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An Ode to England.


There is a 1943 poem with this title by Julia Garcia Games which better meets the definition of an actual ode with its grandiose style: “yesterday you were only a word, a lonely lost Britannic sound/and now the river of your veins spreads tributaries over all the/map-” (lines 3-5). My humble ode takes more inspiration from the likes of Roger Miller’s England Swings with its “Bobbies on bicycles” and “tryin’ to mock the way they talk fun but all in vain”, and it will show in my book selections for this blog. However, the real reason for the theme is because it is England which gave me my love for tea. Before my time in England, I had never experienced any tea other than an herbal concoction such as the chamomile type variety which was not anything I would bother crossing the street to imbibe. The English brew consisting of black tea laced with milk or cream and sugar was a completely different story. Pair it with a scone of almost any variety and I would go farther than just cross the street.


Tea: The classic Earl Grey Tea is a pairing of black tea and bergamot, oils taken from the rind of a particular variety of orange. Bergamot has a strong scent and distinct flavor that almost borders on the bitter. Because of this strong flavor, initially, Earl Grey was my least favorite of the classic English teas. However, over time I have developed a taste for it, and actually seek it out on its own or brewed into the delightful concoction called a London Fog. Almost every tea company or supplier carries Earl Grey tea, but they are not all the same. For those that may shy away from the astringency of the classic Earl Grey, The Dollar Tea Club produces a Cream of Earl that is billed as a “classic Earl Grey mellowed with a delicious creamy taste”, while recently I had an interesting version combined with wild thyme produced by Te og Kaffi of Iceland. Go find your favorite one; the fun will be in the tasting.






Fiction: P. G. Wodehouse wrote Jeeves and the Tie that Binds when this prolific author was 90 years old, and it is volume 14 in the series that features the bumbling Bertie Wooster and his unflappable valet, Jeeves. Normally, I am a stickler for reading a book series in strict order, but when it comes to P. G. Wodehouse, who is a master of the zany and improbable adventures of the British upper class during the early 20th century, it truly does not matter. You can enjoy these books in any order. In this particular episode, Bertie is asked by his Aunt Dahlia to canvass Market Snodsbury for his friend, Ginger Winshop, who is standing for a seat in the House of Commons. At the same time, he and his friends must avoid the exposure of their youthful shenanigans as recorded by their valets or butlers in a book designed to aid (or warn) staff when deciding whether or not to take a new position. Throw in some delightful scenes with Augustus the cat, and I find this to be a perfect summer book full of fast paced, harmless fun couched in witty dialogue, literary references, vocabulary (I had to look up several words including “pusillanimity”) and the beautiful use of metaphors and similes. How can you not love Bertie’s description of Jeeves: “‘he remains as uncooperative as Balaam’s ass, who you may remember dug his feet in and firmly refused to play ball’” (136)?



Nonfiction: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, an American, is a book about a “farewell tour” of Great Britain the author took in the mid 1990s right before he and his family decided to move to the United States. He interspersed his travel experiences with anecdotes from the first time he had visited the British Isles in the early 1970s. Always humorous, Bryson highlights the differences between these two major English speaking nations and their people from how one gives directions to how one uses eating utensils. Like a grumpy traveler, sometimes Bryson’s observations have a harsh, sarcastic edge, but I could easily identify with the feelings of both delight and frustration from my time in the United Kingdom. I have visited some of the same places such as Dover, London, Edinburgh and Inverness, just not at the same time. If you like this book, check out The Road to Little Dribbling, where he recreates the journey 20 years later.



Children’s Book: Written in 1938, Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon was chosen to match the lighthearted fun of the two adult selections. More substantial than the average picture book at 55 pages, I had not read it in a couple of years. In fact I had more recently watched the 1941 animated Disney film, and my memories were of a fun bit of fluff of a peaceful dragon who recites poetry, fights mock battles, and finds acceptance into a previously prejudiced community. However, while reading it this time around, I could not help wondering if something more was not meant given the time period, and quotes such as “‘This is an evil world, and sometimes I begin to think that all the wickedness in it is not entirely bottled up inside the dragons’” as spoken by St. George the Dragonslayer. A quick search of the internet will find you all the depth you need from a Freudian discussion of Id, Ego and Superego as embodied by the Boy, St. George and the Dragon to a discussion of the portrayal of Truth through the symbol of the Dragon. For my part, I think I will spend some time mulling over the actions of the townspeople and the Boy’s insistence of adhering to “the rules”.




For those who may feel guilty about spending time on literature selections that arguably lack depth and substance, I would refer you to the opening and closing of the Jeeves and the Tie that Binds where Bertie is feeling euphoric. He knows his feelings of euphoria are probably temporary because “‘too often it is when one feels fizziest that the storm clouds begin doing their stuff’” (8). Life has plenty of storm clouds. Let’s grab a little euphoria while we may.



 


Ode to England by Julie Garcia Games (poetryfoundation.org)

Artwork credited to Aurora Draws - contact aliceechesley@gmail.com for more details

All photographs by the author



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