Monday 15 April 2013

I thought Punting was the capital of China until...

I had expected Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea on the telly to be a light, witty concoction without any boating interest, which it was mainly, but to my delight the standup comedian, sitcom writer, singer/songwriter and pianist took to a punt on the Nine Bend River in the spectacular Wuyi Mountains to explain how tea was brought to Britain when we first became addicted to the brew in the 18th century.
The punt is simple and appropriate, just lengths of bent bamboo lashed together. The bow is interesting - bamboo punts on China's harbours and estuaries seem to have a much less pronounced curve. Must be something to do with the swift currents and rapids on the Nine Bend River. You can actually see it flexing as it slides over the shallows.
Our Vicky explained how tea was brought down the mountain by porters carrying bales on yokes, punted down the river and transhipped to European ships for export. No wonder it was expensive - the Duke of Bedford paid £500 a pound in modern values.
Punt rides like this are now a popular tourist attraction on the Nine Bend River (or Stream of Nine Windings as the botanical collector Robert Fortune called in when he explored the region illegally in the 1840s. The Chinese government valued tea so highly selling plants to Europeans was a capital offence).
It was a bit of a pity Ms Wood didn't tell us more about the punts. It wasn't what the programme was about, of course, but she had gone on about the Chinese maglev train and the new airport in Shanghai at some length so why not?
What scenery! Love the punters' costumes. Don't think Vicky's buoyancy aid is quite so stylish though.
Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea is on BBC iPlayer for a bit. The punt sequence is about ten minutes into Episode One.
PS if you recognised the allusion in the title to a certain 1970s advertising campaign, you are very old and I will have to go very slowly.... 

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