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The Pen Pusher

The Tea Run

Felicity Cloake

The Disgruntled Ruminations of an Office Worker Meant for Better Things

The first day in a new job is an anxious time. There’s so much to learn: which is the loo with the dodgy flush; whether your much-cherished guinea pig screensaver is considered ‘appropriate’; and just how much postage fraud you can get away with; and that’s just for starters. With your brain hard at work maintaining the friendly smile that convention decrees essential for the whole of the first week, you could easily fail to appreciate the infinite subtleties of office life, thus ensuring you will always be away from your desk when a trip to the pub is suggested (although this may well be a blessing in disguise). Chief amongst these arcane rituals is The Tea Run. Ignore its complex rituals and taboos at your peril.

First, let me set the thing in socio-historical context for any readers who may have lately arrived from Mars. Tea is – and I really don’t think I’m exaggerating here – the rusty pivot upon which British industry oh-so-slowly rotates. It is the necessary precursor to switching on one’s computer in the morning, and a nice way to spin out that painful last half hour before home time. Possibly this is also true in other countries, I don’t know. Last time I checked (via the strictly realistic medium of The Devil Wears Prada at the Islington Vue), drones in America appeared to bring their thrice-roasted Ethiopian single estate caw-fee in from outside in gigantic, steaming cardboard cups. But such glamour need not concern us here.

Basically, The Tea Run is a legitimate chance to take a leisurely stroll in the direction of the kitchen, overfill the kettle (although with the advent of climate change I would suggest you instead eke out the task by forgetting to switch it on, then pantomiming surprise to any bystanders when, after ten minutes, it remains cold to the touch), then gaze out of the window for a while. It’s a great way of wasting time, without the unpleasant suggestions of a bowel complaint that goes with trying to do so in the lavatory. And as long as your colleagues maintain the pretence that the tea-maker is being kind, rather than lazy, you earn popularity points in the bargain, and can even ensure your cup is clean. (There is only ever one entirely hygenic cup in an office at any time; I would recommend always washing yours out with boiling water.) 

Great! I imagine you thinking. I’ll just spend all day shuttling forth between the office and the kitchen! I’ll down cuppas like shots, and arrange digestives in complex spirals on the tray, and before I know it, it’ll be time to get my coat! Yet here I must sound a cautionary note. It’s really not that easy.  

I would counsel remaining on the receiving end of the ritual at first. Even if you don’t like builders’, ask for one and drink it. Requesting a ginseng and ginger infusion, even if you have brought your own bags, is likely to mark you out as a dangerous subversive, and possibly a troublemaker. Watch the brewers carefully, noting the boundaries of your t-zone (including outsiders in your departmental largesse is likely to breed resentment and foster suspicion that you are either a spy or a Scientologist). Then, when you feel ready to enter the fray, blithely disregard all instructions, bringing slimmers cups laced with sugar and old men with pacemakers a triple Gold Blend espresso. Apologise profusely, call yourself a hopeless klutz, then repeat until no one ever ‘fancies a brew’ thanks, allowing you to kick back in the kitchen without the bother of actually making anyone else a drink. This may take some time (many people are remarkably indiscriminate about hot beverages), but eventually, sometimes with the help of a little Fairy Liquid on the teaspoon, you’ll get there. Chin up!