As previously mentioned we recently returned from our annual summer holidays (see Bavarian Hols!) and a thoroughly enjoyable time it was too! The location, accommodation, food etc. were all quite faultless, ten out of ten! However, there was one area where I am reluctantly forced to shake my head in despair - to award, as the old Eurovision Song Contest cliché goes, ‘nil points’. I sincerely hope that I’ve fully communicated the sheer importance and gravity of this issue. It is a problem that, despite a personal appreciation for almost all things European, continues to magnify the relatively small distance occupied by the English Channel, forcing a giant chasm between mainland Europe and our island breed. And it’s not the first time in our history that this seemingly slight matter,as some may view it, has caused strife and difficulty - great Chinese dynasties once strove to keep its secrets hidden from the British Empire; people have lied, stolen and smuggled it to gain possession of it; a rather famous War of Independence was reputedly triggered because of it. You guessed it: Tea!
You may think as you read, gentle reader, that I’m composing this piece with my tongue firmly planted in the side of my cheek - but you couldn’t be further from the truth!
On numerous visits to Boulogne or Calais over the years I have often had cause to reflect on the number of cups of tea served to British visitors in French cafes - over the years, tens of millions I expect! Is it British phlegm, or just our national reluctance to complain and make a fuss that has allowed some truly awful cups of tea (criminally bad in my view!) to be tendered in our direction? Are the waiters too busy shrugging their shoulders with Gallic indifference to notice the look of sublime joy on our British faces as we rest our tired bones in their cafes and order a restorative cuppa - but don’t they also subsequently notice the dashed hopes, the look of panic in the eyes as our drink appears and we observe with horror the rapidly cooling glass of hot water with its tea bag neatly wrapped-up beside it on the saucer? I must confess, dear reader, in my bitterest moments to wondering if they do it on purpose - but surely not, after all, I mean Agincourt was an awfully long time ago, and anyway it’s not just confined to the French, actually it’s not just a European thing - the same thing happened to us in cafes in the US where in all other areas great service ruled the day!
I love coffee but at breakfast I MUST drink tea - anything else imbibed first thing can upset my day. I confess I almost cracked this holiday - I mean fourteen breakfasts where I was forced to infuse a tea bag in a pot of tepid water is almost too much for any Brit to bear ! I wonder if it might be possible to make it compulsory EU Law for all hotel and restaurant staff outside the UK to read George Orwell’s essay on the art of tea making? He was pretty fanatical about how to make a cup of tea and clearly stated how the pot containing an appropriate measure of the noble leaves should be brought to the boiling water - never the other way round!
The couple from the Wirral on a nearby table never drank anything but fruit juice or water at breakfast time. My wife Judith said something to them about us not being able to drink coffee first thing.
“Yes, we’re the same,” the wife of the couple replied.
“But you’re not drinking anything hot,” Judith said.
The woman nodded sagely, “We bring our own,” she said.