In Need of (Tea) and Music

We aren’t wild about herbal teas, and David’s herbals can be particularly hit and miss. Silent Night, tonight’s Advent Tea, is an exception.

The copy on the website for David’s Tea bills this one as full of spice, citrus and refreshing. It turns out it’s right on all counts. It’s a lovely blend of orange with Christmas spices that creates a tea that tastes incredibly seasonal. We give them bonus points for pulling it off without marshmallows, artificial flavour or anything unlawfully saccharine.

The orange gives this tea real zest. You feel it refreshing you as you drink it, which sounds unlikely but isn’t us over-egging anything.

After a weekend spent rushing around like the proverbial headless chicken, this was the perfect way to cap a late Sunday evening.

Okay, part of the running around involved The Messiah, which was lovely and also extremely seasonal. We quibbled with some of the alto ornaments in ‘O Thou That Tellest’ but recognize that since alto isn’t our line we can’t really do anything about that. They were perfectly good ornaments, by the way. They were just very out of left field.

Ditto some of the decorations in ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.’ This one we get to have opinions on for the twofold reason that we sing soprano and specifically, can sing this aria. What we hadn’t appreciated until this afternoon was that we apparently had a set of standard ornaments so deeply embedded in our musical psyche we expected everyone to use them. Ah well.

Here’s a poem in keeping with the musical theme of the day. We think it’s as refreshing as Silent Night tea, but will let you have the last word.

I Am In Need of Music
Elizabeth Bishop

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colours deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

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.

Loveliest of Trees

A much better offering from DavidsTea today. It’s a herbal blend we’ve had before called Caramel Shortbread. Appropriately it’s sweet and creamy, and tasted best if taken with a chocolate biscuit or two because we think what it’s really trying to mimic is the British Millionaire’s Shortbread. Luckily we had some on hand and a very pleasant elevenses was the result.

The German offering was similarly lovely. It was an orange blossom oolong, and while we hadn’t had this blend before, we had had versions of it. The nice thing about orange blossom oolong is that rather than go bitter it becomes increasingly citrusy. This one was subtler than other blends and more oolong than orange, so we didn’t complicate it with biscuits. But it’s still a lovely tea.

To go with it, here’s an equally lovely poem about the loveliest of trees. Today’s interesting fact is that the writer is beloved of fictional detective Inspector Morse.

A Shropshire Lad 2: Lovliest of trees the cherry now
A. E. Houseman.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look  at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Everyone remembers that Butterworth set this to music, but for an equally lively arrangement by John Duke, have a listen here.

For a more whimsical, reworked version about Miss Marschallin, ‘Loveliest of Cats, the Tortoiseshell’, get in touch. We’ll even sing it for you!

Bishops and Britten

It’s Advent II, and St Nicholas Day. It’s the time of year when traditionally we bake Judy Plum’s (her of Pat of Silver Bush fame) Bishop’s Bread. Think fruitcake but loaf shaped and without the brandy or cherries. We put a marzipan mitre and crozier on ours to make it obvious it’s for St Nicholas, but that’s our touch.

Anyway, this auspicious liturgical combo was off to a tremendous start with the dual Advent offering of black tea Friesische Sonntags-mischung and rock sugar. As per traditional observation for this kind of Assam we poured it from a height worthy of a Muriel Spark character over the sugar and it crackled like ice. It’s a very satisfying sound, and the sugar lumps are a good size for counterbalancing the strength of the Assam. We opted for one lump per 8oz cup, and that worked perfectly.

Even better, the sugar dish that has sat unused as a dresser ornament has found functionality.

The tea itself is Assam blend with a hefty amount of vanilla, which is exactly the kind of combination that appeals to us with black teas. Anything more complicated (cf the chocolate)can get complicated quickly. This one smells gorgeous, tastes just as good and was a suitably vestal start to the day.

DavidsTea swung completely the other way, with caffeine-free Gingerbread Blondie. An oldie but goodie, this tea is equal parts ginger and creamy vanilla. There’s a vanilla theme going here. But we like this one because it really does taste like gingerbread in a cup. The creaminess keeps it from being cloying and the ginger gives it zing. It’s a lovely tea for after dinner or in lieu of a sweet.

Here is where we’d usually leave you with a poem. But as previously mentioned, we miss singing, and today’s other tradition is to play Britten’s Saint Nicolas Mass. So here’s a selection from that. The men work harder than the women, but what the women do is terrific fun , especially for the sopranos. Listen and see if they don’t sound exactly like lightning!



Tea and Whimsy

We opened the German-made calendar this morning to Sommer Darjeeling. Following the directions on the accompanying Christmas card we poured it over a sugar cube and added some milk.

N.B. We haven’t taken sugar in tea since university when we befriended Brits who only put sugar in baking. But tea traditions should be followed at all times, so we followed this one. (For best result we’ve been told to use sugar crystals but suspect those of hiding behind another Advent door. Until then we improvise.)

And okay…we cheated a little. But it was only a little! We took the merest sip of Sommer Darjeeling black just to see what it would taste of. The instructions are there for a reason. The milk gives it a creaminess it doesn’t have on its own, while the sugar helps bring some of the more subtle tea notes to the surface. It’s a bold, bracing tea and it was exactly what we needed to wake up. Darjeeling is always the queen of black teas and this is no exception.

At the complete other end of the spectrum is DavidsTea’s Organic Cinnamon Rooibos Chai. That’s a name that’s a mouthful! But it lives up to it. Because we think of rooibos as warming-up tea, we made it after walking the Dawlish Dachshunds in the ravine.

It still looks like Narnia, as you see. But at least a white Christmas is a good omen. Or, well, we guess it’s a white Advent about which the old grannies say…um…nothing, as it turns out. Ah well.

Anyway, Cinnamon Rooibos Chai is perfect warming-up tea. Rooibos naturally has a kind of inbuilt spice that would lead the proverbial grannies above to say it would stick to your ribs. It dovetails beautifully with the cinnamon for a cup that tastes a bit like mulled wine but without the alcohol or a particularly satisfying musical cadence. But it’s desserty too; you would drink this for breakfast.

Instead, if like the Dawlish Dachshunds you have vowed to stay by the fire until the sun comes back, enjoy this with a nice helping of crumble. And for everything else, there’s Sommer Darjeeling.

To tide you over until then, and in keeping with yesterday’s optimistic note, we move from the sublime to the ridiculous. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve used a parodic bit of hymnody as a poem though, and we miss singing. Besides, this gave us the best laugh we’ve had all year. Enjoy – but don’t read it over tea!

On Christmas Eve

It’s been a whirlwind of a day. Ravine walks, extracting gremlins from electronic monstrosities, eleventh hour wrapping and shortbread baking…it goes on. The annual watch of The Blue Carbuncle featured somewhere. Christmas Eve is always crammed with stuff, and this year is no exception.

Sneaking in at the end of it is our final blog write up for this year’s calendar. It’s a black tea we know well, called Santa’s Secret. It blends peppermint and black tea, and for our money is the best of these ‘sweet’ teas. It’s sweet, and has a real extravagant, desert-quality feel to it, but it isn’t saccharine, either. The mint sits comfortably with the black tea and they keep each other in check, the perfect balance of strong and long in the mouth. This is how to reinvent tea well.

We also reiterate the other day’s recantation. We stand by the fact that this calendar’s balance is skewered bizarrely, but there do seem to be nearly equal parts herbal and non-herbal teas. It’s just that all the variety came at the beginning and the end, making for a few very unbalanced weeks of tea drinking. It’s good to know the calendar can still do variety.

Here to close out the year is a carol that purports to be by Walter Scott. We say that; there are lines of this that we know for a fact belong in Marmion. There are other lines that we’re fairly sure Shaw added in because he liked them. Oh, the joys of carols, eh? THere’s a reason no one ever seems to be able to agree on both lyrics and tune, and why we each of us think ours is right.

Merry Christmas
Adapted from Walter Scott

On Christmas Eve the bells were run,
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung;
The damsel don’t her kirtle sheen,
The hall was dress’d with holly green;
Forth to the wood the merry men go
To gather in the mistletoe;

Then drink to the holly berry,
With hey down, hey own derry!
The mistletoe we’ll pledge also
And at Christmas all be merry,
At Christmas all be merry!

The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
Then come the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithesome din.

England is merry England,
When Old Christmas brings his ports again
Then drink to the holly berry, etc

We wanted to find you a vocal arrangement to go with it, but luck was not on our side. And while, theoretically we’re not averse to singing it into this particular monstrosity for you, it’s late and all residents not Miss Marschallin would be objected by the lack of consideration. But if you happen to know of a favourite version, point us towards us or send us a link.

Until then, Happy Christmas from us, Miss Marschallin and the Dawlish Dachshunds!

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.

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.


Z is for Zest, Ginger and Spice!

Rejoice! This week in Advent is sponsored by the Doors Wide Open Policy; we leave your doors open and watch as all the heat exits them pursued by shivering congregants! Coming to a church near you sharpish. It’s doing double duty with the perennial classic O Antiphons Inc, and honestly, what is it about high Anglicanism in Canada that vetoes all sequencing hymns not heavily mired in plainchant. Other churches can and do use other stuff – we’ve sung at them. Lots. Finally, there’s an honourable mention to Canadian-Grade Winter Coats, guaranteed to keep you warm whether you face subarctic weather or a failure in the central heating system. They’re marketing a new line in choral cassocks, so conductors, take note.

Okay, so church was freezing.  And the doors were inexplicably open, and the heating system was (as ever as per the end of Advent) protesting the apocalypse or something. Also, the sermon was meandering and underwhelming but since we aren’t in the business of outperforming the priest with sermons, we try not to cast that stone. Besides, the the rose vestments were out, the music was good, and the tea at the Agape was hot. (It isn’t always, cf last Christmas morning. We suspect it was a ploy to get shot of us.)

Today’s tea is another rooibos. It’s called Super Ginger and bills itself as being spicy, sweet, and comforting. We don’t know about sweet – has anyone ever labelled ginger sweet ? – but we’ll vouch for the other two.

Mind, if you don’t like ginger, there’s no salvaging this tea for you. We do, and we think that it’s the perfect compliment to the already zingy rooibos. There’s not really a lot to dissect with this one though, because it does what it says on the tin. It’s gingery in spades. Did our diatribe about the spontaneous inclusion of raisins get through to someone? We’re adding it to the list of things to rejoice about anyway.

And while we do that, here’s a poem for your Gaudete Sunday. It’s fun, playful, and irreverent. As ginger and zing go, you don’t do much better than Chesterton’s wit as displayed here.

Variations of an Air 
G.K. Chesterton

Composed on Having to Appear in a Pageant as Old King Cole

Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
He called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.

after Lord Tennyson

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,
Growing more gay with age and with long days
Deeper in laughter and desire of life
As that Virginian climber on our walls
Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;
Called for his wassail and that other weed
Virginian also, from the western woods
Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,
And lighting joy with joy, and piling up
Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring
Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats
Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;
And these three played, and playing grew more fain
Of mirth and music; till the heathen came
And the King slept beside the northern sea.

after Swinburne

In the time of old sin without sadness
And golden with wastage of gold
Like the gods that grow old in their gladness
Was the king that was glad, growing old:
And with sound of loud lyres from his palace
The voice of his oracles spoke,
And the lips that were red from his chalice
Were splendid with smoke.

When the weed was as flame for a token
And the wine was as blood for a sign;
And upheld in his hands and unbroken
The fountains of fire and of wine.
And a song without speech, without singer,
Stung the soul of a thousand in three
As the flesh of the earth has to sting her,
The soul of the sea.

after Robert Browning

Who smoke-snorts toasts o’ My Lady Nicotine,
Kicks stuffing out of Pussyfoot, bids his trio
Stick up their Stradivarii (that’s the plural
Or near enough, my fatheads; nimium
Vicina Cremonce; that’s a bit too near.)
Is there some stockfish fails to understand?
Catch hold o’ the notion, bellow and blurt back “Cole”?
Must I bawl lessons from a horn-book, howl,
Cat-call the cat-gut “fiddles”? Fiddlesticks!

after W.B. Yeats

Of an old King in a story
From the grey sea-folk I have heard
Whose heart was no more broken
Than the wings of a bird.

As soon as the moon was silver
And the thin stars began,
He took his pipe and his tankard,
Like an old peasant man.

And three tall shadows were with him
And came at his command;
And played before him for ever
The fiddles of fairyland.

And he died in the young summer
Of the world’s desire;
Before our hearts were broken
Like sticks in a fire.

after Walt Whitman

Me clairvoyant,
Me conscious of you, old camarado,
Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
The crown cannot hide you from me,
Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
I perceive that you drink.
(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
(I do not object to your spitting),
You prophetic of American largeness,
You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
I myself am a complete orchestra.
So long.

There’s nothing like a good literary joke, is there? Spare a thought for it next time the Doors Wide Open Policy and failing heating systems get a hold of your church. But if that doesn’t work for you, we’ll leave you with our pet Gaudete Sunday Anthem. Enjoy! And rejoice greatly!

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!