imomus (imomus) wrote,

A cup of tea

"What should I blog about?" a Click Opera reader e-mailed me last night. The answer, Mischa, is that a good blogger should be able to blog about anything. Just pick something at random -- I'm drinking a cup of tea right now, so let's pick that -- and, if you're a seasoned blogger, a rambling writer, or a member of the "commentariat", a series of different approaches should immediately start swimming through your mind. Think of the cup of tea as a cup of tea, by all means (this is perhaps the most difficult thing, Grasshopper), but think of it also as an opportunity, a metaphor, a challenge, a narrative-structuring device.

Here's a series of approaches that just occurred to me as I lay in my morning bath (always a great place to get ideas, I find):

1. Quotation: British rock writer Paul Morley once described Howard Devoto's writing as "a slice of life and a cup of tea". Thinking about that, I cast my mind back to yesterday. I was sitting in the garden, reading the 100th edition of art magazine Frieze, a particularly outstanding issue of the magazine, and thinking how I now read it -- particularly the articles of Michael Bracewell -- with the same fervour I used to reserve for the New Musical Express. (This in itself might explain why I seem to have more of an art career than a music career these days. I still find the discourse around art very interesting, although I know from the low ratings art topics get on Click Opera that not many of you share my enthusiasm.) But I was also thinking how the particular era of NME I read religiously -- the post-structuralist, ultra-pretentious early 80s NME -- was, with the exception of Morley and a couple of others, very badly written; a cross between PR hype and hip self-mythologization, with a few traces of 70s gonzo underground press stuff. You'd encounter a cup of tea in there as a meta-metaphor, perhaps, but very rarely get a good straightforward, well-written description of an actual cup of tea. And, you know, there are still people around today -- I could name names -- who could split memes and Deleuze-Guattari the hell out of them, but could never, ever simply describe a cup of tea. A hot, steaming, delicious cup of tea, capable of restoring the palate and reviving appetite!

2. Anecdote: A bridge between the actual cup of tea and tea's metaphorical or cultural meaning is anecdote. The one that pops into my mind is how I was on a plane once, an Air India flight between Japan and Thailand. The stewardess asked me what I wanted to drink, and I said "Tea, please." "Which kind of tea?" Stupidly, I answered "Normal black tea, British tea." "Black tea is Indian tea," replied the Indian hostess, tartly. What's interesting to me about this anecdote is that, on an Indian plane flying between Japan and Thailand, I lost my bearings: I no longer knew what qualified as "normal". Most of the passengers were Japanese; "normal" tea for them would be green tea. The staff were Indian; "normal" tea for them would be Indian tea. I was British, "normal" tea for me would be the Indian tea we, because we're imperialists, have re-named "English breakfast tea" or "Earl Grey tea" or something equally revisionist. Honestly, you could write a whole blook about the implications of that one anecdote.

3. Binaries: To keep writing about the cup of tea, we must milk it (what a silly metaphor, one pours a little splash of milk into tea, one doesn't milk the tea's udders to collect the stuff!), find symbolic meaning in it. A cup of tea can stand for all sorts of things. Let's look for a binary: aha, easy, tea versus coffee! We can divide the world into tea drinkers and coffee drinkers. Potentially explosive! Political! I like it! Tea drinking, of course, is more ancient, more Asian. Already, Click Opera must side with tea (if we didn't already). Coffee-drinking, of course, we all know, is American. It's associated with getting all rabid and manic, paranoid and aggressive, calling up talk radio shows and ranting about I-raq and I-ran. Yes, let's milk the tea and ride the resulting binaries all the way to the Middle East!

4. Politics: Where there are binaries (and in language they're everywhere, the cat's cradle by which the whole machine operates) there's inevitably politics. If coffee-drinking is American, for instance, tea-drinking is anti-American, deeply (and refreshingly) subversive of the would-be hegemony of the United States in the 21st century. (We know this is a doomed hegemony, of course, because we know that a nation of tea-drinkers is scheduled to overtake America around 2040.) We can, if we like, get topical and tie this in with the latest survey by the Pew Research Group, which reports goodwill towards the US falling to record low levels in... well, in all the countries where people drink the most tea!

5. Personal: That's the sort of entry that will get 100+ comments, but won't really go anywhere. If you can't be bothered fighting that old battle all over again, why not just charm your audience with a relaxing stroll through consumer nostalgia: make a blog entry (or article, or non-fiction book, or blook) about all the different tea fads you've lived through. Let's see, there were those big communal tea urns at boarding school, and you drank the thick strong milky tea while eating baked beans and bacon in the refectory. Then, a bit later, Twinings introduced Earl Grey tea bags, which seemed at the time like the height of sophistication. (Now they're what junior estate agents in London drink as "normal tea"; the perfume is just another form of sugar.) Then, when you went to university, a Roxy Music fan introduced you to Darjeeling and smoky, mysterious Lapsang Souchong. (Ah, the Indonesian poetry of these tea variety names -- the texture they add to your prose, an exoticism of the palate!) The next big revelation was tasting Japanese green tea in Japan, and the slow graduation from insipid green tea bags to top-grade loose leaf. A period of iced oolong one hot New York summer. The discovery of Yunaan in a Paris adventure travel agency on the Rue Saint Anne... Or what about telling people how one of your first recorded songs was a punk parody called "Tea"?

I drink it in the morning and it has a good effect
It's hidden in a cardboard box that no-one can detect
It's made by careful labourers in lands of poverty
And shipped around the ocean for c-connoisseurs like me

It's an artificial stimulant, exaggerates well-being
I'd like to give it up but I would die without that feeling
When I'm walking past the cafe and I smell the caffeine
I enter and I sell my soul for that god of nectars, tea

We haven't even mentioned Proust's madeleine yet. There's a million words of blogging right there, if your cork-lined room has wifi. And what's up with all these pictures of Prince Charles when you image google "a cup of tea"? Which makes me think...

6. Sociology: How about a Brit-bashing article about how, in Britain, a cup of tea passes -- and substitutes -- for empathy? If someone's really upset, instead of setting the thing that's upsetting them right, you make them a cup of tea. If you're Tony Blair or the Prince of Wales and everyone hates you, you pose with an "ordinary person" drinking a cup of tea. No, a mug of tea. Hold it up, make sure the pictures are taken, drink enough of it not to seem rude, then let your minders rush you off to the next appointment.

So there you are, Mischa, blog about a cup of tea. Or anything, really.

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