged run. (Yes, we know she does it. It’s luxating patella, there’s no point operating and if one more well-intentioned stranger asks…)

They were so delighted we thought we’d better finally deliver on that poem they promised them. We’re almost halfway through December and the cat is well ahead of them in the poem dedication stakes. These things matter when you are a Dachshund of atypically delicate feelings.

There’s a lot of good dog poetry out there, but this one is top of our list of favourites. It’s short, sweet and definitely counts as more light verse.

The Dog
Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

But of course cuddles are best when they’re wet! That way, you too can be nice and soggy, they dry off, and the charming long-nosed ones get a cuddle for their trouble.

Coffee? Tea? Oh, We Give Up!

Tonight we’ve established we don’t take coffee with sugar.

Those of you thinking you wandered into the wrong Advent blog, this is your reassurance you landed on Chorister at Home, thoughts on tea, good books and music. It happens, however, that the Advent Tea for December 10 is Fireside Mocha.

Fireside Mocha contains, these in no particular order, coffee, chocolate, apple (artificial? Real? Who knows!), and – no word of a lie – green tea sprinkles.

Not to sing an old tune here, but if we liked coffee, we’d drink coffee.

We hate coffee. Vehemently.

Fireside Mocha has the bizarre distinction of featuring coffee but being billed as a herbal tea. Question to the discerning masses; is it tea? Do green tea sprinkles justify it’s inclusion in this calendar?

Further question; What the – forgive the language – bloody hell are green tea sprinkles when they’re at home?

Anyway, the maybe-tea-possibly-coffee that is Fireside Mocha combines all our least favourite things in a Davids Tea selection. There’s the coffee, which we’ve discussed. Over the course of several years, no less. Then there’s a ridiculous amount of sweetener. The apple (artificial? Real? Jury’s out) exacerbates this.

So, what you get is a cup of overly sweet herbal tea with undertones of bitter coffee. Somewhere in this thing, supposedly, is chocolate and we can’t taste that, but frankly, at this juncture, we can’t decide if that helps or hinders it.

As for the green tea sprinkles, we’re pretty sure they’re decoration only. There isn’t even a hint of green tea in this cup. Ration-era teabags on their third steeping come closer to tea, and we’d like it on record that we don’t say that lightly. We had a grandmother whose family sent tea to a British family back when tea was rationed, and we heard all about the steeping and re-steeping process.

Sounding the funeral knell of this sample is Miss Marscahllin. She came, she sniffed, she walked indignantly away to wash her paws. We’re going to do the same.

But first, have a poem. Not about tea, or coffee or how you’re supposed to make it because we’ve given up on David ever having the epiphany we want him to have about how coffee has no business in tea.

No, this is nice, and inoffensive. Enjoy.

Two Sewing
Hazel Hall
The Wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin
Cloth of earth. In,
In, in, in.
Oh, the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two, three.

Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting colour from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin
Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three.

You’d better like this one better than we liked the tea. Because it didn’t half fight us over the formatting.

White and Green Sort of Tea

Another Advent Calendar staple today. Buddha’s Blend is a floral white and green tea blend. Every year we smell it, remember it, and misremember how sweet it is. It’s seasoned with peach, which is one of our favourite fruits to add to tea. It’s sweet, so the flavour comes through beautifully. But when you set it against a white or a green tea it stops it cloying.

Our favourite tea for one summer was Whittard’s Jubilee blend and that was the same idea, a black tea with peach and mango. Sweet, but balanced so that you didn’t get toothache after the first mouthful.

White tea is lighter, so the peach is a bit stronger, but that’s where the green tea comes in. It gives it enough bitterness that the result is a floral, fruity, well-blended tea and this is a textbook lesson in how we think David should make all teas.

That said, there’s a trick to steeping it. Most fruit teas sweeten as they steep, and the temptation is to let them steep indefinitely. You can get away with that with a white tea, but not so green tea. Leave Budha’s Blend sitting too long and it quickly goes bitter. It might be perfectly balanced, but only for the first tow to three minutes of steeping, and that’s a generous estimate.

We’ve learned to rescue the tea infuser after pouring the first cup. Anything longer and you get a tart cup where the green overpowers everything else. It’s still nice, but you’ll feel your teeth zing.

So, yes, turns out making tea is a bit like rocket science. Here’s a poem that’s equally delicate and finely balanced.

Mary Oliver, 1994

The female, and two chicks,
each no bigger than my thumb,

in their pale-green dresses;
then they rose, tiny fireworks,
into the leaves
and hovered;

then they sat down,
each one with dainty, charcoal feet –
each one on a slender branch –
and looked at me.

I had meant no harm,
I had simply climbed
the tree for something to do

on a summer day,
not knowing they were there,
ready to burst the ledges
of their mossy nest

and to fly, for the first time,
in their sea-green helmets,
with brisk, metallic tails –
each tulled wing,

with every dollop of flight,
drawing a perfect wheel
across the air.
Then, with a series of jerks,

they paused in front of me
and, dark-eyed, stared –
as though I were a flower –
and then,

like three tosses of silvery water,
they were gone.
in the crown of the tree,

I went to China,
I went to Prague;
I died, and was born in the spring;
I found you, and loved you, again.

Later the darkness fell
and the solid moon
like a white pond rose.
But I wasn’t in any hurry.

Likely I visited
all the shimmering, heart-stabbing
questions without answers
before I climbed down.

Gorgeous stuff. We don’t give you Oliver often enough. That said, you wouldn’t believe the technological wrangle we went through to put that together. So, do us a favour and enjoy it, will you? Over tea, naturally. A delicate, fiddly, white and green sort of tea.

Though good luck on the hummingbirds. Completely the wrong time of year for them.

A Little Bit of Light Verse

Another lovely tea today. This one is called Roasted Chestnut and it made us laugh because the first thing it cautions you about is that it may contain hazelnuts. David…we think you may have buried the lead, there.

It’s a black tea, and the blend of sweet and nutty was the perfect start to a freezing morning. We drank it intermittently throughout the day, which was a rare treat but regrettably also means that our supply has run out. Not to worry; This is a new flavour and it’s very definitely going top of our list of Teas to Stock Up On.

It doesn’t seem to be a universal favourite. It’s not as long in the mouth as other teas. But we like it. The smell is divine, and the nuts keep it from getting sweeter than we’d like. Yes, there could probably be more nuttiness too it, but like a lot of our favourite David’s Tea flavoured black tea, this one is light rather than bold. That’s okay. Sometimes lightness works.

Not convinced? Here’s a bit of light verse to prove it to you. We adore Wendy Cope, and when we lived in Britain lots of people seemed to know her, but she never gets a mention this side of the pond. A shame, because high school students across Canada are missing out. No one sends up the great, ponderous poets of age like Cope. We’ll prove it to you.

We’ve given you The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock before, yeah? Well, here’s what she has to say about that.

Poem composed in Santa Barbara
Wendy Cope
The poets talk. They talk a lot.
They talk of T. S. Eliot.
One is anti. One is pro.
How hard they think! How much they know!
They’re happy. A cicada sings.
We women talk of other things.

So much for Michelangelo.

Sencha and Semicolons

Today’s tea was Japanese Sencha. It’s an elegant green tea that we associate with our Gran because her default teabag green was a sencha. Aromatic and crisp, it’s a tea-like tea. Brew it hot and it tastes lovely. Let it steep too long and it goes bitter. We always pour sencha a bit early to dodge that particular problem.

Otherwise it was a slow day, and in the course of skiving off work we stumbled onto an article about the dying art of the semicolon; Apparently no one uses them any more. It felt a tad overegged; As per the article Virginia Wolfe was the last person of note to use a semicolon. We grant that no one else wants to wrap sentences around whole classrooms these days, but we can think of writers that still have a use for them.

They’re definitely few and far between, though. We happen to quite like them as a piece of punctuation because you can add a lot of what our dance teacher calls light and shade to a sentence. Not so anyone else. Ah well, we always were old fashioned. Of course, this article goes on to say that we’re all using Em-dashes right and left and we’re not sure we agree with that, either. Or maybe we read the wrong books. But the last time we saw anyone commit to the Em-Dash with zest it was L. M. Montgomery and she was being accused of purple prose.

We love her, too, we hasten to add.

Green tea and musings on punctuation. You can see the kind of exciting life we lead. Here’s a poem to go with all this nonsense by a Poetry and Cake favourite, no less.

Twould Be Nice To Be An Apostrophe
Roger McGough

twould be nice to be
an apostrophe
floating above an s
hovering like a paper kite
in between the its
eavesdropping, tiptoeing
high above the thats
an inky comet
the highest tossed
of hats

We first discovered this gem listening to a podcast on grammar, and thereafter supposed we’d misremembered it because Googling the first line availed us nothing. We got a bit of a shock when we saw the author, we can tell you! For someone that well-known the internet played properly coy with the composition.

North Star

If it hadn’t been for in-person church yesterday we’d be doing that thing where we miscalculate the days of the week on the basis they all end n Y. Working on Sunday is tricksy like that. No wonder our Presbyterian ancestors had a thing against it.

Today was otherwise unremarkable. In the morning it was miserable, cold and rainy. As of writing, it is clear, cold and has recently snowed. We tell you, if this keeps up the Dawlish Dachshunds will decamp for sunnier climes.

Somewhere with hot weather and cool mint tea. Speaking of, we had warm mint tea this evening. David’s Tea North Star, specifically. It’s a curious blend of mint, orange and some kind of candied star.

Hot mint tea can be tricky, a bit like working on Sundays, because it really does taste better cold. On the other hand, see above about the weather. And this isn’t your standard mint tea. The orange in it works much better hot. It also works here in that it stops the mint becoming overwhelming.

It’s a funny thing, but we like mint in just about everything except hot tea. On it’s own its overpowering and can taste a bit too much of the smell of Vick’s Vapo Rub. In North Star the orange offers a nice counterpoint, and the longer you let it steep, the more potent the orange becomes. That’s one of our favourite things about teas with orange. They never get too strong.

We do think David’s Tea could dial back the candied baubles, though. They vacillate between being murder to scrub out of the infuser and making the tea too sweet. But here again it complements the mint, making for a well-balanced tea.

Inspired by the name of tonight’s tea we went looking for poems about the North Star. We can still pick it out on clear summer nights, along with half a dozen other constellations. We’re not sure this is exactly what we set out to find, but it left an impression. So, pour a cup of tea and enjoy

The North Star Whispers to the Blacksmith’s Son
Vachal Lindsay

The North Star whispers: “You are one
Of those whose course no chance can change.
You blunder, but are not undone,
Your spirit-task is fixed and strange.

“When here you walk, a bloodless shade,
A singer all men else forget.
Your chants of hammer, forge and spade
Will move the prarie-village yet.

“That young, stiff-necked, reviling town
Beholds your fancies on her walls,
And paints them out or tears them down,
Or bars them from her feasting halls.

“Yet shall the fragments still remain;
Yet shall remain some watch-tower strong
That ivy-vines will not disdain,
Haunted and trembling with your song.

“Your flambeau in the dusk shall burn,
Flame high in storms, flame white and clear;
Your ghost in gleaming robes return
And burn a deathless incense here.”

Music for Advent II

Advent II and for the first time in over a year we were back in church. The last time we tried that it was Christ the King of 2020, singing wasn’t allowed, and the venture was purely exploratory to see how safe the return felt.

The answer was not all that much and turned out to be moot because the Monday following restrictions came back and it was back to online worship. We reopened around Lent but only the choir could sing, and if the blog title didn’t tip our hand, singing is a big part of our worship experience. So, we stayed home until they opened up the music to the congregation.

And it was nice. We have no idea if we’re supposed to sing the psalms, but our pointing is good, so until we get a memo saying otherwise, we’re joining in. But we were a model of good manners and did not join in This is the Record of John. We could have. It is our favourite Advent anthem ever and we sing it on a loop, especially this time of year.

Then we came home and spent the afternoon working, so apologies about that whirring noise you’re hearing, because that’s Great Grandmother Grace revolving in her grave at the thought of descendants who work on Sunday. Mind you, poor Great Grandmother Grace has probably been spinning eversince we went all High Church Anglican on her, so really…

That took all afternoon and left us to snatch our Advent tea around sixish. Today it’s called Blueberry Fields Forever, and courtesy of organising a tribute concert that probably took years off our life, we can tell you that’s a Beatles reference.

We can also tell you that as per the ingredients, this one is a veritable cocktail of more than blueberries. Apparently elderflower is in there, and violets. But we have to tell you, all we tasted was blueberry.

It’s a nice tea, but it clearly takes ages to steep, because ten minutes in it still didn’t have much colour, and as we say, we mostly tasted blueberry. We add that David’s Tea recommends this one as an iced tea, and we can see that. To brew good ice tea you steep it at double strength, and that would bring out more of the flavours.

On the other hand, it was freezing when we first made tea and then it snowed. Now, as we write, it’s raining torrentially so that tomorrow our Dachshunds will have to skate across the yard. Forgive us if iced tea isn’t exactly on the docket.

Maybe we’ll loop back to it in the summer when This is the Record of John makes an unseasonable appearance as an earworm. Until then, have this excellent poem by Thomas Hardy. No, it’s not hte one you think it is. This one is about music and so perfectly relevant to this Sunday.

The Choirmaster’s Burial
Thomas Hardy

He often would ask us
That, when he died,
After playing so many
To their last rest,
If out of us any
Should here abide,
And it would not task us,
We would with our lutes
Play over him
By his grave-brim
The psalm he liked best—
The one whose sense suits
“Mount Ephraim”—
And perhaps we should seem
To him, in Death’s dream,
Like the seraphim.

As soon as I knew
That his spirit was gone
I thought this his due,
And spoke thereupon.
“I think”, said the vicar,
“A read service quicker
Than viols out-of-doors
In these frosts and hoars.
That old-fashioned way
Requires a fine day,
And it seems to me
It had better not be.”
Hence, that afternoon,
Though never knew he
That his wish could not be,
To get through it faster
They buried the master
Without any tune.

But ’twas said that, when
At the dead of next night
The vicar looked out,
There struck on his ken
Thronged roundabout,
Where the frost was graying
The headstoned grass,
A band all in white
Like the saints in church-glass,
Singing and playing
The ancient stave
By the choirmaster’s grave.

Such the tenor man told
When he had grown old.

There’s lots we’d like to go into here on Hardy and music. We once wrote a paper on this, and talked about everything from devillish fiddlers to skimmity-rides. But we’ve kept you here long enough for one evening.

Suffice to say that while all choirs fantasize occasionally about killing the conductor, we’re really quite loyal and would probably kill instead anyone who didn’t give them the burial they asked for, as above.

Oh, and Hardy has a musical ear. So you hear that a lot in his use of metre. Some poems are set to specific tunes, most notably one to Schubert’s Lark and another to the German folk tune Bruderchen Komm Tanz Mit Mir. Try reading either aloud and they’re impossibly awkward. Sing them and they dance off the tongue.

This isn’t either of those. But one of this Advent’s delightful discoveries is that Benjamin Britten set all kinds of Hardy to music. Two of our favourites and no one said. And one of the poems he set was this one. So, pour your tea, read your Hardy and then have a listen to Britten. Unless, of course, you can think of a better combination of things to occupy you.

We can’t.

And Light Was Over All?

Lots to fit in today. We thought we’d tell you a bit about today’s opera excursion and then move on to the tea, and end with a poem about music.

But then we got home and the power had gone out, so of course palaver ensued. Briefly we wondered if we were off the blogging hook, because no power meant no internet, and the little map spouting details over mobile data was pessimistically reinstating light sometime after blogging hour.

But light is currently over all. Or at least over our kitchen. We had the tv cuddle. Dachshunds slept through the whole thing, naturally. Including the classic movie channel’s offering of Leave Her To Heaven. It’s the fireside host’s favourite apparently.

We can see why. The boy with disabilities drowns, there’s murder, intrigue and a court case that bears no relation to reality. We shouldn’t mock. It’s not worlds away from an opera. The more shocking thing is that no one ever tried to turn this story – it’s based on s book, it turns out – into opera.

As for today’s tea, it was another hit. This one is called Dark Chocolate Orange. It’s a black tea, and we on,y tasted the orange. We also suspect we understeeped it though, because the black tea only came through in that we woke up while drinking it.

We were Aldo drinking it without milk, which may gave been a factor. Teas with chocolate usually need a bit if milk to bring out the chocolate flavour. We were going to make a second pot with milk but then the power outage happened.

Turns out our gas job has electric ignition. Not even for you lovely lot am I exploding the house using matches.

Instead, have a poem about light, or the lack of it.

Lights Out

Edward Thomas

I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

Many a road and track
That, since the dawn’s first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.

Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter, and leave, alone,
I know not how.

The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.