My post on Ernest Bramah a few days ago brought some interesting responses - apart from those expressing a desire to read some Kai Lung or some Max Carrados stories, there were several questions as to the name.
Was it anything to do with the high quality locksmith of the same name? Not as far as I know! But one person said his father remembered 'Bramah' being an adjective of approval - "Bramah", he tells me, "was a byword for quality: a piece of work being praised as really top class would elicit the comment "Bramah that is, Bramah"", which I take to be a reference to the locks, although the Oxford English Dictionary knows it not. Another Bramah invented and patented an early flushing toilet. It must actually have been quite a common name, it seems. And someone asked if there was any connection with the Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum near London Bridge - I don't think so, but what a lovely thought! And a nice little lunchtime excursion is already being planned.
Mention of the Tea Museum reminded me of The Book of Tea, by Okakura Kakuzo, which I last read in 1989. This is a very unusual book, published in 1906 in English by a learned Japanese academic, expert in the fine arts at a major Tokyo institution. It's a delightful meditation - it's normally classed as a sacred book, or at least as philosphy - on tea, its history, and its cultural significance. Its a super read if you're at all interested in tea, or in Japanese Buddhism, especially Tao and Zen, but a little mannered. For him, preparing and drinking tea is an art absolutely on a par with painting or poetry, and the tea ceremony certainly treated it with that level of intensity. The great master Rikyu used it as the setting for his calm and accepting suicide - a long, long way from afternoon tea in the English tradition and The Tiger Who Came to Tea!
And the tea ceremony takes me to Cees Nooteboom. He is being talked about at the moment because of his Nomad's Hotel, an anthology of travel writing - and I want to review this soon. But his novels have been neglected in this country. The finest of them is Rituals, a fine, spare novel about a Dutch collector who treasures a wonderful raku tea bowl, and holds a tea ceremony of terrible intensity. Its a short, beautiful, painful book - read it.