The last three days in England have been spent without internet for various reasons, and there is a bit of a logjam of blog posts. So even though I write this about 15 hours ahead of our departure from this country and hemisphere, it seems to me I can’t post it until we arrive back in Australia.
Over the last however-many blogs, I’ve written about tea. Sure I’ve waxed lyrical about travel, buildings, art, writing, parks, squirrels, technology, people in all three categories (good, bad and French hotel employees), kings and queens, bishops, fictional detectives, archaeologists, sailors, tinkers, tailors and taxidermists* , but it has all had tea at the heart of it.
I have a massive rant about tea quality in certain organisations to write, but at this moment, my well-placed and entirely reasonable seething pit of bile is on hold, as I don’t want to seethe in my last 14 hours and 45 minutes here.
It is also possible I will one day write about English road signs, but not until a reasonable time has passed and I can do so without twitching. I did manage to drive 1600 miles without hitting anything, but clearly fortune favours the confused.
I met some very famous people here. Sure, most of them are dead, but there’s something special about last resting places; particularly ones you don’t expect to find. Katherine of Aragon and Samuel Pepys, Thomas Cornwallis (the day after I finished reading a book in which he featured). There’s also the circumstances – the visit to Bun Hill fields where Daniel Defoe, John Bunyon and a few others are buried would have been merely excellent, but it was transformed as Lady Devotea instructed our guide Vic Darkwood in the gentle art of hand-feeding squirrels. That’s another thing, I’ll have to get used to not carrying peanuts everywhere.
We met some folks I had previously only met on line or via hangouts. Ken (@lahikmajoe), Fay (@vsopfables), Amanda (@_amusebouche_) , the aforementioned @vicdarkwood and a six foot tall sartorially elegant hare (@myrtletakestea). Sad circumstances and ill health robbed us of a chance to meet a few others.
We met all manner of people; from the truly wonderful and inspiring to French hotel employees and everything in between.
We visited a tea plantation** and more cathedrals, museums, Roman ruins, Neolithic structures, Iron Age settlements, tea shops, cake shops, absolutely everything shops than I would have believed possible. We saw West End shows and saw wailing beggars in the streets; buskers and madmen; we walked the footsteps of Jack the Ripper, we traced the mythical streets of an excellent book of the 1800s on the real life streets of today. Did I mention the tea shops?
It has been eleven weeks of brilliance, with very little going wrong, apart from a spot of ill health, inconsistent internet access, missing a site or two we would have loved to see and having to deal with French hotel employees.
And so with only 14 and a bit hours to go, I am thinking about cups of tea I have had with family.
To be exact, we are talking about Lady D’s family. But I can’t really think of one of them that has not been as incredibly welcoming toward me as they have been to her.
There is a trail of aunts and uncles; cousins, second cousins, third cousins and more across the South Eastern quarter of this country that have welcomed me with such effusion that I have not felt like “the other half”. I can fully understand the affection they have for her; it is amazing to me how I seem to sneak into her penumbra***.
We have stayed seven nights with aunts and uncles; seven with cousins. Four locations, two countries.
I have cooked twice****; both times for cousins of Lady D who are sisters but in different countries; and those meals have been wonderful experiences. (I sneakily cooked the same meal each time.) But I have also sat back and enjoyed other people cooking. Meals out. Long chats by the fire until exhaustion.
And cups of tea.
Most times when we arrive somewhere, Lady Devotea launches into a pre-emptive strike, explaining to all that teabags are not an avenue I usually go down. She manages to explain it as an offshoot of having a professional palate; and not in terms of me being a curmudgeonly bastard, which is quite wonderful of her.
And we always turn up with a gift of tea. This means that there is one of four outcomes.
- Our host makes a pot of tea for all.
- Our host makes a pot for me and teabags for everyone else.
- Our host asks me to make the tea, either for myself or for all.
- My predilections are duly noted, and I get the same teabag tea as everyone else.
I’m a big believer that the host is in charge, so I’m actually quite accepting of whatever happens. After all, when you are seeing someone you have not seen for either 5 years or 15 years, the choice of beverage is not a big consideration in the excitement*****.
At the start of our incredible voyage, I obtained a stack of all of our teas from our English blender and distributor, and as we have gone about the country we have gifted them to various people. It has been a surreal experience to have our tea from another source, and a real pleasure to see how well it has been blended.
I’ve also made many a cup, rummaging around in unfamiliar kitchens, examining milk, squinting at tea cups, fashioning strainers from household items, proving that creamer is explosive as previously discussed and just generally having many moments where I watch as someone lifts a cup to their lips, knowing that the hard work of Lady D and myself and the others around us is represented in that cup.
We have distributed a lot of Jim’s Caravan in particular, as all of these people are directly related to the Jim in question (Lady D’s late father and therefore the brother or uncle or brother-in-law to most of them) and it’s been great to hear the memories spilling out; photos, memories and laughter taking their place at the table.
This overseas holiday is longer than all of our other overseas holidays combined – even if you consider Tasmania as overseas – and who knows when the opportunity might arise again? I love England and would happily live here for an extended time, but we can’t say for sure when or even if we will be back. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, to quote John Lennon, though it has the sound of a Jewish Proverb.
13 hours and 43 minutes until we depart.
I’d like to think that the tea we leave behind will come out on special occasions and memories of our visit will sit on the tray.
Until we meet again.* No actual taxidermists were mentioned, although the visit to Vic Darkwood’s stately manor could have included some reference to the taxidermical arts. ** Which reminds me, must write about that at some stage. *** A very scientific word and not at all what you are thinking **** And actually a third time a few hours after I wrote this, if I want to be pedantic, and as usual I do. *****And you can always discreetly pour some PG Tips into a pot plant