May 9, 2014 6:53 pm

‘Oolong’ versus ‘English Breakfast’ – and a brief on briefcases

‘The British have not been particularly romantic with naming their teas, unlike Asia’

A correspondent has asked me to learn about acoustics by having “tea with Yacuhita Toyota”. I confess I did not recognise the name and assumed him to be a member of the Toyota family who must have been either in charge of the audio production of Toyota cars, or a black sheep who sought his own career by specialising in audio advice. But when I googled the name in a resigned mood of ignorance, I was surprised to discover no reference whatsoever to Yacuhita Toyota. Indeed, there was no Mr Toyota, only Mr Toyoda who founded the extraordinary car company.

I don’t much care for tea anyway. Belloc was as usual very perceptive when he asked: “Is there no Latin word for tea? Upon my soul, if I had known that, I would have let the vulgar stuff alone.” Yet tea is an entrenched way of life for the Brits – from the monarch in a cup to the builders in a mug.

Strange to remember all these leaves originally came to the Occident from the Orient, in romantic clippers laden with china cups and saucers and plates as ballast. My only sadness is that for a change, the British have not been particularly romantic with naming their teas. “English Breakfast” is hardly a sound that gets the juices flowing, while “Earl Grey” exudes masculinity; whereas in the east you have “Assam”, “Jasmine”, “Chrysanthemum”, “Darjeeling” and “Oolong”, almost onomatopoeias for delicious fragrance.

How I love the simple exoticism of names: Constantinople, Lourenco Marques, Casablanca, Zanzibar. Now take, God forbid, a pedestrian one like “Birmingham”. Incidentally I have never fathomed why anyone wants a high-speed train to this place. Who exactly wants to get to Birmingham fast?

Another correspondent has raised the name of Eberhard Zeidler after my criticism of mean seats in opera houses. This architect apparently knows a thing or two about the designs of an opera house, as he has designed “a few” of them. I was intrigued as I had always only known him to have been responsible for Vancouver’s Canada Place, a convention centre which I saw regularly when I used to stay at the Pan Pacific hotel doing business with a Canadian company. Every morning at breakfast, I would look out the window and see this structure, which might be described as a Lego version of the Sydney Opera House, gazing into the peaceful water with circling seagulls which everyone says make Vancouver beautiful, except that I always noticed there was never anybody around: no fishermen, no sailors, no promenaders and no eddies let alone bow waves. That harbour was so inanimate it might have been one of the dozens of palette-knife paintings offered, forlornly, for sale on the railings off Bayswater Road in London at weekends. The main point is that Zeidler did not design a single opera house. He did design a few hospitals, a few civic centres and three concert halls; but no opera house. Ergo, our correspondent might have taken a little more care in dropping Zeidler’s name and his operatic “authority” and pronouncements on the physics of acoustics.

. . .

What about briefcases/attaché cases? Or are you so elevated that some underling carries the briefcase that contains the fat enamelled fountain pen with which you sign deals with flourish and élan?

This might well be your fantasy but it is not my reality. I do use a fountain pen, but it is thin and made of plastic by Pelikan which produces nibs so smooth they would glide across even lavatory paper. The only enamel I would come into contact with is when, after a hard day’s work, I slide into a nice hot bath, resting my nape on this magical paint half-in and half-out of the water, feeling that unique sensation of equilibrium between the heat of the water and the coolness of the coated cast-iron of the bathtub.

I do not carry briefcases nor attaché cases because I am not a civil servant and when travelling, I prefer a shoulder bag slung across the opposing shoulder. The only time when I might dream of having a lackey is whenever I arrive at Gatwick airport, which is too mean to provide any free trolleys at their departure terminal. Nor are there any porters to speak of, unlike every airport in America. Instead, passengers are expected to lug their own loads and walk a fair distance up an incline before entering the building. As none of my old-fashioned suitcases are fitted with wheels, I end up checking in looking like a gorilla with arms stretched long by weights.

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