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    ...let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea

    Published on 23/04/2014 by David Birkett

    Having been surrounded on all sides by the The Great British Bookshop slogan; ‘Books are quite simply our cup of tea’, for many weeks now, our minds have been led to contemplate the occurrence of this archetypal British beverage in notable works of literature.  To begin on the continent; devotees of the Belgian murder-unraveller Hercule Poirot will be familiar with his use of herbal teas or tisanes to spark his ‘little grey cells’. Meanwhile, the passage from A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) – in which Proust’s narrator eats a piece of madeleine cake dipped in tea, and finds it unlocks a powerful memory of his earlier life – is probably much more widely-known than the books are read. 

    Douglas Adams sprinkled tea over his Hitchhikers’ Guide series in liberal, ingenious and amusing ways, explaining that his ‘improbability drive’ could be constructed by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say a nice hot cup of tea). In the same series, the hapless intergalactic Everyman Arthur Dent causes a systems failure in a frighteningly-advanced starship (just as it is being approached by a fleet of deadly Vogon cruisers) by asking the ship’s computer to produce a decent cuppa.  This is a very dramatic and literal example of the venerable British injunction that ‘everything stops for tea’.

    The somewhat socially unconventional proceedings during the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland may be British fiction’s best-known tea-based literary event, while many British writers and other observers through the ages have opined on the drink and its associated rituals, from Samuel Johnson’s:

    Tea's proper use is to amuse the idle, and relax the studious, and dilute the full meals of those who cannot use exercise, and will not use abstinence.’

    to Billy Connolly’s:

    Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.’

    In the meantime, here's a whimsical tea-related tome to dip into, which examines a time-honoured and quintessentially British approach to the enjoyment of tea.

    Enough spouting on from us (sorry, but we have restricted ourselves to just two excruciating tea puns for this blog), do tell us about your own favourite occurrences of tea in literature, and we’ll be glad to serve them up; perhaps with some madeleine.

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