As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed unless they are publically known. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
It is very strange to imagine what Britain must have been like in 1975 when I was born. It was quite a different place to now, not just because people wore flared and flowery clothes in hideous colours like brown and orange, but because there were no Starbucks shops. In fact it was quite a strange thing for people to drink coffee and not tea, and if you went into a cafe, which you really only did if you wanted food, then the chances are that you would order a cup of tea and not a cup of coffee.
British people are very famous around the world for their tea drinking, but if you look back in history we were actually a nation of coffee drinkers, long before we drank tea. If you were to walk around London in the 1500s or 1600s you would only be able to drink coffee in a coffee house if you were male and you were doing some kind of business or trade, perhaps buying or selling goods for import on a ship. Ladies were not allowed in the coffee houses!!
The tea drinking that Brits are now famous for, can likely be traced back to the ladies not the gentlemen. And one lady stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to her love for tea. Her name was Catherine of Braganza and she was a Princess from Portugal. Her favourite beverage of all was a drink called Tee that came by ship all the way from China and this is what she would drink in her palace in Portugal. People drank tee in places like Holland too, but not in Britain.
On the 13th May 1662, Princess Catherine arrived at the harbour in Portsmouth, England after a very long and not very pleasant sea crossing. On arrival in England, to help her recover from her journey, she was offered the same drink that Brits were all drinking at the time - 'ale'. An alcoholic drink that was mainly drunk because it was considered safer and better for you than the water in England at that time! Catherine didn't like the sound of this drink called 'ale' and instead asked her hosts whether she might instead have a cup of tee.
Of course her hosts had absolutely no idea what she was on about so they gave her ale instead. Not entirely surprising to us today, but the ale did not quench the Princess's thirst and so she retired to bed chamber feeling very unwell.
It wasn't the best start to her new life in sunny England, and so as she was married to her new husband, King Charles the II on the 21st May 1662, Catherine decided that she would have her tee sent over to her in England.
Back then you couldn't just pop to Tesco and buy a load of tea bags, instead you had to have it sent to you on a ship, across dangerous waters, and tee was so expensive that it was treated more or less as we would treat a slab of gold today. Catherine's tea stash was kept under lock and key in a little tea chest, and in the afternoons, she and her ladies in waiting would sit and enjoy a cup of tea.
Seeing the Queen and her ladies in waiting drinking this cool new thing called tee, it wasn't long before other fancy folk wanted to follow this trend, and to be more like royalty. And that is when tea started to become popular with all the fancy folks in England. This demand for tea was very good for the merchants on their ships and they started to import tea to Britain. Each house and family had their own special blend of tea leaves, and when supping tea at each other's houses, they would start to create their own blends and then others would ask for the same blend that they had tried at their friends' house. For example, Earl Grey tea gets its name, because it was the blend that the Earl of Grey had at his home, and people who had tried his tea and liked it, started to ask their merchant for the same blend that he had, and that is how we get the Earl Grey tea blend today.
The next time you drink a cup of tea as you rush out of the door to school, why not raise your cup and say a little thank you to Catherine. She is a Queen famous for introducing tea to people in Britain and for her birthday in 1663, a man called Edmund Waller wrote a poem for her to thank her for bringing tea to Britain.
Venus her Myrtle, Phoebus has his bays;Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.
The best of Queens, the best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.
The Muse's friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Regress those vapours which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen.
Everything started to change around the time that I was born in 1975. Before then we had been a nation of tea drinkers, thanks to Queen Charlotte, but a company called Starbucks decided to open a business in Seattle, USA. They didn't serve coffee back then, instead they sold coffee beans to customers, and on special days, you might be given a tiny sample of liquid coffee to try so that you could see how the beans tasted and then buy your beans.
I bet that if you asked Starbucks for a cup of coffee back then, they would have thought you incredibly cheeky and rude since they only sold coffee beans! Back then there was only one Starbucks store in the whole world, but things would change a lot in 1998 when they opened their first coffee house in Britain. Today we drink almost as much coffee as we do tea, a very big change from when I was born and it was mostly tea being drunk as a nation.
2014 See if you can spot me in this Yorkshire tea gold commercial!