Even though I had a fabulous weekend, the fact that I had no tea other than what I made myself means I can assume that is of little interest to my readers. So I will summarize it in one sentence and then neatly catch up with my blog by describing yesterday.
Here’s the sentence: Our weekend featured feeding squirrels and a closed Leadenhall Market and a train trip to Essex and a fiftieth wedding anniversary bash and various relatives of Lady D. and a yellow tea via Hong Kong that I didn’t get to (but will) and a country Fair at a winery and a clay pigeon shoot and belly dancing (not by me) and a ride in a pink caravan towed by a tractor and a lovely walk along the riverbank at Maldon and a pub in St Albans and a total of two trains and four tube journeys.
Now we are all caught up, let’s talk yesterday.
With the scent of history in our nostrils, we set out at the crack of 11 am for Clerkenwell. Alighting at Barbican, we wound our way north to the first item of business on the day: tea at J+A Cafe.
J+A, which refers to the owners, is a really dull name, and that had lulled me into anticipating a lot less than I got.
If you want great food, excellent service, brilliant decor, good tea, a hustling, bustling tea shop, reasonable prices and an overall good time – and let me say”I do” – then you cannot go wrong here.
Lady Devotea had soda bread with Jam, I had soup with soda bread and we shared a large pot of Newby’s Irish Breakfast.
I was still soaking up the atmosphere and had not read the menu when the time came to order, which I why I missed out on the Duck, Bacon and Bean Pie. Yes, I know, this means a return visit.
They are not really a specialist tea shop – but they have plenty of choice – so it’s not possible for them to score perfectly on the Caj Scale, but I am awarding them 96 Caj. And recommending that the owners of the tea shops I blogged about last post visit them to see how it is done. Far and away the best in England so far; even without the chintzy or Mad Hatter environments that I have a leaning towards.
And then, to the historical site of the Clerk’s Well, that this district was named after.
Lady Devotea next wanted to see a church she believed to be associated with the Knights Templar. Realising this meant additional precautions must be taken, I devised a cleverly circuitous route that would have looked to the untrained eye like we were lost, before eventually walking in the front door of the top secret headquarters of this Order of Highly Stabby Knights.
For those who need a quick definition of the Knights Templar, they were devout men of God, who believe the best way they could show their love for God was to stab people who loved a different version of the same God. And pinch their treasure in the name of Jesus.
So the difference between say, the Knights Templar and a crew of Pirates is more or less sartorial; and a quick parrot count is usually the clincher. That and horses and ships often look a little different.
So, into the top secret headquarters where they have a display commemorating the work of the Saint John Ambulance Service. What? Wait? Where’s the treasure?
We infiltrated a 12th century crypt, armed with only our wits, a desire for the truth and the handy four page guide the attendant gave us, and looked at various things, mostly related to dead priors. After a thousand years, you can amass a few priors, and with the one at a time way these things work, they are pretty well all dead.
So it turned out, these weren’t the Knights Templar, they were the Hospitallers. Entirely different.
These guys popped up in Jerusalem a bit before the Templar dudes, and their job was to heal the sick and treat the injured, and they did a bang up job of it. Excellent stuff.
Then a couple of hundred years later, they noticed that they were having a hard time recruiting, because all the young men were signing up with the Templars and going off to do the stabbing; which was far sexier than bandaging a leper. So they added a military arm and went of and got them some Crusading.
Did quite well at it, too. Over the next few hundred years they got up to all sorts of larks, such as killing Muslims, taking islands and hiring pirates to harass (Muslim) shipping. Now bear in mind that both sides were clearly as bad as each other at that point.
So, your young Hospitaller could impress Jesus by bandaging a leper or stabbing a highly armed Saracen, and to be fair, teenagers being what they are, they’d much rather face certain death on the battle field than touch someone who looks a bit manky.
So, what next. We found the tumbledown ruins of an old Priory belonging to the Order (artfully hidden behind a sign saying “Order of St John Museum” ) and rifled through their secret belongings, or ‘exhibit’ as the five plasma screen referred to it.
So, to condense a millennium into a few points: Helped the sick, got a bit aggressive, got given all the Templar’s stuff after one of the Kings of England banned them, got banned themselves, all their stuff got pinched by the Crown, eventually reformed as Church of England rather than Roman Catholic, and in the mid 1800′s, suddenly remembered that they were supposed to help the sick and injured, and from there evolved into the St John Ambulance Service.
So the question is: “where are those secretive Templars, then? Cunningly hidden at a complex called Temple, down by the Thames, it seems. So off we went trudged.
We had only gone a few minutes when we found “To a Tea”. It’s in the book and on our map, so in we went.
Fantastic decor. really good tea. Great spread of cakes. Good service. Good ‘Lady Grey” for Lady D. Good Russian Caravan for me. Slightly dry cupcake shared.
It scored 81 Caj. “Surely Higher?” I hear you ask.
Basically, the vibe was off. The ladies serving seemed pleasant, but the guy supervising seemed to be glancing angrily at all the customers. It even seemed the staff were wary of him.
I originally awarded 79 Caj, but upped it after seeing the sign marking their toilets. Worth a thousand words.
So, we continued in search of the Knights Templar, and after skirting a mysterious police presence that they claimed was for the Paralympics, we infiltrated their inner sanctum.
It was full of lawyers, judges and civil servants. It seems the Crown had nicked that too.
Not really a tea shop. More an excellent museum of the Twining Family.
It would have been fantastic if not crammed with people buying tea bags.
I also note they sell coffee. Wait, didn’t Sir Thomas get rid of coffee? It seems that great-great-great-grandfather doesn’t know best.
We wandered through Covent Garden and Leicester Square toward our dinner booking; unaware that “Little Sicily” had been closed down for “hygiene reasons”. Never mind. A good Chinese meal and a splendid walk later, we came across the church of St Giles in the Field. Very historic. A little ramshackle.
And a great way to finish a day full of churches rich and poor.