Tea bag, Mail bag, In The Bag.

(abpve: Clarinda’s Tea Room on The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, January 2006)

I have a lot to answer for. By which I mean your Comments and My Big Mouth.

I should really think before I type. Especially when I type stuff like “I hate fiction”  (see: “Wish You Were Here”, Feb. 8 post). Barbara  (at http://banardesigns.blogspot.com) reminded me that the great Barbara Pym wrote fiction, and there is nothing I loves  more than laying on the couch all afternoon with a cat (whichever cat isn’t on my Kill List for the day) reading in a Barbara Pym novel.  Hold on there Vivian…Just how  much do you love Barbara Pym novels?  you might ask.    Here’s how much:

I invented The Barbara Pym Drinking Game.

Here’s how you play it:    Say you’re reading one of her twelve delicious novels of English mid-20th century manners, like The Sweet Dove Died.  You read and read until you get to the first time that one of Barbara’s characters makes tea. That’s when you hoist your bevvieof choice (I usually have a Kamikaze on stand-by, but if you’re a stickler for Pym-esque libations Barbara’s characters  have been known to drink sherry ).

And then, you keep reading and keep reading, and each time one of those divinely ordinary, thwarted, modest, defeated, etc. Barbara Pym characters makes a cup of tea  you chug.

But I’m not sending you, my dear readers, out in the world to challenge all those hard living, book-marking, hipster-in-crowding Barbara Pym afficianados to throw down their literary cred in a round of The  Barbara Pym Drinking Game.  No way! Not without giving you a cheat sheet!

For Your Eyes  Only, here  is the low-down on just how hammered you can get by reading Barbara Pym, book by book:

Less Than Angels: First mention of tea on page ONE!!!   (11 tea times in all)

Civil to Strangers: First mention of tea on page 3   (8 tea times in all)

An Academic Question:  page 5   (8 tea times in all — one in Paddington Station!)

Quartet in Autumn:  also page 5    (but only 5 tea times in all, although it’s a better book than An Academic Question; in fact, it’s the best Pym novel of all, but that’s a whole other list)

Excellent Women:  page 8   (23 tea times in all, the highest in the Pym ouvre; plus there are three jumble sales in chapter 7!!)

A Glass of Blessings:  page 28   (10 tea times in all)

Some Tame Gazelle:  page 30   (9 tea times in all, a book you have to love because of this discussion by a fashion-conscious lady, about refurbishing her Winter coat: “I might buy some of that leopard-skin trimming, though, and put it on the cuffs and pockets. That would be a change, and sleeves are going to be important this winter, I believe.”).

Jane and Prudence:  page 31   (10 tea times in all, plus the helpful info that in 1953 Lapsang tea costs 10 and six a pound…whatever 10 & 6 is)

An Unsuitable Attachment:  page 33   (9 tea times in all)

A Few Green Leaves:  page 37   (4 tea times in all)

No Fond Return of Love:  page 47   (6 tea times in all, plus a quince tree and this quote: “…did many women living on their own keep a bottle or two of champagne in the house? There might be some who did. Rare creatures, hardly of this world.”)

BTW, you don’t have to play The Barbara Pym Drinking Game  only with tea. I also have the cheat sheets for variations of  The Barbara Pym Drinking Game . There’s the tinned food  drinking game  (am I the only person who loves the way English people don’t eat canned food, they eat tinned food?) which includes (in Less Than Angels) a mention of tinned celery – did you even know there was such a thing?

There’s the jumble sales drinking game, and the quince jam drinking game (but I warn you, it’s hard to get a buzz on that one — there’s not a whole lot of quince in the Pym universe, but that there’s any at all  is a kick!)  or the Descriptions of the Solitary Lady Dinner Menu  drinking game (every book has at least one such meal:  “…something simple and womanish for her evening meal, the kind of thing that a person with no knowledge of cooking might heat up”  –  from Jane and Prudence) or the vicars   drinking game.  But I think you get the picture: when you read a Barbara Pym novel, you know you’re going to get tea, tinned food, jumble sales, vicars, one hell of a fantastic good read, and wasted.

Oh yes, I loves me Barbara Pym.

(above: also on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, from January 2006)

OK: Back to your Comments (the Mail Bag portion of our blog today):

Thank you, Kim, for your kind comment about this Valentine’s Day being  the 2nd anniversary of my being an author. I’d have forgotten it if you hadn’t pointed it out: I’m a little obsessed that the Powers That Be in the Publishing Biz won’t let me keep being an author if nobody likes That Damn France Book. But hey, I can celebrate that, for the time being, I are one!

Deborah: You want me to paint graham-cracker  size landscapes? Hmmm….you’re opening up a whole new area of snack foodable canvases here.  I’ll put Graham Crackers on Top Cat’s shopping list.

About those ugly collages (see: Wish Yu Were Here, parts one and two, Feb. 8 and 10):  What’s even worse than making ugly art is when that ugly art  gets accepted into  National Small Works Juried Exhibition (http://www.artperk.com/ListingDetail.aspx?li=178)    in case anyone else wants to try it out, too.)  When one of those lame collages (guess which one!) made it past a field of experts and was put on display even I had to throw up my hands in disgust: Doesn’t anybody have any taste any more??

About storing and keeping track of one’s vast inventory of past works of art: I use my old vintage suitcases as flat files, with  luggage tags to label the contents of each old suitcase so I know where to find stuff — all those old collages are small enough to fit in one cigar box. I scan them, shrink them, post them, then delete them from the hard drive. Good lord, I don’t want that stuff hanging around like evidence!

Anne: The novel that started my musings that led me to Vonnegut was Home Safe  by Elizabeth Berg. It’s a good read, especially if you are a writer — I got a sneaky thrill peeping into Ms. Berg’s writing life.  She’s waaaay more important a writer than I am; I have no idea what it’s like to have 200 people show up at your author talk!  Although, like the character in her book, I do know how it feels to bomb at your own author talk.  But when I bomb, I bomb in front of 30 people, max.

Rachel: Those amazing Japanese and their New Year post cards that I’ve never heard of.  Thank you for showing me something new and wonderful about the world.

Jennifer: I know! I know! Neil deGrasse Tyson!!! And no,  I’ve never read anything by Ray Bradbury, so I’ll put him on my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jackie andRachel: Thank you for reminding us that we are all connected to the people of Haiti, who need us to remember that especially now. Thank you for giving this blog what it needs: Depth. And good going in somehow connecting Quince  withit all — impressive round a-bouting!

Candice, fellow writer: I get what you mean. Writers and artists are all self-selecting: if you say your are one, then you pretty much are. Unlike, say: manicurists, dog groomers, or anyone else in the arts. I mean, you can call yourself a singer but NOBODY will believe you if you can’t carry a note, and manicurists and dog groomers need to show some level of competency in order to get a license. But us writers and artists dodge any minimum requirement to prove that we are what we say we are. Even the distinction made by the word authoris losing its meaning in this age of self-publishing; the visual arts never had a comparable word ever since the apprenticeship system went extinct.  You know who else are famous for being as self-selecting as artists  and writers? Alcoholics. Coincidence? 

Thank you, everyonefor being the best readers a blogginista could dream of. You always make me think  — harder, deeper, and nicer than I would otherwise do on my own.

I’m taking this Wednesday off from posting — I have some busy business that will keep me busy this week: you might have noticed that I need to do some…ummm…research… on the one Barbara Pym novel that I haven’t re-read yet (The Sweet Dove Died. I shall drink it in. ha ha.) – but I’ll meet you back here on Friday, Feb. 19 with more tales from my molehill life.

5 comments to Tea bag, Mail bag, In The Bag.

  • novels? you want enjoyable novels?
    I don’t think they are “novels”, but I have 30 PG Wodehouse “novels”.
    They are stories of the funniest kind.
    THAT’S why I read.; To be entertained. They do it for me.

    But then, I’m 72.
    Viv, I love your stuff. I read you all the time.

  • candice

    I think I’ve been in that tea shop! When my husband and I went to Edinburgh, I remember leaving Waverly and thinking, Oh, I want to go back to the bright lights of London–it’s so dark and old here. *Then* I discovered the joys of those short days (we were there in November). One tea shop and bookstore after the other. I could live there, easily.

    I haven’t read Pym yet but I enjoy another old-timey Brit writer, Angela Thirkell. Lovely paintings!


  • Rachel

    Dear Friends,

    I wanted to share with you a reading list from Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord, compiled for a talk she gave on her artist’s journey. I am finding that so many people who I am learning from are connected, I would like to introduce Susan to this circle.

  • Susan Bramson

    Hi Vivian,

    I’m a huge Barbara Pym fan. Member of the Barbara Pym Society and an online group where we discuss her novels. Once went to a BP Society conference in Oxford and go to the conference every year in Cambridge, Mass. AND I have your book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, which I have enjoyed and keep rereading, like the Pym novels. So thanks for mentioning BP and for your book.
    Oh, and BTW, I made a count of how many times the words “excellent woman” or “excellent women” are mentioned in the novel “Excellent Women.” :-)


  • Mary Beth

    There’s also a mention of celery in a tin in A Few Green Leaves. Adam Price, the persnickety food critic, wonders if the celery “cleverly disguised in a rich sauce” came from a tin, along with the mayonnaise, “was it REALLY home-made?”
    I’ve always been puzzled about mayonnaise served with the first course. What did it go with?

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