The two types of drink I associate with England are cups of tea and pints of beer – or in my case, pints of hard cider. I find pubs much nicer than American bars; it would be difficult to find either dogs or children in an American bar. On the whole, I miss the dogs. In an English pub, you can have the usual chatting up for young, but entire families come, along with a number of “old age pensioners” looking for a pint.
Take a pub like “The White Hart” in Somerton, very close to “Waistcoats Unlimited.” I was taken there for lunch. The place had both dogs and children in it, and very good food – fancier than the usual pub fair of Shepherd’s Pie and chips. One of the barmen was a young classical composer, and his companion was only nineteen, though it was no problem his manning the bar as the drinking age in England is eighteen. I am not sure that the British aren’t wise in this; certainly at American Universities the problem of illegal “underage drinking” is rampant. (I have been told if you don’t drink until your mid-twenties, you are not too likely to become an alcoholic; the nasty habit of binge drinking at American Universities is not conducive to good health in particular or civilization in general.)
The waitresses were good fun as well, as were many clients. I met in the bar a former guardsman who said being provided a bit of candy when he was on parade kept him standing after his own birthday celebration the night before! I have seen guardsmen faint dead away at Trooping the Color on the Queen’s Official Birthday, though only in pictures. They are usually, I believe, just left lying there. When I went to the ceremony, nobody fainted.
The reason for an Official Birthday for the sovereign is that the weather is usually better in June. After the usual Trooping the Color, Her Majesty goes to Windsor for the Garter Service and Royal Ascot, though this year there was no Garter Service as instead the monarch opened Parliament after Mrs May’s election gamble. This year the Queen did not wear the Imperial State Crown with her robes; it was rather odd to see her reading the Gracious Speech in a frock and hat. She left immediately after for Windsor and the horse races.
One of the women serving at the pub was rather less a royalist than many Americans. When Lady Diana Spencer married the Prince of Wales, I had two invitations to Champagne Breakfasts. I suppose we don’t have to pay for the upkeep, but I still think the monarchy is worth it. The Royal Family, even more than Downton Abbey, is responsible for a good deal of tourism in the United Kingdom, which I think is less true of the unfortunately-called “bicycle monarchs” on the Continent.
As usual, I digress – back to drink! When I was at University, my first pub crawls inebriated me on lemonade, or “lemon soda” – more like Sprite than real lemonade. I soon got over this teetotal aberration; while I never really developed a taste for beer, I soon was swilling Pimm’s Cup and finally hard cider.
The other drink associated with England is tea. Usually about ten o’clock at night in my College room, I would brew up a huge “Brown Betty” of tea, and my mates would come in for a late “cuppa.” That is, if we weren’t out at the pubs. It was a great time for joking and arguing; I miss it!
This common late-night brew was very different from four o’clock tea; all we usually had at University were “chocky bickies” (“chocolate biscuts” like Cadbury’s chocolate fingers) and tea. Four o’clock tea is far grander, especially in Brown’s Hotel or the Ritz. It is not inexpensive, but it includes tea, scones and clotted cream with jam, finger sandwiches, and cake or pastries. The custom was begun by the Duchess of Bedford in the 18th century, and it is still going strong. However, four o’ clock tea is never “High Tea.” That is a full working-class repast a couple of hours later; as Miss Manners cogently put it, it means “It’s high time we et.” As the great and the good dine closer to eight o’clock, this gives them time to recover from tea at four and be ready for dinner.
Men usually don’t give tea parties, though we very much like the things to eat with tea. My Parisian Aunt told me, especially as male, never to buy place settings, just different sizes of dishes. She was right. I used to give a tea party for Mother’s friends on her birthday, but otherwise I would need demitasse cups for after dinner more than I would need teacups. Pity, really, as it is very easy to put on a tea party – ordering clotted cream from King Arthur Flour, buying jam and ready-made scones at Publix, and getting thin Pepperidge Farm bread to decrust for sandwiches. (All you need for cucumber sandwiches are thin slices of cucumber, butter, salt and pepper; the other sandwiches are also easy.) Usually two kinds of tea, India and China from Whittard, Twining, or Jackson’s of Picadilly, are on offer, and then there is pastry from a good pastry shop (or the ubiquitous Publix). At University, someone would jokingly say “I’ll be Mother” and pour; at a real tea party one usually has a hostess who would add sugar and cream (not putting milk in the cup first) for each guest. With coffee, one fends for oneself. I suppose the etiquette is enough to scare some people off, but I like the custom; even though tea parties are almost always given by females, we guys are very fond of scones, jam, and clotted cream. And rhubarb chutney and crab apple jelly. We have even been known to enjoy cucumber sandwiches.