The Cream Tea: should one put the jam on first, and then the cream; or the cream on first, and then the jam?
The Devon cream tea specifies cream first, then jam, thus anchoring the cream on the scone firmly. The Cornish advocate jam first, then cream. Perhaps this is because they do not move the scone around much. I can vouch for the fact that if you gesture wildly with a Cornish cream tea, the cream can end up in any number of places, not least someone worthy lady’s decolletage.
Felix asserted with zealous conviction that it is in fact against the law for someone to make a Devon cream tea in Cornwall. And vice versa.
I should have applied the brakes, but my mouth was too full of scone, jam and cream.
“I once saw this documentary,” he ventured, and we all took a deep breath. Evaluation, in these cases, is all, for he speaks with the authority of Archimedes himself, but not always with the same bedrock of factuality.
“I once saw this documentary where a man found a house which was exactly on the border between Devon and Cornwall,” he continued authoritatively, “and in the house was a room which was split exactly between Devon and Cornwall too.”
This seemed wildly improbable.
“…..and the reporter sat in the Cornish part of the room and he made a scone with the cream on first. And the he sat in the Devon part of the room, and put the jam on first. And so he had committed an offence in two counties.”
The mental picture of the local Devon and Cornwall constabularies screeching up outside the house to arrest the offending cream tea maker was compelling.
“But Felix, I said, “I thought that the border between Devon and Cornwall was the River Tamar.”
Felix did not miss a step. He knew he was rumbled. But his grin got much, much wider.
“Yes, that’s what I said, ” he continued. “he made the cream teas in a boat in the middle of the Tamar!”
I adjusted that mental picture of police cars to police boats.
There is no better word to describe tales like that than ‘tall.’
The historians can trace the term as far back as Cambridge satirist John Eachard’s The Ground and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy, published in 1670. It is a book lampooning the style of address used by clergy and politicians. The author’s father was a clergyman.
If a sermoniser uses constable’s talk, Eachard says, he is thought honest and well-meaning but not bright. But if he ‘soars aloft in unintelligible huffs, preaches points deep and mystical, and delivers them as dark and phantastical” then he is thought most able. Tall words, he says, are what dazzle; tall words and lofty notions.
The tall tale: an art, used carefully.
Take Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, the American folk hero: beached in New England as a baby he got a job as a watchman on a ship. He left sea to try his hand at farming and ranching but circumstances discouraged him: he ended up returning to sea, and attracting acclaim for his activities.
Thing is: he was five fathoms – 30 feet, to you landlubbers – tall.
His ship was so long the men had to use horses to get from one end to the other. and its mast was so high it had to be folded down to let the moon pass by.
His battles were with tornadoes and ancient sea creatures. A myth, old Stormalong. The tallest of tall tales.
The gandiloquent tall tale is a gift.
But best not tell too many; or the edges between tale and truth might blur.