Tuesday, 9 June 2015


No matter how busy we are in the office, there's always time for tea. Somebody will finish a phone call, send an e-mail, sign a cheque and decide that this is a convenient moment for tea. There is an almost Zen like quality to the moment, similar to the tachi-ai in sumo, when, from that tiny moment of stillness, pandemonium erupts. Well, I say pandemonium but what I really mean is flickering of interest.

And in an office largely full of girls, I should immediately clarify that the point of similarity is that Zen-like stillness, not the imminent collision of mountains of flesh. That's how misunderstandings happen.

I think I have probably rather overstretched this simile to be honest. I'd probably better disguise their names as well. Better safe than sorry.

Anyway, I digress. Someone calls "tea anyone?" and pandemonium erupts. Sorry, mild interest. Funnily enough, the words "mild flicker of interest" are not usually followed by the word "erupts". Sometimes the English language can be strangely restrictive.

Where was I? Oh yes, tea. I don't usually come into the office more than a day a week. Mostly I work from home and, in a domestic context, tea time largely fails to reproduce that frisson of excitement found in the office. It takes on the quality more of a refuelling stop. A chance to take on fluid and nothing more. But in the office, there is always the unwritten possibility of more. If there has been a board meeting in the morning, or a committee, or working party, there is always the promise of flapjacks, millionaire shortbread or even, if we have been visited by knights of the realm, an outside chance of Jaffa cakes.

But irrespective of the circumstances, there is the business of tea itself. It would be easy if everyone drank exactly the same formulation of tea -- say one tea bag, milk and 1 teaspoon of sugar. That would be easy. Predictably, in an office full of larger-than-life characters (no, girls, I mean metaphorically -- not a sumo reference), everyone takes their tea slightly differently.

Of course, being in the office together full-time, each knows the others' preferences. They barely have to nod to each other. It's the kind of unwritten communication that you find in a flange of gorillas or a congress of baboons. Again, I'm not likening the girls in the office to groups of primates. They may share make-up tips but I have never seen them picking insects off each other.

Anyway, as a less frequent visitor to the flange, sorry office, I find myself struggling to remember who takes what in their tea. Or even who takes tea. In the space of 10 yards, from the office door to the kitchen, I have forgotten not only how people wanted their tea but also who wanted tea at all. On a bad day I may even forget who is in the office.

To resolve this, I hit on a master plan. Being by nature a scientist, I would prepare a crib sheet of everyone's tea preferences (and coffee for that matter) and put this in the kitchen, where needed. If Ellen wanted coffee (she doesn't drink tea), I would simply check the appropriate column, add a level teaspoon of coffee powder and pour a splash of milk into the cup. Or if Lisa wanted tea, she would prefer it without milk but with a single sugar.

Foolproof, I think you'll agree. And I could hardly wait until 3 PM to put my system to the test. Finally, there would be no barely veiled looks of disappointment from the team when presented with unsolicited or incorrectly prepared beverages. Nothing was left to chance. I had all their preferences down in black-and-white. This would be a triumph of science over chaos.

Except that on this particular occasion, Ellen elected, for the first time in a decade, to take tea instead of coffee. Hannah refused to submit to my coffee formula by insisting that she would only drink real coffee and, as for tea, would only touch a formulation she had encountered somewhere in the far east. And Lisa's tea went to Sam, since I had somehow failed to notice she had left the office three hours earlier. Observation is not my strong suit.

Still it's not without benefits -- it's highly unlikely I will ever be asked to make the tea again. Silver linings and all that.

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