Tea, Tradition and St. George

Written by Susanne Austin
“ Oh to be in England, now that April’s there” Robert Browning, Home Thoughts from Abroad. As March fades away and gives way to April, so too winter gives way to spring and a whole new season is upon us and with it comes a new cycle of energy, events, and much food for thought. Each month I chatter away about the importance of our traditions, our local shops, artisan producers and all that we hold so dear in the Cotswolds, our County and Country. Many of you will recall the heading of last year’s April feature, entitled ‘ Time to spring into action,’ well lets hold that thought for a moment, along with a comment I made a little more recently in my February feature when I asked us to consider our country without its traditions, which I commented would be rather like having the Cots without the Wolds, the Gloucester without the ‘shire’! Rather than take to the road this month I would like us to stay at home and ponder some thoughts together over a nice cup of tea. I would encourage you to make your tea in an English Fine Bone China teapot, from leaves rather than bags, perhaps English Breakfast Tea or if you prefer, Earl Grey, a more scented variety, one accompanied by milk the other with a slice of lemon. Stop for a moment and listen to the tea as you pour it into an English Fine Bone China, teacup and saucer. Savour the flavour and note how you feel, as perhaps a little nostalgia is present during this experience. You may find yourself drifting into another world, a world of Cotswold Cream Teas, English Toasted Teacakes, Victoria Sponge Cakes and long forgotten cucumber sandwiches. You know the ones, where the crusts are taken off and the cucumber soaked in a dish of vinegar and black pepper for taste, prior to being placed between slices of freshly made and sliced, farmhouse white or malted brown bread. Why not pour yourself another cup, and watch the bubbles as you pour along with the swirls forming from the centre of the cup to the side, rather like a pool into which you have just dropped a pebble. Is there a point to all of this? Well actually, there is! If we drop a pebble into a pool, what of the ripple effect? How often do we stop and take note of what is going on around us? Do we notice the demise of things we treasure before they have gone or consider our traditions to the full understanding that the teacake is as much a part of our heritage as our china, an industry, which due to the purchase and use of cheaper foreign imports and the use of plastics, is currently in decline. Royal Worcester is a product of the Cotswolds and one of which to be proud. I have just read the South East Plan, which is out for public consultation and read with horror that by the year 2026 agriculture will have seen a decline of -46% in its agricultural work force, I have yet to look up the figures in the South West ‘region’. Who then will produce our food? Or are we content to see not just intensive but large-scale production, or be in the vulnerable position of relying on imported foodstuffs. Haven’t we been there before, as mentioned in a fantastic book written by John Humphries   entitled ‘The Great Food Gamble’, in which John notes that during the war many boats containing desperately needed food were sunk by U-boats. When war was declared, Britain had scandalously little food in store: John writes - only three weeks’ supply of wheat and one month’s of sugar. Apparently the prospect of a nation of tea –drinkers being deprived of its sugar sent shivers down the spines of every civil servant in Whitehall and politician in Westminster! Maybe that’s the key, ‘don’t ever stand between an Englishman and his tea. So what of us giving up tea? Well that preposterous, or is it! Nothing would surprise me anymore, having just seen hunting banned; will shooting and fishing be next? So what else are we prepared to see go, our historic buildings? I share with you a recent trip to Gloucester to record a script on hostelries and historic sites in the centre of Gloucester itself. I was flabbergasted to see many buildings standing, almost forlorn, awaiting demolition, and experienced many mentioned in the script already flattened and concreted over. One in the form of Bell Walk, once a cobbled walkway offering a variety of individual shops on each side, which now takes the form of yet another much needed shopping centre! With the closing of winter we can step out into the newness of spring, get over our desire to wrap up warm and hibernate in our little hidyhole, as it’s time to venture out and take a long hard look at just what is going on. We need clear vision. How many farms do you know of that are now into forms of business other than the producing of food, how may of your local services have closed or lay unused, how many of you know your neighbours, really know and care about them? How many of you moan about the government and what is going on with Europe, yet have not read any of the public consultations, or Manifestos? April plays host to St George’s Day and I am most privileged to have been asked to be guest speaker at the Royal Society of St George’s annual dinner on May 8th, an event you are invited to attend should you wish to join the society, who are always keen to welcome new members. I have just read a little snippet in a book on the traditions and history of our Country, in which it encourages children to make up a play about a dragon destroying the countryside, slain by our patron St George, an act celebrated on 23rd April, or is it? Why is this not a national holiday and how many of us know, respect or care about our patron Saint, or know why he fought for our country? How, I wonder, would St George feel today at our indifference to his efforts - after all slaying a dragon is no mean feat! I always associate April with one of my favourite colours, yellow, a colour to be seen everywhere in springtime in the form of the sun, daffodils, primroses and the odd clump of my favourite wild flowers the cowslip. I say odd, as this pretty flower, once picked by children to decorate their houses on St George’s Day are now protected. What if we had none at all, would we miss them? So why did George slay the dragon? And if we were to slay a dragon   today what form would it take? The governments of the day, the nonsensical amount of bureaucracy, the poor treatment of someone or something for which you care or the loss of our historic Counties, as could be the case within five years should we sign up to the Constitution of the European Union … ‘ The Shire is based on rural England and not any other country in the world. The toponymy of the Shire’ is a parody of that of rural England, in much the same sense are its inhabitants: they go together and are meant to. After all the book is English, and by an Englishman’ JRR Tolkien. I perish the thought of a label on our cheese reading, ‘South West Regional Cheese’, rather than Gloucestershire Cheese, doesn’t leave quite such a nice taste in the mouth. If you were not sure what I mean by this, perhaps it would be prudent to look up the ins and outs of our taking up the European constitution, before we have! Thinking of other food sources related to Gloucestershire, we look to Gloucester Cattle and their Beef, … “Oh the roast beef of England, And old England’s roast beef!’ Henry Fielding (1707-1754) Gloucester Cattle listed as (Code 1 - ENDANGERED) - Gloucester Old Spot Pigs, listed as (Code 4 –At Risk), and Cotswold Sheep listed as (Code 3 – Vulnerable) with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Whilst out and about rooting out good producers and places to write about I recently visited Lechlade, to find ‘The Flour Bag’ and delicatessen had closed down, and a town crying out for a caring hand. What happened I asked a resident, where have all the people gone? “They have gone to Swindon to the multiples,” he replied. I was alerted some months ago that Sturt Farm Shop on the A40, too had been sold, no longer viable I was told and am delighted that Foxbury Farm Shop next door have kept going by increasing the butchery side of their shop and being forward thinking by taking on a pub through which to sell their home-grown produce. However, Di Dawes spoke quite frankly, by saying that if the shop ever stopped paying for itself, it would not be run at a loss. With a general election looming, a referendum (if we are lucky) on the European Constitution with regard to which I offer another quote… ‘For we are the people of England …. And we have not spoken yet!’ G.K. Chesteron (1879-1936). This spring its ‘time to spring into action’, a time to make a stand for what you believe in, know and love. A time to shop locally, as your local shops cannot survive without you - “We are indeed a nation of shopkeepers”- Benjamin Disraeli. A time to prop up the bar in your village pub with a pint of local brew in hand “ From the towns all inns have been driven: from the villages most…. Change your hearts or you will lose your inns and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your inns drown your empty selves for you will have lost the last of England. Hilaire Belloc, On Inns, 1912. If ever there has been a time, the time is now. A time to stand and be counted and ensure the future of all we hold so dear.
I leave you with a line from Lord Horatio Nelson before the Battle of Trafalgar – “ England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty” and another from Sir Winston Churchill “ A Nation that has forgotten its past, can have no future”!
To read the Englishman's Legacy by St. George - Click Here
Copyright © Susanne Austin 2005/6