As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed unless they are publically known. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
I have been a tea drinker for as long as I remember, though I do enjoy a cup of proper posh coffee too.
Before my brother was born, I don't recall us ever having drinks like squash or fruit juice in our house, and so as far as I recall, I have been drinking tea since I was a very young child because water was a bit boring to drink.
At home mum used to give me tea in a bottle until I was old enough to drink from a proper cup, but right up until I was about 6 years old, my nan in Wallingford would have a special cup in her cupboard just for me. It was a plastic cup, pink coloured, with a lid and a spout, and the holes in the spout would often get blocked up from the tar in the tea. I loved it when nan made my cups of tea and I loved that she had a special cup in her cupboard just for me, even though we didn't visit her very often.
Nan was different to the rest of us, because where we had gritty tea that didn't taste of much, Nan would buy the fancy PG tips tea, and inside each box would be a collectable card with a picture of a chimp on it, to go with the chimps that performed in human clothes in the adverts on telly.
Because we didn't see nan very often, visits would mean that my pink Tommy Tippee pink cup would appear along with a big thick wad of collectable cards, all fastened together with an elastic band, and they had a lovely tea and shiny new printed card smell about them too. Those cards would keep me entertained for hours, and make the long journey back home feel loads better when I was already missing my nan and not knowing when we would visit her again. I would sit in the back seat of the car, flicking through them, and sniffing them so much that I soon associated PG tips with my nan. Even the ads on telly would remind me of nan and I would often take comfort in them as I watched and thought about nan.
The only thing was that nan always put sugar in my tea, so it was very sweet, but I didn't mind because it just made it taste like a special drink that was different to what I usually had at home because we never had sugar in tea at home.
I drank tea with my breakfast before school, and when I got home of an evening, and I preferred tea to the freezing cold water of the tap, because it was somehow more comforting and the mug in your hands gave you at least a little feeling of being warm in an otherwise freezing house.
Even my mug was special, because it had come with a chocolate Easter egg perched on top, a present from my nan and my great aunty, and meant that I had my very own mug to use the rest of the year, with its Easter pictures of bunnies around the outside.
For much of my childhood coffee was something that only rich people drank, partly due to bad frost in Brazil in 1975 leading to a shortage of coffee beans, and the beans there were became very expensive, so the price of the jars of instant coffee was high too. Even instant coffee was something that was saved for special occasions and only offered as an option when we had guests over and mum was trying to be fancy.
When we did have coffee at home, it was in the early years of my life, around the age of about 3 or 4 and it came in a large bottle with an old fashioned label on it that said 'Camp Coffee'. But it was nothing like you would imagine coffee today. This stuff was liquid and brown and sweet and was made in Scotland. It contained just a little bit of caffeine and was flavoured with a spice called chicory. It was more of an essence really, and you made it by pouring the syrup into hot milk similar to how you might make a cup of cocoa. There were no cafetiere or coffee beans in our house in those days and I didn't even know they existed.
The first time I tried coffee was when my mum was pregnant with my brother and I pleaded and begged for her to let me have a sip of her camp coffee and milk whilst her friends were visiting. The smell of coffee seemed to me amazing, and coffee cake was one of my favourites that I would often have at nan's house, complete with walnuts on top. It remains my favourite cake even today, and I still adore the smell of fresh coffee!
Eventually mum gave in and said I could try a sip of her coffee. It didn't taste anything like it smelt, and it was very bitter and left a weird taste in your mouth for ages afterwards. But I wasn't going to let on that I didn't like it, and instead I practiced drinking coffee as much as I could until I did actually really like the taste of it.
The problem was, not everyone saw my love for coffee as a good thing, and whenever I arrived at my friends houses and birthday parties with mum, and was asked what I would like to drink, my reply that 'oh I'd love a coffee, especially if you are having one anyway' wasn't taken as a genuine reply, but as a kid being cheeky. To me I had been asked a logical question, and I had given a genuine reply, and I much prefered a coffee, or a tea than any of that other rubbish that parents were giving the kids to drink.
Though I didn't know it at the time, there was something in the kids squash drinks which I was allergic to, and whenever us kids were given cups of squash I would end up getting all wheezy and my throat, mouth, and chest would get tight, and I'd suddenly feel very miserable. But the grown ups just thought I was being difficult because they had refused me tea and coffee, and so I would end up refusing to drink the squash even though I was really thirsty from dancing around and playing party games and eating party food. That meant that I was often dehydrated, and by the time we got home I had a headache which turned out to be a migraine, difficulty breathing that was later diagnosed as asthma, and I'd start to be sick because of my migraine and end up laid out on the sofa in pain and mum getting annoyed with me. It was incredibly frustrating as a child, because I didn't understand why I became wheezy when I drank squash, and I didn't understand why I couldn't have tea or coffee or even a glass of water when I was thirsty. I drank tea at home all the time and it just wasn't considered unusual in our house, but when we visited friends the mums would get all worried in case I burnt myself or spilt it on another child, even if I said I didn't mind them putting cold water in it.
It turned out to be a good thing that I liked coffee so much, because after my parents divorced, and dad moved in with his new wife who was from Germany, he pretty much stopped drinking tea altogether and now drank really strong, proper posh coffee that was made in a fancy machine. My stepmum didn't like the cheap rubbishy coffee that was on sale in the shops in england, so whenever she or anyone else she knew went travelling, she would have them bring back vacuum sealed packs of ground coffee from places like Germany and Italy. Dad never had milk in his house either, so the coffee always came with lashings of evaporated milk, and spoonfuls of sugar because dad had a very sweet tooth, even though he was very skinny.
I loved how their apartment and papers and books would always smell of freshly percolated coffee, and there was usually a sloshing sound as the percolator was constantly refilling the coffee pot. We were chain drinkers, drinking one cup after the other whenever we were home. At mum's house we drank tea, and at dad's house we drank coffee, and if we didn't want coffee, dad would buy in crates of glass bottles filled with coca cola, or else if he had run out of glass bottles, he would pick up cans of the stuff, and we were even allowed to help ourselves, something mum would have killed us for if we had helped ourselves to anything at home.
The only other time that I ever got to drink coffee was when we were out for a meal on a very rare occasion, usually with granny and grandad. Usually granny would suggest we have drinks at her house after a meal, but sometimes if we were dining with granny or grandad's friends, we might have a coffee at the end of the meal, and that was the best part because it meant I could have a coffee with my grandad, and coffee usually came with a mint chocolate sweet on the saucer too.
Granny couldn't stand coffee, not even the smell of it, but I loved coffee and I especially loved the coffee sweets that no one else seemed to like in their chocolate packs at Christmas time when I went to friends houses. But grandad and I had similar likes and dislikes and coffee was one of the few things that we enjoyed together whenever granny couldn't stop us from having one. It was different at granny and grandad's house though, because granny would make me cups of tea, but only grandad had coffee, usually made in his cafetiere and he very rarely drank tea. But granny's house was different because even though I was allowed to drink tea, there were other options on offer at granny's like freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, cordial and sparkling water drinks like Appletize in the day, and glasses of milk for supper. I never had any of those things at home because they were really expensive, but at granny's I felt like I was living a millionaire lifestyle and I would happily have drunk orange juice and milk until the cows came home!