The View from Here: tea with Daphne revisited

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Although I would have to add: “… with a wondrous book to hand”.

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Today has been a no-weather day, only the second such day that I’ve acknowledged since we arrived. No-weather days are at the bottom of the heap: no rain, no sun, no wind.  Nothing.  Just the world waiting… waiting for something to happen next.

In fact, today has been warm: probably the warmest day we’ve had here.  The skies have been pillowed by a cushion of clouds; and with no breeze to ruffle them, the air has been softly warming.  Its freshness and vitality have given way gracefully to torpor and heaviness.   Perhaps the same has happened to my vitality also, for I have struggled today.  Energy levels have been low; the mind and spirit willing but the body weak.

But I did find the teapot.  This is a significant discovery and is a crucial element in the coming together of several inconsequential and utterly unrelated facts: the afternoon was warm and still; I was tired and inward-looking; and I had found the teapot.

Which is how I came to be sitting outside, absorbed in a world at once familiar and equally apart.  My own world and Daphne’s.

A short while ago I came across these words from Henry James:

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

I echo his sentiments absolutely, although I would have to add: “… with a wondrous book to hand”.

It has always been a genuine treat, a precious luxury, a restoration of spirit, a communing with women past and present, to sit with a pot of tea and a good book.  It must be a pot of tea, mind.  Our modern-day preference for cups or mugs, and a dunk of a teabag does not suffice for this experience.  It must be tea leaves, in a pot.  The joy and the communing comes in the ritual; in the taking of time to steep the leaves, to pour from the pot; to know one can refill the cup several times without needing to stir from the seat or break from the story one is a part of.

So I have been looking for the teapot for over a fortnight since I found that quote, and since I realised that I have the absolute perfect spot for taking tea in warmth and shelter under summer skies and with birdsong as my accompaniment.

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This spot lies right outside the back door.  We have outside steps leading up to the back door on the first floor and also leading onto an area of well-worn decking.  Before we arrived here, I remember being somewhat bemused by why the decking had been added.  There is no view here at all.  I could see that it served a practical purpose: the previous owners had all their dustbins lined up on the decking, and a large water bowl for the dog.  They’d left us a rusting garden table and a set of matching rusting chairs here too, so I imagined they had morning coffee out here perhaps: the decking is on the south side and so receives the morning sun.  But really, it seemed superfluous.  Now I’m living here, I know better.  This space gets whatever sun there is for practically the entire day.  It is frequently sheltered from prevailing winds.  And sometimes, it’s actually quite restful to be cloistered and not to have the expanse of openness we have elsewhere.

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Thus the decking has become one of my favourite places.  The area is tatty.  The wood is worn and hasn’t been well-cared for.  It needs repair and protection.   But I like it as it is and I like the tatty old furniture.  I know B is looking to replace both, so the nature of this spot may change significantly quite soon.  All the more reason to make the most of it while I can.  (It’s also one of Harri’s favourite spots.  She does a spot of reconnoitering from the corners and often sprawls on the warm old wood.  I wonder how she will feel about the sleek new look that’s coming…)

My teapot, on the other hand, is not a lovely ancient thing but a sleek, modern one so it may feel entirely at home on the new deck and will properly look the part.  Transparent and with a central steel core in which you place the leaves, with a plunger when the steeping is done, which absolutely stops the tea from brewing further.  The water stays hot; the tea does not stew.  There is time enough to enjoy at least three cups, more still if I chose to fill the pot entirely.  To accompany my modern, transparent teapot I choose to use a modern transparent mug: simply molded, with a handle and no adornment.  And this afternoon was the first time I’ve conducted this much-loved ritual for a very long time.  It has left me quiet: replete and peaceful.  And I seek no noise or distraction, merely time to absorb the experience and smile.  This afternoon has been special.

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Last month I took afternoon tea with Daphne; today we had tea again, but this time with the teapot.  I think Daphne would have approved.

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Today was the turn of Chapter Two from Enchanted Cornwall.  In this chapter, the young Daphne arrives in Cornwall with her mother and sisters on their search for a holiday home; finds Ferryside entirely by chance and her fate is sealed.  When the house has been made ready, Daphne moves in and stays behind when the family returns to London.  Here she finds her true spiritual home and here she discovers what is dearest to her heart: her freedom.  And here she writes her first novel: The Loving Spirit.

I’ve not read The Loving Spirit, though of course I would have done so eventually.  Now, I shall do soon.  I immediately ordered a copy to add to my burgeoning set of Virago editions, but I think I shall wait just a few months, and read it in the autumn when the weather will more likely match the atmosphere.

WP_20160521_002But back to Enchanted Cornwall.  The chapter includes large extracts from the novel, together with the story of how the novel came into being: a marvellous mix of happy good fortune and research into the actual boat-building family that still lived and worked in the area.  And all of this is set not six miles from me.  The settings for the book are towns and hills and rivers and churches here, in this tiny corner of Cornwall.  The majority of Daphne’s books are based in Cornwall of course, but not all in this place; not all here: where we have chosen to live.  I am in heaven.  The sense of this place continues to burn its way deeper into my soul.  I can’t wait to climb the hills that Janet, Daphne’s heroine, climbed; to visit the church where she now lies buried.  For Janet Coombe is based on a real woman: Jane Slade, matriarch of the boat-building family that Daphne had come to know through her friendships with the local men and women of Fowey and Polruan and Boddinick.

Sitting outside, absorbed, with tea at my side and the book in my hands, under a softly shrouded sky with no distractions, no noise beyond the birdsong, no human noise of any kind … sitting outside I stepped into Daphne’s creation and for a short while became one with it.  Dark, gothic – for she was very young still and heavily influenced by the works of the Brontes – brimming with passion and nature and the sepulchral, I crossed a divide and for a short while left behind our twenty-first century world and stepped back almost a century to when Daphne was writing and another half century beyond that to when Janet lived and died.  And it was wonderful.

There is no view to be seen, sitting in my chosen spot, but alive in my heart is a view of a wild and magical landscape, peopled with characters long-passed, whose lives were irrevocably bound by the sea and by the caprice of nature.  The view within is infinite.

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