Growing up in a typical lower-working-class family, tea was the only beverage served in our home, it was either tea or water.
My grandma bought pop, usually Dandylion and Burdock, from the man in a van who did a weekly route. However pop was not drank at meal time, it was an afternoon treat for grandma. The strong flavour bit at my throat and was not to my taste, so I did like the horses did and drank water.
The refined way of drinking tea, as demonstrated in shows such as Downton Abbey is not the way most working class families drank their tea. Gran had a big brass kettle which sat on the hob of the coal fire, it was always hot and would be at boiling point within minutes when tea was needed. The kettle had sat in it’s place for many years and it was as black as the back of the chimney, it’s true colour was only revealed when, on a bet, it was taken by one of the uncles and polished to it’s original brass shine. There had also been a huge black tea pot, decorated in what was supposed to be gold vines that spent many years on grandma’s dresser.
The story behind the much treasured tea pot was hazy but it was supposed to be handed down to the first female in the family who had twins. Grandma had been persuaded to leave her home and go to live with one of my aunts, when she had fallen into a diabetic coma. She was unaware of her illness until she had to be hospitalised and, my bossy aunt had packed up gran’s rented house and moved gran and entire possessions to her home in the south of England. This was done so quickly that most of the family did not know what was happening until it was a fait accomplished. I was now married, with two small children and had been a weekly visitor to gran’s house but we had no car so was unable to visit her at the other end of the country.
Within two months my aunt regretted her decision and had my grandma put into a care home. Gran found herself away from most of her family and friends and living three hundred miles away from her life long home. My mother returned from USA, where she had been living since I was sixteen and managed to get gran transferred to a senior’s home in our home town. However, the illness and total transformation of gran’s life was too much for her and she lived in a state of confusion. I was now able to visit gran every week and she loved the babies but was not really sure who they were.
Grandma passed away with a brain aneurism several month later, and when I actually gave birth to twin girls, gran was gone and no sign of the family teapot. It was rather ugly and far too big to use but it would have been nice to have kept the item in the family. What ever happened to all gran’s treasures is a mystery. I don’t think she had anything of value but there was nothing at all to remember grandma by. I would have loved to have had her cameo brooch which was an item of daily wear on gran’s dress. One of her sons had been in the merchant navy and brought her so many items from all over the world, maybe not worth anything, but family treasures non the less. My thoughtless auntie got rid of all gran’s momentos as easily as she got rid of my gran.
A tea pot was usually one of the first items acquired by a prospective bride but in my mom’s home tea was just made directly into a mug. Mom’s mugs were huge and were blue and white striped, which pattern seemed to be had in many homes. A big spoon full of tea leaves would be put in the mug, boiling water poured over and then left to sit for a couple of minutes, to brew. Quite a lot of full cream milk would then be added which made the tea quite cool. The result was truly awful and made me shudder when I tried to drink it. Gran’s tea was always made in a big old, brown Betty tea pot which had a cracked lid and a chipped spout. The tea was not as bad as mom’s offerings but was still unpalatable to me. I was as confirmed tea hater until coming to Canada and was given weaker tea, without milk, a completely different drink and really refreshing. Here I also had my first cup of coffee, with half and half, and became an instant convert.
I’m not sure why the British hold the consumption of tea as an important ritual and a cure-all, but any emergency is a call for tea. Whether it be illness, bad news, good news, arrival of visitors or in fact any circumstance, it is deemed necessary to put on the kettle and make tea. Most British people drink their tea with milk and I think this is the reason why they say that English people have a stiff upper lip….they are trying to mask their distaste of the horrible milky concoction which is supposed to be the only thing that puts the Great in Great Britain!