The Last of the Doris Cups
I once as a teenager got to visit my Dad’s Auntie Doris at her home in Lytham St Annes for, when I was younger, my parents were asked not to bring us kids along due to her nerves and the fear that we would do damage to her delicate knickknacks. Little could I have imagined then the jewel of that collection. And then, after Doris died just shy of her eighty-second birthday, one of this things I ended up inheriting from her were half a dozen assorted china cups which, along with a short article from Douglas Adams, went on to change my life.
I’ve already pinpointed the two books that have literally changed the way I think. To those I should probably add Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I picked up as a child at motorway services as a four book reprint of the “Trilogy in Four Parts”. I’m hardly alone in making the mind boggling discovery of what lay within; what with the author choosing to describe giant spaceships as hanging in the sky “in much the same way that bricks don’t” and summing up all humanity with just two words as “Mostly Harmless”.
And yes after the first two novels it does tend to go off a bit, with books revolving about cricket and love, but they’re still worth reading for the gems they contain. And, having taken these books to heart, I have had cause throughout my life to recall the words of Douglas Adams for my own purposes.
For my university department’s Christmas dinner my boss – the very much respected Pro-Vice Chancellor – was annually cajoled into acting as the drawmaster for the after-dinner raffle and as such it was beyond reproach. However it was noted, possibly only by me, that he had the uncanny knack of defying probability in always drawing one of his own tickets. The secretaries also came out well in the prize stakes too. Year after year. When it fell to me to organise the night I produced a booklet in which I played on this notion and explained it away by quoting from Life, the Universe, and Everything explaining how the laws of maths break down inside restaurants:
“On a waiter’s bill pad reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible, within certain parameters.”
A fact I’m sure you’ll recognise if you’ve ever had a combined resteraunt bill for a group, and then collected up from your friends what they all owe, to find that the sum total comes nowhere near to the amount on the bill. I’m pretty sure that, despite the spotlight I put on them, my boss and the secretaries went on to win something that year too. Now I don’t know the laws of copyright, but with a self-printed booklet, limited to 90-odd copies, for a drunken party held near a big mountain in Wales, I figured I’d probably get away with copying this portion out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. I did give Douglas Adams a credit, noted that he was quoted without permission, and – mulling upon his recent death – that it was unlikely he would go on sue me now.
Possibly, for me, the most meaningful section of Adams’ writing comes in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where, of all the surreal things, he has a poet testify in court as an expert witness as to the beauty of writing being more valid than the reality it was describing.
Beauty was truth, truth beauty. It’s a mantra I’ve learnt to write by as I’d describe anything on here as 99 percent true as if, say, I’m writing about two events and I just don’t happen to mention that they occurred six months apart, which in doing so might imply to a reader that they weren’t, and thus make it a better read, then all the better.
A few years after the china cups arrived from my Dad’s Auntie Doris I read a posthumously produced volume of the writings of Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt – which included a short article for foreigners on how to make tea. It sounds silly, unnecessary even, but then along with Doris’s cups this started my tea-drinking career.
As a child I could never comprehend it, alongside the instant coffee, but as a scientist I now began to understand the process of brewing tea as an extraction which occurs only above a certain temperature, which is why the water had to be kept hot, really hot: say in thin china cups that don’t absorb the heat from the water. And also why you cannot brew tea up mountains as, with the thin atmosphere, the water boils away at 95 ºC at five thousand feet and 90 ºC at ten thousand.
Understanding the process was a revelation that seemingly set me apart from the common man as I’ve even found many individuals, for who it’s their professional calling, who clearly don’t understand how tea works at all as I’ve had to wrestle the cold milk out of their hands whilst they’re trying to pour it in with the boiling water. You’ve got to give it a few minutes first.
This article that was designed for “ignorant foreigners” which I hastily found myself in their number before transforming myself into a proper tea-drinking Englishman, I thought I’d run the risk of the Adams-estate in case it might change somebody else’s life too. Have a read and go and get a good box of Earl Grey teabags.
Although if this has being spotted by someone in the legal department, and there’s a problem, and then please just drop me a line and I’ll remove it. After all as I’ve mentioned above I have worried about misappropriating lines in the past, but then I may have stolen “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” from the late, great Douglas Adams but then, as it turns out, it’s actually from Ode on a Grecian Urn and that he half-inched it from the poet John Keats first!
The thieving basard.
However I’m hardly covered in glory as, fifteen years after Auntie Doris died, I’m down to the last two of her china cups now through natural wastage having drunk a hell of a lot of tea. All of which just goes to show that she was right in the first place and that you can’t trust us kids with any of her stuff.