20 December, 2010

England is Closed

It's true - England is closed.  The extreme weather has come at just the right part of the year, as we close up our various responsibilities and head back to our family homes for the Christmas vacation.  

The country has gently rolled to a complete halt.

Winter 2010
The snow, it snoweth every day

As we go about our last few days, the snow keeps on tumbling, reminding us all that we will soon be unable to travel.

Winter 2010
Heidu used to enjoy sitting on this table - I double-check to ensure that the bump in the snow is not him

Advent services, Christmas lunches, end-of-term dinners, all fading gently into the constant silence of falling snow.

Winter 2010
Compare our frosty woodpile with the same from warmer times...

I close up my work for the year, and tie up the loose ends from the past few weeks of interviewing.  This is the second year in which I have been interviewing candidates for our undergraduate course, and the process turns the university upside-down in the week after term.

"The Oxford interview" has a special place in England's folklore, having become something of a myth.  Newspapers like to speculate about what happens; there are always urban legends of candidates being asked to perform bizarre tasks in oak-clad, secretive chambers, while bespectacled dons stroke their beards and throw port glasses into roaring fires.

College in Winter
Even a stopped clock keeps the right time twice per day

The reality is more mundane; we, the interviewing tutors, devise some questions to test the candidates - ideally questions that are harder than their schooling, so that we can see how they stretch their reasoning to new situations, such as they'd encounter during the rather gruelling undergraduate course.  The idea is that no-one can solve the questions alone, but that we see how much help we have to give them to reach the end of each question. 

It's very hard work, and it must be done right - the candidates have a lot riding on the interviews, given that we ultimately have to pick about 10% of the candidates to be our students for the next academic year.  There are many variables - the media like to scrutinise us (and rightly so) to see if we are admitting a decent proportion of students from state schools and ethnic minorities.  Just last week-end, an indignant article in The Guardian newspaper published a familiar (and rather unfair) anti-Oxford piece on what they perceived to be our archaic procedures.

It is an all-consuming process, given that we are stiving to be fair, and the end of the process is a huge relief.  The Master of the college was kind enough to break out some decent bottles at our farewell lunch to thank us for the hard slog - mine was not the only tired smile at the table. 

Now, back at home, with snow mounting on windows, I celebrate the true end of the year by pulling out the last portion of a 1990 Fuhai / Kunming tuocha, from Teamasters (with accompanying notes here).

1990s Fuhai Shupu
The wrapper says "Kunming Tea Factory", but the Teamasters label has "Fuhai" - it's one of the two

I don't always drink shupu, but when I do, I prefer good shupu.

1990s Fuhai Shupu
What's a few jinhua [golden flowers] between friends?

This shupu is very decent.  Assuming that it's not the rubber tyres + fishpond of a bad shupu, a good shupu can be rich in flavour, akin to mahogany, and very smooth.  This tuocha is very clean, and produces a crisp, sweet soup that reassures the soul.

Its texture is particularly particulate - "dusty library" is my usual phrase for describing this sort of character, as it has the distant flintiness of damp paper, but aged, matured, and deepened.

Cup after cup of this constant, pleasant bookishness remind me that shupu doesn't tend to evolve during a session; nor is it potent, unless mixed with a portion of shengpu.  However, its constancy is a virtue, when you crave a calming, soothing experience with a welcome old friend, as you toast goodbye to last term, and last year.

1990s Fuhai Shupu
The last of 2010

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I bid you adieu.  I trust that you and yours will have a most excellent Christmas, and I look forward to sharing a (possibly virtual) cup with you in 2011.

Lei and I are now off to the family home to introduce Xiaohu to his relatives.

Winter 2010
Here endeth the lesson


Nick E said...

And here I am about to fly into Heathrow next week... hahaha!

Good Shupu is always a nice choice during cold weather. Lovely photos, as always!

Hobbes said...

Thanks! Best of luck getting into Heathrow - next week will be fine, I'm sure. ;)



Wojciech Bońkowski said...

It's interesting this tea would lure drinkers in Oxford and Warsaw in very similar weather...

Agree with you - it's very good shu. I wonder how much truth in the claim it's from old trees - I don't think it matter much in shu?

Best, Nerval

Hobbes said...

Dear Nerval,

Good shupu is perfect for a freeze. :)

Old trees? Maybe... if from Fuhai, then its production year (1990) would be one year after their founding. There wasn't much around back then. As you say, though, it's almost irrelevant when you're composting your leaves to make shupu!

Anonymous said...

I usually dont take time to ever make comments on a web site but I have to say I would truly be doing you a grave disservice if I didnt write something. This post has most definitely opened my eyes. Thank you so much for writing it.

speakfreely said...

That's a lot of snow for your part of the world, is it not? I finally got to see (and hold) my new nephew, Samuel Alexander Beaudet. Such a WASPish name for a child of French extraction being raised Jewish. New babies are unbelievably soft; everyone knows this, but somehow one forgets and it comes as a surprise.

I think tomorrow's tea will be a shu.

Kort said...

A wonderful post (and photos) to close out the year. you've put me in the mood for some shu as well, though temperatures here in FL are a tad above freezing. Enjoy your time with family and I look forward to reading more from you in 2011.

Ruqyo Highsong said...

Daggum, those are some lovely shots!

I especially love the one with the teacup in the snow. Lovely contrast. A sea of white snow with a small black cup filled with red-tinted tea liquor...brilliant. :D

Yes, shupu are always good to have around. Sir William otL said that shu pu'erhs are 'lovely, like comfort food'. I heartily agree. When I'm in the mood for something strong, a sheng is what I need, but when I'm just relaxing, a soft, light shu is in order.

Stay warm my friend. Keep on sipping away. :)

Hobbes said...

Congratulations, Carla - I'm sure you'll make a most excellent aunt!

Thanks Kort and Fox - have a good 2011.

Iced said...

Snow + pu erh is what I'm dreaming now :)
Pu erh is in my cup but I must wait 2-3 months for my white mirracle :)