When you spend ten years working in the centre of Manchester, it’s hard not to make friends.  In my last job 90% of my lunchbreaks were spent in coffee shops near the office where I would meet my friends from all angles of my life and within 60 minutes, we would discuss life’s trials and tribulations and solve all the problems the world was facing at the same time.

Covid saw to it that my working life in Manchester was put to a stop and life became much easier working in Bolton, but just because my job went to its eternal bed it didn’t mean the friendships I’d formed had to go to bed with it. 

I still see some of those people on a regular basis and every time we see each other we go back to doing the thing we’re always great at…

…making our lives a better place to be by having each other in it.

I know this sounds like a nostalgic and possibly “fluffy” little piece but hang fire on clicking the close button and give me a few more sentences.

I like tea.  I really like tea.  I’ve spent most of my life drinking things like PG Tips or Tetley until someone bought me a box of Ahmad Tea PG Tips became redundant and my eyes were opened to a whole new world of wondering how a dried leaf can make life so much better when it’s put in a little bag with a string attached to it. 

My favourite mug

Over the last 5 years I have become a tea snob and even though I do drink some of the supermarket brands, like a fine wine I can appreciate a good cup of tea.

I don’t have an expensive lifestyle.  I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, my clothes are either from Primark or a supermarket, so spending a little extra on a box of tea bags is probably the most self-indulgent I get.  In my drawer at work I have my own supply of “posh tea”.  At the moment I’m drinking “Chelsea Breakfast” from Whittard, even the name sounds posh, and for a box of 50 tea bags it costs £6.50.

The Queen of all teas…

(Bear with me, I swear this isn’t just about tea!)

At work there are one or two people who like a good brew so occasionally I try and make their day better by donating a tea bag in the hope that the gesture makes them smile.  I have since been named…

“…the tea dealer…”

Today I was meeting a friend for lunch, so I made a conscious effort to get an extra box of Chelsea Breakfast tea bags for one of my tea-dealing customers.

The beauty of Whittard is they have an array of different beverages ranging from black tea, white tea, green tea, purple tea (okay so that’s a lie, just seeing if you’re still with me), instant tea, all kinds of hot chocolate flavours and coffee by the bucket load in about 5 different forms.  If you’re lucky they have samples on display for you to try and they have a membership “thing” where you would assume you’d be inundated with offers and freebies, which is why two years ago I gave them my email address to receive freebies and special offers.

Well, the special offer appears to be one single tea bag that I never drink because I would never choose to drink it.  The disappointment is real my friends, it’s so real it’s painful.  And today it was extra painful…

(Now you can grab your popcorn guys because here is where the story really starts)

I knew where the tea I wanted was in the shop, so I went straight to it, found it, picked it up and was about to pay for it when I noticed there was a customer at the counter having a seemingly very deep discussion with a sales assistant over coffee.  I decided to have a little look at the things I can’t afford and even though I don’t particularly like tasting the samples on my own, I would usually do that when I’m with my mum, but since mum wasn’t with me I decided to put my brave pants on and do a bit of tasting by myself.

The shop is tiny.  It’s the tiniest tea selling shop I’ve ever seen in my life  so why they would need three people working on the same day I have no idea; but today they did. 

With my box of Chelsea Breakfast tucked under my arm I tested out the first sample, instant tea.  I walked about a bit and perused the coconut tea and the tea bags with flowers in them and sipped from my teeny tiny paper cup, it was warm and it was nice.  When I looked at the counter the coffee conversation had turned into what looked like a wine tasting experiment, so I had another look round and decided to taste the hot chocolate. 

At this point I noticed there was a sales assistant standing rather close to me and I did think this was odd because I’m still very much of a “two metres apart” kind of girl, but it’s difficult to make that request these days.

The coffee conversation was still going on so I picked up another teeny tiny paper cup and I filled it with sticky toffee hot chocolate even though I’ve had this at home and think it’s a tad sickly, but it was warm and I was cold.  Then, I noticed sales assistant number three had made an appearance and she was standing right next to the hot chocolate flask glaring at me while guarding a door, to what I don’t know but she then signalled to the lady behind me as I turned around to look at the fancy cannisters and a figure appeared at my side and she said…

“Can I help you at all?”

And suddenly it dawned on me… I was being watched!  They thought I was going to steal something!  So, I showed her my box of Chelsea Breakfast and I said…

“I’m going to buy this in a minute.”

As a matter of principle, I had another look around at the things I had no interest in buying just to prove the point that I was entitled to be there and also taste what was on offer.  She then showed me to a different counter away from the coffee connoisseurs and asked me if I was a member.  I gave her my email address and asked…

“What do I actually get for being a member?”

“Oh you get samples.”

She gave me ONE mango and bergamot tea bag.  ONE, people! They followed me around the shop and aided my exit by giving me one tea bag that I can’t even palm off to someone else because…

…who drinks mango and bergamot tea?!

Free to a good home…

(whoever says yes to that question let me know and it’s all yours)

I haven’t been followed around a shop for a very long time, I don’t really know why I have ever been followed around a shop, except once when I was looking at wedding dresses and the lady in the shop asked to see my ring because I could see she wasn’t convinced that me getting married was a real possibility.

I left Whittard feeling a little subdued, a bit victimised and judged, so I decided to take the scenic route to meet my friend and walk through the streets of Manchester that are lined with expensive shops for expensive people who want expensive things.  There are restaurants where not only can I not understand what’s on the menu but I would need to save for about three months to even think about booking a table.

As I walked through the streets with Justin Currie singing Kiss This Thing Goodbye into both of my ears (because that’s still going on), I looked up at the tall buildings and tried to imagine what it might be like to buy a drink from a bar that costs over £30 and I heard…

“…scuse me love…”

I stopped… and I pulled Justin out of my ears, and I saw a man.  His clothes had seen better days, as had his shoes and his face was a little yellow.  I hoped he just needed directions, I don’t know where to and I don’t know how I would have got him there because my geography is terrible and even I didn’t fully know where I was in that moment…

“Sorry miss, sorry love, I’m not homeless.”

I admit, I assumed he might be.

“I’ve walked all the way from Longsight Police Station.  I’ve done nothing wrong…”

I admit, I was reluctant to believe him.

“I’m trying to get to Bury, that’s where I live.  I just need some help.  I can’t get on a tram; bus drivers won’t let me on a bus because I’ve no money…”

It was clear he wanted money.

“Do you just need a couple of quid?”

“I just need to get home love; I really need to get home.  Look, I’ll give you my watch, I don’t mind.  You can have it.”

And I kid you not, as he rolled up his dirty coat, I expected to see a tatty old thing falling off his wrist like a hundred-year-old family heirloom, but what I saw was a very shiny, very new looking Apple Watch.  I’m sorry, but my reaction was laughter and mid laugh I asked…

“Where did you get that from?!”

“It’s not real. It’s fake, it’s pretend.”

But it was also working because when he touched the screen it lit up like a Christmas tree and the watch looked like it was straight out of the box.

It was too late to ignore him, too late to apologise and say…

“I’m sorry I don’t have any change…”

…because I’d just paid £6.50 in cash for the box of tea I had in my bag and I knew there two £1 coins sitting in my purse and as someone who had just been followed around a tea shop while sampling the freebies, because let’s face it, you don’t get any other perks for being a “member”.  I felt the best thing to do was donate my two £1 coins to someone who probably needed them more I did. 

Cross my palm with silver (and gold)

I asked him if that would help…

“Yes.  Thank you love.  Thank you love, you’re an angel.”

Well, I don’t know about the angel bit but, even though I initially judged this man on his appearance and I took his claim that he wasn’t a criminal with a pinch of salt, I don’t know his story.  Maybe his Apple Watch was actually fake and he wasn’t trying to palm off stolen goods to an innocent person in the street listening to Del Amitri.  Maybe the £2 I gave him got him home safely to Bury and he is reunited with his loved ones…

The moral of this story is, we judge people the second we see them, it’s human nature and we can’t help it.  It’s programmed into us.  I am judged for having a mental illness and I fight that every day.  I have to prove to the people I meet and the people around me that I have a right to have the things I have and that will never change.

Today I was judged in a shop for buying tea bags.  I’m not sure if the actions of the sales assistants were insinuating that I wasn’t dressed well enough to buy posh tea or if they thought I was helping myself to too many of the samples on offer?  Maybe I don’t look educated enough to drink Chelsea Breakfast tea?  Maybe they thought I was a celebrity?  I’m not sure.

But one thing is for sure, at work I may be known as a tea dealer…

…but I am definitely not tea thief!

Reading time: 10 min