I find it amusing yet amazingly heartwarming that when things are going wrong, a cup of tea is consistently offered to make things right.
My Dad loved a good cup of tea and when I was old enough to learn how to make it, I delighted in filling the kettle, swilling boiling water inside the teapot – just how he’d showed me – always warming the cups first, while making sure to put the milk in last with two spoonfuls of white sugar.
I remember proudly bringing him that first cup of tea, my small hands wobbling slightly so as not to spill any, while I placed it carefully on the little table next to his chair. He applauded and praised my efforts, enthusiastically proclaiming I made a really good cup of ‘Air Raid’ tea!
Oblivious to the irony I was overjoyed that my cup of tea had its own title and I sat down to drink mine, savouring the moment, so proud of my achievement. In fact I spent many years believing that my tea was his undoubted favourite beverage.
On Saturdays, as he settled down to watch Grandstand in peace at half past one, my Mam and I would get the shopping list and bags sorted, ready to walk into the centre of Consett to buy the meat and vegetables for Sunday dinner. We alternated between Forster’s and Thackeray’s for the meat – as we loved both – but always bought the vegetables at Donaghy’s.
Meanwhile, my Dad would be watching and listening to David Coleman and making his tea just the way he liked it.
On reflection, tea has played a prominent part in my life since then and I learned people like it so many different ways, it’s almost impossible to please them all. When I worked in the Northern Canteen at the age of sixteen during the summer break, we made tea in a large tin teapot with black handles at the front and back to help with lifting as it was so heavy.
I was amazed that everyone expected to get their perfect cup of tea from that one pot. One bus driver would say,
‘Mine’s halfy halfy!
Panicking and blushing at the same time I asked him to explain.
‘Half milk, half Rosie Lee’
I was none the wiser!
Others would watch while I poured, then hold up their hand gesturing me to stop, saying,
‘That’s too strang hinny, al need hot wata in!’
Realising tea making was a fine art which I hadn’t mastered I was relegated to the back yard with a bucket for peeling potatoes.
Still, at home the kettle was always on the boil, whistling softly on the low gas with the teapot beside it.
After I went to college I realised the importance of tea as everyone drank coffee but my Mam posted me Ringtons regularly to help me feel at home.
One of my friends who nicknamed me Arthur would ask me how I liked my tea when he came to visit.
‘Do you want a proper cup of tea or fortnightly?’
Bemused I enquired what he meant.
‘Whey fortnightly’s too week man!’ he said with a twinkle!
Then the unexpected happened one ordinary Tuesday in the summer of 1982. After I got in from work I received a call that changed my life. I held the phone away from my ear in disbelief but the reality was true. My Mam had found him, eyes closed, sitting in his chair next to the fire, with the sport on the television.
The only consolation we had in those dark days ahead of us, was that the tea in the mug on the little table beside my Dad was still warm.
And now it was all clear.