From the time I was three till age 14 I mostly lived with my Nana and Pop in their tiny three-room walk-through flat. Childhood memories of those years often spill over into life now, decades later, and I think of that as a special legacy they left me.
This week I've been talking a lot about tea, which has caused me to ponder what it is about the ceremony of tea time that I love so much - and that led me straight back in my mind to Nana and Pop and the thousands of pots I had happily shared with them.
In Nana's home we only ever drank tea as our hot beverage because coffee was thought to be something you drank when you were out, and cocoa just never appeared in her kitchen.
Each morning upon waking I would take my place at the beautiful, yet simply set Formica table, and await my first cup of tea. Always in china tea cups, and always white with two sugars.
Nana would set the table for breakfast as her final chore at the close of every day. I would listen to her setting our plates on a fresh tablecloth, the cutlery softly placed to the side and tea cups clinking as they were turned over on their saucers. When she was satisfied with her preparations the light switch would be flicked, darkness welcomed, and sleep embraced.
On a full moon night Nana’s kitchen table was magical to my young eyes. I would creep past my sleeping grandparents and through the doorway that led from their bedroom into the softly illuminated kitchen.
Atop a freshly laundered and pressed tablecloth, a delicate square of lace covered the cups, saucers, tea pot, plates and cutlery like a shimmering web, the moonlight dancing upon the silverware adding to the ethereal atmosphere. Often I’d pause by the table on my way back to the couch where I slept, and try to guess what breakfast Nana had planned for the morning.
She never, ever, served a cold breakfast. It could be leftovers from the evening meal the night before, eggs and sausages with thickly cut charred toast, butter fried kidneys and bacon, or if Pop had just arrived home after a night shift at the wharf he’d be standing by the stove with the old frypan tilted to one side frying fresh potato chips in lamb fat. Nobody made freshly chipped potatoes like my dear old Pop, and Nana never set her hat to take that crown from him because it was such a blessing for her to sit and be the one served for a change.
Pop would cut a thick slice of bread and butter it generously before laying a half dozen plump chips diagonally across it and folding the bread across them so my little hands would not be burned as I gobbled up my favourite of all breakfasts.
Our teapot was large and metal, leftover from Nana’s days as cook in a pub after WW2, and she only ever used loose tea leaves. Nana made a point of teaching me her recipe for a good brew – before pouring in the boiling water add to the pot one teaspoon of tea for each person, and one for the pot. Once the brewing had begun an oversized hand-knitted tea cosy would cover the pot and the next step of this ceremony would be mine.
I was to turn the tea pot around and around, using another of her calculations - one turn for each person and one for the pot, and halve ther total.
Morning tea on weekends always offered the surprise of tea cake, buns, or biscuits with another pot of tea, as did afternoon tea when I arrived home from school.
Nana religiously served a leg of lamb or roast chicken for lunch on Sunday’s, but Sunday night it was her custom to take the evening off, baking only a fluffy batch of scones to have with thick lashings of butter and her homemade jam. On Sunday nights it was also usual for us to drink our way through two large pots of tea whilst playing cards!
As I think back on my childhood it’s easy to see where my love for the ceremony of tablecloths, tea cups, and piping hot pots of tea in handmade cosies came from - Nana.
Another favourite memory is when Pop would be working afternoon shifts so it would only be Nana and I for dinner. Sometimes she’d have a cheeky twinkle in her eye and ask me, “How about we skip dinner tonight and share a loaf of fresh baked bread between ourselves? I have a pot of strawberry jam, plenty of butter, and we can drink all the tea we like. Just you and me and we won’t tell Pop I didn’t cook a meal…”
Pop knew all about this and was chuffed that we shared this simple treat, but he never let on to me. It was a little game they played with me to create a special ‘Nana and Jennifer’ occasion and it lasted until I was well into my teens when I absently let slip I'd known for years that Pop knew exactly what we were up to.
To this day I cannot brew a pot of tea without remembering the taste of fresh bread, butter and jam, and Nana’s clear blue eyes smiling across at me over the teapot.
Those moments are forever stored in the treasure-chest of my heart.
Day 3 of tea etiquette...