COLUMN: March 29, 2012

I LOVE tea. I don’t like coffee. I know that coffee is sophisticated and rich and French and that tea is for characters from Coronation Street in the 1970s, but I can’t help it.

I don’t like Guinness either. If I wanted to be reminded of the taste of earwax, I have ready access to a supply.

But that is by the by, let us concentrate on the positive. I love tea. So when I examined the tea and coffee making facilities in the hotel room from which I send this dispatch, I was disappointed, though not surprised. I have written before about the paucity of tea and coffee making facilities in hotels.

There were two teabags to last me 24 hours. That would only be an adequate number of teabags for somebody who sort of liked tea, but was not fussed, although I cannot imagine such a person. It certainly is not enough for me, a tea lover.

Luckily, after the last time I complained about this nonsense, a reader suggested I bolster my tea supplies by purloining a bag or two from the “continental breakfast buffet.” I cannot condone thievery, no matter how minor. On the other hand, I had a reasonable case for describing myself as a sort of Robin Hood figure.

I stood in front of the display of tea and coffee sachets, with a cup in my hand, and picked up an “everyday” teabag, and another one in the same movement. I had two teabags, but to onlookers it appeared as if I had only one. It was the perfect crime.

But then I was aware of somebody next to me. I glanced to my left and saw a member of staff standing there, watching me. This was a disaster. There was no way I’d be able to operate the hot water machine and tear open the sachet without her noticing that I had two.

I waited, pretending to regard the tea and coffee sachets more keenly than was necessary, hoping that she’d vanish. But she did not. She was clearly waiting for me to do something.

I looked around, searching for inspiration. And I found it. “Is that a toaster?” I asked, indicating a toaster. As she turned and confirmed it was indeed a toaster, I slipped the teabags inside my pocket. Better, I thought, that she consider me the sort of person who isn’t sure if a toaster-shaped object with bread sticking out of the top of it is a toaster than a common thief.

She turned back, as I remembered I had two teabags in my pocket. And so she watched me remove a single teabag from my pocket and drop it into my cup. She walked away, I think shaking her head. It was hard to tell as I couldn’t bear to look at her directly.

Nevertheless, I realised, I’d got away with it. I had swiped an extra teabag, undetected.

But, like a Bond villain, I was compelled to boast about it. When I reached the office in which I am working this week, I placed the teabag on the desk and, took a photo of it on my phone, which I uploaded to Twitter. And then I charged up my phone, because I had used up the battery in the process.

And while I was doing this, fate, like James Bond, was wriggling out of her ropes and readying herself to pounce.

At the end of the day, I sat in a colleague’s car in a scorching half-hour, traffic jam-filled, half-mile journey back to our hotel. But I didn’t mind. For that night, I would drink my fill of tea.

As I walked into the lobby, I patted my pocket. My phone was not there. It was sitting in the office, merrily charging up. I am a 21st century man. My life is on my phone. Also, I had to send this column, and I couldn’t do that without my phone, so in a way you are responsible.

I trudged back in the sweltering heat to the office, retrieved my phone, returned, with the baking sun on my back and no access to a knotted handkerchief, used my single allocated evening teabag for a swift cuppa, and joined my colleagues for dinner.

Afterwards, I retired to my room to put the kettle on, before writing this.

And that’s when I realised that the teabag was still on my desk.

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