By Wendy Murray
Watch the VidLit: The Perfect Mug
I drive an old car. It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t that I went out looking for an old car as opposed to a new one that purrs with the power of a lawnmower.
I drive an old car because I had an old dog and a Volvo station wagon was the perfect shape for her to stretch out and look at the passing traffic.
The part of me that is British drinks tea every morning. Made in a tea pot, with loose leaf tea, with boiling water from my blue kettle. Whatever time I get up, the first thing I do is trot downstairs and fill the blue kettle with water and put it on the gas flame. The second trot downstairs is to warm the pot and drop in a spoonful of smokey tea, pop on the hand knitted tea cosy and go upstairs to finish with the shoes and the hairbrush and the toothpaste, before coming down to pour the properly steeped tea into a mug and head out into the world.
And this is where I come back to my old Volvo. In 1995, when my Volvo came rolling off the production line in Sweden, people had breakfast in their houses. No one bought water in bottles or double skim lattes in cardboard cups. In my Volvo there is the flimsiest of cup holders, which slides out from the armrest and would be hard pressed to hold an ice cream cone vertically.
In between the driver and the passenger seat is the hand brake and either side of that there is a space. There is no better way to describe it. A space where pens drop into never to be found again. Where paper clips and hair slides collect. Where the odd popcorn kernel lands and shrivels.
Into this space my mug of tea has to fit. Snugly, or it will pour its load into the well where the gear stick lives, or it will tip into the passenger seat, where my backpack and all the papers live that have the scribblings that will bring me success throughout the day; or onto my legs which will leave me burned and stained.
It is the mug, of which I write. The right mug. And I think I’ve found it.
Let me be clear, I don’t like travel mugs. The metal ones with a plastic top that you twist or lift and sip through a hole. One, they smell like the inside of hot water bottles. Two, you can never get them clean. Three, the tea coming at you out of that hole is so hot it burns your mouth.
My tea, having been steeped in its tea pot, is poured into my mug where an inch or so of fresh milk is waiting. The cooling down process has begun and by the time I come to lift it to my lips, it is just hot enough. I can’t tell you what just hot enough is. But it is explained in some part of the Old Testament.
So when you twist the plastic lid and sip your tea, there is no hint of the plantations high in the mountains of Darjeeling. Just hot liquid, with the overtones of rubber and used pencil lead.
For a while I thought I’d got it right with a large glass. Thick and straight. Tall enough that it would take the whole contents of my yellow tea pot and the inch of milk. Problem was the hot tea made the glass hot and holding it whilst driving was nigh on impossible and if there was the slightest bump or pothole, the tea would end up as a design of Lake Huron all over the front of my white t-shirt.
Now, just in case anyone works in traffic safety; we all know about those texters and those people in SUVs who cross major junctions with one hand to their ears as they continue their essential conversation. I know it sounds tricky to drive with a mug of hot tea in one hand. But I only drink it on the straight bits. I don’t turn corners or merge onto freeways with one hand clutching my morning tea. I wait till we’ve all settled down and we’re all going in the same direction and I’m in my lane and happily going east, that I reach down and…… put my fingers through the handle of my german beer mug.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is where this story ends.
I found a beer mug. A ceramic beer mug. Tall, gray, with a B imprinted on it presumably for Bier. It has a handle. It is big enough for a big pint of beer and lots of froth.
So now, when I pour my morning blend of Tarry Souchong mixed with Czar Alexander from my yellow teapot, onto the inch of milk, it still only reaches the two thirds mark. So I can turn corners and hit potholes and the slosh of tea stays within the mug. And I can drink it, on the straight bits, and arrive where I need to be, without any stains on my front, or burn spots on my tongue, ready to face the world and make sound decisions as so many British people have done before me.
Beer mug, take a bow. Thank you.