Confession time. This is my office tea mug. A post workday wine o’clock conversation with the G.O. segued from wonderful old newspaper advertisements now accessible via Trove to an anecdote which brought the mug and its precedent to mind.
The G.O.’s story was about an old mate he knew in the country near Uralla who using old lathes & machinery imported from England, crafted bespoke parts for earthmoving machinery, in this case the dozer the G.O. was working on. Due to unfortunate circumstances the old bloke lived on his own, so even when not needing work done, the G.O. would purchase smoko from the bakery in town and call out for a visit. The old bloke’s contribution was mugs of tea. The kettle was dipped into a 44 gallon drum of water, and the wild brew sipped from blackened mugs. The G.O. laughs and says a lot of people wouldn’t have dared but he figured it wouldn’t kill him.
As I listen to the G.O.’s story my mind travels to the past and my Dad’s automotive mechanical workshop in Murrurundi, with its makeshift corner kitchen: brass cold water tap running from the weathered corrugated iron rainwater tank over a grimy sink next to a bench on which sat a mismatched collection of stained mugs, kettle, box of tea bags, jar of instant coffee, small carton of milk purchased daily, sugar in a jam jar to keep ants out, and crusty teaspoons.
For comfort there were half a dozen odd chairs, and during the cold mountain range winter an aged woodstove was lit. After whosever turn it was returned from collecting the bakery order, we’d congregate for smoko and consume pies, sausage rolls, or devon salad rolls if the weather was warm, followed by an assortment of cornets, matchsticks, apple turnovers and vanilla slices, accompanied by mugs of tea or coffee.
Cleaning up entailed sweeping the crumbs onto the floor for the dog, chucking paper bags into the bin or fire, rinsing the mugs under the cold water tap and resetting them on the bench.
All of a sudden my office tea mug made sense. I’m fanatical about using fresh water to make tea but I can’t remember the last time the mug had a wash. I drink straight black tea, as does the G.O. although he has a sugar. The mug might absorb layers of tannin for months before I spruce it up for a cup of soup, and only then because experience taught me soup dissolves tannin.
The G.O.’s work thermos lid is worse, and although I never give it more than an occasional wipe if it strays into the kitchen, he takes this opportunity to remind me it is sacrosanct and would be unacceptable to upset the long accumulated residue.
Just in case I might ever be tempted, the G.O. follows my recollection with another anecdote: his uncle throwing their billy to billy-o (possibly another explanation for the phrase?) after some well meaning but obviously female family member not being au fait with such things, gave it a scrub and ruined it.
Ah yes, so true… “The past is never where you think you left it.” Katherine Anne Porter