x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Tea makes all things possible

If the four horesemen of the apocalypse were at the gate, most Britons would probably offer them a cup of tea.

As anyone who has spent more than five minutes in the UK will appreciate, there's nothing so urgent that it cannot wait for a cup of tea first.

Catastrophic nuclear disaster? Major seismic shift? Even if the four horsemen of the apocalypse were tying their dark steeds to the gatepost outside, most Britons would probably ask if they fancied a nice brew first before they got down to business. (And, seeing that it would probably be their last, the fancy crockery would no doubt be brought out for the occasion.)

Up there with those most heavily addicted to the combination of tea leaves, boiling water and milk is my own mother. Whenever I go back to visit, we generally get through enough tea to keep a medium-sized Sri Lankan plantation in business for about six months. Once the front door is closed behind me upon arrival, the first - almost Pavlovian - reaction, before bags are removed from weary shoulders, is to put the kettle on. This is then likely to be repeated every 30 to 45 minutes. I've genuinely missed trains because of that all-important "one last cuppa".

It dawned on me recently that my mum spends roughly 90 per cent of her life partaking in either the pursuit or the consumption of a cup of tea. If she's not drinking it, you can rest assured that she's thinking about where the next cup will come from.

Now, this would be fine if she were permanently within walking distance of the kitchen. But for someone who enjoys travelling almost (but not quite) as much as drinking tea, it has resulted in the accumulation of a frankly ridiculous number of items that could generally be labelled "instruments for mobile tea-making".

My mother is far from being a materialistic person, but when it comes to anything that will help her put together a cup of tea on the move, she's like a kid at a sweet shop.

In my lifetime, I've seen her go through at least a dozen travel kettles and heaven knows how many of those element heaters that simply hang over the side of the mug. She could easily give talks on the numerous design faults she's found in vacuum flasks.

But it doesn't stop there. Whenever we stop at a cafe for a drink, I'm always urged to grab an extra handful of those mini milk containers because, apparently, "they're ideal for a making cup of tea later".

Worse than that, it seems even Mum's own moral code comes second to the need for a cup of tea. I fondly recall backpacking around China with my parents, when suddenly we found ourselves regular diners in a Beijing branch of McDonald's.

With fast food firmly off the menu throughout my childhood, it was a bizarre - but very welcome - experience. Perhaps my years of nagging had finally paid off, albeit in a rather unusual location?

No, of course not. It was the only place in China my mother could get a cup of tea with milk.