By Susan Roberts
I never used to be much of a tea drinker. My mother would often make tea when I was a child, but I don’t remember experiencing any particular joy from drinking it. It wasn’t until I was at University and the third year drama students were given a common room with a kettle, that I began to drink tea with any relish. Suddenly it was a privilege and a treat.
Fast forward another year, to my first job in Johannesburg. I started drinking my tea weak and black, because I could make a single tea bag last two (or more) cups, and I didn’t need to buy milk. On my paltry salary, I had to take all the help I could get!
As time went on, I discovered the pleasures of loose tea leaves enclosed into a stainless steel tea-ball on a chain. Tea became a pleasure, and the ritual of making it was an equally pleasurable preamble to the actual drinking thereof.
On holidays back home visiting my parents, I discovered another new ritual. My mother would always make tea early in the morning, and because my father never drank tea, she would check to see if I was awake, and bring me a cup. This started one of the most enduring love affairs of my life – my love of early morning tea. Waking up to a fresh mug of steaming tea next to my bed was something that surely only Heaven (and my mother) could supply.
Returning to Johannesburg and leaving my parents was always a sad wrench away from normality, back to my unreal world of hard work and crazy hours for poor pay. After ten years of struggling financially, I took a job in a far away casino resort.
The money was great but the job was a constant battle against the massive egos around me. Not all of the old-fashioned chauvinism was bad; some of it was kind and genuinely concerned. Puzzled male colleagues asked me why I was there. They wanted to know who my father was, or my husband, because in their eyes that was the only reason a woman would be there, and some of them had seen wives and daughters go a little stir-crazy in that bizarre environment.
For me, the worst part was the lack of phone lines and the inability to call my mother. At the age of thirty, I missed her far more than I had in my eager early twenties. My father had died five years before and I still worried about her being on her own, so not being able to contact her when I wanted to was not easy to deal with.
However, my new salary enabled me to level my debts and build some capital, so for a limited time it suited me. I indulged in a few comforts which reminded me of home. One of these was that magical British invention called a Swan Teasmade.
I bought a machine that was a radio, alarm clock and tea kettle all in one. At the appointed time, the alarm would go off, the radio would play softly and the internal kettle – filled the night before – would boil and pour boiling water into the tea in the ceramic teapot. The sound of that gurgling rush of water from the kettle pipe into the teapot was my real alarm clock. Like Pavlov’s dog my mouth would water as I waited the three minutes it took to draw a strong brew that would give me two cups of Twinings best.
My Teasmade lasted about ten years before it eventually died from overwork. I scoured shops far and wide until I found another one. That too lasted about ten years until I wore it out and then – disaster – I couldn’t find another Teasmade! Undaunted, I bought a second kettle and kept it on the bedside table.
I still had both ceramic teapots from my two Teasmades, and these alternated for pride of place next to my bed, supplying me with my standard two cups of tea every morning. Generations of kettles have come and gone since then, but those two teapots were both carefully packed into a box in my Move Cube two years ago when I moved to Australia.
I don’t currently have a kettle next to my bed, and sadly Teasmades seem to be rare vintage relics, hard to find in Australia. I have to get up and go to the kitchen to make my morning tea, which is probably a good thing. It forces me to stay awake on the cold mornings we have in Melbourne.
I always take my tea back to bed with me and set up my laptop for a writing session that can last me through several cups. It all works out fine for now, but one day when I am once more in a place of my own and have a bit more space, I will unpack both those ceramic teapots, buy a second kettle and treat myself to my mother’s morning treat – tea arriving next to me while I’m still in bed.