The British understand the role that tea plays in tragedies, great and small. Got stood up on a blind date? Tea will soothe your wounded soul. Lost both legs in a tragic bear mawling? Don’t worry luv, a cuppa will set you to rights.
For the British when things go wrong, the first step is always, and ever shall be, tea. How do you think they were able to build an Empire on which the sun never set? These things do not happen by themselves. They require the fortitude that comes from tea.
So in London, if you are going to have a perfect day, that day will begin with a cup the size of a kiddie pool being delivered to your bedside.
Getting divorced is a lot like being punched in the face every single day. But not all days are alike. Grief is multi-faceted; it jerks you around like a dodgy fairground ride—some days are wretched and some days are splendid (since this is a story about Brits, I was contractually obligated to use the word splendid).
“You get the writer’s cup,” my friend, a writer, says.
The cup is so big I could dive in and swim around in it. It practically takes both hands to lift. (There’s also a special relationship between British writers and tea, but that’s a story for another time.)
The tea is super strong, what the British call ‘builder’s’ and it’s impossible to overstate how perfectly comforting it is.
It’s perfectly comforting too to be here with my old chums (see the reference to splendid), whom I’ve known for nearly 20 years. They say that the British are a hard bunch to get to know, but once you do, that’s pretty much it for life. These friends are dear. So dear I could call from a Turkish prison if I needed bail and a kidney and, since one of them does something responsible in the British government, to be swiftly and quietly extricated from an embarrassing diplomatic incident.
Which is one less thing I have to worry about, I suppose.
Arisen, showered and brushed, our first stop of the day is the Regency Café—or, in local parlance, caff. At the Regency we load up on enough calories to ensure we could, if we wanted, run a marathon every day for the next week—the repast otherwise known as The Full English. Bacon, sausages, fried eggs, baked beans, toast and butter.
Cab drivers eat at the Regency caff, a good sign. And it achieved a fame of sorts when Guy Ritchie used it as a location in the film, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’. It’s cool in a retro-but-don’t-care way. There are posters on the walls of Vogue photo shoots featuring skinny models—the kind that wouldn’t touch a full English if they were being water boarded at a black ops site—posing against its white tiles and gingham curtains. The same family has owned it for generations.
We drink two more cups of builder’s. Yes sir, this day is really shaping up to be something.
A friend joins us—the one the Trinidadian introduced me to all those years ago—moved here from New York. She has a bag full of Arsenal merch and I have instructions to deliver it to him.
We relocate to another café, this one a little more representative of the so-called new Britain. It sells cakes with tiny, perfect raspberries perched on top.
I have more tea. What? My worries are many.
After that we walk down to the South Bank. I used to live in London, quite a while ago. It’s a different city now. Londoners live outdoors more than they used to. The South Bank is stuffed with cafes. People are eating, drinking and laughing. Everybody’s a little giddy because it’s the first day in weeks that it hasn’t rained.
Back at the flat we sit out on the terrace and drink tea. My friends have an olive tree and it has actually fruited, much to their excitement. Today it is hosting the cutest little baby blue tit. His feathers haven’t fully formed so he’s rocking a scruffy looking Mohawk and looking as bad ass as a baby blue tit possibly can. The weather is, if not exactly balmy, then perfectly pleasant. The light is pearlescent. The city lies in wait for the Olympics.
We prep dinner, a chicken casserole, pop it in the oven and go out to the pub. The name of the pub is The Cardinal, except it isn’t really. It used to be called The Cardinal on account of its proximity to Westminster Cathedral (close to, but not quite as famous as, Westminster Abbey). The brewery that owns it renovated and changed the name, a decision which enraged the right-thinking drinkers of central London. So now it has another name, which I can’t remember, but everybody just goes on calling it The Cardinal.
We have a pint and a packet of crisps each. (This is the perfect English day, remember, so the pint and crisps are also written into the contract.) The pub is quiet, Victorian. My friends like it because there are no fruit machines and no yobbos, which is the British word for men who drink much and behave badly.
And it’s home to dinner. My friends’ dinner parties are legendary. They will prepare and serve a sit down meal for 20 with the ease that most of us employ to pick up the phone and call for takeout. But tonight it’s just us three, a boatload of French rose, and the chicken. My appetite hasn’t been up to much lately but the food is so delicious I have two helpings.
British dinner parties are about setting the problems of the world to rights, and this is no different. My friends promise me that my life will balance itself out and there will come a time when I won’t feel like somebody has reached into my chest and pulled my heart out through my ribcage. They say that one day I will be happy, even joyful, because balance is the natural order of things.
I see glimpses of that, in these perfect days. I see times when the lows won’t be so low. These perfect days let me see into the future, when I am whole again.
And in the meantime, it’s steady as she goes; that’s the British way.