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Monday, 27 September 2010

7 Things : Tea

It’s been tricky choosing a final portrait for my 7 things. I considered writing about Mr Manbag but I feared it would be either a bad comedy or a love letter, neither of which would make for good reading. Then I considered Paul, an ex neighbour who was a little odd and whom we joked was murdering prostitutes and locking them in his wheelie bin (why else would anyone have a padlock on their bin?). I considered my mother-in-law, my colleague Debi and my friend Lucy. But I decided that the only person I know well enough to write about in detail is, well, me. Sort of.

7 Things : My Life in Tea

I write this with a cup of tea at my elbow. This tea is cheap rose tea bought at a corner store in Kuala Lumpur (costing 2 Malaysian Ringgits – about 50p). The leaves are like dust so that the bottom centimetre cannot be drunk else a nasty, gritty mouthful of leaves be sucked in. The smell is sweet and fragrant, the tea equivalent of Turkish Delight. Tea is very important to me - it’s a measurer of time, a haven, a bringer of peace and a marker to my life...



Tea as a child would be of the builder’s variety. Loose leaves in a warmed pot with full fat milk, in the pre-homogenised days when a pint of milk would have an inch of delicious cream on top and on top of that would be a thick meniscus of solid cream which would reward the one to open the bottle (by gently pressing on the foil top so as to remove it but not break it) with a creamy finger to lick. Two sugars would be stirred in to make the cuppa truly comforting. It would be made by my mum, my elder sister or I (my two younger sisters somehow always got away with not doing any chores) and in my memory it would often be brewed after tea (the working class name for dinner) and before an episode of Coronation Street. The cups would be arranged on the kitchen sideboard in age order, a curve of four cups with my mum’s cup in front. Our house was so cold in those days, before central heating was installed, that we soon got very good at bringing all five cups in to the front room (the working class name for lounge) in a single trip to avoid returning to the freezing kitchen, the cups clasped in rows like a waitress with steins in a beer keller.



Next in my tea life were the “one offs” as we used to call them – a single cup of tea made with a single tea bag. This was my university life. I tried rose pouchong tea for the first time – black tea flavoured with rose petals like the Malaysian tea I am drinking today. My affectation, a poor attempt at being middle class, soon became the norm for me, like the Independent crossword and microwaved baked potatoes with Marmite. I had tried Earl Grey at a schoolfriend’s house when I was 16 and at the time thought it was vile stuff. Now here I was drinking something even more ridiculous. This is when the seeds of my love affair with Twinings, a brand that to me symbolises middle class tea drinking, were planted. At the same time I discovered gin (one of my best friends in life), Pimm’s and drinking champagne out of the bottle (ideally while wearing rowing gear and slightly high from having avoided being thrown into the cold and muddy Isis). It seemed like my middle class ways became truly part of me. It wasn’t long before I was snogging blokes in tuxedos (blokes *cough* who weren’t my fiancé) at college balls and shouting out of sash windows like a budding hooray Henrietta. Sadly those days didn’t last long. For the first time in my life I was in a group of people who were my peers or better. I left university clueless and directionless, not knowing what I wanted or where I was going. I had enjoyed myself, perhaps, a little too much and returned to my suburban home and the bedroom I shared with my three sisters.



Then there were the barren tea years. I moved in with my fiancé (despite the tuxedo kisses and despite being caught by him in bed with Mr Tuxedo, asleep and naked), into a small flat in a village. This couldn’t be much further removed from my student city life despite it being only 5.2 miles away. I had a shop job and wore a drab polyester uniform, the skirt the colour of a cold foggy day or the faded edges of a paperback book. Also known as beige. I ate oven chips and oven chicken and barely drank tea at all. My fiancé (I keep calling him that and to me it sounds weird, despite the fact that we were together for 15 years and engaged for about 11) barely drank tea at all. Occasionally he would have a coffee, a drink I abhor. If I accidentally eat a coffee chocolate I would rather spit its half chewed remnants out than have that disgusting taste in my mouth a moment longer. But he was never much of a tea drinker. And he wasn’t into gin. The signs were all there really. The relationship was off the boil for a long time before the dregs were finally thrown down the sink.



Then, as you must have guessed, I met my tea-match. Mr Manbag. Gin drinker, tea drinker and child of a middle class family. This is where I belong. He enjoys a Lady Grey (something that the lovely Tooting Squared introduced us to that has now become our standard cuppa. Twinings of course) as much as I do. He likes his tea as milky as I do. He has his tea even sweeter than me. Like me he does not drink chamomile (which smells a bit like mouldy grass to me) or fruit teas (they always smell delicious but taste of nought). Like me he will occasionally have a mint (not really a tea at all. I much prefer “infusion” or “tisane” which I think it what the French call it) tea as a digestif. But really we are the same. He is the only person I know in the whole world (counting even my mum, here, now that I drink Middle Class Tea) who can make a cup of tea that I like. We make our tea the same but it doesn’t seem that we have become that way rather that we always were.



At weekends we often lunch out. Somewhere in the centre of Reading normally. Occasionally further afield if we, too, are further afield. But if the first thing that passes my lips on a weekend day is a lunch (which happens often, such is our propensity for lying-in) it absolutely must be accompanied with a cuppa. Almost always Earl Grey with lots of milk and occasionally with a side order of barista-telling-off if they neglect to put the bag in the water while it is still boiling (one of my pet hates). Probably with a sweetener and maybe with a muffin for dessert. But until I have had my tea the day cannot begin.



And next? Next for us is another trip away. It seems like we’ve barely holidayed this year. 10 days in Greece. Lots of weekends in Bristol. A couple of weekends in the Cotswolds. But, still, it doesn’t seem like much. We had hoped to go to Paris in October or November but I fear that the purse strings won’t stretch quite that far. I shall cross my fingers that we can manage that trip in the spring. But for now I shall be happy with another Christmas away, to match last year’s successful Christmas in Granada. This year our plan is to visit Istanbul for another Christmas where the shops are open on Christmas day, the weather is a touch warmer and where we can just be together, the perfect Christmas gift. And of course, in Turkey it would be rude not to partake of some Turkish tea. Not black and not with milk. But apple or lemon or mint and all served in beautiful silvered glasses. Perfect.



If you'd like to read any of my other "7 things" posts click here

16 comments:

grumpy said...

I love tea too...but I am just a plain tea gal myself. Ir green tea with honey and ginger.

Lovely to see pics of you, seeing as I am such a nosey bitch :)

Shruthi said...

Lovely end to this series :) I've loved reading every single post.

Tea is my favourite drink too. So all the more reason to love this post :)

Rog_w said...

Top of the milk, was always saved for my dad to have on his grapenuts at breakfast time. I couldn't bear the thickness or the creaminess of it, but shaking the bottle to self homogenise it was a crime in our house. To this day i rarely, if ever drink milk.

Penny Dreadful said...

Hurrah for tea! We have a cupboard full of tea, though I always wish we had more. At the moment, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Lapsang Souchong, builders, chamomile (my bedtime tea), peppermint, and lemon. I would love one of those tea boxes you get in hotels, smartly lined in wood and containing about 25 different teas.

Also, Christmas in Istanbul, great idea. Hope you'll have a great time, it is nice to go away for Christmas.

otherworldlyone said...

First of all - you are gorgeous.

Second - (and don't hit me) I've never had tea. Well, not tea the way ya'll drink it. Sweet, cold, and on ice. I'm a coffee addict and I just always assumed I'd hate hot tea. I think I may have taken a sip of some when I was younger, something bitter my grandmother made me try, but I can't say for sure.

Anyway, tea drinking aside - I love the way you wrote this. In fact, I love the way you wrote all of them. You're the only one I chose that actually did this the "right" way. Thank you - it was an absolute pleasure to read.

P.S. - The part about Mr Tuxedo made me want to clap. Shameless, I know. :)

Philip said...

I thought that this was just fantastic. Pitch perfect. Sometimes there's such a lovely pace about your writing.
I'm a big fan of jasmine tea. Since I'm in the company of a tea buff I'll also mention that the Yorkshire Gold Rwandan earlier this year was the best black tea I've ever tasted.
The greatest compliment I can pay to this post as that it actually made me go make myself a cup of tea.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Tea could end all wars. Really.

I am addicted to tea. In fact, I even wrote a story about it: http://www.kidinthefrontrow.com/2009/09/story-about-tea-addiction.html

Happy Frog and I said...

Like Philip, straight after reading this I had to have a cup of tea!

I wasn't sure how you were going to top the other 6 posts but this idea was perfect. Fantastic post.

Melafrique said...

great to see some lovely pics of you.

Eric said...

Well there are several cup pictures, but we don't ever really get to see the tea itself, do we?

Oh right, we were supposed to imagine that.

Baglady said...

Grumpy - We're all nosey bitches inside :)

Shruthi - Thank you. Always nice to meet another tea lover, too.

Rog_w - My mum used to try and baggsy the top of the milk for her cereal too. Parents are so selfish!

Penny Dreadful - Your cupboard full of tea sounds delightful. You can get those tea chests from Twinings but they are quite expensive...

OWO - Flattery will get you everywhere. I guess tea is probably an acquired taste. Maybe we'll get to try this out next year? Poor Mr Tuxedo. He was tall and handsome but utterly lacking in other ways. :(

Philip - Thank you. And I think I might have to find some Yorkshire Gold Rwandan. Cheers!

TKITFH. Thanks.

Happy Frog & I - I think I would have had you down as a tea drinker so it's nice to have my suspicions confirmed. Thank you for your comment.

Mel - thank you.

Eric - the tea is always there, I assure you. Though not for long. Mr Manbag thinks I have an asbestos throat as I like my tea really hot.

arandomchild said...

I know that, as an American, I am supposed to prefer coffee over tea. (And I do like my black stuff at home in the morning to open my eyes.) And, as a southerner, I am only supposed to like my tea iced. But, over the past couple of years, I've discovered the joys of the gentle leaf. The coffee pot in my office has been converted to only boiling water for my morning cup of breakfast tea (English or Irish) and whatever strikes my fancy throughout the rest of the day (with a heavy preference for Earl Gray, Mint, and Orange Spice), all with heaps of sugar. Long life to the leaf, and longer life to those who enjoy it.

Beth Phage said...

It's nice to know that there is someone out there who loves tea just as much and even more so then I do! I simply adore tea. A guy at my school today said, "Is all you care about is tea and the movie pride and prejudice?" (Pride and Prejudice was kind of random to this comment, but I didn't feel right no quoting exactly what he said.)

Mel Iss said...

LOVE this. Just started blogging and my second post(yesterday)was about how savoring my 5th and 6th of green tea (Twinings too) is my peace of mind at night before bed. On this side of the pond not too many people appreciate what I think is the most perfect beverage known to man. Beautifully written and photographed. Thank you for sharing!

Trish said...

This was a great post to read. I just started blogging a few months ago, and have finally began to discover other bloggers. You were one of the first one's I subscribed to, and I have been following you ever since. I aspire to write as well as you do, to capture emotion so.. immensely.

Also, loved the addition of the pictures through out the post.

Sally-Sal said...

I love tea. I drink iced tea, unsweetened, but when it's hot, it must have sugar.

You look fantastic in those photos. When I look at candid photos of me, I usually look as frightening (not to mention murderous) as those fake bigfoot pictures.