Making and drinking tea can mean so many different things in so many situations. I have celebrated happy moments with a pot of tea, commiserated with friends over a pot of tea, shared secrets, celebrated engagements, and restored frazzled spirits, all with tea. When welcoming visitors into my home, my hands reach to fill the kettle and arrange the cups and saucers almost by themselves. In the face of bad news, I have almost sleepwalked to the kettle. Sometimes tea is the only way to celebrate, sometimes the ritual of it feels like the only thing anchoring you to the ground.
Having walked all the way to the end of the longest pier in the world at Southend-on-Sea on Saturday morning, we discovered a little shop selling things to raise money for the wonderful work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It is hard to believe that such vital work relies on charity. So you can imagine I was more than happy to do my bit and contribute - particularly as they were selling boxes of Lifeboat Tea, with a proportion of the profits going to the charity.
We brewed our first pot yesterday, and it was really delicious - rich, strong and fragrant. The only problem is that when we want more, it is a long way to the end of the pier! 1.3 miles, in fact. We walked down, and it was just the perfect weather for it. Warm and sunny enough for it to be pleasant, but without having to worry about burning, and enough breeze to make it really comfortable. As we walked along, we passed several rows of benches, facing out to sea. I couldn't help but think it would be lovely to spend an entire day on the pier, watching the waves, and knitting. Then I got to imagining Miss Marple on her holidays, sitting and knitting and watching, and wondering if she would prevent a murder by observing those around her, and using a few well chosen words. I think there was a Poirot where he was on holiday and warned someone about a murder - and it turned out he was warning the would-be murderer not to do it, although you don't realise that at the time. Come to think of it, I wonder what would have happened if Miss Marple had been sitting and knitting on the pier, and Hercule Poirot wandered past, on his own holidays.
Perhaps I have Poirot and Marple in mind because of the other souvenir I bought from the shop at the end of the pier - a copy of The Floating Admiral which was first published in the thirties, and was written by a group of crime club authors - including Agatha Christie. Each one wrote a chapter, and then passed it onto the next - a kind of game of literary consequences.
Although a lot of the seafront at Southend is filled with arcade amusements and the like, and there is a whole mini theme-park right next to the pier, the pier itself is refreshingly unspoilt. Even when you get to the end, there is a place to buy an ice-cream, a place for lunches, and the RNLI shop, but nothing gaudy. There is a train line that runs along the pier, so that you can ride the train either there-and-back or just one way as you prefer. We were happy to catch the train back, and actually got more of an impression of the length of the pier from the steady constant slow speed of the train, rather than our somewhat irregular perambulations!
All that fresh sea air made me sleepy that evening, and I slept really well. Oh I do like to be beside the sea-side...