The Adventures of Alan: Tea For Three But Not For Me
Written by Alan Hancock, Illustration by Peter Clayton
There was a ferocious debate going on in the tea room. Usually, this area was gossip territory; the intimacy of the space providing maximum value for intrigue as someone else from within the office got obliterated for their minor quirks and annoyances. Karen was always getting it in the neck.
I’d only popped in for a glass of water but in doing so, I inadvertently found myself trapped between the triumvirate of Keith, Janet and Susan. They were locked in a bitter dispute; so much so that it took me a while to discover who was trashing whom. It transpired that they were each in open rebellion against the other over something close to the heart of every patriot the land over: Tea. And, more specifically, the “right way” of making it.
Keith had already come out all guns blazing in defence of his methodology. An Englishman through and through, he was pained that it wasn’t being given the respect it clearly deserved. He fancied himself as something of an authority but it was rare to see him so animated. Usually, he’s relatively placid, like a sloth, but one that’s good with finance. He held a despairing hand atop a pulsating red bald spot as he spelled out this age-old recipe with such conviction it was as if he was channelling our collective ancestry; as if they were gathered above him in bowler hats, waving British flags observing him do it for Queen and country.
“Bag. Water. Milk. Sugar. Stir” he said punctuating each point with a firm jab of the finger into the palm of his hand. It was a simple matter of fact and Janet agreed with a solemn nod of the head.
“This is tea. If you’re going to do it, do it right, or don’t do it at all” he said, like the voice of a nation.
Susan however, was unmoved.
“Judge all you like,” she said “that’s how my Mum made her tea and that’s how I make mine. I like to soak the bag in the milk and sugar and then add the water. Call me old fashioned…”
“Call you crazy more like!” interrupted Kevin, huffing with incredulity.
“What I would say…” considered Janet thoughtfully “…is that I’ll sometimes put some cold water in afterwards to cool it down…”
The other two immediately erupted, each frantically clamouring to debunk Janet on this preposterous point in the process of tea making. Cool it down? Who in their right mind wants a lukewarm tea?! Susan was yammering on like a deranged Pez dispenser; Janet was defending herself vociferously and Keith stood there with his eyes closed, shaking his head saying “no, no, no” repeatedly with blokish surety.
I continued to stand between them, lost in a maelstrom of tea related verbiage, drowning in a teapot of ignorance, delicately sipping my water before deciding to interject with “does it really matter? It’s just tea”.
That was my main mistake.
They were instantly silenced. With one, ill-advised sentence I managed to end their squabbles and unite them. Arms were folded, brows were furrowed and faces were ruffled in disbelief. The treachery!
“Just tea?” said Janet and Susan in menacing unison. Keith was filled with an apoplectic fury. He composed himself, picked up his mug and launched into an impassioned speech.
“Just tea? Held within this cup is more than ‘just tea’” he said making sarcastic air quotes “inside this cup is everything we hold dear. It’s a representation of our values; a homely symbol of the simplest thing that has the unrivalled ability to make everything just about bearable again. Having a bad day? Have a cup of tea. Having a good day? Have a cup of tea. Is your MOT taking longer than your mechanic said it would? Of course, so have a cup of tea. It’s the answer to most of our problems and I despair of the fact that you, a man born of these British Isles has singularly failed to grasp that. This drink says more than any of us ever could. It’s a cup of “one of those days” a mug of “I know the feeling”. It’s Keep Calm and Carry On with milk and sugar. This drink built a nation”
It was no “we’ll fight them on the beaches” but Janet and Susan dabbed the tears from their eyes, as Keith struggled to suppress the lump that’d grown in his throat. For my twenty eight years, I’d assumed it was merely a hot beverage that adults drank but for them, it was a representation, a manifestation of our collective culture, our shared psyche, boiled down and condensed into a tiny, porous bag and it was worth fighting for.
“I just prefer my water I guess,” I said sheepishly before beating a hasty retreat and leaving them to it. They sat down, and within minutes, over their cups of tea, the gossip returned.