Tag Archives: tea

Today it will be mostly…scorchio

What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a cup of tea out onto the sunny 10th floor balcony of the office I work in, for a quick lunch time break away from my desk. It was like stepping out of an aeroplane on the first day of a Mediterranean summer holiday – a wall of heat hit me as soon as I opened the door. I’m talking truly scorchio here, the kind of temperature more commonly felt lying on a sunbed with a good book, a cold beer and the tss-tss-tss of cicadas in the background. Bear in mind that I work in the centre of Manchester, the rainiest city in England and you will understand my shock. Much as I enjoy the heat, I think what I love even more are the expansive clear blue skies. There is something about the quality of light and the glint of sunshine sparkling on every reflective surface, be it the water of a swimming pool in France or the roofs of the cars on the city street ten floors below me,  which lifts my spirits even if I did not realise they were down. The joy of a clear, sunny day is a rare treat in my neck of the woods and one to be treasured irrespective of how many layers of clothing I have to wear to be comfortable outside in it. I have felt my heart sing under a crystal blue sky with ice on the ground in January, as loudly as it does when I hit the tarmac in Turkey or Crete.

I am not sure if there is an evolutionary reason why sunshine is such a pleasure, a release of
endorphins to make sure I soak up enough Vitamin D perhaps?  I should probably research it but I’m feeling lazy (sorry). Or maybe it’s just the shock of the new? A novelty because, having lived most of my adult life here in the north west of England ,truly clear, sunny days are precious gems. Perhaps if I lived in Australia or Africa I would take it for granted and never ever appreciate that little thrill that comes from turning my face tfacing the suno the sun, closing my eyes and taking a moment to enjoy the warmth. If I had to live and work every day in a hot, sunny climate would I crave a cloudy, rainy day instead? Would a grey sky thrill me as much as a cloudless one does now?  Somehow I doubt it. There might be relief from heat and light, but no joy surely.

Admiring the sunshine and shadows on my legs on a beach in Turkey this year

Admiring the sunshine and shadows on my legs in Turkey this year

I also find that I slow down a little on sunny days, irrespective of temperature. Those lovely deep blue skies are such a pleasure that I always relax and enjoy it, knowing how fleeting they may be. My pulse and breathing slow down and the tension in my neck and shoulders dissipates. It makes me want to stay outdoors, and to sit for a while with a chilled beer (if it’s hot) or if it’s in December and cold,  a cup of tea and a McVitie’s digestive biscuit. Bliss. Sometimes I’m just so English…

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Thoughts from an autumnal garden

Looking up through the canopy of my glorious silver birch. Nov 2012

Late on a perfect October afternoon and the first leaf raking of the autumn. Residual heat from the gradually sinking sun filters through the semi-naked branches of the ash, birch and laburnum to warm my bones. The damp, earthy smell of the fallen leaves rising from the lawn with every thrrrupp, thrrrupp of the plastic rake. The whole sensory experience that comes with gardening is a pleasure and I soak it up. I know that many people loathe chores like this and see gardening as a tedious extension of housework. There are times when I agree with them; when I’m in a rush, distracted by other worries or overwhelmed by the long list of chores that need to be done, then I find it hard to enjoy. But not on a day like this. I am making the most of the shimmering, golden light, the smell of mouldering leaves and the persistent calls of the gold finches perched on the rose arch.

As I gather the foliage into piles on the lawn it occurs to me that there are parallel reasons why I enjoy both gardening and writing. The first of which is “me time”.  I am a social animal and thoroughly enjoy the company of my family and friends but I am also perfectly content with my own solitude. Gardening gives me space and time to think, to sort through my mental jumble and nurture ideas just as I nurture seeds in my potting shed. Writing too, gives me “head space” and it is this time to think, about the world, my relationships and about myself, that I treasure. Some might call it navel gazing and my head certainly fills up with scrupulously examined belly-button fluff  at regular intervals, but I do believe that self-awareness should be part of everyone’s mental good health regime.

In both writing and gardening there is an element of cultivation which appeals to my nurturing nature. Germinating the seeds of an idea is as delicate a procedure as persuading your half hardy annuals to sprout in the potting shed. In the same way that over or under watering will cause your precious seedlings to wilt and die, over or under thinking an idea will prevent it from achieving its full potential. Often with garden hoe in hand,  I will have an idea and then spend a lot of time pondering how to develop it into something substantial enough to be worth writing about. Only for it to wither and die under close scrutiny. Occasionally, though a little gem will take root. “Confessions of a Tea Snob” was conceived whilst weeding the herbaceous borders, or to be precise, whilst sipping a drop of the brown stuff on a break from weeding the herbaceous borders. (Admiring the effects of your hard work in the garden over a mug of steaming tea is a must).

The mug was a gift from my son – smart boy.

Stretching the analogy still further, editing is the literary equivalent of weeding. Removing the unwanted dandelions, bindweed and brambles, whilst keeping ivy and alchemilla mollis under control is akin to stripping out the superfluous sentence, pruning the repeated adjectives and separating your mixed metaphors 😉

Since I wrote the above autumn has moved forward into November and there is now barely a leaf left on the trees in my garden. It is not looking at its best. Mud and decay dominate at this time of year, but I’m planning to get out there still, if the rain holds off. I have 3 dozen white tulip bulbs to plant before the hard frosts begin and the prospect of how stunning they will look next spring is enough to make me brave the damp and cold. Our resident Robin will no doubt be hopping around close by, in the hope that my trowel will turn over something wriggling or scuttling, and, if I time it right, I’ll be able to listen to the blackbird as dusk settles. How can it be a chore when there is so much to enjoy? Go grab a hoe or a trowel and get outside in the dirt. Listen to the birds, feel the soil under your fingernails and smell…autumn. It will help clear your head and free your imagination. Who knows what bright ideas you may come up with…

Confessions of a Tea Snob

Time for a brewThere it is in black and white in the middle of an ex-line manager’s description of me on a well-known professional networking site. And of course if it’s on the internet then it must be true. I am, officially, a “tea snob”.

In my defence I would argue that it is all relative. I drink bog standard builders’ brew and not lapsang souchong (well, not often).  My reputation as a tea snob arises from my refusal to drink the stuff that masquerades as tea in most vending machines in the corporate world. After many years working in various large companies, I have developed a sliding scale of drinkability for machine tea. From the “will drink it reluctantly in a moment of weakness but then whinge about it for an hour” to “I would rather drink my own urine or die of dehydration before letting that pass my lips”.

In this latter category comes the “instant” white tea made from some sort of artificially flavoured powder. Whatever alternate universe exists in which this passes for tea is beyond my imagining. Probably the same one in which carob is an acceptable substitute to chocolate.

Marginally less offensive is the instant black tea to which you add UHT milk from tiny plastic containers. However, you do run the risk of opening a damaged carton to find that you have inadvertently poured cottage cheese into your brew instead of milk. Nice.

Occasionally you will come across a vending machine which proudly dispenses one of the famous branded teas and you may be tempted to try it. Don’t. It will still taste like the sweepings from the factory floor. There is no substitute for making your own brew.

Real teabags, a hot water dispenser and a fridge to store your fresh milk. Best of all, water dispensed that is actually hot enough to brew tea and not just raise the ambient temperature of your mug to “warm”. If your office water dispenser is hot enough to scald you then you’re on to a winner and know that you have secured employment with a company that really cares about its staff. Heaven forbid that you do have a water dispenser related accident but at least then a friendly colleague would be able to comfort and calm you with a decent cup of hot, sweet tea which is, as everyone knows, the panacea for all ills.

My love of tea began in early childhood. Playing with my toy tea set in my den, underneath the dining table, I would copy the tea-making ritual I had watched my beloved granddad perform every day, but with cold milk and water instead. One day, desperate to make real tea in my own teapot, I subjected my granddad to the full force of my charms (knowing full well that he could rarely resist me) and begged him for tea leaves and hot water for the pot. There was a great pause while he weighed up the potential waste, mess and risk of scalding. Eventually he suggested a compromise whereby he would decant some of his already whitened, sweetened and cooled tea from his cup into my toy teapot. I readily agreed and with great excitement poured out three or four tiny cups of the amber nectar for my dollies. Surprisingly they wouldn’t drink it, so I downed the lot. Thus began the habit of a lifetime.

I have long since given up sugar and switched to semi-skimmed milk but my love of tea is undiminished and I drink it by the gallon, provided it’s the real McCoy and not some vending machine sludge. Does this make me a “tea snob”? Perhaps. Writing about it has certainly made me thirsty though…time to put the kettle on methinks.