The elusive cappuccino by Angela Caldin

When I was a child in the 1950s, if I wasn’t playing with the many shiny and exotic buttons in my mother’s button box, I would probably be reading from a book of poetry for children written by A A Milne, the creator of Christopher Robin, entitled When We Were Very Young. It was first published in 1924, and was illustrated by E H Shepard. It didn’t take long for it to become a best seller.

Butter or marmalade

One of my favourite poems was The King’s Breakfast, an engaging story of a monarch who enjoyed the simple pleasure of spreading butter on his bread for breakfast. But the cow who supplied the milk for the butter had gone on strike, suggesting that the king might like to try marmalade instead. The dejected ruler wants none of it, “Nobody” he whimpered, “could call me a fussy man; I only want a little bit of butter for my bread!”

Cinnamon blues

I was reminded of this charming poem and the king’s frustration on a recent trip to a seaside town in New Jersey where my husband was looking forward to breakfast in a café with his usual cappuccino with chocolate powder on top. On our first morning, we chose a comfortable, rather old fashioned looking place with newspapers provided, confidently expecting a classical cappuccino. What arrived looked quite satisfactorily foamy, but, to his horror, it was topped with cinnamon. ‘Do you have chocolate powder?’ was his tentative request. The barista looked baffled, shook his head balefully and wordlessly so that there was nothing for it but to drink the offending beverage.

Day two saw us bright and early in a more modern looking café with spiky furniture. My husband requested a cappuccino as usual and pre-empted the cinnamon aberration by asking for chocolate powder at the counter. ‘We don’t have chocolate powder,’ replied the harassed server, ‘but I could squirt some chocolate syrup on instead.’ Thinking this would be better than nothing, my husband agreed, eagerly awaiting his breakfast treat. What arrived was a tired looking liquid with a hefty zig zag of what looked like dark chocolate squirted out of a tube. Once again, his dejection knew no bounds.

Hope denied

On our last day, we ventured into a corner café which promised trained baristas and whose menu had an illustration of the kind of chocolate-topped coffee that his taste buds craved. He made his request in the clearest terms to a young waiter in a yellow Brazilian shirt who was more interested in craning round to watch the football on the television. Not surprising then that what arrived was a dire concoction in a glass containing coffee, hot chocolate, a layer of foam and a topping of cinnamon. His reaction was just like the king in the poem, ‘Nobody’ he whimpered, ‘could call me a fussy man; I only want a little bit of chocolate powder for my cappuccino!’

Back home in our native land, we dropped our bags and sped round the corner to our lovely local café where the charming waitresses rushed around to provide him with the coffee of his dreams. It was a pleasure to see the joy spread over his face as he sipped the milky drink through the chocolate, just as the king had been delighted when the cow had relented and provided the necessary milk. It’s fair to say that my husband is not a fussy man, but he definitely knows what he likes.

The King’s Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, “Certainly,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Now
Before she goes to bed.”

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told
The Alderney:
“Don’t forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread.”
The Alderney
Said sleepily:
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade
Instead.”

The Dairymaid
Said, “Fancy!”
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
“Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It’s very
Thickly
Spread.”

The Queen said
“Oh!:
And went to
His Majesty:
“Talking of the butter for
The royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Marmalade
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little
Marmalade
Instead?”

The King said,
“Bother!”
And then he said,
“Oh, deary me!”
The King sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
And went back to bed.
“Nobody,”
He whimpered,
“Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!”

The Queen said,
“There, there!”
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, “There, there!”
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
“There, there!
I didn’t really
Mean it;
Here’s milk for his porringer,
And butter for his bread.”

The Queen took
The butter
And brought it to
His Majesty;
The King said,
“Butter, eh?”
And bounced out of bed.
“Nobody,” he said,
As he kissed her
Tenderly,
“Nobody,” he said,
As he slid down the banisters,
“Nobody,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man –
BUT
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!”

Alan Alexander Milne

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3 Comments on “The elusive cappuccino by Angela Caldin

  1. I read this at 6.30 am. What a delightful way to start my day! A.A. Milne is a treasure and so is this piece you’ve written, Angela. .

  2. Oh poor chap. I know exactly how he feels. I had the best cappuccino ever in the mid 1960’s in one of the first coffee bars in Southend on Sea. I spent the next fifty years trying to match it and, so far, no luck!!

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