Tea for Andrew

Did you do all kinds of different holiday jobs when you were at school? Obviously I am addressing anyone elderly enough to have finished school and launched themselves upon the world. If you are in that happy state of still being at school, merely change the tense of the verbs and make them present.

A recent eruption of commentary about tea reminded me of my time at the local Bingo Hall where I worked one summer on the canteen. Happy days!

Well, I say “happy”…

They had their moments.

The ladies who worked permanently on the canteen were wonderful. They baked the cakes for the counter and any leftovers at the end of the day were shared out to take home. There were usually a couple of slices of something delicious which I took for me and my dad, and he would be waiting for me to get in so we could have a slice with a cuppa and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

Working at a Bingo Hall in the 1970s was almost like providing a social care service, albeit a very bad one. Pension Day was particularly busy because the regulars would pick up their cash and trot straight down to the afternoon session. It was an inexpensive way of spending an afternoon. For the price of a cup of tea, and maybe a shared slice of cake, they could sit in the warm with their friends. Most of them bought bingo cards as well, but it was all fairly inexpensive and probably cheaper than keeping the electric fire on at home.

It wasn’t a major career move for me, but I enjoyed the people (for the most part) and didn’t mind the work (for the most part). What I did dislike was having to bar some of the old dears. We had one or two who were, to put it frankly, doubly incontinent, and if we saw them coming we had to lock the doors so they couldn’t get in. The Bingo Hall was an old cinema that had gone bust. It was where, as I child, I contracted measles, mumps and chicken pox on three consecutive birthday treats. It’s no wonder I prefer the hygiene of Netflix.



The cinema doors extended in a great arc across the front of the building and were glass. When we locked them against one lady in particular she would stand on the steps with her face pressed against the door peering in and crying. It was very distressing for all of us. The manager would go out and try and persuade her to go home, and after a while she would totter away. In the harshness of youth I would feel really guilty but also relieved I wasn’t going to have to clean up after her again.

These tales of yesteryear are in fact tea-related, because while I worked there I discovered the most appalling treatment of the humble beverage that I have ever encountered. That is what I was really going to tell you about until I got distracted by memories of cake and old ladies.

We had a caller, let’s say his name was Andrew. I don’t know what his name was; we didn’t keep in touch and this all happened about 35 years ago. Andrew was a kind of rock god to the pension crowd. They loved his youth and voice and hair and the way he flirted with them. They really got good value for their pensions, let me tell you!

As a result Andrew rather thought he was some kind of rock god. He had a very high opinion of himself and liked to swagger about in front of the humble catering staff. He always had to be at the front of the queue for tea breaks so he could moisten his parched throat and prepare for his next performance. The little old ladies parted for him like the Red Sea, although they struggled to get their tea back to their seats in the 15 minute time limit. Serving tea at the Bingo Hall was like an extreme sport: a hundred or so old dears in 15 minutes with one hot tap. God help you if they wanted frothy coffee. (That’s what cappuccinos were called in the 1970s.)

So there was Andrew, lounging at the till waiting for his tea on my first day. I was allowed to sort him out, probably on the basis that the other staff were ready to throttle him and needed a break; or possibly the entertainment of watching me deal with him.

“Make sure you make it right,” he told me.

I bristled at that. I made a fine pot of tea at home, even as a young Electronic Bag Girl. My tea making skills were not be called into question. Things went downhill from there.

“I like it weak, with lots of milk,” he continued. He scooped the tea bag straight out of the water as I put it in. “That’s long enough!”

Then he poured half of it away so he could top up the milk.

It got worse.

“I take it with sugar,” he said.

“How many?” I muttered. “One or two?”

“Keep adding it until it won’t dissolve any more,” he replied. “Saturate it.”

I have a small scar on my chin where it hit the floor. It’s a memento.

I apologise if you like your tea this way. I also advise you to get help. At once.

The art of tea is a beautiful thing, The English certainly don’t make tea the way the Japanese do, but our own rituals are important to us. Our greatest literary minds have devoted care and attention to it: George Orwell famously produced guidance on making tea just after the Second World War when it was still rationed. It was a matter of national importance.

I would put to you that Andrew was not in fact drinking tea. He was a kind of Nutrimatic vending machine as described by Douglas Adams; the ones that produce a drink almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. (That’s pretty much all vending machines I think.)

But there was no need to put an innocent tea bag through that humiliation, was there?

What horrors have you encountered in holiday jobs? They seem a rich vein for anecdote.

Cheers, my dears, and as ever, Namaste.

4 thoughts on “Tea for Andrew

  1. My [summer vacation] jobs were the horrors of call rooms, dry cleaners, and theater games for little kids. But the horror that trumps them all is the prospect of having to make tea for any subject of Her Majesty. The simple act of boiling water would become a terrifying endeavor, let alone steeping, milking and sugaring. I won’t even touch upon the tea selection itself. No, no. I would not wish that job on anyone.

  2. Oh my! You’re right, Andrew’s brew was quite unlike tea.
    It was very sweet nat’s pee.
    I worked in a garden centre for a summer job. I liked it bar the big muscly spiders in the old plastic pots under the potting tables.

    • Eek! I am not fond of spiders!
      Have you ever seen the Phil Jupitus sketch about the spider in the bath? I didn’t know whether to laugh or hide behind the sofa!

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