Penny Blake

Extraordinary Everyday

Tag: Tea

Tales From The Airship Katarina: The Tuesday Flight Club

The Tuesday Flight Club:

Chpt three: The Surmen at the temple of heaven                 

The planet Earth has flooded – an act of divine angst? Perhaps– however, the dauntless human spirit,  ever alert to finding the bare necessities of life, ever willing to turn the most hostile of environments into a holiday camp (consider Blackpool… Eastbourne… Clacton…), endures with infuriating tenacity, regardless of the fact that its awesome creator may be fervently wishing it would ‘just sod off and die.’

Both beneath the waves and above them, life goes on in an admirable assortment of sunken cities, floating carnivals, slightly submerged villages and diverse domiciles of every description and, above them all, sails the Airship Katarina; Hotel Of The Skies, carrying passengers, and the occasional contraband cargo, in style from the port of one floating scrap of human existence to the next.

The Airship Katarina, chauffeur to some of the most celebrated, cerebrated, and inebriated  personages on the planet and, once a month, host to the Tuesday Flight Club; a select gathering of witty and percipient individuals, each highly regarded in their diverse fields of expertise, each solemnly sworn to meet aboard the Katarina on the first Tuesday of every month in order to share and discuss the marvellous mysteries that their expeditions, investigations, literary endeavours and knitting circles have brought to light…

This particular Tuesday it was the turn of Major Coronary, the supposedly noted cartographer whom no living soul, bar my aged Aunt Agatha, seemed to have heard of, to share some curiosity, catastrophe or conundrum on which his fellow octogenarians could feast their exaggerated powers of intellect. Previously, we had been presented with a homicidal clockwork killing machine and a foolish message in a bottle, now we stared in stunned silence at the article which, with a disconcerting twinkle in his eye, the major had laid before us.

It was a rough cylinder, elongated and slightly tapered towards each end, and seemed to be made of leather, although the wrinkles spoke of some emaciated substance beneath, which may have once been plump and vital and filled the now shrivelled skin making it robust and smooth.

Smooth it was now not. Besides the various knots and gnarls the thing was pocked with warty blemishes along its length, from some of which protruded wiry hairs, and, whatever it may have been in life – for it undoubtedly conveyed the impression of a thing that had passed over – certainly it had suffered for it.

In fact, as I regarded it, I came to the rapid conclusion that no thing on earth had ever been as hated, or as loved, as this thing in front of us. Some person had so vehemently despised it, so fervently desired its demise, that they had hacked it into as many pieces as they could manage. And yet someone else, presumably, had so wished to salvage it that they had painstakingly (if clumsily) stitched it back together again and this process seemed to have been repeated many times until at last the poor unfortunate thing had given up the good fight.

Aunt Agatha studied it gravely from beneath the brim of her pugnaciously purple hat. She said nothing but her knitting needles seemed to semaphore her revulsion. Edward Monroe, sitting opposite me, laughed nervously and glanced at his wife who seemed to be trying her hardest to look perplexed. Elgin Marbles reached inside the mis-matched assortment of archaic astro-gear, which he quaintly referred to as his ‘space suit,’ and pulled out his monocular.

“Gods of the deep!” he exclaimed, ignoring my aunt’s derisive snort, “I’ve never seen anything like it! What is it?”

The major smiled enigmatically “I would not expect any of you to recognise it. It is what is known on the isle of Knitty-ta-ta as a swashcumber.”

My aunt gave another indignant snort “What nonsense! The isle of Knitty-ta-ta has not been seen since I was a child. The knitted islands were amongst the last land masses to survive the rising sea levels but, like everything else, they succumbed in the end.”

“Indeed, so it has generally been assumed. However, last year an old chum of mine asked if I didn’t fancy pulling out of retirement for one last shove into the unknown blue; St. Isidore’s is a cartographical alliance dedicated to mapping out the diluvian globe and their oceanographical seismic transponders had picked up the vibration of an as yet uncharted mobile landmass in the former mountainous region where Knitty-ta-ta was last seen.

“Of course I could not resist the prospect and as you can see,” he patted the strange swashcumber affectionately, sending an inexplicable shudder down my spine, “our efforts were rewarded. What we discovered was the last floating remnant of the temple of heaven. The lost tea temple of Knitty ta-ta, set afloat by a complicated crochet of kelp bladders and faithfully piloted by a handful of clerics who, I am sorry to say, have been driven utterly mad by their experiences at sea.  When our subaquatic-dugon-drawn-paddle-barge, pulled up alongside the floating temple, the clerics were just beginning their monthly Surmen and not only were they overjoyed to see us – having lived for several decades with the belief that they were the only gentlemen left on the planet – they were most insistent that we should join them in the temple grotto and bear witness to the strange event which was about to take place. “

Ladies and gentlemen, in testimony of the tragedy which may occur when a small island of otherwise sane and moral gentlemen is set adrift from the rest of humanity and placed at the mercy of sea, salt and persistent seals, I present to you the account of our experiences in the temple of heaven…

The Major went on to describe at length and in detail his experiences of the Swashcumbering Surmen but I will not play sport with your time and intellect by repeating his words verbatim. Instead I will give a brief account of what, apparently, one might expect should one ever have the misfortune to be invited to such an event:

The walls of the grotto rise like the curved sides of an upturned tea cup and their stained appearance will do nothing to rob you of the impression that this is what you have stepped into.

The floor it is as well to step on as little and as gingerly as possible for it is a vast debris of broken china crusted with rancid cream, mucilage and lumps of decaying flesh from previous swashcumbering Surmens.

The crowd, eager, straining at its leash for the impending carnage, surges up the curvature of the walls on rows of chronically unstable wooden terraces so that they bear down upon the ring, their faces red and rabid beneath their oil skin cowls. Oil skin cowls are the official garb of the Surmen priests and their purpose, you will soon discover, is not as one would first suppose, purely aesthetic.

At last a cheer swells up from the lower levels as the combating swashcumberers are manhandled into position in the centre of the ring. At first you will doubt their humanity –  the absurd layers of padding beneath their long oil skin overcoats, coupled with enormous gauntlets and mesh-lens goggles, enforce a stiff, laboured movement comparable to ungainly automata.

Perhaps it is this ridiculous mixture of the comic and the grotesque, this detachment from the reality of the human flesh beneath, which allows the crowd to excuse this vial swashcumbering as entertainment.

The arms master now enters the ring, bearing before him the weapons of each swashcumberer on a knitted cushion. This cushion bears, in intricate intarsia, the crest of the tea temple – a monkey, cross-legged, staring meditatively into a large cup of gunpowder tea. The idea is for each gentleman to now inspect his weapon and confirm that it is in fact his own but, considering the get up, such a feat is obviously impractical and the pomp at this stage in the proceedings is merely part of the show.

The weapons themselves will be one of two varieties of aquatic cumber; Aqua Cucumis melo var. flexuosus, or Aqua Cucumis sativus, carefully cultivated from seed by its owner from a unique heirloom line of fruits, and their state of rancidity and disrepair are testimony to the great and noble swashcumberings their owners have previously survived.

I say survived; it is not the purpose of the Surmen to hold a swashcumbering where either swashcumberer is ‘the victor.’ Instead, each man is bestowed a certain amount of esteem and rank amongst his peers according the number of wounds his own cumber has sustained without wilting. A wilted cucumber results in disqualification from the round and the owner of such an inadequate fruit will be scorned by the entirety of the temple until such a time as he is able to cultivate a new weapon and re-stake his claim to manhood.

Once the satisfactory grunt has issued forth from each combatant (please do not think I am speaking derogatorily at this point, a grunt, literally is all that any man could muster under such oppressive garb) , the weapons are crudely thrust into each gauntleted hand and on the clanging of a bell the whole grotto erupts into chaos as the fun begins.

It is slow work. Unable to do more than shuffle obtusely like a pair of aged clockwork penguins, the swashcumberers attempt to swipe at eachother with their long, green weapons. Often a chunk of hoary cumber-skin is catapulted up into the stalls amid whoops of ecstasy from the crowd and, of course, from every smite upon a cumber, there oozes a plentiful stream of sappy mucus. It squirts over the combatants, clerics and crowd, it dribbles over the china shards and slathers down the sloping walls.

Now and then you see half a man’s cumber go flying and then, of course, he calls for time (grunting and flailing like a pig in a sock until his request is comprehended by some person with authority) and his steward comes hopping high-legged across the slippery floor with his needle and thread to repair the severed organ, whilst the impatient crowd pelts him with cream cakes and fine bone china.

Considering that these stewards are not afforded any armorial protection for themselves, it begs the question ‘who is in fact the braver man?’  The clerics of the temple of heaven do not, however, concern themselves with philosophy and, considering that the tradition of swashcumbering both originated and thrives within their midst, the world may be thankful for the fact. Their only concern is to emerge from the ring with a cumber so savagely mauled and mutilated, so pummeled and pulped and haphazardly stitched back together by some Barbary butcher that they will be able to hold their heads up high as they go about the temple with these grotesque appendages swinging at their belts.

Once the odious show has reached its climax in showers of cream from the stalls, the clerics retire to the feasting hall where each man’s cumber is proudly passed around for inspection and praised with speeches, poetry and songs.

So the Major’s narrative came to an end and he offered the specimen swashcumber for us to examine. My aunt peered at it curiously over her pince nez, “I suppose we should be thankful that our own little islands of humanity have not yet fallen into such demise.”

At that moment our meeting was interrupted by the appearance of my bothersome brother, sporting his captain’s hat askew and a rising actress on each arm. “Ah, there you are Jem! Glad someone has time for a sit down…hello! What on earth is that thing? Reminds me of the time I drank twelve bottles of Pernod with the Earl of New Tunbridge Wells…”

I left my aunt Agatha choking on her crumpets and went to make the Katarina ready to land as the peaceful port of Southerby loomed into view below us…

Cogs and spring and whirry things…

“Ask me where I’ve been”

“Where have you been Lord Flashheart?”

“Where haven’t I been? WOOF!”

Ah god bless Rik Mayall, we miss him still! But, I digress, this post is supposed to be a grave apology for my recent absence during which time we have acquired several new things, the most exciting of which having arms and legs and a fine set of healthy lungs via which it is able to demand milk and nappy changes and cuddles and baths and things and interfere adorably with life the universe and everything … and certainly the world of blogging!

But we are getting back on track now and working on several exciting projects which I’ll tell you more about later this week, suffice to say I’m over the moon at being able to work with some fab artists and writers who are not only super talented but also absolutely lovely folks so I’m feeling both excited and hugely blessed 🙂

Tales from the airship Katarina have been building too, so those will be appearing soon along with additions to the tea activists’ handbook and more weapons of choice for discerning ladies and gentlemen so, huge thankyous for your patience over the last few months and watch this space for enormous amounts of steam-powered silliness in the coming weeks 🙂

The Tea Activists’ Handbook: Suggested Activities for December

Activities For December:

– Knit cup jackets and pot cozies for friends and family.

– Knit blankets, hats, scarves, socks or  mittens for a local homeless shelter, animal sanctuary or premature baby unit.

– Adopt a granny (or granddad)! Contact your local retirement or care home and find out if there is an elderly person who would appreciate regular visits for tea and cake.

– Invite your neighbors in for tea and mince pies.

– Send boxes of tea to friends and relatives abroad.

– Set up a stall to give away free cups of hot tea in your local area. If the police ask what you are doing, give them a free cup too!

– Donate some really nice tea or other cheerful festive treats to your local food bank.

– Organise a tea and mice pie sale. Use the money to buy presents for children at your local hospital, homeless or women’s shelter.

– Make teacup candles by melting wax beads (or grated wax from spent candles) and pouring it into old teacups with a weighted wick. Give as gifts to friends and family.

– Make your own spiced tea by filling jam jars with your favourite black tea and adding chopped or ground dried spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger or star anise. Tie the jars with ribbon and give as gifts. Don’t forget to keep one for yourself.

– Surprise someone in your family with a cup of tea.

– Set aside a quiet hour to enjoy a nice cup of tea with your favorite biscuit.

– Recycle your tea boxes by filling them with small gifts and posting them to distant friends and relations.

Tea Activists’ Handbook: Introduction to December

December was gifted to us by The Powers That Tea, so that we might have a month in which it is perfectly acceptable to combine alcohol and tea. In December we stoke our inner flame with the warming spices of chai and remember that our actions in the world can bring this warmth and comfort to others.

The Sacred Tea for December is Masala Chai.

The Scared Ritual for the first of December is as follows:

The Chant:

Oh tree of tea, oh tree of tea

How sacred art thy leaves to me

Oh tree of tea, oh tree of tea

Thy blessed blossoms should be free

Yes free to all, not hoarded up

To fill some greedy guzzler’s cup

Oh tree of tea, oh tree of tea

Divine gift to humanity.

The Oath:


I solemnly swear to accept the gift of the month of December as a month for spreading comfort, warmth and sustenance to those around me. I will honour the Powers That Tea by drinking Chai with respect and acknowledging that these delicious spices are a divine gift to all, not to be hoarded or monopolized by one group of greedy guzzlers. As a mark of this vow I will wear my Festive Tea Socks every day during the month of December.

            I solemnly swear that I am up to a lot of good… although it may not seem like it at the time.

Optional Ceremonial Garb:

The Festive Tea Socks

The Tea Activist’s Handbook: Introduction To Winter

The first day of winter may be taken as the first day you need to turn your heating on indoors, or the first time you catch a cold, whichever is sooner. Winter is traditionally a time of good cheer amongst tea fiends. Strange rituals that we are forced to keep secret for most of the year, for example dressing our cups in fashionable knitted jackets or brewing chai in large cauldrons over a smoldering fire, suddenly acquire a certain festive charm and are not likely to subject us to social ridicule or death by angry pitch forks.

On a serious note, winter is the time when guerrilla tea activism is most needed because for many it is a cold, bleak and lonely period when  the line between those who are able to skip through life on rainbow-spangled wings, and those who are forced to crawl belly down in the dirt to make way for them is at its starkest.

This darkest, coldest, cruelest time of the year is when we must step up to the mark in earnest and make our presents felt…or wool, or wax or anything that comes to hand that is good for present making will do actually, doesn’t have to be felt at all…

We must look around at our nearest and dearest, at our neighbors and friends, at those in our community, and yes sometimes maybe even our enemies… and see who is in need and how we can help them.

Winter is also a time to recognize if we are in need and to seek out nourishment, comfort, companionship and the gentleness of deep dreaming and wild imagining that only sitting by the fire with a blanket and a mug of hot chai can bring.

The Tea Activists’ Handbook: Introduction to November



November was gifted to us by The Powers That Tea, so that we could stand outside in the cold and the dark, drinking bonfire-flavoured Yerba Mate and reflecting on the fact that it is probably not very nice to burn people on bonfires or blow each other up, or shoot at each other with guns. Important messages which, like a nice Masala Chai, need mulling over, lest we forget.


The Sacred Tea for November is Yerba Mate.


The Scared Ritual for the first of November is as follows:


The Chant:


Red the poppies of the field

            Red the blood that has been spilled

            Green the tea this day we make

            Green the life, not ours to take


The Oath:


I solemnly swear to accept the gift of the month of November as a month for contemplating endings and beginnings, for comforting those who grieve, for celebrating and enriching the lives of those around me. I will honour the Powers That Tea by drinking Yerba Mate with respect and acknowledging that its life-giving goodness is a divine gift to all, not to be hoarded or monopolized by one group of greedy guzzlers. As a mark of this vow I will wear my  Sacred Tea Scarf every day during the month of November.

I solemnly swear that I am up to a lot of good… although it may not seem like it at the time.


Ceremonial Garb: (Optional)


The Sacred Tea Scarf



Celebrating 20 years of the Fairtrade Mark #Steampunk style

Pinkies Around The World

2014 celebrates 20 years of the FAIRTRADE mark and, seeing as tea features so prominently in Steampunk culture, this is a great opportunity to celebrate the fact that we can now enjoy this delicious beverage guilt-free by choosing to make sure that the brew that stews in our pot has been ethically produced.

I’m proud that the tea in my larder is fairly traded and I want to persuade (not bully or shame but just encourage) as many other people as possible to switch to Fairtrade too.

There are lots of campaigns out there trying to do the same thing and I’m not trying to steal their thunder or tread on their toes but this is a project especially for Steampunks because, well, come on guys, we do drink a lot of tea between us… 😉  (And coffee but shhh, that’s a secret…)

Really, it’s just a bit of fun to celebrate 20 years of hard work and splendid tea. If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of then all you have to do is this:

sept20142 001

1. Pledge for one whole day (or longer if you like!) to drink only Fairtrade tea / coffee.

2. Take a photo of your pinkie finger (yeah, stick it up in salute like you would with your middle finger if you were flipping someone the bird – which of course you would never ever do I am sure.. and neither would I… ever…never…ah-hem.)

3. Put the photo on your blog, facebook wall or any other social media platform you use, with the caption “I’m Giving Unfairly Traded Tea The (pinkie) Finger” with a line or two about why you’ve chosen to drink fairly traded tea or a link to a fairly traded tea you like or something like that – anything that lets people know why you are doing this is fine. The link below will take you to the Fairtrade website where you can vote for your favourite Fairtrade product and join their official celebration events too:

3. Tag 3 other Steampunks and challenge them to do the same (‘challenge’ here means ‘politely enquire whether they would care to partake in this worthwhile and vaguely amusing venture’ not ‘bully, shame or cajole’ – remember that some people who would like to buy Fairtrade simply can’t afford to and this isn’t about judgement it’s about raising awareness in a fun way.)

And that’s all there is to it! Hopefully we can make a lovely chain of pinkies around the world and celebrate 20 years of good work on the part of The Fair Trade Foundation and its supporters 🙂

Hopefully Not Necessary Disclaimer:

Now before anyone decides to get shirty and remind me that Fairtrade isn’t always as ‘Fair’ as it makes out or that any form of tea growing isn’t really ethical or blah blah blah, if that is your opinion, fine, you are certainly entitled to it, possibly correct and if you can restrain yourself from consuming any amount of tea whatsoever on those grounds, or if you have discovered the world’s one and only brand of truly ‘ethical’ tea then I take my hat of to you sir, or madam, please feel free to share your wisdom politely. But otherwise, please remember that each of us can only do the small things we can do. And this is one small thing I can do. So I’m doing it. You are in no way obliged to join me but if you would like to then you are most welcome.

Lessons in Chai Latin (A useful trick for #Steampunks Engaging In Espionage)

The Wyvern and I were recently made aware of a  rather unfortunate incident in a certain  botanical garden, which ended in a most adequately and  intrepidly attired personage being pelted with pensioners’ packed lunches and ousted from the premises purely as a result of his companion not being fluently conversant with the coded language he was using to communicate.

This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

We therefore thought it might be useful to share this simple, amusing and aptly-themed method for covert conversation to be used in any setting where there are other Steampunks present who wish to converse covertly. If you were ever forced to learn Latin at school, or if you grew up anywhere near East London, you will find this very easy to get the hang of…

Chai Latin

1. Take the word you intend to speak

(for example ‘Buffoon’)

2. Remove the initial consonants

(in this case leaving ‘uffoon’)

3. Choose the title of a well know tea (for example Assam) and insert this into the new word after the next consonant (if there is no other consonant just stick it at the end of the word)

(leaving uffassamoon)

4. Finally replace the initial consonants after the last letter of the title of the tea,

(Giving us ‘uffassamboon’)

5. If this now sounds utterly unutterable (eg tea might end up as ‘eaassamt’) you may insert an extra tea name on the end (thus making ‘eaassamtoolong’ which sounds much better.)

This code is vastly superior to Pig Latin because every word can have as many variations as there are types of tea and still be decipherable by the person you are speaking to, assuming they have a fairly healthy obsession with hot beverages (and, frankly, what Steampunk doesn’t?)

I will try and make a post in the near future entirely in Chai Latin but, for now, do feel free to use it in your own adventures (or simply to irritate your boss / geography teacher … )

Chin-chin for now, Penny 🙂