Important stories from the British press

What people lose

You can learn a lot about a country by what it leaves behind. So what does Transport for London report having found on the city’s trains and buses? A life-sized Spiderman doll. A prosthetic leg. Endless wallets, phones, and tablets. Umbrellas. A judge’s wig, a room-sized carpet, and an urn with human ashes. “Enough musical instruments to form a band,” including drum kits. No grand pianos, apparently.

I’m not sure who I’m quoting about that band, but unlike some quotes that drift through the culture, this one seems to have actually been said because the newspaper article I’m stealing the information from put it in quotes. It’s probably from a TfL spokesperson.

Oh, and a brown paper envelope with £15,000. Which the finder actually turned in.

A rare relevant photo: A London tube station. Photo by Ida Swearingen

Vaguely relevant photo: Public transportation, although not in London. This is the Exeter St. David’s train station. Photo by Ida Swearingen

I don’t know what any of that tells you about British culture. That judges wear wigs and ride the tube. That someone either thinks or knows that a judge’s wig is different from a lawyer’s. That stuff drops out of people’s pockets. You know—phones,  wallets, room-sized rugs, tubas. An archeologist would have a field day.

But the real treasures are in the comments at the end of the article, where readers talk about the stuff they’ve lost on public transportation (Guardian readers write the best letters to the editor and their online comments aren’t bad either): “the will to live” (Northern Line, winter of 1993), “the woman I love” (Chalk Farm Station), “my heart” (San Francisco, which is a city, not public transportation, but what are categories for if you can’t break out of them?), and democracy (location not specified but probably also not on public transportation). I won’t spoil all the fun. A lot of the jokes are about that prosthetic leg, but not all. I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself.

Tom Lehrer said, “Life is like a sewer: What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” That may not be entirely relevant, although in an odd way it does seem to  belong here, but it is at least a genuine quote. (In a comment, Retirementally Challenged introduced the theory that some of the best quotes never got said.) Lehrer’s comment was on a record I played endlessly when I was in my teens. He may be to blame for the way I am.

What someone bought

You can also learn a lot about a country from what it sells. Want to buy a title? One was going to be auctioned off in December with (as far as I can figure out) a starting price of £7,250. I assume it sold. Sorry I didn’t let you know about it earlier but the clipping sank into the morass I call a computer desk and only just surfaced. So let me tell you what you (may have) missed:

The lordship of the manor of Woodbury Salterton village is roughly 1,000 years old. Buy the title (lord or lady) and you can use it on your checks and credit cards. You can join the Manorial Society of Great Britain. You can—. Oh. That’s pretty much it. I suppose you could put it on your mailbox. You could try to get mail and packages addressed to you that way. I have a post about that somewhere. Good luck finding it.

And all that for just £7,250–or maybe more, since it was an auction. What a thrill.

The manor (sorry, not the title; oooh, I’m getting all English, apologizing for stuff that isn’t my fault) was mentioned in the Domesday Book. If you haven’t heard of that, it was commissioned by William the Conqueror not long after 1066, when he decided to find out what he’d gotten his paws on in conquering England. The country, as it turned out, had no football teams at the time, no umbrellas, and no tea. You wonder why he bothered. It probably didn’t even have scones, since baking soda (that’s bicarbonate of soda if you’re British) and baking powder weren’t in use yet. At least not in baking. The Egyptians used a relative of baking soda to clean things and mummify people, but for baking? Nope. Not until the nineteenth century. Next time you find a list of all the marvelous things you can do with bicarbonate of soda, see if mummification’s on it. If not, it’s incomplete.

Where were we? Titles. The Lord or Lady of Whatsit. The newspaper article gushed a bit about the title (or maybe that was the manor; do you really care?) being steeped in English history, but I wasn’t impressed. Pretty much everything here is steeped in history. When they dug trenches for sewage pipes in a neighboring village, they found the remains of a prehistoric encampment and a burial site that mixed Christian (east-west burials) and pre-Christian (buried with grave goods, and I think north-south). One person was buried east-west and with grave goods, so whatever happened after death he or she would be ready for it. So history? You don’t need a title around here, just a sewage pipe.

What the British drink

Sales of tea have gone down 6% over the past five years and ordinary teabags—the ones that make what people call builder’s tea—have gone down 13%. It’s all (or mostly, anyway) the fault of coffee. The British have discovered that coffee can be something more than instant granules stirred into hot water and swallowed quickly enough to keep the taste from becoming noticeable. Coffee’s gone upscale. Tea sales are going down downscale.

There’s an English song that I have got to find time to make fun of someday, “There’ll Always Be an England.” It’s full of pomp and Empire and flag waving, and my apologies if you love it but the first time I heard it I was in one of those situations where you can’t let yourself laugh. I built up enough residual hysteria that I splutter when I so much as read the title. But the reason I’m bringing it up now is this: If tea is losing ground to coffee, will there always be an England? And not, how much longer can we count on it?

Long enough for the British Standards Institution to publish a guide to making the perfect cup of tea. It has the catchy title “Preparation of a Liquor of Tea for Use in Sensory Tests.”

What does it recommend? According to the Independent, it says, “You need a pot made of porcelain, and there must be at least two grams of tea to every 100ml of water. The temperature can’t go beyond 85 degrees when served but should be above 60 degrees for “optimum flavour and sensation.”

The Independent then interrupts the poetic prose and steps in to summarize: ‘The perfect pot size is apparently between 74mm and 78mm wide, and 83mm and 87mm tall. Since the average tea bag contains 1.5g of tea leaves, at least two tea bags should be used for a small pot, and four for a large one.”

The tea should brew for six minutes. And you should pour the milk into the cup first. That last decree is controversial. Seriously. If we have a civil war anytime soon, it will be over whether the tea or the milk should hit the cup first.

Which makes me think that, yeah, there probably always will be an England.

82 thoughts on “Important stories from the British press

  1. I don’t think I put baking powder / bicarb in scones…
    But I may use self raising flour which amounts to the same thing…

    I wondered where my pocket orchestra had gone…It took me ages to find a coat with pockets big enough to accommodate it, it turns out I failed…I must admit I miss the theme tune it provided…

    woohoo for good coffee winning out!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s not about the brewing, it’s about the pouring. If you brew it in a pot (which I’m told you should but I can’t always be bothered), then we can all disagree over whether to pour the milk or the tea into the cup first. Important, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

        • You do understand that you’re asking a barbarian, don’t you? My best answer is that I haven’t a clue but that the experts will probably disapprove because that’s what experts do. How else do they maintain their status as experts?

          Enjoy your tea. (You notice they don’t say anything about enjoying, right?)

          Liked by 2 people

          • I believe that the milk in the cup first rule was because in the days when we drank out of thin bone china the hot tea was liable to crack the cup. Nothing to do with taste of tea, everything to do with preserving the tea set.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Many years ago I worked in local government, looking after local bus services. The only things ever lost on our buses were used hypodermics, broken umbrellas, and soiled underwear, although once a semi-expensive sheepskin hat was handed in, once seemingly owned by an unfortunate who clearly had a very, very bad skin condition….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I misread that, initially, as a semi-explosive sheepskin hat and was in the middle of wondering what semi meant in that context and how you could rig a sheepskin hat to explode, partially or fully, when–to my lasting disappointment–my eyes unscrambled the letters and I read what you’d actually written. So I’ll transfer my wonderment to how anyone got rid of the underwear without their fellow passengers (and the driver) noticing.

      I assume they didn’t notice…

      Liked by 2 people

      • The undergarments were always deposited at the back of the bus by students from the art college. The drivers were more often than not more concerned with their attempts to set the vehicle trim on fire than impromptu fashion shows.

        It got so bad with them that the driver’s foreman, who also happened to be a dairy farmer, took to leaving a fully loaded double-barrelled shotgun on his car’s dash….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is certainly a thought-provoking post with interesting links. I wonder what American cities find in their subways or on their bus routes…
    Moo lost a shoe at Walmart when she was two. Every time I went there I asked if the shoe had been turned in, but it never was. I came to the assumption that a one-footed toddler had scored a real deal at Walmart that day.
    I got a ceramic tea pot for Christmas. I had no idea I had to ask for porcelain. My tea tastes fine regardless, but then, what would I know, being the kind of person who adds milk after tea?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hahaha! So I’ll say nothing about my English mama who could trace her history back to some or other manor house (or title), and who was the granddaughter of a Canon. You can join the dots. Or ask you what you think about “Scotland, the brave” – the song that is. Good to have a chuckle on a Friday afternoon, thank you!


  5. My white china pot sits near the sink
    with plenty of tea ready to drink
    I brew for four minutes and never more
    If you don’t like it I’ll show you the door.

    I have cosmopolitan tastes myself,
    I like Italian coffee, French wine and Champagne
    British Beef and Yorkshire puds.
    Chinese take a way’s and Indian food
    Scandinavia for design and
    American shoes,
    Georgia is best for singing the blues.
    But my tea has to be right
    and must be on hand or I will get mad
    and draw a line in the sand.
    😇 see a sense of humour x

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You found my tuba? That’s so cool. I wonder what it would cost to ship a tube from the UK to Connecticut…FedEx?

    What a fun post. I have to ask, are judge’s wigs different than lawyer’s wigs? While we’re there, do women judges and lawyer wear wigs?

    Like Joey, my daughter lost one (brand new) shoe in a mall. I searched for it to no avail. We returned to the shoe store for the second pair of the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Dan, I’d so love to claim credit, but it wasn’t me personally who found the tuba. But if you can tell me about any identifying marks and such–anything to help me convince someone that I’m not tuba-napping–I’ll be happy to go claim it for you.

      I don’t think the wigs are different, but they may have some subtle differences that go over my head. All I see is silliness. And yes, women lawyers and judges wear them as well. And look, I have to say, even sillier than the men, since most of them have more hair sticking out underneath them.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. “The British have discovered that coffee can be something more than instant granules stirred into hot water and swallowed quickly enough to keep the taste from becoming noticeable”

    You brought back a traumatic memory, one that I had successfully suppressed all these years. Thanks for that.

    I left home because I was fleeing Folger’s coffee (that stuff that stains water in Minnesota kitchens) then one cold and dreary day, I ordered coffee in a London cafe… All I can say is, thank god for Andalusia and cafe con leche.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. £ 15,000 wow! They never find anything on Italian trains, someone always walks off with whatever was left behind. It’s naive to try to find something you’ve lost anywhere outside your house… So tea is in a slow downward slide in the UK? No worries, some foreigner will eventually startanother cultural fad one day, after all it’s Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza who brought tea-drinking to England :)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That tea bit somehow made me think of the ongoing controversy of which way the toilet paper ought to hang. Doesn’t England have a ‘lost and found’ for all the tidbits found on public transport?

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a good parallel–lots of fireworks over absolutely nothing. But with the added element of class tension. What does class have to do with how you make a cup of tea? It’s not the kind of thing an outsider can explain, but somehow class gets into it. It gets into everything here.

      And on the lost and found, the report came from there–by way of the newspaper.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. It certainly used to be the case – and possibly still is – that lost property offices would auction off any unclaimed items after X period of time. Likewise, the police. I always intended to go along to one of the lost property auctions largely to marvel at the oddities but never got around to it. Probably just as well as goodness knows what I might have ended up purchasing and lugging home.

    As to tea, I imagine we all have preferences. My American friends think I am very peculiar and British about my tea habits (specifically that the water to be boiled in the kettle must be fresh so as to be oxygenated and not taste brackish) but I know of some (elderly, village dwelling) Brits who would be horrified by my habits. First of all, my teapot is metal and dates from the 1930s, not porcelain, and I don’t let tea stew for six minutes as that gives too much time for the tannins to leak out and make the tea bitter. As to milk first or after, I ask each person I am pouring for what they want. I am lactose intolerant and thus use soya milk and put that in afterwards. Basically, if I had not already emigrated, I would be drummed out of Britain for these confessions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Surely it’d take more than that to get run out. A neighbor drinks her tea so weak that all you do is run the teabag over the cup and then put it back in the canister. And she doesn’t put milk in it.

      Have you tried lactose-free milk? It’s wonderful–it tastes exactly like milk and doesn’t give your digestive system fits.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That glancing bag method is even more extreme than “baby tea”, where the bag has a single quick dunk in the boiling water.

        I have tried lactose free milk now but I find my tastebuds have adjusted and now “read” milk as sour. The slight sweetness of even unsweetened soya milk is something I’ve become accustomed to too. I sometimes take almond milk too. It matters less when it’s just a splash in a cup of tea anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I confess: I exaggerated ever so slightly how weak our neighbor likes her tea.

          Interesting about your tastebuds adjusting to soy and almond milk. I tried soy milk for a while and hated it. And almond milk once and hated it more. I just love the lactose free stuff.

          Liked by 1 person

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