milking it

I was brought up in a time before coffee shops.

Well, not entirely before coffee shops, but certainly before the global phenomenon of American chains with their skinny ventis, Americanos, and tall decaf drips.

There were tea shops in my childhood – both independents and the ubiquitous ABCs; and I have fond memories of Saturday afternoons spent in the Kardomah in Nottingham. But children were given nursery tea, while coffee was a drink for adults; even then, it was as likely to be Maxwell House as anything. (Our kitchen did have a bottle of Camp Coffee tucked away, but although I remember the intense smell of chicory of the inky brown liquid, I think it was only brought out to make coffee cakes, not to serve as a drink for guests.)

So when I went to university I didn’t drink coffee at all. Indeed, the first time a guy I fancied asked me back to his room for coffee, I nearly missed my chance with him as my automatic reply was that I didn’t drink the stuff.

That must have been very early on in the first term as I soon acquired the coffee habit: my best friend in the residence hall didn’t drink tea and I got fed up with always carrying a tea bag with me so I didn’t have to go back to my room to fetch one before going to her room to sit and gossip after the evening meal.

Since I was going to hate the stuff anyway, I thought it was sensible to start out drinking coffee without sugar, though I didn’t go as far as to forgo the milk. I don’t think caffeine-free was a thing then, nor would it have occurred to me to drink it: I like the complete versions of food and drink and take my coffee with caffeine, my beer with alcohol, my pasta brimming with gluten, and my dairy products with full fat.

Thinking back, I wonder how we managed to keep fresh milk in a hall of residence where there was no fridge… then the memories come back of putting fresh food and drinks in plastic bags and leaving them out on the window sill, with the bag handles twisted around the window catch so they didn’t blow away.

I don’t know what we did in the summer term. Perhaps our exam revision was fuelled by warm beer.

All through this summer’s hot spell, I had problems with a fridge that wasn’t cooling properly and I had to throw out pint after pint of sour milk.

Which reminds me of going on a school coach trip – maybe to the zoo? – back in the day when we all used to have our little bottles of school milk each morning. The crate of bottles was loaded onto the coach when we started out and then when we reached our destination it was distributed – thoroughly churned and turned into a sour, lumpy slime that none of us would drink. (This would have been back before most of us had tried even the sugary real-fruit yoghurts that Ski brought to the UK in the early Sixties, let alone natural unsweetened yoghurt, lassi or kefir.)

The faulty fridge has now been replaced by an obliging landlord and milk is back on my shopping list. However, due to mis-planning, I find myself stuck indoors on a wet and windy Saturday with nothing to add to my – now essential – coffee but UHT lactose-free, semi-skimmed milk. To add insult to injury, the carton dribbles.

coffee and ginger biscuits

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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