Sarah m’dear, it’s not about the party. It’s about the tea.
For those of us of the British persuasion, tea is black tea. It was the tea on which the British built the empire.
It was also, I might add, the tea that Margaret Thatcher served at No. 10 Downing Street. I enjoyed some with her there. A Conservative traditionalist, she served it with milk for certain and sugar as an option.
Thatcher did not ask her guests, as bad hotels do now, what kind of tea they would like. Tea to Thatcher was black tea, sometimes known as Indian tea, though it might have been grown in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka. It was neither flavored nor some herbal muck masquerading as tea.
The former prime minister knew that good tea is made in the kitchen, where stove-boiled water is poured from a kettle onto tea in a pot, not tepid water poured from a pot on a table into a cup with a tea bag.
Boiling water in a kettle, or pot, on the stove is important in making good tea. In a microwave, the water doesn’t bubble. Tea needs the bubbles.
While the Chinese drank green tea hundreds of years before Christ, the British developed their tea-drinking habit in the 17th century. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company, establishing the trade in spice and silk that lead to the formal annexation of India and the establishment of the Raj.
Initially, tea was a sideline but it became increasingly important and started to define the British. The coffee shops–like the one that launched the insurer Lloyds of London around 1688–continued, but at all levels of society tea was becoming the British obsession.
By the 18th century, tea drinking was classless in Britain. Duchesses and workmen enjoyed it alike.
Tea was the fuel of the empire: the war drink, the social drink, the comfort drink and the consolation drink. Coffee had an upmarket connotation. It wasn’t widely available and the British didn’t make it very well.
Also as coffee was well established on the continent, it had to be shunned. To this day the British are divided about continental Europe and what they see as the emblems of Euro-depravity: coffee, garlic, scents and bidets.
Although tea is standardized, the British play their class games over the tea packers. For three centuries, most tea has been shipped in bulk to various packing houses throughout the British Isles. But the posh prefer Twinings to Lipton.
Offering tea with fancy cakes, clotted cream and fine jams separates the workers from the ruling classes. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon tea time; which the hotels turned into formal, expensive afternoon “teas.” The Ritz in London is famous for them.
The British believe that tea sustained them through many wars. “Let’s have a nice cup of tea. Things will get better.” I’ve always believed that America’s revenge against the British crown was to ice their beloved tea. Toss it into Boston Harbor, but don’t ice it. If you should have the good fortune to be asked to tea at No. 10, or at Buckingham Palace, don’t expect it to be iced.
Incidentally tea bags are fine, and it’s now just pretentious to serve loose tea with a strainer. Of course, if you want to read the political tea leaves you’ll have to use loose tea.
If you’re serving tea to the thousands at your tea parties, Sarah, remember that unlike politics, tea is very forgiving. It can be revived just with more boiling water. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
Some damned fool on one of the cable television channels opined that the special relationship between Britain and America notwithstanding, Britain should face sanctions for allowing the return to Libya of the only terrorist imprisoned for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.
I did not get the name of the buffoon who suggested that we sanction our greatest ally and a top investor and trading partner. Maybe the British should sanction us for using their language without paying a royalty every time we open our mouths.
The broadly reviled decision to send Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi back to Libya because of his medical condition has more to do with surging Scottish nationalism than with British perfidy.
London may have interests in trade with Libya, but would not have moved to free the prisoner, knowing how deep survivor feeling runs on both sides of the Atlantic; and knowing how seriously the United States takes the prosecution and punishment of terrorists. There was an understanding between London and Washington that the perpetrators (only one was prosecuted) would serve their full sentences if convicted.
Enter the Scottish nationalists, who are particularly assertive at present, and are hoping one day to break up the United Kingdom. Scotland and England, after a long and bloody history were united in 1707 under the Acts of Union. The merger was voted by the Scottish and English parliaments.
But rather than a merger of equals, it was a coercive match. Scotland was desperately poor at the time, and hoped to prosper from the inclusion in British trading around the globe. Also, some members of the Scottish parliament were bribed but the larger reality was that Scotland was, as they say, between a rock and a hard place. So the union went ahead, and Queen Anne was the first monarch of the United Kingdom.
Over the 300 years of union, the relationship has ebbed and flowed. While Scotland benefited from the textile boom that set off the Industrial Revolution and from the production of wool, it lost its language and the Scots resented the Anglification of their country. Poet Robert Burns, writing in dialect railed against the English. And the Scots call the English “Sassenachs” (trans. Lowlanders), a term of abuse.
There was some softening of the Scottish attitude to England during the long rule of Queen Victoria, mainly because she spent long periods at the royal estate at Balmoral in Scotland. Some have speculated that the history of Ireland might have been different if Victoria had been one half so fond the Irish as she was of the Scots.
The Scots, traditionally a proud and independent people, began a long decline in the 20th century; a decline led in part by the loss of heavy industries like shipbuilding. The discovery of oil in the North Sea and along the Scottish coast helped financially, but it failed to revive Scottish spirits. More and more turned to the welfare state and supported the Labor Party. Conservatives totally lost their footing in Scotland.
But help was on the way in the unlikely person of Tony Blair, the Labor Party’s longest-serving prime minister, who favored devolution–or the creation of a self-governing Scotland and Wales with their own devolved national assemblies. The Conservatives, led by John Major, called this blow at the structure of the union “folly.” The Scottish nationalists, led by Alex Salmond, swept to power in Scotland, beating the Labor Party which had been so generous.
Nothing about devolution suggested that the government of Scotland would have a say in British foreign policy, but they would control the prisons. And, despite the awkwardness it has caused, freeing al-Megrahi gave the Scottish nationalists an opportunity to claim world recognition; embarrass the British government; and, for good measure, gratuitously stick it to America. Whereas Irish nationalists feel a strong affiliation with the United States, the Scots do not.The Scottish Nationalist Party seeks independence one day, and international recognition today. The Scots are on the march.
For their part, the English have reason to be vexed at the Scots. Not only do they take a certain amount of abuse, but England pours more money into Scotland than Scottish taxes yield. While the Scots vote for members of the House of Commons, the English do not vote for members of the Scottish Parliament. This imbalance is known as the “West Lothian Question.”
Even though the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, is a Scot, he has no influence north of the border. The breakup of the United Kingdom may be underway–unless the English come up with another bribe. –For North Star Writers Group