Let’s start with one simple change to history – let’s say Shakespeare was born in Burra, South Australia in 1925.
It’s only a small change. He’d still write a bunch of plays.
But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, or as Billy-O Shakespeare would have written, “it’s easy to spill ya cuppa down yer shirt”
So we would have such immortal lines as “Bugger me, is that a knife I see right in front of me own two eyes?” and from ‘Macca’-the tragedy of betrayal, murder and revenge-the evocative “Out, out you bastard spot” declaimed by Noreen McBeth, not long before the mulga trees start moving in a threatening manner toward the pub.
But it would still be Shakespeare. If “the big-mouthed arsehole got what was comin’ him” is not exactly “done to death by slanderous tongue”, it still has a resonance redolent of its time and place ; albeit a later time and different place under our small change to history.
I’m aware that no tea has turned up in this blog yet. But I’d quote: “how poor are they who have not patience?”, which is probably better that our Aussie Shakespeare’s “Shut your flamin’ trap and ‘old your horses, you drongo” to push the concept miles beyond what is warranted.
And so, we can use language as a marker of its time. Even in jest – I love Not The Nine-O-Clock News‘s fake Chaucerisms so much that I can recall them from my 1984 desk calendar (“tittes as bigge as Melonnes”)– we can see the parameters of what is being said by the language.
And it changes. People regularly say “the proof is in the pudding” these days, as opposed to the charming and more exact “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. At some point that began to occur, and future scholars will no doubt wrestle with the implications.
Hey, I’m nearly up to the point I’m trying to make.
If you are quoting from an old source, you have the choice between quoting ‘as is’, with or without annotations, or “modernising” it.
If you happen to be American, then you also have another issue. Ever since the “Great Big Book of Simplified Spelling As We Americans Clearly Aren’t Smart Enough To Spell Stuff Correctly”, otherwise known as Noah Webster’s “An American Dictionary of The English Language” was released, you’ve had to contend with differences in spelling.
I don’t know why effigies of Webster aren’t burnt on street corners in the USA. Where is your pride, Sons and Daughters of Liberty? With one book, he managed to infer that the whole country was the equivalent of a ‘special needs’ student. I mean, these guys wrote their own Constitution, right? And apart from the spelling of “chuse” for “choose” they seemed to cope quite well. There is no evidence that George Washington considered throwing himself off of a bridge because he couldn’t cope with that “u” in colour.
Anyway, so here’s the point of the preceding twelve paragraphs: I loathe books that alter spelling in case the reader can’t cope.
If the text was originally Middle English, then fair enough, it’s a translation. The past is a foreign country. But there is untrammelled joy in figuring out not just what a passage says, but why it says it in that way.
Whenever I encounter statements like the two following, my impulse is to fling what I am reading across the room.
*certain British spellings have been amended
*certain archaic spellings have been amended
So, after that long, long intro, let’s talk about a book I flung across the room for that very reason. And then retreived.
The book in question is “A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time”described by its editor Katrina Ávila Munichiello as a collection of non-fiction essays, old and new, inspired by tea.
I had a troubled relationship with this book from the start.
Arrrrgghhhhh, there’s a tea bag on the cover. I took the cover off immediately and read it naked. The book, that is.
And I also had a fit of jealousy. Here’s someone who has published a book of tea stories. Shouldn’t that be me, even if I haven’t actually done the work? What is going on, Universe?
But damn it, I like Katrina. I see her about twitter as @teapages and she’s clearly a lovely person.
So I persisted. And the book won me over.
For me, it’s a little Sinocentric – I am, at heart a disciple of Indian teas. I have 32 Chinese ones in my cupboard, but that’s a section of my cupboard that dwindles slower than my personal Himalayas of Indian teas.
There are some great stories in the book. I understand why one reviewer said that Katrina should have written more herself. But she plays the part she chose to play and does so well.
I loved a short story by Dorothy Ziemann, a poignant vignette about drinking tea with her father before he passed away.
The Mistri-Sahib, a paean to a Scots handyman/engineer on an Indian tea plantation, is my favourite. It’s great slice-of-life stuff with no backstory, no end credits.
Many of the stories have a great weight of assumptions – racism, greed, callousness are assumed and stereotyped; in other stories great love is professed- usually either a love for the whole of humanity, or the love of a really good cuppa.
It’s one of those books where you finish one story late at night, your eyes are drooping, but no, you’ll go just one more. And so on into the night.
An interesting exercise is to skip through and only read the stories and essays that are from the last ten years. As a collection, they say much about what is a happening now. Events may well overtake the worshipful paean to Greg “Three Cups of Tea” Mortensen.
But to me the wondrous collection of historical documents is the key to the book, and from Ancient China to the near past in the USA, they sing from the pages.
A great example is A Chat over a Cup of Tea, from 1871 by US writer Jehiel Keeler Hoyt. It is interesting in that a century after the tragic waste of tea in Boston Harbour (as it was spelt in 1773 ) he talks about the dining habits, particularly in relation to tea, in his own words “… of the English (I include ourselves)” …
Huh? An American author, writing in 1871, about the love of hot tea and of the USA being lumped in with England with regard to tea. Despite both English Breakfast Tea and the teabag being invented by unrelated men called Sullivan in the US (one was an English immigrant), it’s easy to subscribe to the “we chucked in the harbour and now don’t drink it” view of American tea history.
But this piece, that floats midway-ish between the events of 1773 and now, paints a very different picture, and I find it intriguing.
If only certain archaic spellings hadn’t been amended.