Here’s another in my occasional series of re-posts from the original Thoughtcat blog. It is still available on the original site along with lots of other daft stuff but content there is, putting it mildly, difficult to read, as I had a “Microsoft Word” approach to blogging in those days. (Here’s the link for other pedants/masochists.) Anyway, this one was always a favourite of mine for some reason, and the re-post was prompted by my finding a new spoon in the kitchen today, which I think may have been something to do with my wife…
I am nothing if not a creature of habit. In just about every area of life, I find a routine quickly and I stick to it. Take the way I make a cup of tea: firstly I need the right teabags (Yorkshire Tea is my longtime favourite, although anything strong and flavourful will do), as well as semi-skimmed milk and white granulated sugar. Secondly I need a good mug: it has to be a decent size, sufficient both to brew the tea (too small and it’s too strong; too large, too weak) and make the drink last a good thirty to forty minutes; it should be unfussily decorated, either with one or two strong colours or a simple pattern; and it needs to have a rim that feels comfortable on my lips, neither too thick nor too thin, and definitely not chipped, encrusted or cracked. Thirdly, the water needs to be just boiled, the electric kettle clicking off exactly as I pour the water into the mug and onto the bag. Finally, the spoon needs to be right.
At the risk of ending up in Private Eye’s ‘Me and my Spoon’ feature, I’ve always had a thing about A Good Teaspoon. Obviously it has to be metal: I can’t stand those plastic spoons you find in budget cafés, and especially not those ridiculous ‘stirrers’ that don’t even look like spoons, as favoured by McDonalds. I’m not hot on metal spoons with plastic handles, either: I need to feel that steel. The spoon also has to have a large bowl – not so big that it becomes a tablespoon exactly, but, after years of using reasonably-bowled spoons, small spoons confuse my sugar measurements, and worst of all used teabags have a tendency to fall off small spoons in the process of being transferred from the mug to the bin, the bag either ending up on the floor or, worse, dropping back into the mug from a height of several inches, causing the tea to slop out over the sides of the mug and, by adding more tea to the water, altering the strength of the brew I’d just a few seconds before judged to be precisely right.
My only other teaspoon requirement is that the older it is, the better. Using a brand new teaspoon, even a gleaming silver one, does nothing for me: I need a stainless steel spoon that is actually stained. I should emphasise the difference between ‘stained’ and ‘dirty’ – I always rinse a spoon before using it, but I like a teaspoon stained golden-brown from years of stirring, tattooed by decades of tannin. I’m not sure why this is: perhaps it makes me think of past generations using the same spoon in old kitchens to make tea thirty, fifty, eighty years ago perhaps, when all the teaspoons of my imagination were made of stained stainless steel, when things were authentic and had a bit of style, before everything was cheapened by plastic and denim, when men wore hats and suits and ties no matter what job they did (or even if was their day off, come to that), when there were Lyons’ Corner Houses instead of McDonaldses, when tea really was tea… I mean, I could get carried away. But this is beside the point.
The point is that there is a particular spoon I always use for making tea which matches exactly the above criteria. In fairness to myself, I’m not really a spoon-nerd; it’s the comfortableness of the spoon I’ve ended up using that has set the standard, not the other way round. I always use the same one despite having a selection in my kitchen of at least a dozen. Mum and Dad gave them all to me, together with a bunch of other kitchen utensils, in a job lot when I left home some ten years ago now. They didn’t need to give me so many teaspoons, but being the way they are, it wouldn’t have happened any other way: they’re the sort of people who have at least three of every household object you can imagine, and in most cases about three hundred – pillows, blankets, towels or teaspoons, you name it, they’ve got half a drawerful going spare.
The spoon in question is just over five inches in length. The bowl is one and three-quarter inches long, exactly an inch at its widest point and just over a quarter of an inch deep; heaped with sugar it makes for one sweet drink, even in a big mug. With the exception of a sliver of shine across the bottom of the bowl where the spoon sits on its base, the metal is worn and scuffed as well as stained, such that hardly anything is reflected in it beyond a blur. My face appears in that fragment of shine, my nose even longer than it already is, my lips protruding, my head curved and exaggerated fisheye-style. There are no patterns on the spoon except a simple design of two adjacent semi-circles at the tip of the handle’s underside. One way up it looks like a wide, curvy W; turned upside-down it becomes the top of an owl’s face; on its side it’s a crescent moon with a pointed nose in the middle, like an illustration you might find in a children’s storybook. A little way in from the pattern are five tiny stamps in the metal: the first four read, respectively, E, P, N, S, the last A1, as if denoting excellence, perfection; research reveals the spoon is actually not stainless steel but silver-plated. It’s a good spoon, and I love using it, to the point where if I lose it I get depressed, and a cup of tea or coffee made with another spoon just doesn’t taste the same.
True, it’s very rare for me not to be able to find my spoon, as I’m very protective of it. But sometimes my wife hides it.
Okay, in honesty I don’t think she deliberately hides the spoon; its disappearance generally coincides with her doing the washing-up, and where I dry the spoon and return it immediately to its home (a cup on the worksurface) after washing it, she just buries it in the cutlery drainer with all the other utensils. I get it back in the end but only after a prolonged and precarious game of Kitchen Utensil Ker-Plunk, where if I’m not careful the removal of the wrong fork at the wrong moment can bring a large Sabatier down on my foot. No, there’s no malicious intent on behalf of my wife’s kitchen behaviour: I think she simply doesn’t relate to my position on this whole teaspoon issue. And rightly so; I think it would be a bad day for our relationship if I were to ever say to her, “Look, please don’t hide this teaspoon. I need to know where it is at all times. I can’t make a cup of tea with any other spoon. If you use it, please put it back here where I can find it.” I mean, shades of Sleeping With the Enemy or what?
Sometimes I’ll go into the kitchen after my wife has made a cup of tea, and see the spoon she used lying rinsed on the draining board: it might be a gimmicky cartoon one that came as a free gift with a box of Tetley about 20 years ago, or one with a blue plastic handle that came in a cutlery set (a Christmas present from my Nan), or even a plain, ordinary, unpatterned, tinny, almost flat one which I don’t know the origin of at all but never use if I can help it. Try as I might, I can find neither rhyme nor reason to my wife’s teaspoon choice; she just seems to take one at random from Mum and Dad’s original selection. This is possibly the main difference between us: I’m a creature of habit; she’s flexible. I tend to want to keep things the way they are; she likes to change them periodically. But I can live with all this. This sort of thing is what marriage is all about.