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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

Top Secrets to Better Blogging.

Since the children have learnt to use the TV remote and subsequently made me obsolete, blogging has been a reason to wake up in the morning, If only this were true. It’s still a cup of tea, or beer and sausage rolls (in the evening obviously) , but these events sadly do not justify a blog post.

The key to blogging is something happening to you. Blogging is like declaring intention to write an autobiography before anything has happened. It’s the pressure of writing a weekly newspaper column but not getting paid for it; if anyone still is. You start questioning the blogability of everything you do. Oh, I tripped over a shrew while putting the rubbish out  – ‘Blog about it.’

However, it’s actually been a busy week. On Thursday some charming woman calling me a white piece of shit punched me in the face. The fact I was holding a terrified 3 year old did nothing to deter her. She had been driving past a primary school at a speed high enough to justify a brief word of advice. Her battered car also needed a clean, but there was no time to mention this before she had lumped me in the eye and driven off. I called the police to report it; the racially aggravated assault, not the dirty car. It’s become quite a talking point. It’s like nothing has really happened locally for six months. Ironically, it was during something actually happening to me that for once I was not assessing it for blogability

The trick to blogging is knowing what to write about. And nothing triggers panic like suggesting you know the secrets to blogging. There are none. Although it’s best to avoid politics, particularly these days, when the arguments are so polemic they make north and south appear like buddies that have drunk in the same pub for 30 years.

It might be timely to express indignation about Trump, but so many people already are that you wonder if he’s simply an indignation-conducting rod. It’s hard to know if he created the anger, or if it was there already. Either way, none of it is healthy, and I’m already furious enough about missing the last of ITV’s Ninja Warrior. No matter how much you might be struck by the irony of pacifists accusing Therese May as an appeaser, it’s best to keep quiet.

Trump’s existence creates such outrage that even his sensible comments (he has made one I believe about NATO) are lost in the pursuit of umbrage. Twitter’s #notmypresident was blatantly untrue in the States, yet perfectly accurate anywhere else in the world. Anyway, I wouldn’t have voted of him, but I don’t have the energy for outrage at an elected Head of State doing what he wants to do. It’s probably the human rights of Saudi Arabia or Iran hanging gay men that upsets me more, but let’s leave it there.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

U2 – The Joshua Tree at Twickenham

U2 rediscover the Joshua Tree. It’s either a stadium sized midlife crisis, or showboating their finest moment.

It says a lot about 1997’s Pop that its recent 20th anniversary passed without a whisper, yet 1987’s Joshua Tree has barely recovered from its 25th anniversary shenanigans before another deluxe release and slew of 30th anniversary celebratory playback shows.

Perhaps they’d have avoided front-loading the album with its three strongest songs had they foreseen this, but they address it by cheating. With no giant lemons to get stuck in, and before the crowd realise what’s going on, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. has strolled down the catwalk to the front intimate stage like he’s late for a waiting cab to kick off Sunday bloody Sunday.

The rest join him, and four men are lost amidst a sea of hands belting out Pride, Bad and New Year’s Day. Then wide screen visuals of a blood red sky bathe Twickenham with the ageless romance of the road. At Where the streets have no name’s simmering intro, the band retreat to the main stage, as the camera tracks the vanishing point through Anton Corbijn’s breathtaking black and white backdrop of the Mojave desert. If Achtung Baby found four men chopping down the Joshua tree, then tonight finds four men replanting it. It’s surprising rapprochement for a band renowned for adventure, but perhaps they’re more bruised by giving away Songs of Innocence on iTunes than they let on.

They’ve yet to beat the universal simplicity of I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, or the elegant With or without you. Despite models doffing military hats and beautiful (pre-recorded) Salvation Army horns contributing to Red Hill Mining Town it unavoidably becomes the Bono show, as he grows increasingly patronising and preachy, although remembers heartfelt thanks to Brian Eno who’s in the crowd.

In God’s Country, (‘punch a hole right through the night,’) could have been a single, but despite the pristine visuals, the album drags before the lengthy encore. And it’s best to out Bono’s Malibu villa out of mind while they display displaced people of war zones.

Technicolor effects meet a rippling Beautiful Day, which ignites the crowd, like it did Coldplay’s entire career, while exposing Joshua Tree’s filler. The sweeping synth beauty (from the Passengers side project) of Miss Sarajevo rightfully elbows its way in, complete with a majestic recorded return of Pavarotti. As is custom for Mysterious Ways, Bono hauls up a girl from the audience, who does her best rabbit in the headlights impression while Bono leers on. It’s a 20-year old party trick and slightly unsettling.

They play the songs as well as they do the crowd, yet it’s Larry’s giant wink, drumstick poised aloft, that seals the night, that and Achtung Baby’s One following the searing

perfection of Ultraviolet.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   It’s a farcical road trip around Europe: ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and it currently on offer at 99p on ebook here –

 

Want more time? Be careful what you wish for-

Warning – this blog was intended to be a serious consideration of the dangers of having too much time on our hands. The serious part didn’t happen.

We spend so much of our adult life bemoaning not having enough time that entire genres of books devote themselves to slowing our lives down. In calm yet offensively inoffensive tones they share suggestions like – Reschedule your schedule and What distractions can I limit? To be fair after the distraction of rescheduling my schedule I’d need a lie down, which I’m unlikely to have enough time for due to the rescheduling. One website even suggests – Step Back (For a Second), before ensuring you’re not standing at the wrong end of a pier.

Most frequent advice is urging people to make space for the smaller things in life. I presume they don’t mean Tic Tacs, but to smell roses, pay that parking fine and read books on how to make more time for yourself.

But what happens when you have too much time? Like losing a job, or when children start school or have fled the nest entirely like you’d once prayed they would. I’m unsure clutching their ankles to prevent them from leaving like a tree in a hurricane was part of the deal. Ironically once you’ve found time to read books on finding time you no longer need them.

Writing about having too much time is like sharing the perils of Aston Martin ownership, it won’t win you any friends. But what does happen when you have too much time on your hands; enough to not only read books on slowing down your life, but to actually bloody write them. A lunch break is delicious, a lunch afternoon gluttonous.

Not having enough time to do things is the perfect excuse to scroll endlessly through Twitter, but if that’s all you’re doing you’ll start to believe Twitter-based surveys actually represent the mood of the country, even when it concerns little more than best Dire Straits b-sides.

It may not feel like it, but we actually have more time than ever. We live longer; we use faster cars and trains and don’t work coalfaces so deep that it takes half a day to reach them. But perhaps how we spend our days does require scrutiny. Research shows US teenagers spend 27 hours a week on the Internet, which is alarming only once you realise it’s half what their parents do. What the hell are we doing all day? I had a friend who claimed he’d not had a good night out unless he’d lost his glasses, not that he needed them to find his hangover the next day. He’d spend his time inventing new ways to avoid losing them, seemingly unaware that hanging them around your neck had already been patented.

Inventing is a good use of time; after all, I’d not be blogging if it weren’t for entrepreneurial folk using their time productively and inventing WordPress, not to mention the laptop. At least that’s someone to blame. In fact the greatest invention would be a self-propelled floating coffee table to follow you around, carrying stuff you imminently need: glasses, wine and crisps. Just so long as it’s switched off before driving into the fast lane (not that anyone lives on a motorway, even Keith Richards). It’s unlikely that even inventors with time on their hands could create a coffee table capable of 80mph whilst not spilling a drop. Its contents might also create uncomfortable questions on arrival at the in-laws, particularly if it avoids the heavy traffic and arrives there first.

Sitting up in bed reading while you should be at work is great fun, but sitting up in bed because there’s nowhere else to be is stultifying; like kisses, time is best stolen. Be careful what you wish for.

 

This is what I do with my time. My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and is a farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and it currently on offer at 99p on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

Back to School

If a butterfly can cause a hurricane halfway across the world, then what the fuck did the collective parental sigh as children returned to school from the finally ending summer holidays cause? Having run out of activities since the last week of July, the relief at the new school term could be heard from space. This morning, Mothers and fathers, last seen rocking gently in a chair and mumbling to Justin’s House, skip back to offices anticipating conversations that don’t start and end with ‘can you stop doing that’. Even Sue from accounts will be tolerated for the first few weeks. A quieter world beckons, with opportunity to enter newsagents without protracted discussions regarding buying pillow-sized packets of marshmallows, which unfailing end with the need for bereavement skills last required when Robbie left Take That.

This is all new to me. The last time I was involved with a first day at school I was wearing shorts and being driven in a VW Beetle when seat belts were an optional extra. It had vinyl seats, which heated to 100 degrees in the sun, making them impossible to sit on. You kind of hovered above the seat, clutching the handgrip, until your shadow cooled it to a temperature that didn’t involve 3rd degree burns. This was generally achieved a few minutes after arriving anywhere.

My father took the day off work to support me in taking my step into the larger world of education. Either that or he didn’t trust Mum to drive the Beetle. They both saw me off from the school gate, from which I ran in and didn’t look back. ‘Oh’, I guess they thought, not having properly considered what Kent had to offer in term of entertainment for the rest of a Monday from 9:01am.

Having been shown around schools as a parent, I was astounded how things have moved on from the 70s, when leaving primary school with the ability to colour in straight lines and understanding the rules of egg and spoon races constituted adequate educational grounding. These days, there’s not only lessons involving the learning of stuff, but even lunch clubs appear to involve Greek algebra and 16th Century wind instruments.

There are a few things I learnt at school, like how to skin up, how to choose academic subjects on the basis of which pretty girls had already signed up, and how to bake a Black Forest gateaux. I swear it’s the cake that my mother’s still most proud of, but against such competition it’s little surprise. School was less an educational institution and more of a hub in which to swap Panini stickers and showboat Casio scientific calculators with more buttons than a sewing jar, and as equally unlikely to ever get used.

This week will see the newest collection of parents wondering how they grew old enough to be outside the school gates, before Facebooking a picture of their darlings’ ‘first day’, and going home to cry into the child’s pillow while looking back on the past 4 years with the sort of soft-focus idealising that even Persil adverts might baulk at. Attention will be made to identifying fellow parents who might also be burnt-out ravers worth making friends with, which like making friends too quickly during fresher’s week you may have the next 7 years to regret.

It is reassuring how much support children get these days for first day nerves, but it’s not my 4-year old that I’m worried about. It’s me. Children are so keen to ‘seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before’, that they don’t look back. That’s left to the parents, who recalling their own childhood, too easily see what is being lost; the safety, the innocence, the secure environment that increasingly cannot be guaranteed as children develop; as the parent steps back and peers, teachers and Pokémon step in. It breaks the heart in places hereto unknown. It’s the last day of your true influence.

Meanwhile, the children will be giggling, excited and nervous about putting their hands up, without any real idea as to the larger world they have just stepped into. They’ve probably never felt so old. I know I haven’t.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and is a farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

Finishing the Second Novel

This time last year I posted the manuscript of my debut novel to my publisher Urbane and here I now am itching to write The End to its sequel.

For anyone tracing developments in the follow up to the Life Assistance Agency I apologise. There was to be a webcam, but watching an author working on a new book is akin to observing someone looking for something without knowing what it is they’ve lost. But, there is an update…

The end is in sight. It’s the kind of rallying cry familiar to Edwardian explorers (if there’s any left) before they noticed another perilous crevice of 800 feet to be negotiated before supper using nothing but ropes, crampons and smoking pipes clamped between gritted teeth. However, the only virgin ground left to be trodden before the sequel’s end is a few thousand words. The end is in sight.

I’ve written it at a speed better associated with Londoners pouncing on vacated seats on the tube, which is my own fault for leaving such obvious potential for a follow-up. I should be grateful, as although this new instalment leaves a door open wide enough to reverse a harvest-laden tractor through, there’s currently no more directions on the Life Assistance Agency’s Sat-Nav. They’ve been busy, perhaps they deserve a rest; their office certainly requires a tidy.

Being a writer often provokes questions from people, and not only ‘Can you pay back that tenner yet?’ There’s a misconception that you must be rolling in it. If ‘it’ refers to misplaced punctuation, plot holes and underused characters then the answer is an empathetic YES. I was delighted that fans of the first book were asking for a sequel until I realised it meant I needed to write one.

Some have asked if writing a second novel is easier. In a way it is, but only like the second girlfriend (or whatever it is we’re calling them these days) feels the same yet completely different. Much like the most inept explorers, the endeavour of novel writing is started through the wrong end of a telescope: a distant and idealised destination appears. Although most of the time you’re arguing with automated fake Twitter accounts about Diane Abbott, with each week even the slightest amount of writing brings you closer to arriving, albeit with the occasional crow startling you at close range through the lens.

It’s way too early for saying it’s going well; I verge from rehearsing Not the Booker Prize acceptance speech, to calling Apple support desperately requesting how I retrieve deleted manuscripts from my computer’s hard drive, but I’ve enjoyed the first draft, so the second needs to be for the reader. Then comes the title. The working title of Blind Fury always sounded like it’d already been taken, and annoyingly I have an unused title so good that it demands an entire book to be written, yet in the penultimate chapter the sequel’s finally appeared. It was so late it’s lucky not to be called The End.*

*Title to be confirmed once I ask my publisher and a hundred other people what they think of it.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and is a farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and it currently on offer at 99p on ebook here –

 

 

 

Your toothbrush is in the garden – How to know you’re a parent.

To be fair, ‘How to know you are a parent’ is not a blog people are crying out for.

If you are a parent of young children it’s unlikely you need someone pointing out how your life, once brimming with cultural events, casual sex and hangovers (generally in that order) has been reduced to chiselling hardened Shreddies off the kitchen floor and falling asleep at the local pub quiz once a year. Even if you did have time to read blogs, the burning toast, spilt drinks and Fisher Price war zone that was once your garden are clues enough.

The most frequent observation of parents is the vague concept of having had a life before toddlers, despite being unable to identify what it was. There are memories not involving Primary school BBQs, bric-a-brac sales and PTA meetings that are evidenced by photos, even if you can’t recall where you were, or who with, or why.

At the peak of toddler parenting, the most amount of daylight ‘me’ time is when you put the rubbish out, before you skip back inside to prevent the 4-year from short circuiting the house.

There will also be a number of unread books on child-rearing. There’s too many better things to be reading before you have them, and you have too little time once you do.

You don’t become entirely deskilled, there’s just nothing to put on your CV, unless companies need employees adept at eating chocolate biscuits hidden beneath cushions, to identify dinosaur silhouettes at 20 paces, and demonstrating interest in when a child is speaking whilst actually having no idea what they’re saying.

Your pet hate is no longer unpunctual drug dealers, but over-eager parents, tending to their darling’s every whim with the attention of nuclear waste handlers, and are actually equipped with baby wipes/water/snacks for the park. The helicopter parent has the wild look in their eyes last seen in John Rambo’s, while the child develops levels of narcissism also last seen in Rambo. As with East 17 playing to 30 people at a 800 capacity venue in Dublin, it’s hard to know who to feel the most sorry for, the band or the audience, parent or child.

One of the reasons parents declare (to themselves) that they’ve never been happier might be due to no longer having any time to watch the news, or comprehend a newspaper. The first section to be slung from the weekend newspaper you’ll never read anyway is the Travel section, as you glimpse places you’ll never visit, ‘on a shoestring budget‘ or otherwise. The closest you get to current affairs is Channel 5’s Milk Shake Monkey visiting the remnants of a fishing fleet in Newquay with a bunch of bananas and primary school children.

Other sure signs involve:

  • You say ‘hold on a minute’ about once a minute
  • You know the price of a pint of whole fat milk and never return home without a bottle.
  • Your toothbrush is in the garden
  • You never go upstairs without taking the opportunity to carry something with you
  • You’re woken up at 6am by the sort of enthisuasm unknown outside Saturday night TV studio audiences, but which certainly isn’t your own.
  • You invent pointless games you won’t recall the intricate details of, but they need to know at 6:01am.
  • When you’re playing music, say the sublime Brennan Green remix of 2bears Not This Time, they shout ‘too loud’ with hands over their ears, until you turn it off and they can watch Ninjagotubbiebetsquares at full volume.
  • Your first name has become ‘But’. As in, But daddy..
  • You know that the easiest way to get a child to play with a toy is to start packing it away
  • You never have any change on your pocket for vending machines, which is possibly how you ended up with children in the first place.
  • You refer to yourself in the third person, like a master criminal, albeit one that hasn’t cleared away breakfast to make way for lunch.

Yet, despite you wishing it was their bed time from the moment they wake up, you miss them from the moment they go to sleep.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and features no children, other than one in the background on page 24.

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

Is Social Media making us miserable?

Social media, as with having children, you have to ask, what the hell did we do before? Presumably we whittled sticks, recorded TOTP on video compilations and skipped through the long grass?

‘I’ve left Facebook’ is greeted initially with shock, laced with considerable disbelief. And that’s before you’ve even told anyone. Ironically it might be your most popular update, that you’ll never get to see. There’s a stubbornness to it; like leaving a great party early, albeit a party at which people are sharing photos of food, children and fierce political party allegiances. And clips of dogs falling off bar stools. It must be that which keeps us all there. The dogs I mean.

Social media is a strange place that demands revisiting like an itch that’s impossible to locate. We are certainly addicted. If someone was checking for their car keys with such frequency they’d be advised to seek therapy. I recently saw a woman check her phone again 4 seconds after she had put it back in her pocket. Someone else was scrolling down a page without even looking at the screen. They are basically adult Fidget Spinners ™ with tied-in monthly contracts and a thousand photos you’ll never look at.

Without social media you’re left in the sort of time chasm that’s perfect for writing your second novel, if only that felt less like a vicious bully following you around sprinkling self doubt in your ear. And that’s on a good day. Actually, I hope that’s not true, the current book is going well, but it’s hard work writing a novel. I should have learned this by now.

People are encouraging, with comments such as “you’ve done it before, you’ll be fine,’ which is kindly meant, yet I’ve done A-levels before and I doubt I’d even get the grades that I scrapped together back then. The most encouragement I’ve had is Arundhati Roy taking 20 years to follow up her Booker winning The God of Small Things (1997) with her second, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which probably perfectly encapsulates how she felt upon finishing it. I bet she put a Facebook update about that, and then one of a dog falling off a barstool for good measure.

So, how’s it been, leaving this great party in which you sometimes feel that everyone is dancing better than you? Well, you can read a book on a train, which makes you at least 20% more attractive whoever you are. And it’s social media with which novels are competing, but it’s free AND addictive, like crack cocaine for the idle.

Having left, you still wake up with potential updates, such as ‘I’ve just woken up’, before realising that it’s a bit lame and no one will be interested. And that’s the problem with Facebook, even your most private thoughts are fractured through the lens of the potential public eye.

I mean you already know your morning must be bad if the new Mike and Mechanics album has improved things, but sharing that on social media to blank indifference, or some response perhaps involving ‘I preferred them with Peter Gabriel’ (actually, that was Genesis), soon dampens all recovered spirits.

Social anxiety is part of the human condition, and it’s magnified on social media; this worry that you’re missing out is inescapable unless you’re knee deep (ahem) in an orgy, but perhaps social media is the stark realisation that there isn’t some mythical party that everyone’s at bar you, but instead populated by lots of people dogmatically certain of their political opinions, dietary requirements and propensity to overshare. And love of careless dogs.

Shame I can’t share this on social media. Oh well, maybe just one more time.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

What your bag says about you..

A blog considering those secret worlds hanging on our shoulders.

About the only thing worth reading in the now painfully self-conscious NME is where they accost innocent people using headphones in the street, and ask what they’re listening to. It’s basically an exercise in how quickly people can mention something cool, like Royal Blood, rather admit they were listening to the original cast recording of Cats. But it’s an interesting glance into a private world, even if Mr. Mistoffeelees tends to stay there. Another private world is our bags.

A friend recently posted a photo of her with friends displaying what was in their handbags. Instead of the usual knot of used tissues, house keys, and wrappers of Werthers Originals that their partner had no idea they’re addicted to, they took the opportunity to show off how intelligent, good looking and charming they all were by revealing the novels they were carrying. That one of these was my own Life Assistance Agency obviously helped. ‘I couldn’t put it down’, she kindly said. ‘Why, was it glued to your hand?’

Presumably the disentangling of boiled sweets from old copies of the Metro newspaper had occurred off camera, but what a wonderful new #hashtag that could be, #whatsinyourbag – as people reveal their secrets and empty the contents of their bags for public hilarity, horror and respect.

Of course a book is the most important thing to be carrying in your bag, apart perhaps from your house keys, although someone I know has so many bags that she has a book permanently stored in each one rather than risk leaving the house without reading material.  Lesser used bags reveal  old classics and forgotten bookmarks.

I remember my Grandma’s purse. She could have travelled to the far reaches of the galaxy with its contents. Stamps. Luncheon vouchers. Food stamps. Even some money. And an old curled photo. It was the weight of a dumbbell and the world stopped when it opened. I don’t know what novel she had in it, but it could easily have accommodated one.

There was a time when I’d have welcomed interest in the contents of my bag. It was an original standard D-Day British issue backpack and I was obsessed with it, and its contents. As a 9-year old I had the sort of paraphernalia best suited to surviving a nuclear winter – this was the 80s after all – complete with a spam tin, an army issue water bottle (circa. 1962) and a hunting knife blunt enough to eat with. These days my bag is likely to contain a damp gym towel, having soaked through printed off pages of my novel, with corrections now a damp mess; which in places is still an improvement on the original text. Of course you sometimes forget what’s in your bag, at least until the house mice decide to finish off the honeycomb Galaxy bar on your behalf. I was grateful they had only found one of them.

If they’ve made a film about bloody emojis I’m amazed that the inside of a bag hasn’t yet been turned into a £150m feature film. After all, there’s probably 100 tonnes of tissues, old travel cards, novels and make-up being carried around London alone per day, so let’s shine a light. #whatsinyourbag ?

No copies of the Life Assistance Agency were harmed in filming the bag contents.

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

The idiot’s Guide to making tea

Opening sentence to Henry James’ (1881) The Portrait of a Lady.

‘Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’

Now, I’ve rattled on about declining standards in tea-making for so long that I thought I had already blogged about it. People I’ve harangued certainly thought so. However, and there are plenty of howevers, this is a theme that warrants returning to. After all, if it’s important enough for George Orwell to write A nice cup of tea between addressing communism, aspidistras and paeans to his perfect pub the Moon on the Water, this subject suits Idle Blogs well. So, sit down, don’t make a cup of tea quite yet, and read on. The rules:

1 The only person who can make a decent cup of tea is you. so, NEVER get anyone else to make it. This can be tricky, as tea is the first thing most people offer you on arrival in their homes – that’s if you’ve been invited in and they’re not calling the police. Mind you, while awaiting the officers arrival is perfect cuppa time. Anyway, on invited arrival, deny you want tea, before waiting ten minutes, then politely suggest you’ll make one yourself. If your hosts insist on making it, ensure you stand near the sink, to pour it away

2 How to pour away tea someone’s made you has its own subtle criteria. Ensure the sink has no cloth in it, or you’ll be explaining to your host why their recently wringed dishcloth is now spreading milky, undrinkable tea over their work surface. The best way to dispose of it is at the same pace you would drink it. Despite your own sense of self importance, not to mention that of the tea, after ten mins they’ll have forgotten all about it, so it can disappear unseen. However, this has not yet addressed the issue of making a good cup of tea.

3. At this point it’s good to stress that the best avoidance other people’s tea is through meeting them in the pub. I would suggest the Moon on the Water, had it not been appropriated by a chain, with the sort of identikit chalk boards that would leave Orwell sleepless. Anyway, in pubs no one thinks they can do better than beer brewers, apart from the lonely home brewers, so it’s a level playing field. However, this is not always possible-

4. So, as ever, yup, even with tea making , timing is everything. Unlike with coffee, this has been adressed by calling a specific moment in the day Teatime. It’s so idiot proof that insipid tea making is inexcusable.  Coffee has no such marker, and presumably this is why it’s drunk with such obsessional abandon, as though really screaming for some containment. It needs boundaries like our well-mannered tea. However, despite there being an actual teatime…

5. the best time to drink tea is probably first thing in the morning. When I say ‘first thing’, I mean it as being the first thing you do upon waking, not at 00:01.  If you get good at it, sleeping can be poor based simply on how good your restorative cup of tea will be upon waking. Of course, (see point one) generous people occasionally like to make you tea, even at 7am, so it’s tricky. It is advisable to either have a bedroom with a sink in it, or print off these rules and ‘accidentally’ leave them out. At this point I feel that tangents may be resulting in anyone looking for real advice on making tea might be drifting away to Jamie Oliver, or Orwell, so

6. Equipment – Fresh water, tea bag or leaves – let’s not be purist about this, there are other battles, such as the china. It HAS to be bone china. I’m risking snobbery here but if coffee drinkers can publicly ask for a latte-mild-chocco-hot-bot without pronouncing the hyphens, then this bone china rule has to hold. Although-

7. china cups are not necessarily needed. Not only do they fail to hold enough tea, but the exact angle of your superfluous little finger informs those in the know exactly which college you attended at Oxbridge. Or not.

8. A thin bone china mug is perfect, so why use anything else, unless you’re offering tea to builders – no offence, but, I doubt they hand out their best china to people handling wet cement for a living either.

9. The next crucial thing is to leave the tea bag in. Presumably there’s some EU directive demanding high street coffee shops only wave a tea bag above the water, with contact lasting no longer than 8 seconds. They then slosh in enough milk to douse a bonfire. So, tip 8 is really – LET IT BREW. You want it strong enough to require teeth bleaching to remove the stains.

10. Add only a SMALL AMOUNT OF MILK. A SMALL AMOUNT OF MILK cannot be stressed enough. Sugar is optional, but only if you’re trying to prove a point, and keep your teaspoon out of work. Best is half a level teaspoon of brown sugar, which offsets the bitterness to the tea enough to maintain it.

11. Of course this brings up the subject of the teapot. The teapot is increasingly used in TV dramas as an indicator that it’s set in the past. Either that, or as a prefabricated home for mice on CBeebies. However, it remains a staple for anyone serious about their teatime, but for some reason seems out of place and overambitious for the morning cuppa. The best contents of an afternoon teapot is 3 parts Assam, 1 part Earl grey, not mice wearing their Sunday best while sliding down the spout.

12. To truly appreciate tea, it’s best to limit intake. Unless they have two cups on the go, some people limit their consumption to the short time it takes for a kettle to boil. Each to their own, but it’s better to spend time anticipating a cup of tea, as opposed to never letting one go. Ideally – drink twice a day. When you need it to wake up, and to counter the mid afternoon slump at teatime. Drinking tea twice a day means that while you’re not drinking a cup, you’re anticipating it, which for anyone who saw the Star Wars prequels, will know is a better state to be in.

Oh, and to stress the fresh water. It’s been rubbished in the past as being pedantic, mainly by me, but now I’m sold. It makes a far superior cup of tea.

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

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