I had intended to relate this account to my idiot son-in-law, Sourquill. However, he had brought another useless device with him in order to assist him in this task. This was a strange contraption involving many differently sized keys nailed to a plank of wood and attached by a piece of string to a small rodent. How this was supposed to help I am as yet unclear, since the mouse instantly escaped and my dim-witted son-in-law is still chasing it about the attic.
I feel, however, I am more than capable of setting this short anecdote down in my own hand, so I shall now proceed to do so.
Back in the later days of the last century when, as my readers will no doubt recall, peasants were revolting (although when were they not?) over the 1784 Landscaping Act, my dear friend Harry Biscuit’s father was struggling against all odds to invent the biscuit.
These odds were indeed high: mighty obstacles were stacked against him, like impossibly weighty slices of toast in a rack at a particularly awkward breakfast between two reunited school friends who’ve now discovered they have absolutely nothing left in common and, indeed, one of whom has just slept with the other’s wife. They must have seemed insurmountable. For one thing, no one knew what a biscuit was, nor what it could be used for, as Sir Hubert Tealeaf’s invention of tea had not yet been fully perfected – mainly because, as everybody except the French know, a cup of tea is useless without a chocolate digestive to dunk in it.
However, not unlike my friend Harry, Harry’s father was possessed of great determination and was never dismayed by the fact that his quest to find the delicacy that would change all of our lives seemed doomed to failure and, moreover, utterly useless. It took many years to achieve and at times came alarmingly close to becoming an iced bun, a Madeira cake, a new and modified form of the sandwich (omitting the filling) or even, on one memorable occasion that provided for much hilarity in reminiscences amongst the family, a trifle.
At this point, fate took a hand in the proceedings and Harry’s father found himself involved in a terrible accident involving a flour mill, a sack of sugar that had fallen off the back of a passing cartload of provisions (honest guv’nor), and an unexpected collision with Mount Swindon, which was only just being put into position. As we all know, Mount Swindon was not considered a success and was levelled fairly swiftly after this incident, most of it going to make up the Blackdown Hills. (They say the results of this terrible accident are still evident in those westerly hills today, explaining the salt mine, bread mine and also an exceedingly fine wine cellar that has claimed the lives of any number of unwary pot-holers.)
However, I digress. The workers who were manoeuvring Mount Swindon into position, unfortunately dropped the mountain, thanks to a torrential rainfall making the blasted thing too slippery to hold. It fell and hit the nearby flour mill and sending flour and debris flying in all directions. The same accident also upturned said cart of provisions – and one sack of sugar collided with the flour from the flour mill. Both were spoiled in an instant by the torrential rain, and then finally were squashed by the mill stone falling on top of them, thus serendipitously creating the tea time snack we now know as a Rich Tea Biscuit and making Harry’s father a fortune (hence the name).
Naturally, the invention needed refining – a version small enough to go through the doorway was the next step and so on until it could be neatly balanced on one’s saucer as was the way obviously ordained by God. Once Harry’s father had experimented further still and the digestive had been perfected, tea instantly became the nation’s favourite drink and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, it is also said – though only by certain evil bounders and ignorant foreigners – that the biscuit was the invention of a Frenchman, M. Bourbon, but as every decent Englishman knows, you can’t trust the French as far as you can throw them, which, on average, has proved to be about as far as Stoke-on-Trent in fair weather and probably only as far as Hatfield on a rainy day. It even more definitely wasn’t invented by that upstart Colonial, Mr. Cookie, who merely ran off with the recipe and added an indecent amount of chocolate chips and marshmallows, rendering it useless for its true purposes of tea-dunking.
So while the tea and biscuit festivals of yore may have fallen by the wayside in these benighted modern times – it has never been quite the same since the Severn ceased to boil for three weeks in August – we may still celebrate and marvel at the wonder of true British ingenuity every time we settle down for our afternoon tea and biscuit.
In the unlikely event of any readers being curious, I note for posterity that neither Sourquill nor the mouse has yet returned. I am considering ordering Servewell to set the neighbour’s cat on both of them. On the other hand, it might be best to use the peace and quite to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea, a biscuit and an afternoon nap.
[Sir Philip’s writing trails off here, suggesting he did indeed, do just that.]