What is for tea? 

– JP, overseas somewhere

Wow! What a way to start. Such a simple question on its face yet so vexing upon a second look. “What is for tea?” means different things to different people. Indeed, it can mean different things to the same person. Since I’m of English descent, you might reply “my breeding,” but that would be grossly overstating the matter. In my particular case, tea has many meanings. Most clearly, it is a hot beverage made with water, a bag of black tea, and a little milk. Ideally, sugar should be avoided at all costs. This beverage is an absolute workhorse that keeps Britain moving. Just woken up? Cup of tea. Hangover? Tea will sort you out. Family emergency? Let’s all gather ’round and share a massive pot of tea. Anybody have any super-bland biscuits (a.k.a. cookies)? All the better. I can absolutely guarantee that at births, marriages, deaths, and every life event in between, you will find the redoubtable Brit sipping a cup or mug of tea.


Confusingly for some, tea can also be your main meal of the day. That is not to say that Brits survive on a liquid diet. We leave that to the Irish, whose liquid of choice is cold and contains alcohol. No, tea as a meal is what most of the rest of the English-speaking world calls dinner. In fact, tea as the main meal tends to be the preserve of the northern working class –– the top part of England and Scotland, most likely, so tea for dinner is simply whatever you want to eat as your main meal. I can attest that for a northern working-class family, potatoes are very often involved, with other veggies and cheap cuts of meat. It is all done with millennial envy-inducing “craft” and “artisanal flair” –– an oxymoron, surely? Lost? You most surely are about to be.

Tea is also one of many punctuation points during the work or leisure day of the British. Elevenses? Why, we have toiled all the way to late morning. Best we take a lengthy break, brew a pot of tea, and use it to wash down an assortment of small cakes and biscuits. String that out a spell and then back to the grind. Mid-afternoon energy dip? Then you absolutely need to get yer laughing gear/piehole/gob around some afternoon tea. In polite society, this is a very elaborate affair involving pots of fancier-than-usual tea –– Earl Grey is oft preferred for its fragrant and light yet restorative bouquet and flavor. The tea drink is accompanied by a posh-looking tiered serving platter resplendent with finger sandwiches, most often cucumber on some and salmon pâté on others, with the occasional odoriferous intrusion of egg mayonnaise. The upper tiers are reserved for petit fours and small fruit tarts. After gorging yourself, the rest of the day is yours to tackle, so you may build up an appetite for tea, not forgetting to drink some tea before, during, and after tea. Got it?

One further note, in the game of cricket, tea is a scheduled break in play around 3:40 p.m. on each day’s play, which affords the players a bathroom break and just enough time for a brew. Simple enough, right? Want to hear about the Japanese tea ceremony? Maybe next time.

Dear Truman, I keep seeing local art collectives talk about “outsider artists.” Does that term mean what they think it means?

– JF, Fairmount (obv)

I appreciate the formality from our Fairmount art friend. I am also picturing our reader spying on local art collectives as they brazenly discuss outsider artists. My tertiary thought is deeper and more draining. *Sound of Truman attempting to read the thoughts of local art collective types* Sheesh! That took some effort. After psychically contacting a few art collective types, I had to wade through oceans of thoughts about matcha, vegan cheese, free booze, and erotic fantasies about Insta fame. Finally, I found shore on the atoll of ideas that inform their notions of outsider art and its practitioners. It appears what they think it means is: those people who practice art without any formal training. So far, this is not dissonant with the generally held understanding of the term. Where the Funkytown outsiders take a fork in the road is at their insistence on outsider artists needing to both eschew and shit-talk formal art training, its students, and those artists who forge a career after years of studio-based practice, training, mentoring, and exhibitions. One might reasonably argue that on the other hand, an outsider artist is that practitioner for whom rigorous assessment means nothing; previous experience means nothing; the guiding hand of career artists has no value; peer review is worthless; an increasingly diverse public body of work crafted over time after input from others and a good deal of study and self-reflection can add nothing to the visceral conviction that what “outsiders” have to say through their art is vital, “important work,” to use an art world cliché. In a place and time that supports a president who takes an outsider-artist approach to running the richest, most powerful country in the world, one might reasonably support the “I have all the best art words and ideas” approach of the outsiders. For me, I prefer to take my car to a garage rather trust the guy down the street who loves fixing up things. I put my education in the hands of people with qualifications and experience. Flawed as some are, I will trust a trained police officer over a dude with a gun who can “watch the house while you’re away.”

In a similar vein, I will continue to avail myself of visual art, indeed all the creative arts, practiced by those who have taken the time and effort to learn their craft. After all, who wants to buy a ticket to the ballet and see an overweight thirtysomething who’s drunk on free beer bound around the stage for a few seconds before stumbling, blowing out a knee, and falling onto the orchestra?

Rapid-fire round:

Who has all my socks?

There is some selfish, smug, over-socked bastard out there with a Denali-sized sock pile. I am certain of this.

When did the world get so soft?

After heavy rain, perhaps?

Does Donald Trump understand how household appliances work?

Evidently not.

What happens if you accidentally spill carpet cleaner?

Mind? Blown. Erm, accidentally cleaned carpet? As a result if one were to spill anything on the accidentally cleaned spot, it would not require cleaning? None of the above? Nothing? Answers from you, dear reader, are most welcome.

Why is there only one Bureau of Competition?

I blame Obama. Alternatively, capitalism, man. I blame the man.

I have burning issue [sic].

Three things: 1. That’s not a question. 2. Did you forget to include an indefinite article? And 3. if no to No. 2, then there is a cream for that.

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Ah! A Pythonista. Welcome, dear friend. And now Notlob (different bird, different sketch, but same troupe, so what the hey?).

That is all for this spin of the wheel. We have done this twice now. Hopefully, it is now clear that no question is too big or small. Go ahead, ask me anything at