Introduction to the Total Turtle Tea Trolley

[Welcome. This entry will always be on top. New entries begin below.]

The meadow, or “metmow” in the dialect of its inhabitants, is a peaceful, pastoral place, filled with imaginary animals, tied only loosely to our own world. As with many pastoral places, there is little strife, or want, or unhappiness. This would seem to make the metmow unsuitable for stories. Stories require trouble, conflict, risk. Somehow, the creatures of the metmow live without very much of these things. They do have needs, however, and one of their main needs is for a regular and reliable source of snacks. In the distant past, snacks for all but the very young were the province of the Amalgamated Meal and Snack Bunnies. Now, however, their duties have been assumed by the organization known as the Total Turtle Tea Trolley. Led by a Chief Tea Turtle, six Under Tea Turtles push the silver, wheeled trolley, laden with tea and snacks, wherever hungry creatures are to be found. This blog will describe their appearances — what they wear, and what treats they convey. At times, other metmow creatures will appear.

Whether these accounts will surprise and delight the reader is a matter of conjecture, but they have pleased certain small audiences. If they bore, seem twee, or tire, all that will happen is that they remain in obscurity. If they please, I would be happy to know of it.

I remain, the Chronicler of the Total Turtle Tea Trolley.

8. a. To settle (a debt) by agreement for partial payment; to discharge (a recurring charge or subscription) by paying a lump sum.

The First Deployment

Hurtling through the metmow at a blistering five miles an hour, the dedicated Under Tea Turtles are propelling the glistening silver tea trolley ahead of them, led by the dauntless Chief Tea Turtle. Above them, faint wisps of clouds are streaking the brilliant sky. In the distance, they can see the Badgers’ farm.

The Chief Tea Turtle is clad in a red sateen dust ruffle with raised figures of water lilies; the Under Tea Turtles are nattily attired in white linen dust ruffles with red, orange, yellow and blue dots on them, rather resembling the balloons on a loaf of Wonder Bread. Orange Spice tea is brewing in a red and orange crazed-finish teapot, which is itself set in a flaming orange tea cozy. The Tea Treats for today include frosted orange bread of the sort found at the Farmer’s Market, roasted red peppers, and fresh guacamole with red tortilla chips.

The Badgers, who are busy tunneling in their soft, loamy field, are only too happy to see the Trolley when they emerge from the ground. They brush the soil from their faces. The Trolley halts, and the Chief Tea Turtle approaches the Badgers to set down their placemats. The Under Tea Turtles scurry to deploy the tea and treats on today’s Minton china. The Badgers are especially pleased with the frosted orange bread, and it quickly disappears. The Chief Tea Turtle bows courteously, and before the Badgers can as much as say “Thank you,” the implements have been gathered, and the Trolley rapidly recedes.

Reason and Raisins

The low, sunlit wall of the canal whizzes past as the Total Turtle Tea Trolley swiftly follows its winding track. The Under Tea Turtles are straining to go just a little bit faster, and, from ahead, running more speedily than any of them, the Chief Tea Turtle is urging them on by name. They are on their way to visit the Philosophical Bunny, who must be reached before ten in the morning if he is to have his tea in time for his mid-morning nap. The Philosophical Bunny is a thinker of such depth that he can only be misunderstood. As a result, he is terribly shy, and, as a rule, does not speak at all, communicating mainly through monographs. At this moment, he is engrossed in a thick tome, the Critique of Pure Raisins, little suspecting the tea and treats which are to suddenly burst in upon him.

The Chief Tea Turtle is wearing a morocco leather dust ruffle, gathered at the shell, and a dark blue bandanna with white and pale blue chevrons. The Under Tea Turtles are wearing basket-weave white-and-green gingham dust ruffles, and their heads lie bare. On the tiers of the Tea Trolley are today’s Tea Treats: apple cobbler with scoops of perpetually-cold vanilla ice cream, miniature waffles with genuine Upstate New York pure maple syrup, and rounds of rye bread with a celery hummus spread. The Tea for today is a strong Ceylon tea in an insulated Gallé art-glass teapot (sunset-colored with silhouettes of trees), further insulated by a purple plush tea cozy.

The Philosophical Bunny is transfixed at the sight of the approaching trolley. His paws grow slack, his book slides to the floor with a heavy thud, and there is the possibility that the corner of page 615 has been creased as a result. Before he can say “Great Leibniz’s Ghost!” (not that he would), the turtles have set the Tea and Treats in front of him. With equal speed, he is polishing off the little plates and taking happy sips of tea. When he is done, he smiles, and is almost about to speak, but instead picks up his book, opens it, and points to the twenty-third word on page five: “Good.” The Turtles bow. Each shakes the Philosophical Bunny’s paw, for it is a great honor. And so, onward.

Hatching Day

It is the first day of spring. Along a seacoast adjacent to the metmow, the Tea Turtles are pushing the Total Turtle Tea Trolley. It is rough going, to be sure, for the wheels of the trolley have become caked with wet sand, but the turtles are inexorable. They are heading for the breeding grounds of the winged turtles known as Urtleopts, their relations, and they hope that they can get there timely. Today, the Urtleopts’ eggs are to hatch. Throughout the period leading up to Hatching Day, the Tea Turtles have been supplying the mothers-to-be with Ba-Tampte half-sour pickles and half-gallon tubs of gelato, packed in layers of bubble wrap and parachuted down from the high, rocky cliffs above the beach. But now, the Trolley itself must appear.

The Chief Tea Turtle is dressed in a khaki oilcloth dust ruffle, and on his head sits a blue and teal argyle watchman’s cap. The Under Tea Turtles are wearing yellow rubberized dust ruffles with toggles down the sides, and hoods of a like construction and character. Today the Trolley is bearing pieces of a rich, yellow sheet cake, made with butter and not shortening, frosted in stiffly-beaten whipped cream and adorned with pink and blue buttercream rosettes. In addition, the upper tray of the Trolley is stacked high with numerous boxes of chocolate pipes and cigars, all securely lashed down. The tea today is a cinnamon spice tea, held in a Delft teapot adorned with scenes of bagel-baking, which is itself enclosed in a Mario Buatta chintz tea cozy.

At long last, after bumping over many rocks and shells, and, for a time, being entangled in masses of bladdery seaweed, the Turtles spot an enormous aggregation of Urtleopts very near the water. All are looking intently down at the ground, completely silent, watching for the slightest movement from the clutches of eggs. The Tea Turtles quicken their pace, and are nearly at the edge of the assembled Urtleopts, when they hear the piping cry of the first-born Urtleopt. “Joy!”, it chirps. Within second, other eggs are hatching, and with the bursting of each egg, the tiny Urtleopt inside cries “Joy!” Like a pan of popcorn which has been heated on the stove, and whose kernels pop slowly at first, then all in a great rush, the clutches of eggs explode with tiny Urtleopts, and their happy peals, though faint, fill the air. As is the custom, the Urtleopts name their young as soon as they are born. “Primo!” “Terry!” “Cholmondely!” “Frieda!” The Chief Tea Turtle and Under Tea Turtles cannot help but be moved, and they remain, still and solemn as stones, beside their Trolley. When all have been born, the Urtleopts look up and see the Tea Turtles, and with their young, they line up for tea and cake.

Piney’s Workshop

The Total Turtle Tea Trolley jounces along the forest floor, its wheels sometimes spinning with some futility against the carpet of decaying leaves. Thomas Sluggovich, their gastropod friend, has, once again, failed to eat away a clear path for them. He’ll have to get to work before the new crop of leaves descends in the fall. But the Chief Tea Turtle urges the Trolley onward. Today, they are delivering treats to their friend, Pinchas “Piney” Salzman. Piney is is a small but muscular man in his fifties, always to be found in one of his many plaid shirts, who has lived in these woods since he came to the metmow after an unsuccessful career as a matchmaker. Now, he makes things out of wood, and his workshop is crammed full of lathes and compressors and dust collectors and router tables and table saws and drill presses. He makes chairs, cabinets, and tables, but what he likes to make best of all are barrels — magic barrels — for which he is famed far and wide. If you reach into a magic barrel, you may come out with a map, a letter, or a photograph of your sweetheart.

Today, in honor of Piney, the Tea Turtles are clad in plaid flannel dust ruffles — Dress Gordon for the Chief Tea Turtle, and Black Watch for the Under Tea Turtles. The Chief Tea Turtle is wearing a marled grey tweed riding cap, while the Under Tea Turtles are sporting raven blue 1948 New York Black Yankees baseball caps. The Tea Treats for today include chocolate chip macaroons, fruit jellies in a variety of hues, Tam-Tam crackers, vegetarian chopped liver, and quartered pickled tomatoes. The tea is an aged, smokey Himalayan blend, served in a mint green enamel Farberware teapot (made by Eliezer Farber himself!), which is in turn tucked into a brown narrow-wale corduroy tea cozy.

The Trolley has surprised Piney as he is gluing up a frame for a cabinet. He has just finished putting the fortieth clamp on the glue-up, and, as the Trolley enters his workshop, exclaims with pride, “That’s not going anywhere!” The Turtles nod politely, as they know the fascination Piney has in fastening things. But, a minute later, he wrenches his attention away from the drying assembly and faces the Tea Trolley head on. The lemon fruit jellies disappear from the plate, and soon Tam-Tams are loaded high with the chopped liver and vanish as well. Before long, the Trolley is empty save for the plates, cups, saucers, teapot, and tea cozy. By way of thanks, Piney turns one of his magic barrels on its side and tips the lip to the ground, inviting the Chief Tea Turtle to take something out. The Chief Tea Turtle ventures into the barrel, and returns with… a hi-bounce ball!  The Turtles and Trolley depart with some amusement, leaving Piney alone to happily watch the glue dry.

Morning Pro Musica

The Total Turtle Tea Trolley scurried along the path of a peaceful stream. The Under Tea Turtles on the left took care not to run into the cattails, as they had inadvertently upset the Trolley on a previous such occasion, and only decisive action by the Chief Tea Turtle had saved the day’s mission from ruin. They were headed for the studio of one of the metmow’s most prominent young singers, Bryn Turtle, who had devoted his life to the concert stage as a recitalist and as one of the mainstays of the Forest Floor Opera Company. He was a student of the great Hans Otter, who had sung the role of Sarastro in The Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera. (Otter had moved to the metmow after having fallen into the exceptionally deep orchestral pit at Bayreuth, where he had been rescued by the trombone section to his considerable embarrassment.)

The first question that anyone asked about Bryn Turtle after they had met him for the first time was: how could such a huge voice come out of such a tiny turtle? Bryn Turtle would demonstrate his breathing. As he inhaled, his body would inflate from under his shell, and, although it was scarcely visible from the stage, his size increased markedly. His shell acted as a natural resonator, amplifying the sound. Even though he could scarcely be seen under his opera costumes, he could be heard across the entire forest.

Today, the Chief Tea Turtle was wearing a silver, globe-like, Puritan roundhead helmet, with a burgundy velvet dust ruffle edged in gold braid. The Under Tea Turtles’ heads were graced with Columbia blue squashed Doges’ caps, looking rather like velvet bialys, while their dust ruffles could have been mistaken for the finest wrought silver mail. The Tea Treats for today included a Mariandl-pastry with apricot filling and a sauce made with reduced apricot liqueur, Mozart bon-bons from Salzburg, shavings of smoked speck on water crackers, and Viennese curd cheese dumplings. The tea was dispensed with in favor of strong black coffee served from an Art Nouveau urn into fine white Meissen porcelain cups, with optional cream and sugar. There was no cozy for today.

When the Tea Turtles arrived, they found Bryn Turtle in the company of Hans Otter’s beautiful daughter, Anne Sophie Otter. Word had been circulating around the metmow that a romance had been afoot between the two singers, but all the Turtles found was that Bryn was coaching Anne for her role in the opera Arabella. The two were most happy to see the Turtles, got up, and proceeded hand in hand to where the Under Tea Turtles were preparing the plates. When it came time to dish out the Mariandl pastry, the Chief Tea Turtle had a surprise: a CO2-powered whipped cream canister, which he used to liberally douse the plates in stiffly-beaten whipped cream piqued with a teaspoon of finely ground sugar. Bryn and Anne set in with a will, and only a couple of cheese dumplings remained at the end; these were dispatched by the Chief Tea Turtle.

The two singers wanted to thank the Trolley with a performance, for they could accompany one another, and they had plenty of scores so that the Turtles could follow the lieder, but the Chief Tea Turtle politely declined, and led his colleagues and the Trolley away. By doing so, it must be said that they missed some beautiful music making. We shall return to Bryn Turtle by and by, to give some sense of his prodigious powers, but for now, our thoughts are with the Trolley, heading home.

Rendezvous in the Rain

Water is running over the pebbly path in thin, foam-edged streams as the Total Turtle Tea Trolley makes its way forward through the rain. The Tea Turtles are, of course, amphibious, and water runs off their shells and down their hunter-green waterproof duck dust ruffles. The Tea Trolley is protected by a towering yellow-and-white striped golf umbrella, the tips of its ribs secured to the Trolley by thin monofilament guylines, and the water rolls off it in great sheets.

The Trolley is headed towards the pond, but the Chief Tea Turtle knows that there is no one there. Rather, the Chief Tea Turtle hopes to be discovered on the way, by the creature known as the Rainocious Rhinoceros. On a rainy day, the RR will lie in wait for the Trolley, and ambush it. At the very least, he will chase it, and the Trolley will accelerate as quickly as the Under Tea Turtles’ little legs will allow. But at a certain stage, they will slow down, allow the Trolley to be caught, and all will share in the tea and treats. It is a dance that has gone on as long as there have been rhinoceroses in the metmow, and the participants would no sooner make an appointment to have tea than throw a chess game in two moves by fool’s mate. Quite simply, it would not be fun.

Today, the Trolley is carrying a silver salver with devilled eggs made with Durkee’s Dressing and Hungarian paprika, golden-brown palmiers, whitefish salad, and a salad of chopped tomato, parsley, and minced Sevillano olives. The tea is a malty pure Assam, in a sun-yellow pinch-neck teapot with a craquelure glaze, enclosed in an insulated reflective aluminized tea cosy.

From behind a tree, the Rainocious Rhinoceros charges. “Come back, my plated friends!” he cries. The Trolley speeds up, the Chief Tea Turtle ahead of the Trolley by two lengths, his legs a blur. The Chief Tea Turtle is exhilarated, his little heart close to bursting, until he hears the cries of the Under Tea Turtles and knows that the rhino is closing fast. Suddenly, the rhino bursts from behind him, spins around, and blocks the path. The Chief Tea Turtle stops, and collapses onto his knees, He can hear the Trolley slipping and  shuddering to a halt behind him. And the Rainocious Rhinoceros, directly in front of him, smiles, and asks, “Might I have some tea?”

The Perils of the Piggle

It is a hazy midmorning in the metmow, the sun barely visible from under its pale scrim of clouds, and the Total Turtle Tea Trolley is on its way to the low, grassy mound where the Piggle lives. The Piggle is a very large, stout pug-beagle mix, and he is known for his magnanimous attitude towards himself and his own exploits. To him, all his doings are grand adventures, and he delights in recounting them to everyone who comes within range. He dines out frequently, for his stories are the life of any party, even if their kernels of truth are the size of orange pits. For example, he recently talked about his ascent of a dangerous hill, as steep and terrifying as Mont Blanc; as it turned out, he was referring to the sledding slope outside the winged turtles’ chalet. But creatures love him, precisely because he is completely unaware of his own exaggerations; even Baron Munchausen was more knowing.

The Chief Tea Turtle is resplendent in a turquoise bejeweled headdress and sepia pleated dust ruffle. The Under-Tea-Turtles are likewise dashing in their deep burgundy dust ruffles, adorned with tiny brass bells, are wearing magenta kepis, and are pushing the trolley along as quickly as they can. Sweet, red Rooibos tea is brewing in the samovar, with its beaded, patterned, multicolored jacket. Miniature black-and-white cookies, almond macaroons dipped in chocolate, and watercress sandwiches adorn the trolley’s tiers.

The Piggle has been warned ahead of time by his friend, the Flighty Dragonfly-Like Glittering Green Beetle (or FDGGB, of whom more will be said later) that the Trolley is coming, and he has dragged out his entire china closet to greet it, secure in the knowledge that his own china will overawe the Tea Turtles. The Chief Tea Turtle, knowing the Piggle, has instructed his colleagues to act as though they had been struck by a clap of thunder, and, indeed, on seeing the hand-painted Limoges china with its luminous gold edges and intricate whorled rosebuds, they stagger back in a most convincing fashion. The Chief Tea Turtle insists on using the Trolley’s own china, so that their small attempts at food will not sully the Piggle’s exquisite service. The Piggle beams, and tucks into the tea and treats, revealing that, for all his loquacity, eating truly is more important than talking. In the meantime, the Tea Turtles surreptitiously pack away whatever has been used, so that the Trolley can swiftly depart before the Piggle can commence another story about his perils at the hands of some extraordinarily swift-moving butterflies. They need not have worried. The Piggle’s mouth is filled with macaroons, and it is all he can do to wave goodbye to them, gratefully, as they speed off into the fine, cool morning.

The Dreaded Snarflodon

The Total Turtle Tea Trolley rushed towards its destination as the sun slowly warmed the misty morning. The Chief Tea Turtle had been awakened very, very early by a carrier pigeon sent by Melba Penguin, patissière extraordinaire. Her husband, Binky, had had a nighttime encounter with the Snarflodon, and needed tea as soon as possible. “The Snarflodon!” thought the Chief Tea Turtle to himself. No one had ever seen the Snarflodon, but all had ideas as to what he might look like — a gigantic sheepdog with a huge, round ball of a nose, for example. He was a feared creature, for he made very loud snorting and slurping noises that made it seem as though he were going to eat you up. It was as though your spouse were snoring with a bad head cold, except much, much louder and more terrifying. Binky was in particular fear of the beast, and was apt to dive into one of his wife’s eclairs, where he would hide, covered in custard, and concealed by a layer of dark chocolate ganache, for the entire night. In the morning, he would have to be persuaded to eat his way out and take a hot bath, but it took some doing. The trusted Tea Turtles were practically the only ones who could convince Binky to emerge.

Today, the Chief Tea Turtle is wearing a white lambswool V-neck cricket sweater with a navy and maroon neckline and a white newsboy’s cap. His dust ruffle is a cream-colored canvas, with navy rickrack. The Under Tea Turtles are wearing rich cream and orange dustruffles in alternating diagonal stripes, and puffy pink chef’s hats. The Tea Treats for today are digestive biscuits with arrowroot flour, slices of fruah and grapefruit, their tartness cut with a little sugarcane juice, and chocolate mousse made with a tiny bit of cognac, boiled to remove the alcohol. The tea for today is chamomile, which will hopefully help calm Binky down. It is served in a lavender Tibetan teapot with silver cloisonné, enclosed in a white cotton piqué cosy.

When the Tea Turtles arrived at the Penguins’ house, they were so startled that they retracted entirely within their shells, leaving the Trolley to roll almost up to the door. The Snarflodon was still at large around the other side, and the slurping and roaring had just commenced once more. The Chief Tea Turtle and the Under Tea Turtles conferred about what to do. All were resolved that they should confront the Snarflodon. From one of the lower tiers of the Trolley, the Chief Tea Turtle retrieved a large white tablecloth, under which they could all hide, and, properly covered, they crept around to the other side of the house. There, they saw… a giant black nose, leaping around from nostril to nostril! When it saw them, before they could say a word, it leapt upon the tablecloth and blew itself, as loudly and tunefully as an ocean liner. The Chief Tea Turtle sighed at the now-ruined tablecloth, but he and his colleagues emerged and greeted the nose. As politely as possible, the Snarflodon — for it could be none other than he — introduced himself in a strong Russian accent. He apologized, but said that he had never been able to find proper tissues in the metmow, and had been in a terrible state of congestion ever since. The Turtles were immediately put at ease. A nose, without a mouth, could never have eaten anyone. They decided to take the Snarflodon to the front door and introduce him to Binky and Melba, but urged him not to make a sound. In minutes, the penguins and the Snarflodon were on cordial terms. Tea and treats were served, and a spirit of conviviality prevailed. The Chief Tea Turtle promised the Snarflodon that a pallet of the finest facial tissue would be delivered to him, on the condition that the Snarflodon keep a box with him at all times. And Melba offered the Snarflodon all the custard pastries he could eat, if only he had some way of eating them.

A Cache of Cashews

The Total Turtle Tea Trolley presses on through the deep grass of the metmow, leaving temporary furrows where its heavy wheels have gone. In time, it will reach the edge of the forest, where the Tea Turtles know that they will find the Italian tree squirrels. Most of the squirrels are new to the metmow, and they still have many of the old habits of the outside world. They are used to scarcity, and so they hoard large quantities of nuts — cashews, pecans, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and pistachios, each variety in its separate treasury. Every couple of days, they find themselves beset by fear that they will lose their nuts, through some accident or mischance, and they spend a fair amount of time worrying about the future. They are very excitable, and the slightest thing can set off their chattering, leading to elation or dejection. Of course, in the metmow, there is no basis for them to feel this way. If they find themselves running out of nuts, they can always ask for more, and more will be brought to them. And they have friends, including the wise Dr. Bartholomew Nelliphant, MD, more familiarly known as Bobo, a very large elephant of whom more will be said later. Bobo has written a very learned treatise on neurosis in squirrels, based on many years’ experience in listening to them professionally.

By this point, the Tea Trolley has reached the homes of Massimo and Minimo Scuirelli. Massimo is a fashion designer and would-be opera singer, and, for a squirrel, runs more towards overconfidence than anxiety. Minimo, his son, is a rather timorous mathematician who trained at the prestigious Currant Institute. They are generally inseparable; Minimo is usually to be found counting the nuts, for fear of one going missing, while Massimo sees after the various troves. The Trolley stops at the base of their tree, and the pair scramble down.

The Chief Tea Turtle is wearing a aquamarine silk doppioni dust ruffle and a periwinkle Stetson. The Under Tea Turtles are wearing kabocha-squash-colored pinwale corduroy dust ruffles and particolored suede beanies. The Tea Treats for today include rosemary Marcona almonds, a hazelnut vanilla torte, and peanut brittle. The tea is Purple Lemon Zinger, served in an iridescent silver lusterware teapot which is itself enclosed in a Miro print tea cozy.

The squirrels are overjoyed at the profusion of nut dishes. Minimo excuses himself temporarily so that he can shimmy up his tree with the plate of Marcona almonds and store them in a new trove. Massimo gnaws thoughtfully on a piece of peanut brittle, which in the process sticks to his teeth. Once Minimo has returned, the two hug each other affectionately, and turn their attention to the tea. They are so intent on their food that their burdens seem to melt away, and they are as much at peace as any other creature in the metmow. They still cannot believe that they are living in a place with Trolley service. As the Tea Trolley departs, it is likely that their good feeling will diminish somewhat, and they will begin to think about their nut problems again. Nonetheless, they look forward to the Trolley’s next visit.