Before I share with you the outrageous information that has given me a head of steam for this blog post, let me tell you first how it came about.
I was listening to my favourite radio programme, ABC Conversations, which is basically just someone having a good ol’ natter about their life and times with an excellent host, or in this case, a creditable fill-in host.
The episode was with Stella Young, who is a writer, comedienne and editor, and whilst she’s at it, an activist for disabled people. Stella has been in a wheelchair for a very long time (OK, I missed the first 5 minutes of the show and am a little hazy on this).
The discussion really opened my eyes and has made me think differently about the physical environment we live in and what that means to the disabled.
‘All very commendable‘, you say, “but where’s the tea?”
I’ll get there.
One episode in Stella’s life that she related was joining the Brownies. Brownies, for those who might think I am referring to a deliciously interbred-cake-and biscuit-type-affair, are in fact a version of the Girl Guides for younger girls, and have been kicking about since 1914.
My ears first pricked up when Stella mentioned the troupe was led by a sinister-seeming character called “Brown Owl” . Sounds like something straight out of a John Le Carre novel.
Stella mentioned that one of the things that happened in Brownies was that she kept getting badges for things she could not possibly do, such as swimming. This was some sort of weird encouragement, I guess: “Well, you would if you could” sort of thing. A path of least resistance, as opposed to actually adjusting the challenge to suit the individual.
So Stella said she had badges for things she could not do, as opposed to things she could, like a badge for making tea.
WHOA; there it is: A BADGE for MAKING TEA!
My first thought was fantastic! I imagine these angelic little girls; their rosy faces aglow as they carefully select a silver teaspoon of incredible polishment, dip it into a canister of finest FTGFOP1 Darjeeling, carefully place one for each person and one for the pot into a nice pre-warmed squarish deco-era pot – or perhaps a humble brown betty – and the adding the water very carefully. The egg timers are set and perhaps 3, perhaps 4 minutes later, the golden liquor is coaxed into delicate cups and served with cubed sugar, a crystal jug of unhomogenised milk* and perhaps a slice of Battenburg cake.
That most definitely deserves a badge.
But I started to get suspicious almost immediately. Is it likely to be real proper loose leaf tea, or is there some sinister other agenda here?
On the positive side, Brown Owl could be the name for an evil genius, and many evil geniuses, Hollywood tells us, love nothing better than a decent cuppa. As I have previously discoursed upon, tea drinking is a visual marker for ‘eccentric’ at the very least.
But in Australia and the UK over the last 40-50 years, real tea making has been in decline. And we all know why, don’t we: Those filthy teab*gs.
So, some research was necessary, and in this spirit of knowledge-seeking I consulted Mr Google.
Whilst it led to some charming and often anachronistic chants (“We’re the Fairies glad and gay, helping others every day”), the disturbing information that the once resplendent uniform has been replaced by a hoodie (which suggests that there is now a “Rob A Liquor Store Badge”) and that Brownies were to be called “Bluebirds” in countries where owls are considered a bit shifty, tea making badges seems to be scantly mentioned.
Often mentioned is the ‘Hostess’ badge where the aspirant Brownie would trudge around to Brown Owl’s house and make her and her accomplices a cup of tea (or coffee) and a sandwich (or piece of toast or cake). More proof of Brown Owl being an evil genius right there. That’s gold. “Sorry dear, not quite right, same time tomorrow for another try?”
The I found this clue by a poster called “worldgonecrazy” on a “remember when” type forum:
I got my badge even though I didn’t know how to make tea and put the milk in too early so spent ages trying to get the drink to turn a muddy brown.
You cannot put milk in too early in tea. It goes in first (George Orwell and my mother-in-law are wrong on this) and this sentence makes no sense UNLESS you have used a filthy shambolic disgusting vile teab*g and then added the milk immediately after the water.
So, not 100% confirmation, but very suspicious. I kept going.
And then I found this horrific sentence on this blog:
“The only badge I earned was my tea-making badge, and (my mother having long realised that I was too clumsy to be let loose with hot water and teabags) I earned it by making milkshake with a packet of powder and a cold cup of milk.”
What? Not only is the tea badge a sham, you don’t even have to do the pretend tea things.
What about proper Girl Guides? Or Scouts?
I found this: A Scouts guide to “Making a hot drink safely. It insists on teab*gs. And a former scout reminisced on a forum that he had been taught to “put one teab*g in for every two people, and one for the pot” . That’s not only the worst possible excuse for tea, but they are miserly with it.
It’s time to take a stand.
Here’s just one thought: Kate Middleton was a Brownie according to some reports. So the probable future Queen of England may somewhere have a faded badge that implies that tea*gs are OK.
So, as I sit here simmering, I have learnt a couple of things:
(a) That I have taken far to long to realise that it’s not the disabled people that need adjusting, it’s the unthinking environment we able-bodied people create;
(b) Civilisation is doomed, we might as well go back to living in caves and it’s all because under the cover of Bob-a-Job week and innocuous-seeming things about woggles, people named Brown Owl, Tawny Owl and /or Beaver are responsible.
* I know some people may suggest that milk in a Darjeeling is another portent of the end of civilisation, but in this case, they are under 10s and it’s a quite tannin-rich autumnal