Stuart Payne's NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown website had been ticking along quite sedately thank you very much, an online haven for hardcore biscuit enthusiasts the world over. Recently however, the site has exploded into more general view, with the perpetual British love for tea (and tea-time) turning Stuart into cyberspace's leading authority on the subject.
It all started innocently enough with a BBC Online interview, but since then Stuart has been deluged with requests from a media desperate for the inside track on all biscuit related matters. Apart from numerous radio spots, there's been an appearance on Channel 4's Richard and Judy chatshow, as well as further BBC exposure plus pieces in The Times, Telegraph and Guardian newspapers.
We're proud to say that maybe we've helped. Certainly proud now that they've got themselves a proper publishing deal and everything. The book's available now, and we're all rather excited.
We managed to get hold of Stuart, a.k.a. long-time b3ta board member Nicey, for long enough to pester him with questions about the one perfect superbiscuit, and why one should never drink tea in San Jose.
The site is about biscuits and the name is all about tea...
Not a problem, 'cause tea leads to biscuits. By the time your brain has scanned to the end of 'nice cup of tea and a sit down' most well-adjusted people should be thinking 'biscuits'. In the book we go into tea in some detail, and a bit of cake, and sit downs, as well as biscuits of course.
Now that your site has made you famous with numerous TV appearances - give us a celeb anecdote.
Well, when doing BBC Breakfast I once sat next to Esther Rantzen in makeup without realizing it. To be fair she was also unaware that she was sitting next to me, so it was a mutual sort of thing. When I got back in the green room there she was up on the monitor. I think its because in the flesh she's much smaller than she should be, and because her dress was very purple which distracted me. By the way, their mugs of tea that sit on the table in front of them are completely empty. They also had Quentin Cooper the film review guy in to cover the Christmas films, and I said, "You can't whack the Muppets Christmas Carol", I especially liked the part played by Gonzo, but he was more interested in my iPod.
Biscuits make you fat. Any thoughts on healthy options?
Well biscuits aren't really what nutritionists call a wonder-food. Examples of these are seaweed, millet and quinoa grains. Mind you, I bet your average nutritionist likes a digestive with their mid-morning cuppa. Of all biscuits Fig rolls are probably the best thing for you due to their fig content which has fibre as well as complex carbohydrates. In general, the best approach is to earn your biscuits either through some healthy exercise such as brisk walking, or strenuous work like digging over the garden or perhaps composing a long email.
We've recently got a taste for herbal teas - peppermint infusions being a favourite. Can we still be in your club?
No not really. You see none of the herbal stuff is proper tea, just because it comes in a bag and you pour boiling water on it. Perhaps you'll progress on to the real stuff via a convoluted route. This might seem harsh, but really if you went into the sort of establishment that sells bacon sandwiches and all day breakfasts and exercised your new-found 'tea' drinking skills I think you would quickly come unstuck.
Which nationality makes the worst tea?
The Americans of course. They have made it a matter of notional pride to be ignorant of the ways of tea since the Boston Tea Party. This even extends to having a puny 120V National Grid so that their kettles are all underpowered, weak and useless. Of course I cover this in the book.
Have you been recognised in the street?
I'm very happy to say no. However, just the other week I was recognised in the dentist's, if that counts. I was having a spot of emergency dental treatment whilst over in Ireland, after a slice of the mother-in-law's homemade bread had dislodged a filling. The dentist asked me what I did, and I replied, "mostly talk about biscuits." He said, "I've heard you on the radio, talking about extinct biscuits." He seemed quite excited, however his dental assistant remained professional and disinterested.
Have biscuit manufacturers tried to bribe you for a good review?
Yes, but only after I had already done the review, so it was a bit pointless really. The method they choose was to send us 48 packets of them. This slightly backfired as that was approximately 45 packs more than we really needed. It took us about two months to offload them on anybody who visited us. Everybody has always been so keen for us to remain impartial but we have made no secret that we are open to the idea of parcels of money.
Nicey is a major talent. Biscuits are his starting point, but his material is the warm nostalgic glow of everybody's childhood treats. Oh, and it's funny. Ha ha. Is shiny, you like, you like:
BTW: They also sent us a review copy that came in a funky box. Have a look. You will be dead jealous.
Why do you think your site has recently gained so much media acclaim?
A certain chain of events led to the media at large being alerted to our existence. Once that had happened it all went a bit mad. It seems that people think that we have captured a quintessential part of British life somehow in cyberspace. The media appears to like that juxtaposition of the traditional and the technological. Or it could be because they all want to come out and see us on a jolly of tea drinking and biscuit eating.
What has been your favourite biscuit-fame related experience thus far?
Having Radio 2 phone me back after my interview with Jeremy Vine so that I could continue to talk about biscuits to the top of the hour, and hearing as they patched me through to the studio, 'Get that other guy off the line we've got the biscuit man back'.
What type of seating is best for enjoying a nice cup of tea and a sit
down? And for that matter, do you have a tea preference?
Comfortable seating is always the one to go for, although if nothing else presents itself you might get away with sitting on a low wall. Try and make yourself as relaxed possible without spilling anything, as a scald from hot tea can be painful. Although it is possible to drink tea whilst squatting down you really should try and avoid it.
We drink PG Tips.
Do you ever make biscuits at home? If so, what type?
If I do then it's Ginger Nuts. I always like to make them without really weighing or measuring the ingredients, that way they are different every time. I once made bourbons, for the technical challenge, but they were very odd.
My French teacher at school told us that the word biscuit derived from
the French for 'baked twice'. According to him a double baking process
was traditionally employed in biscuit making - hence the name.
Can you enlighten me further?
Your French teacher was right. This described the process by which flour could be preserved by making ships biscuits. An initial baking of a simple flour and water dough was followed by a long second drying process, hence twice cooked. Biscuits were so hard that sailors whose dental hygiene was not even state of the art for Tudor times would break what remaining teeth they had as they tried in vain to consume them. It doesn't get much funnier than that.
Wagon Wheels: were they really bigger when we were kids?
Each successive generation considers that Wagon Wheels have got smaller. If that were the case and they had been getting smaller and smaller since they were introduced in the 1950s then today they would be microscopic requiring fabulously complex nano technology to make them. The head of a pin could hold enough Wagon Wheels to give the entire nation a nice sit down and a cup of tea.
Actually, an expert who frequents the site told us that they got ever so slightly smaller in the mid 1980s when production was switched from Slough to South Wales. Other than that its all down to us getting bigger. Much the same effect can be had by walking into your old Primary School.
Did you actually make the website because you seriously like
biscuits so much, or was it just created only for a bit of fun?
Actually both. Also because I was inspired by B3TA and Joel to put up stuff on the web.
Is there any biscuit you wish would come back into circulation?
(tef's evil twin)
Huntley & Palmer's Honey Creams / McVities Royal Scott. This would take about 10 emails a day off of my intray.
What is your opinion on the big boxes of broken biscuits you get in
Deep suspicion. I suspect they are all deliberately broken in order to meet a gap at the bottom of the market. Mind you, I did hear what happens when a Jaffa Cake line has to suddenly stop. It results in total carnage, the results of which would probably be too messy to sell.
Do you consider the Jaffa cake a cake or a biscuit?
Cake. Its a Cake.
What is the most perfect biscuit moment... environment, biscuit,
cup or mug etc... The nirvana of biscuits is what I seek.
Climb a mountain, or a good sized hill will do. When at the top make tea on camping stove then drink it with a biscuit of your choice. I would recommend a digestive.
Should the milk be put in before or after the tea bag?
Well, it is universally accepted that the milk goes in after. People who insist on putting the milk in first generally know that they are doing it all wrong, they just like it like that. At NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown we're quasi-democratic and so we would defend their right to make tea in a misguided way.
Little finger extended? Or is that just plain wrong?
We do not have a view on that, apart from the obvious increased danger of having your little finger becoming involved in a bizarre accident.
I leave the spoon in the mug. How wrong is this?
Have you had to go to casualty yet with a nasty spoon in eye injury?
Do fruit teas have a place in a civilised society and if so,
which is your favourite?
Fruit teas are wrong as they are neither Fruit, which I quite like, or tea, which I obviously love. Fruit tea only serves to make you want real fruit or real tea.
Do you recommend certain biscuits with certain teas, if so what
biscuit would you recommend to go with Lapsang Souchong?
No, we don't do that. However, when I was in the Scouts a favourite way to extinguish campfires was to urinate on them. Any biscuit that captured the essence of that would go well with Lapsang Souchong.
Where did you have your worst ever cup of tea?
San Jose,California. Suffering from jet lag I went down to breakfast expecting to get a nice or even mediocre cup of tea. Due to my jet lag I neglected to bring down one of my PG tips bags, which incidentally would have probably got me a custodial sentence had it been discovered in my luggage at San Francisco airport. Asking for tea the waiter came back to me with a large wooden chest, the sort of thing that duelling pistols are probably kept in. Upon opening it contained not guns but assorted unlikely and dud tea bags. Eventually I settled for English Breakfast, which seemed best fitted to my predicament. I was then brought a pot of not very hot water and half a lemon in a sort of netting bag. The warm water sort of coaxed some acrid tasting discharge out of the suspect tea bag. Asking for milk I was informed that I could have half-and-half, which I accepted in the hope that one half was indeed milk. The result foul brew was greasy cold and tasted as if it had been made from the stuff that accumulates on my bicycle chain.
Is there a biscuit that you would say is only marginally preferable
The Spanish produce many many biscuits that are similar to building materials.
If you could combine three biscuits into one perfect Superbiscuit,
what would it be?
I don't think I would want to do that. Maybe biscuits that were also some kind of construction toy would be good, so you make edible models of planes and houses.
If you could name a biscuit what would you call it?
Who do you rate as a writer?
Well, I'm an extremely un-read type of bloke, so I would have to put somewhere between Stanislaw Lem and the guy that does the jokes on Penguin wrappers.
Do you know any good jokes?
No I just read Penguin wrappers.
What's your favourite swear word?
Well we don't like to swear on NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown, which must of helped when CBBC Newsround linked to us which I'm very proud of. However as this isn't on our site I would go with 'Flange' or just a good old fashioned 'Bollocks'.
Do cheese based biscuits annoy you?
No, because they would be Crackers. I am at peace with the world of Crackers, with the possible exception of high baked water biscuits. Cheese on sweet biscuits, however, is a bit suspect.
If you could be a biscuit, what would you be and why?
I would be one of the hundreds of Penguin bars under my stairs. They never know when they are going to called upon to do something exciting like be given to a Journalist or TV Interviewer that has been lovely to us. They also get to do a lot of stunt work and crowd sequences.
What's your favourite biscuit?
Well, I've told everybody it's the Abbey Crunch, and it probably is.
What is the correct manipulation and orientation sequence for a
dunked Rich Tea biscuit to avoid bottom sloppage?
Dunk, nibble, rotate, repeat.
Are the pink wafer biscuits found in biscuit boxes just a sales
cop-out in order to satisfy the children ?
They are there to use up the world supply of Pink which would otherwise accumulate in large metal drums and at some point no doubt seep into water supplies.
How do you stop yourself half way through a pack of hobnobs?
Open a pack of something else.
Why can't I keep those pesky kids away from my wonderful hazelnut
and choc chip cookies? I've tried everything short of pungee pits and
Are you some sort of Scooby Doo villain?
Have you thought about trying to get a job at McVities or Foxes? Or
would that corrupt your partisan biscuit eatingness?
No. But I am getting offers to come and look round biscuit factories now, to see biscuits being made. So obviously I'm very excited about that. There's not enough stuff in the media about how things are made; no wonder our manufacturing industries are in such a state. Bring back "Playschool" with the round, square and arched window. The arched window ruled.
When a tramps stops you and asks for 10p towards a cup of tea
do you give it to him?
No, but he can have a packet of Penguins if he likes.
What's the best way of rescuing a biscuit that's fallen in to your
Leave it, its kindest. Move on.
Do you think there's any biscuit that goes better with cocoa than
tea or coffee?
I wouldn't know. We drink tea, you know.
Do you know if there is a biscuit with meat in it?
Lots of biscuits have gelatin in them, and so are not vegetarian - typically those with a mallow filling.
We know about tea, we know more than is healthy now about biscuits,
but what is your favourite way to sit down?
Slowly at first, then speeding up until a sudden deceleration alerts you to the presence of the seat.
Have you got bored with the inevitable questions interviewers ask,
and started to tell lies?
I thought you would ask me that. No, actually I just made that up! Was that the sort of thing you wanted? We can do it different if you like, I'm Okay with that. No, fine, we'll leave it like that then, you can always edit it out.
Visit NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown for all sorts of tea & biscuit related excitement, including Biscuit Of The Week and the 21st Century Fig Festival.
Thanks to the b3ta boarders for coming up with the questions, to Stuart for answering them, to Baz, Hibbyz, Dr. Dunno, rogan and vulga for the images, and to Robert Tinsley and Fraser Lewry for turning it into a web thingy.