SATURDAY’S CHILD: Call me Mr Tea
ALICIA SILVERSTONE said she considered a box of fine European chocolates to be better than sex. American author and writer, Spalding Grey, disagreed. He thought skiing was better than sex. Lil’ Kim is quoted as saying: “I haven’t had sex in eight months. To be honest I now prefer to go bowling.” Singer, songwriter, Tom Lehrer, insisted that when you get to 52, food becomes more important than sex. Harold Pinter, the British playwright, stood by his view: “I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth – certainly greater than sex although sex isn’t too bad either.” I can see a certain twisted logic in what these people said but the one that I do not understand or subscribe to is Boy George’s view: “I would rather have a cup of tea than sex.”
Growing up and even well into my 40s and 50s, I detested tea. Even though my doctor forced me to lay off coffee, I drank tea by default and under protest. I used to tell this story to the fanatic tea drinkers. If you’re squeamish and are one of those tea fanatics you might wish to skip this joke and seek solace in the meantime with a cuppa.
A very cute little girl was playing with her miniature tea set. Her father was in the living room and her mother was out shopping. The little girl came out to the living room and offered her father a cup of tea, which was in fact just water. He thought this was really cute, so he took several cups without complaint. When the mother came home, the father had the mother stop and watch the little tea ritual, as her daughter brought the father another cup of “tea” and he drank it. The mother said: “Very nice. But has it occurred to you that the only place she can reach to get water is the toilet?” My take on it is that he and all other tea drinkers could never ever really tell the difference.
There were times, even in my worst coffee-drinking days, that I had tea but under special circumstances. Working for PAHO and elsewhere, especially the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), we had extremely long meetings and workshops. While the WICB directors were allowed an open bar during the board meetings by president Julien Hunte, as corporate secretary and by choice, I stayed off the hard stuff. As the circular discussions spun the time out into light years, I used to go to the tea table and try to at least counteract the effects of the accumulated acidity from the meetings and the many cups of instant coffee drunk black and bitter. I took as much milk as hot water and though normally not a sugar user sweetened my tea with at least two heaped teaspoons.
I suppose the tea took me back to my comfort zone of childhood since it reminded me of the “green tea” that my grandmother had available every morning together with “cocoa tea”, “Ovaltine tea” and “coffee tea.” Occasionally, when the coffee ran out at my grandmother’s house, I had no choice but to drink the green tea (Red Rose) and even when I added more milk and sugar I was still always on the edge of regurgitation.
It did not help to change my attitude when I read that the essayist, William Hazlitt, died, they said, from his addiction to tea which he drank “not wisely but too well”. My weakness in those days, and even now, is humour. There was a PG Wodehouse story (which I remember but am not sure of all the details) about a man who had stopped drinking and switched to tea with fatal consequences. He was hit by a bus two weeks later.
Eventually, at the age of 59 I was dragged kicking, screaming and tantrum-throwing to the tea table by my doctor. Possibly having to pass through Miami airport, the armpit of the universe, twice and sometimes four times a week, my cholesterol was bad and getting worse. My heart was as clotted as the cream the British use on their strawberries chased with tea, and my end was as imminent as it was growing. As Hamlet said there is a divinity that shapes our ends but, as I tend to add, there is also a divinity, perhaps the same one, which ends our shapes.
So tea it became, was and is. Now I start my day with a cup of filtered coffee from Kenya, Jamaica or Fiji. Generally, I stay with a mild brew because I can’t deal with too much domestic acidity so early. Then I become Mr Tea or Tea Deyal. What helped me cope was a Small Island Developing States meeting in Mauritius where I was introduced to a vanilla-infused black tea which seemed to be the national drink. It had “body”, something that the other insipid teas did not have and I loved it. I still import it but not as much as before since I find that I can drink even plain Lipton, Tetley and the other collections of scrapings from the cutting room floor without any milk, sugar, qualms or fears.
I doubt that I will ever be a member of the Litteratea or Glitteratea. I won’t be a scion of the nobility and change my name to Earl Grey. If anything, I prefer Kenyan AA or Jamaican Blue. When I really want to indulge, I drink tea with all kinds of stuff added, like cinnamon, black pepper, vanilla, anise, cloves and cardamom. It goes back to India, has been around for centuries and is known as Chai or Chai Tea. I add some Carnation evaporated milk to mine but I stint on the sugar, using Stevia instead. I just had a cup while sitting writing this column. After all, Chai Tea begins at home.
• Tony Deyal was last seen quoting Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Not that he is ever tempted to validate this.