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A cup of tea - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 12:33 pm
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.

72CommentReply

svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 10:48 am (UTC)

I love tea..

I blogged on emotional issues I have with society.. but in any case, I think tea is a much better topic..


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:57 am (UTC)

Your point about how Jesus has been turned into a white man is pretty much the same point as my one about Indian tea being turned into English Breakfast tea.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 10:53 am (UTC)

The answer, Mischa, is that a good blogger should be able to blog about anything.

And yet this entry is proof of the contrary, since it is more-than-usually rambling, nothing-y, with its faux binaries plucked out of the air (you might just as well have said coffee was Italian or French or something; everyone knows American 'coffee' is dishwater). Get a grip, Momus!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand




(Anonymous)
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 10:54 am (UTC)
TEA TIME TALES

WITHOUT A DOUBT THIS WOULD HAVE TO BE THE MOST WONDERFUL AND TRULY INSIGHTFUL PIECE OF WRITING YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED IN A WHILE NICK, IT ALMOST PUTS ME IN THE FRAME OF MIND OF YOUR OLD ESSAYS, WHICH I FOR ONE SORELY MISS, HAVING SAID THAT, IT IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE AND NEVER A CHORE TO READ ANY OF YOUR STUFF. VERY MUCH LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEW RECORD AND HOPEFULLY SEEING YOU BACK IN THE UK SOON.

PS. IS THERE ANY CHANCE OF YOU EVER PLAYING KARIN K OR PAULO R AGAIN?

THE PROTAGONIST!


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:03 am (UTC)
Re: TEA TIME TALES

Aha, you see, it's already a deeply controversial piece, dividing opinion strongly!

(To your question: yes! And hello, Protagonist!)


ReplyThread Parent
xishimarux
xishimarux
ishimaru
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:16 am (UTC)

Your blog writings are the highest form of communication. So it should be something you feel strongly about. Even it is meant to be funny or political or musical the content should be something that if a person argued with you about it, you should be able to back it up. It's that whole "I got a link to a story on another blog but I have no opinion on it so the link will do" type of deal.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:30 am (UTC)

Fuck, I forgot! Another 20,000 words right there! Sitting on Mott Street, wondering if anyone chokes on the bubbles. Is there a Heimlich Manoeuvre for tapioca?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
sarmoung
sarmoung
The Empire Never Ended
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)

Then again, I tend to see all the coffee binaries riding in the opposite direction: from Ethiopia and Yemen to Sufi orders in the Middle East and then onwards to the Enlightenment. A drink that stimulated thought and conversation along its way.

Where did it all go wrong? Quite possibly with the addition with milk by the Viennese in the 17th century, thereby pacifying its Ottoman threat. It's the absence of such additives that has Okakura Kakuzo raise the purity of Japanese tea above all others in his Teaism/Taoism wonderings.

My memory of early 80's NME drink preferences is most of the staff claiming to drink nothing but cocktails. Ian Penman to thread, perhaps...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:46 am (UTC)

Here he is!


ReplyThread Parent

justlikehoney
justlikehoney
dreampunk all-star? 1985 - 2013
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 11:59 am (UTC)

I always picked you as a chai guy. Do you find that to be offensive?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)

No, I did go through a New York chai phase, and a Bangla chai phase. In fact, I can't believe I forgot to add that! It's a period that extends right through to the present. My favourite teas now are hikari sencha and very spiced (but not sweetened) chai, sometimes iced.


ReplyThread Parent Expand

henryperri
henryperri
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 12:16 pm (UTC)

My advice to Mischa would just be: more nude pix.


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC)
Art

I for one, like a post about art as much as I like a nice cuppa tea. Anyway its about quality not quanity, my girlfriend tells me.

Anyway, mostly this week I have been thinking about how great an artist Hans Bellmer actually is. I would have a hard time trying to find an album that is as good as this drawing...

http://www.galleryofsurrealism.com/HBMA-1972AA.htm


ReplyThread Parent

_greengrass
_greengrass
_greengrass
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 01:50 pm (UTC)

"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." So why is it that as a generalization no one is intrested in visual imaging but everyone just adores music?


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trufflesniffer
trufflesniffer
trufflesniffer
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)

I can't help but think you've done the literary equivalent of 'serving' this particular Click Opera reader.

I'd make a quip about you 'serving him tea', but that's too obvious...


ReplyThread
cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)

I was reading an interview with Richard Thompson a while back. At some point during the interview someone brought him a cup of tea.
He asked if it was miffed or tiffed. Apparently it matters to him whether the milk is poured before the tea or the other way around.

Heard this?

I just returned from Arkansas. We went to a "Chinese restaurant". The waitress asked me if I would like my tea sweetened or not. I said not, imagining I would receive a pot of hot unsweetened green tea.

She brought back a tub of unsweetened iced tea. I then proceeded to pour packets of sugar in it while the rest of the table looked at me like I was nuts. Later in an ice cream parlor the lady behind behind me couldn't decide if she wanted her tea sweet or unsweetened. The guy behind the counter snapped "you better decide now because I don't like to sweeten it after." It apparently involves some type of syrup that goes in the glass first.

Bringing this story semi-circle back to Richard Thompson.


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it_certainly_is
it_certainly_is
A God-Awful Small Affair
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)

yeah, that's sweet tea. people drink it in the south. it's delicious, but i suppose it doesn't really qualify as 'tea'.

is it a crime to put honey in my green tea? i can think of few things better than that, but it seems like it's the wrong way to drink it.


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j03
j03
sold as a novelty only
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)
tea hee


Best post ever.

But you fogot one important topic...

Blogging about blogging.

Or perhaps it was implied.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 02:47 pm (UTC)
Frieze

Hello Mr Currie, my name's matt muir (we've corresponded before, you may or may not recall) and I would really like to have a quick chat to you about frieze magazine if you get a chance. Could you maybe drop me a message on myspace if you get a moment?

http://www.myspace.com/43264703

thanks,

matt


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

Re: Frieze - (Anonymous) Expand
insomnia
insomnia
Insomnia
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 03:38 pm (UTC)

The American experience with tea is distinctly unique.

Tea is young and hip over here, with pearl tea / boba being the trendy thing to do instead of going to a coffee shop.

It's also very popular with hippies, new-agers, lesbians, and, to a lesser extent, homosexuals. One of the sure-fire ways of determining a person's sexual openmindedness is to examine the size of their tea collection. Double points for herbal varieties! (That said, homosexuals are probably more prone to expensive coffees with designer fixtures.)

Earl Grey is popular amongst fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart's character) had a thing for "Earl Grey, hot". The oil of bergamot makes all the difference.

I used to have people over to my house regularly for gatherings that came to be known as "tea & sympathy", which usually consisted of a dozen polyamorous/bi/kinky people sitting around, drinking tea, and talking... often followed by hottubbing.

Oddly enough, I used to live up the street from a place where crossdressers bought their clothes and exchanged tips. In the back of the store was a patio, where they held a formal tea every day.

Lastly, I find that offering up a cup of tea does, infact, help when people have problems, as it relaxes things. In part, the offering of tea is a somewhat selfish activity, as it allows you to make agreeable noises to whatever rant someone may have while you prepare the tea, followed by the actual tea itself.

Their life might be falling down around them, but at least they're now sitting down, talking at a considerably reduced level of volume and stress. Meanwhile, you've got yourself a nice cup of tea to keep you busy, and, hopefully, a chocolate biscuit.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 03:42 pm (UTC)

The American experience with tea is distinctly unique. Tea is young and hip over here

And I've just remembered that the republic owes its existence, in a sense, to tea: the British raised duties on tea, and the Americans protested by dumping the stuff into Boston Harbour, and that sparked the revolution!

Now, was that a gesture of love for tea, or hate? Is the American republic founded on rejection of tea, or a pressing need for "tea independence"?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
Ecletism

This has got to be your worst entry yet.



Alexandre


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 14th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Ecletism

Extraordinary -- this has been proclaimed both my worst and my best post ever! Who knew tea was so controversial? No wonder it sparked a revolution in America! This stuff is... gunpowder!


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Boston Tea-Party - (Anonymous) Expand

Re: Ecletism - (Anonymous) Expand