COLUMN: January 3, 2019

A jug with too much milk

IF anything epitomises my ability to self-sabotage, it is my love of a nice cup of tea.

First, you have to bear in mind that only about one in six cups of tea could possibly be called nice, because people’s taste in tea, far more than in coffee, is a subjective thing.

This is why I am not in the tea round in the office. I would find it an administrative nightmare if I were making the tea, and intolerable if I were receiving the tea.

There are charts, for instance, of ideal tea colour, which are fine as far as they go. But they don’t take into account the amount of milk that people like. You could ask for a 4B on the Tea Colour Scale, but that could be stronger in the brewing stage and more lavish in the milk addition stage than you like, yet still be the correct colour.

And every tea bag is different. Every kettle of water is different. Sometimes they react in subtle ways to each other, meaning you can have a transcendent cuppa, or you can have something that tastes like Katie Hopkins sounds.

The point is that I am drinking five cups of average-to-poor tea for every one satisfying cuppa, even if I am making it myself. If tea were a football manager it would be sacked before Christmas.

Second, tea makes me look like a loser when I am attempting to look like a sophisticated man about town.

You see, the sophisticated way to finish off a meal is a coffee. I have no idea how we came to decide that. Presumably somebody thought the best way to finish off a beautifully cooked, balanced, and seasoned meal would be to destroy the taste buds with the bitterest substance known to man.

Just because I refuse to abandon tea for this upstart, waiters give me that look when I ask for tea, the international symbol for “Technically, the customer is always right – I’ve been on a course – but I’m looking at you now and if I owned this joint, not only would you be barred, but I would see to it that no restaurant in this town would admit you in future. And I would set fire to your trousers.”

So they bring me a small pot of tepid tea, a jug with too much milk, and no biscuit, even though my companion, who is unaccountably drinking coffee like a traitor, gets one. And I drink it, because it’s one of the five-in-six and increases my chances of getting a good one next time.

Third, I work a hilariously stupid shift, from 1.30-10pm. It means I usually get home just before 11pm. In order to get enough time in the morning to do something practical, or merely enjoy the moments that I am not at work, I should really go to sleep around midnight.

But what I actually do is walk through my front door, and put the kettle on. Because I am programmed to wind down by having a cup of tea. I am northern. It is what we do.

And when I get to bed, just before midnight, that is the moment when the caffeine in the tea kicks in, along with all my brain’s synapses. A potentially sleepy person is transformed into Dynamo, The World’s Widest Awake Man.

This is when I wonder things like which brave soul first decided that you could eat blue cheese, why they invented parachutes before they invented aeroplanes, and if Top Cat would now live in a wheely bin.

It means I never get to sleep before 1.30am, which is why I’m tired all the time. Either the tea or the job has to go.

And it’s not going to be the tea, I’m afraid.

I have been writing this weekly column in some form since 2009, but all mediocre things must come to an end. I’d like to thank the people who have made it possible – especially Charles and Eddie, MD and Figgis, and Rihanna and the estate of the late Sir David Frost. And bus drivers.

I’d like to thank the people who supported my column, and those who are no longer with us, especially my mum, and my good friends Suzi Moore, and, heartbreakingly recently, Simon Ricketts.

And finally I’d like to thank all my readers, even the ones who write to me about Brexit. Please buy my books. I have a tea habit to maintain.  

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