A bumper post this one, as it holds two pieces of... Well, not information, as such. Two chunks of words, perhaps. Sadly, they’re both a just a tiny bit dull.
1. If you’ve tried to join this blog in the past, or register or whatever the hell it is you do with these things, you probably haven’t had much luck. I’ve only recently realised that the Wordpress install wasn’t emailing people back. I believe that I have now — by dint of extreme technical cleverness, principally involving yelling “Oh just work, for the love of Christ,” at the computer screen — sorted this out. So feel free to try again, if you want.
2. It’s just struck me that I have favourite mugs for tea. Actually, I knew that before. Obviously. I’m always asking for one mug in particular, on the few occasions I’m offered tea rather than having to make it for myself (that’s a hint, wife). What I mean is that I’ve realised why I have favourites. It’s not simply a matter of the mug’s colour or size — each of the (many) cups in our cupboard makes (or holds) a quite distinctive cup of tea, the nature of which doesn't appear to be directly tied to their physical characteristics. There are some mugs – the blue ones from Ikea, for example – which make a decent, standard-issue cup of tea. They’re the default, and I'm never unhappy to see one coming my way. Then there’s a couple of other mugs, one tall, one wide, both with Disney cartoons on, which have thick walls and which make good, big-tasting cups of tea — the chewy, grandstanding Merlots of tea which I’ll be ready for by mid-afternoon.
There’s a few mugs that don’t work so well, however. A large and irregularly-shared Starbucks one which I like perfectly well for coffee, but which makes under-powered and insipid tea. A posh china-style affair which has the names of medicinal herbs attractively stamped around it, but which makes horribly thin and watery PG Tips. A few thin-lipped Charles Macintosh-adorned ones which make tea which is technically okay, and yet somehow a little standoffish and unrewarding.
Then there are the real favourites, including the very small Toy Story mug (which makes a lovely, muscular little brew for when you’re swimming in the stuff but fancy just one more) and the mug I’m using now, a Scrafitto-style from Heals. This makes a truly great cup of tea — richly brewed but nice and light in the mouth, perfect for first thing in the morning.
What makes the difference? I’m not entirely sure. I know that I don't like very large cups, but after that it gets murky. The Scrafitto is black on the outside and pure white on the inside — does that somehow make the tea taste more crisp? It can’t merely be the white interior making a psychological difference, however, as the herb tea cups have that too, and always make dreadful tea. Dreadful black tea, anyway — by all accounts they’re very nice with herbal varieties. Though, and here’s an interesting point (and I’m using the word “interesting” rather inaccurately here) the herb cups, when microwaved, go oh-my-christ hot, whereas others don’t. Does that affect the flavour of tea fashioned in them? The particular material that the cup’s made from must make a difference — and I'm sure there's whole and quite tedious schools of thought on this — but in what way, and how predictably? There are thick-walled cups that make good tea, and ones that make bad tea. Largish cups that do okay, and others that taste vile. The finish on the interior of the Starbucks mug is identical to one of the cartoon mugs, and yet the results are worlds apart. It’s all very perplexing.
There are many things in life that work like this, though. Subtle distinctions that make all the difference between a good bar and a bad one, that produce a tendency toward a bad restaurant, or a good house, or a bad car, or even a good friend or bad life partner. Differences which have nothing to do with obvious external appearances, and none of which we’re consciously aware of. We all have a covert preferences file somewhere, obscured even from ourselves. How much of it is subjective, and how much objective? What differences does our mood make? Just how many variables are operating on every second of our lives — and what implications does that number have for our simple attempts to be content?
Would it be a good thing to know what these hidden determinants are, or would that take all the fun out of life? Happy accidents are, after all, some of life’s most engaging treats. Though no-one takes chances when it comes to tea, of course. That would be insane.
And that’s why I have favourite mugs.