HE was no great shakes in the kitchen, my Dad, but he made a decent cup of tea.
Lyons Gold Blend. Strong and thick. A drop of milk. And two and a quarter spoons of sugar.
Always in a proper cup and saucer. He never used a mug. It was a porcelain cup, incongruous in his big weather beaten hands, or nothing.
When he and Mam would come back from the shops, it was his job to make the tea. He’d put away the heavy stuff first – the potatoes, the cylinder of gas for the Super Ser – while Mam sorted out the bread and the milk and then he’d get on to the real business of the day – the tea.
He always warmed the pot first, swirling the hot water around intently, like a science experiment. Three teabags between the two of them, boiling water, not even a second off the boil, and then a good stir with a teaspoon to bring it all together.
And then he’d wait. You always had to wait, you see. The tea had to draw. A good five minutes at least.
Look at that! A decent Jaysisin’ cup of tea, that’s what that is. The last cup for your mother, she likes it strong. Only a tiny drop of milk for her. No sugar. After 40 years he knew how Mam liked her tea. He made it for her every day after all and every day she agreed it was the best cup of tea she’d ever had. She’d sigh and say ‘God I needed that’ after the first sip. And he’d fold his arms and sit back and nod contentedly. Grand job.
He was always so proud. Making the tea after the shops was his job. Making the tea when there were visitors was his job. They all knew about the tea. They all knew Joe was the tea maker, the tea lover, in the house. The tea provider.
He was so proud.
I noticed it about four months after he died. Just suddenly one day, in my house.
Mam was making her own cup of tea. Weaker. With a large splash of milk. The tea paler than I’d ever seen it.
Then I noticed it again and again as the months and now years passed. Slightly weaker tea. More milk. The first cup out of the pot, not the last.
I thought it was grief. I thought it pained her to drink the tea the way Dad used to make it. That she couldn’t cope with the memory of it, the scent of it, the taste of it.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t grief. It was love.
This is how she likes her tea. This is how she has always liked her tea. Slightly weaker, with a slightly bigger splash of milk. The first cup out of the pot if possible. Maybe the second. But not the last.
She never told him. All those years of the tea and the sit down and the grand job. She never told him that it was good but it wasn’t quite right.
For nearly 50 years she drank her not quite perfect cup of tea and assured the love of her life that it was all she could hope for.
Hers is an Irish love story, soaked through with commitment and love and loyalty and tea.
Just like Dad used to make.
ALL the people.
So many people.
And they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their – toddler life.
I get up when I want except on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when I get rudely awakened by The Beast shouting at me.
I stumble into my slippers and dressing gown, wrestle a three-foot ninja downstairs, strap him into his high chair, prepare a precise breakfast for him – No Mama, on the GREEN plate, not the blue one – make a cup of tea and never get to drink it.
And I think about leaving the house. [Just leaving, walking out, never coming back. See yis, bitches.]
I’ll stop with the Blur reference, cos I’m not clever enough to come up with a toddler version of “John’s got brewers droop he gets intimidated” so I’ll park (life) that for now.
Still but, toddlers eh? Inspired by a conversation this morning with other ‘just give me the coffee quick’ Mams, here’s what life with a toddler is like:
- I now spell at other adults, instead of speaking to them. “I’m thinking of going to the P L A Y G R O U N D later” cos if Mr Ears of a Bat inside there hears me he’ll immediately start putting on his shoes and asking ‘Are we going to the playground now’ on a loop for three hours. (Actually, I don’t think bats have ears? But you know what I mean, their hearing is good. Ah shut up.)
- I have more plastic multicoloured plates, bowls and cutlery than I have actual plates and cutlery.
- I no longer have a floor. It has been replaced by a sea of Lego. Floor no longer exists, only Lego. There is no world any more, only Lego. When the Rapture comes, nothing will be left behind, only Lego.
- I have no privacy any more. My ‘nudie bum’ is a great source of amusement as are my sanitary towels – “Oh look what I found Mama! [brandishing aloft an Always Ultra Long in its bright purple packaging] A present!” He talks with great enthusiasm about ‘nudie Mama’ all the time. Loudly. In public. In TESCO. The butcher is familiar with my menstrual cycle. The poor bastard.
- I’ve become a cupboard rustler when it comes to sweets and cakes. They’re no longer eaten in the comfort of my sitting room or at the kitchen table. Instead I stand, like a thief in the night, half inside the cupboard, cramming sugar into my mouth at lightening speed, so that The Beast doesn’t see me and demand some. Share? Fuck that shit.
- My countertops are clear, not because I’m a domestic goddess, but because if anything is left out it’s immediately pulled down by an inquisitive Mr Grabby Hands with increasingly louder demands of ‘What you got there, Mama? What is THAT? What IS it Mama?’
- I can’t relax until the post man has been. If I’m not quick enough, The Beast dives on it yelling ‘Look Mama, post! I OPEN IT!’ and immediately starts ripping open envelopes and wrecking the contents. My Clubcard vouchers were defiled a few months ago. I’m still not over it.
- I find food in the most unlikely of places. I found some rice in my ear one time. IN my actual ear. And every night when I take off my bra a veritable tsunami of toddler snacks fall out. I thought my bra was getting too tight one time, only to discover The Beast had somehow shoved an entire cheese and spinach muffin down there.
- I’m overly familiar with every single character in Thomas the Fucking Tank Engine. I loathe him and his smug little counterparts, but to The Beast, Thomas is a God. A God who must be obeyed at all times. There is no world, only Thomas. (And Lego. And Lego Thomas)
- Poop. SO much poop. All the time with the poop. ‘I got a smelly bum Mama! [said with delight!] You change it now! It smells wotten!’ There is no world, only poop. [And Thomas. And Lego. And Lego Thomas]
Sing with me now:
It’s got nothing to do with CBeebies and RTE Junior, you know
And it’s not about you bloggers, who go round and round and round
Awwwwwlllll the people. So many people. And they all go hand in hand. Hand in hand through their …