At work recently, one of my co-workers was discovering the restorative value of what is colloquially known as ‘builders tea’. “You know.” She said to me. “I’m beginning to see what you Brits like about this stuff.”
“Oh yes.” Said I, airily, although a little nettled by the ‘you Brits’ label. “It’s one of life’s great restoratives. We built an empire on it.”
“Is it true that you guys used to stop battles to have tea?” She asked.
No idea where that one came from, but I thought I’d play along. “Only the senior officers.” I replied mischievously. “Generals and upwards. Colonels had to drink on the go, and all other ranks had to brew up in foxholes and the like while they were fighting.” Which is probably closer to the truth than most people would like to admit. You can’t exactly down bayonets and say to the other side; “Look chaps, we’re a bit hot and dusty, and it’s close to three o’clock, so would you mind while we take a quick tea break?” Although upon reflection, the sheer psychological value of doing so must have caused many a foreign potentate to think more than twice about taking on the English and their Northern ginger devils in skirts. Especially when the commanders of said forces decide to take a spot of Tiffin mid slaughter. “You don’t build Empires by being nice.” I pointed out. “Tea takes the stress out of Empire building. It’s very soothing.”
“Well you guys don’t have an Empire any more.” She pointed out gleefully.
“Ah yes.” I riposted ruefully. “That’s the curse of Empire, even stronger than Tea. Middle class guilt.”
“Middle class guilt?” She said, suspecting that I wasn’t being entirely serious.
“It’s why Empires fall.” I explained. “At every point in an Empires story, it becomes rich enough to support an extended middle class. Furthermore, the middle class evolves to a point where they feel terribly guilty for all the war and associated naughtiness required to build said Empire and they destroy it from within by not believing in it any more.” I expanded. “The expansion of Empires depend upon their self confidence and ruthlessness. Take that away and they begin to shrink because the energy necessary to push the boundaries of an Empires expansion grows less than the opposing forces. The supply chains get over extended because the will to maintain them fails. Tea is a kind of mental lubricant for this belief. Without it the Empire collapses. Happens to them all. The Greeks built theirs on trade and Hoplites. The Romans on Falernian wine and their Legions fighting discipline. The British on Tea and bayonets. The Americans on Coffee and technology.” I said. “The Germans and Austro Hungarians built a smaller version on Sausage, bombs and Sauerkraut, but that collapsed because it was mainly due to wind. The Ottoman Turks used religion. The French under Napoleon gave Empire building a go, but the smell of garlic and too much red wine did for them in the end.” I added with an air of impeccable logic. “Without tea and belief, Empire becomes too difficult to maintain.”
“What about Canada?” she asked.
“You’re too nice and civilised to have an empire.” I said. “With or without tea. You imported too much middle class guilt from England, and it’s too well embedded in your culture.”
“Oh, that’s all right then.” She said. Although I caught her staring at her teacup with new respect.
Yes I know. It was naughty of me, but I’m just a mad dog of an Englishman at heart, and must take my entertainment where I can find it.