The Countess and Dowager of Grantham enjoy afternoon tea in Downton Abbey.
I took a whirlwind trip to England this past weekend. I regaled in the city-life of East End London and Westminster, then retreated to the rolling countryside of Yorkshire. All this, and I even made it home in time for Sunday supper. No, I don’t have a Gulfstream jet, but I do have a HuluPlus account which has led to a rather intense obsession with PBS’s Masterpiece Classics. If you aren’t already tuned in, treat yourself to Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, and PBS’s latest drama, Call the Midwife. These series take place in, respectively, post-Titanic sinking, pre-World War II, and pre-epidural (yikes!) England. The period attire is to die for, and the sometimes-absurd pomp and circumstance of these earlier times cracks me up. Like this dinner conversation from season 1, episode 1 of Downton Abbey:
Average Working-Class Guy Turned Heir: I’ve got a job in Ripon. I start tomorrow.
Lord of the Manor: A job (as if the very word leaves a bitter taste in his mouth)?! You do know I mean to involve you in the running of the estate?
Average Working-Class Guy Turned Heir: Don’t worry. There are plenty of hours in the day. And of course, I’ll have the weekends.
Lady of the Manor: What is a weekend (genuinely clueless)?
And later, even the servants look down their noses at the Average Working-Class Guy Turned Heir:
Gentlemen don’t work. Not real gentlemen.
Cheeky stuff, indeed. But what’s amazing is that while all three shows take place in times drastically different from today, the same themes prevail. The shows are up to their eyeballs in love, lust, betrayal, despair, blackmail, and on and on and on.
But no matter the drama, it seems the answer to it all is a cup of tea.
Lose your life’s fortune to a virtual stranger? Have a cuppa tea. Handsome stranger-cum-lover dies suddenly in your bed? Have a cuppa tea. Have to make a house call to your patient’s cockroach infested home? Fuhgettaboutit. Go home and make yourself a nice cuppa tea.
Yes, tea time is taken seriously by the British, as evidenced by the exquisite china. The very poor, working class and aristocrats alike all had tea service sets worthy of the Queen (or at least a mere duchess). Which got me yearning for new tea ware. I’m not much of a matchy-matchy gal when it comes to china (unless hosting a formal dinner), and honestly some of my best cups and saucers were scored at yard sales and thrift stores. Besides, look how well the mis-matched look can work:
Downton Abbey returns with a new season on October 21 in the UK on ITV. But, blimey, it doesn’t release here in the US until January 6, 2013. Upstairs, Downstairs airs Sundays, 9/8c. Call the Midwife airs Sundays, 8/7c. Check local listings for your local PBS station. Many past episodes are available on PBS.org.