I’ve been watching ‘The Secret Millionaire’ today.

It’s not what I’d normally pick from the 4oD catalogue, but I’ve run out of episodes of ‘Time Team’ so I thought I’d have a go at something from the ‘most popular’ list instead. The show was actually pretty moving in places and it’s amazing the amount of determination which goes into running the nation’s charity sector.  One woman had even mortgaged her own house twice in order to help the ‘last wishes’ group she ran  – that’s beyond dedication, and it puts my own paltry efforts to shame.*

The thing I found most interesting though, was the way in which people interacted. The millionaire subject of the show was a cockney man – unwilling and uncomfortable when it came to expressing his emotions. Every time anyone opened up to him, he would instinctively reach for the PG Tips as a momentary distraction. I’ve noticed that I do the same – as soon as things become socially uncomfortable, my immediate reaction is to ‘put the kettle on’. I suspect a wide number of others do the same.

It’s an interesting national character trait – the need to fiddle with the paraphernalia associated with a cuppa when things become awkward. And it isn’t the drink itself which acts as a liquid shield, it’s the time that its preparation lends us. As we faff around in the kitchen – pulling out teapots and cups, sugar and milk – we are acting, yet we also have the time to decide how we feel about what has just been said, what has just taken place. We’re stalling, I suppose – trying to buy ourselves more time to decide what we believe will be the best course of action.

The familiar act of making tea is perhaps another reason we rush out to make a brew when things get tough. Making a cup of tea is something most of us do many times a day and the routine of it is something we know in a suddenly unfamiliar world. It is a constant – something which remains unchanged by what has just happened.

Whilst I think the ritual of preparation is perhaps the most important element of the drink in a crisis, this survey shows that the chemical make-up of the tea plant is also an important element. For me, a cup of steaming hot tea is a sort of life-preserve. I cling to it, both hands wrapped around the mug so that its heat seeps into my fingers. It’s both comforting, and I draw a sense of strength and constancy from it.

I wonder what happens in coffee-drinking nations when something bad happens… I wonder if percolating brings as big a sense of relief…

*I do volunteer, going on home visits for a local charity – Cam Sight – as well as helping out with bowling for the blind. It’s a really good group – very worth getting in touch with if you’re in the local area.