The Tea Trolley Ladies – The Glue That Kept The Office Together

I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and tell a tale or two about the awesome tea ladies who helped keep the morale alive and kicking in the office…

Image courtesy of ABC Australia re Robyn Tuckwell: The Office Tea Lady Who Outlasted Her Era

As I was waiting with my mum on Monday morning at the hospital, she said β€œgee, it would be good if the tea trolley appeared around about now.” I nodded my head in agreement and said I don’t think they do this in this part of the hospital anymore.

However, it did get me thinking about the past conversations I have had with many of my colleagues, family and friends regarding our earliest days at work and the awesome tea trolley ladies we had back then. There is much to be said regarding having a decent tea or coffee break once or twice during the work day. All too often we are head down and lose track of how we can be more kind to ourselves and give our poor tired brain a break.

During my time at the State Energy Commission of Western Australia (SECWA), the canteen near the top of the building was still in place and the tea trolley turned up on your floor at both morning and afternoon teatime. This was at a time when moving from one’s desk was not an option, except to get a cup of tea or coffee at the set breaks, and of course at lunch time. Many younger readers would be puzzled by this: talking to each other was a no no, working in teams – what was that? Sure you might be in a work team (a section within the organisation), but it wasn’t a true integrated team where you could inspire each other to great outcomes. You also had to be quiet. Permission was even needed to go to the toilet, unless you worked in areas where people moved in and out all the time, to undertake tasks in other parts of the organisation.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The tea trolley ladies were fabulous. When they arrived, you would grab you tea or coffee in shifts. It was like standing around the water cooler for a minute or two, where people would gather around the tea trolley and catch up. Different conversations would be the order of the day regarding whatever the latest news was and so on. Then, when your coworkers walked away, you could have a word or two with the tea ladies. The ladies were never grumpy. They always had a smile or two. They were a reliable source of information and new exactly what was going on around the place. It was almost like an intranet, but in human form πŸ˜‚ Once the shifts were finished, the trolley would be left for half an hour or so and you could refill or return your empty cup, placing it underneath the trolley.

I remember my very first day working at SECWA. The morning tea trolley arrived. After a few minutes I went up to the trolley. I grabbed a cup, filled to with tea and then somehow managed to dunk my tie in it not once, but three times, after making a new cup each time 🀣 It was not my greatest workplace moment, but my work colleagues certainly remembered it for quite some time. However, the most awesome outcome was a conversation soon thereafter with my wife to be (Although, she laughed at me at the time).

Photo byΒ Sebastian Coman PhotographyΒ onΒ Unsplash

These days, depending where you are, there are coffee vans that visit, you can pop out to the local cafe or stock up the workplace kitchen with as many varieties of tea that you like. And then you have that wonderful tea delivery experience in India (Chai Point). We also now have so many avid connoisseurs of High Tea. There is even a company where I live (High Tea In A Box) that will organise a high tea for you at home where the humble tea trolley finds itself resurrected once more. If you want to see some delightful reflections on the pleasures of tea drinking, visit childgirlwoman and the post: Tea Time – Romancing the Brew.

I always had a good relationship with the tea ladies. I recall for a number of years afterwards, they would always make me a cup of tea first up. Maybe it was their way of helping me to avoid a repeat of that first day! I’m only kidding, but they did look after me.

Lock Down Once Again!

So, here I am once again, like many others across the planet, in another lockdown. The irony is we had only several days ago moved to Phase 5 – complete freedom with only the opening of Australia’s borders (still a long way off in any case). What started out as wearing masks on Sunday turned into a snap, hard, lock down on Monday. The Delta Variant (DV) has managed to emerge in most Australian states very quickly, which is no different to its modus operandi around the world. In Western Australia (Perth and Peel Regions) we have been lucky to come through two earlier lockdowns this year without any impact. However, this time it is different. DV is passed with only the most fleeting of contacts. You can be well outside the required social distances and become infected. It is like we have gone back 12 months in time. The contact tracers and testing laboratories need the time that the lock down provides, in an effort to isolate and stamp DV out each time it emerges. It takes large amounts of resourcing and of course we can do that here (for now). Anyway, one hour at a time, half a day at a time, one day at a time we go. As Willedare (who is an awesome musical talent) says “breathe in breathe out”…

38 Comments on “The Tea Trolley Ladies – The Glue That Kept The Office Together”

  1. Such tea trolleys are often the source of origin of grapevines. Thanks for sharing this lovely post. We in India are fond of our chai. Yes, delta variant is more threatening. Take appropriate precautions.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hey Seano – That’s our original tea lady, I’m positive. Hang on, nope, ‘cos we always threatened a nerdy DG thing – placard the trolley for caffeine as UN1544!!

    You make so many poignant social comments here, SurePaw, perhaps a Tardus is in order to shuttle to & fro to test the waters on past & future coffee-breaks.

    Still think you, Kit & I have got it covered for a Birthday cuppa on top of the DNA Tower replete with “Tillers of The Earth”… Kings Park groundsman still on lookout for our ginger-haired friend!!

    Warm regards, Laney of the Undercroft

    Liked by 2 people

    • UN1544 – that’s hilarious LOTU, but I am sure the tea lady would have something to say about that with her laser beam eyes πŸ˜‚

      The one thing I really enjoy now are my tea breaks at home during the working day. I remember saying to you a long time ago that despite the wonders of the Tardis, going both backwards and forwards in time was not possible as we can only move forward, despite Einstein saying otherwise. But, blow me down. Some very clever Queensland physicists have recently proved time travel is mathematically possible! Now we just need to figure out how we break into a time loop.

      Yes, I should write the story of that great feat of the birthday cuppa on top of the Kings Park DNA Tower. Perhaps it should be a song instead: The Legend of Kit or Taking Tea With Kings Park Gardeners in Pursuit!!! Jethro Tull comes to mind 🎸🎸🎸https://youtu.be/EJhAyg2LTEk

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  3. I am very honored to be namechecked at the end of this lovely β€” and then VERY SOBERING β€” blog post. It is very odd how many companies and organizations have chosen to remove or minimize human interactions β€” with tea ladies, with bank tellers, with cashiers at grocery stores, etc. β€” in a quest for efficiency and profit. You describe the tea ladies respectfully and vividly, naming several ways that they were improving the health and communication of that particular organization (“You could have a word or two with the tea ladies. The ladies were never grumpy. They always had a smile or two. They were a reliable source of information and new exactly what was going on around the place. It was almost like an intranet, but in human form πŸ˜‚.”) Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Many of us in the Northeastern US are feeling very lucky right now to be well-vaccinated and seeing family/friends outside with no masks. But Delta variant is making its way around our population β€” and none of our media, governmental organizations or educational institutions seems to have done a very effective job (as I lamented in a recent blog post) teaching all of us about how powerful and surprising exponential growth can be. May your contact tracing In Australia be successful!!! Another deep breath in. And out. (And maybe while wearing a mask again for a while…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your very kind and thoughtful words, Will. Your blog resonates very strongly with me and the quest to create great music. I have always stood against the quest for staff minimisation. Chainsaw Al was not right when it came to his style of tearing the human heart out of an organisation. There are much more enlightened leadership gurus now who say the quest should be about investing in people within your organisation, because that is where the real dividend will pay off. I have found this to be very true. Treat people as people and they will move heaven and earth for you.

      Yes, exponential growth is something that needs to be understood. I took a quick look at an article by Scientific American and it was saying that a variation to the Delta Variant: Delta + is already emerging. We will get there with our war against COVID, we just need to be patient and all work together – breath in, hold that breath and then, it is breath out (it’s a bit hard to do this with a mask on πŸ˜‚). I am happy to keep wearing a mask for as long as it takes, along with other initiatives, too. Take care, be safe and talk to you again soon – I have Tubular Bells playing in the background at the moment.

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  4. From one tea lover to another…thank you for this delightful post. The tea trolley is one of the most charming contraptions and I would love to start using it again! And thanks for the mention of my post on the site childgirlwoman, titled, Tea time – Romancing the Brewβ™₯οΈπŸ™

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Shammi. It was my absolute pleasure to mention your blog. My favourite tea is Russian Caravan. I think it would be awesome to make it how the Russians did all this years ago. I think I might make tracking down a nice tea trolley a project in anticipation of the spring and summer, as it is winter here at the moment 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are so many exciting teas around the world that one can go on exploring discovering and acquiring! My kitchen is stacked with varieties of teas but can always make space for more πŸ€— My regular fav is Assam Tea but I merrily variate according to mood and time of day..Russian Caravan I must look out for..β™₯️

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I like Assam. It is so true regarding the exploration of tea and making room for more. My sister gave me a sample of 24 teas from around the world last Christmas. I always enjoy receiving tea gifts from her 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh no, sorry to hear you are in lockdown again. Is it bad? Also I hope your mother is okay since you mentioned you were at the doctor’s. I loved your stories about the tea ladies. I wish I could be one. It sounds like a fabulous job. Also why did you keep dunking your tie that time? Were you excited about the tea or just nervous at work?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It looks like we might be lucky where I am re the current lockdown. The next 24 hours are crucial, though. We generally tend to do as we are told, because all the other measures we have used so far have worked (but you can’t help the action of those who don’t follow the measures, unfortunately). If there are good results tomorrow, then we are out of lockdown come this Saturday. However, with what is happening in some of our other stateswith their outbreaks, we are approaching a tipping point, nationally.

      Thank you re Mum. She had a bone marrow biopsy. It’s a case of wait and see. We are quietly optimistic.

      I think you would have made a great tea lady, Micah. Everyone was always happy to see them. Apparently, the tea lady shown in my post could remember the tea/coffee (and biscuit) requirements for 150 people! I kept dunking my tie because I was too busy talking and not paying attention to what I was doing πŸ˜‚

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      • The variant enters via Australians in quarantine who are still coming home from overseas (6,000 a week, halved as of today) and those who have generally been on “business” trips and attending sporting events. It happens when it “escapes” from an infected person in quarantine. However, on this occasion it was a person travelling back home to Western Australia from New South Wales. They realised they had attended a “hot spot” during their flight home. After testing negative initially, and as the Variant tends to do, they ended up testing positive a few days later.

        We had good results today, so a total of 4 cases in the community over five days with a further 3 in quarantine from those returning home from overseas in recent days. So the lockdown ends for us tonight in WA, but masks and venue capacity restrictions are in place for the next nine days. We seem to deal with it with laser like precision in WA, the other states struggle a bit e.g. New South Wales during the same time period is averaging over 30 new cases a day.

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  6. I enjoyed this post. I also remember the tea trolleys and how delighted I would be when they arrived and prompted a break from work. Good luck with the lockdown. May it be a shortish one. We are just emerging from another months long one here. Today we start slightly eased restrictions. Our vaccinations have been high and we have 70%+ with one shot and 30%+ with two.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad you enjoyed this post, Anne. Yes, I can recall sometimes looking at my watch in anticipation of the tea trolley turning up. Sometimes it was late! Thank you re the lockdown. We are out of it from tomorrow with some restrictions still in place for the next none days. We are way, way behind with our vaccinations only 24% and 8% respectively.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved this post Sean. It is dreamlike for me to imagine this scenario as here we were never exposed to tea ladies (or coffee ladies for that matter). You referencing them to the internet was quite cute. Lovely Linda seems to have a great sense of humor and her laughter was a sign for more good things to come.

    Sorry to hear about your lock down. So many of us here are vaccinated and I pray you get access to receiving one very soon. Mark my words it is like being set free from worry. I have not stopped ripping and running since I got mine. We are not even required to wear masks in local stores anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad you loved this post, Rita. I think our kids would agree with you re the dreamlike state, because when we talk to them about these things, they’re like “sure..” One time back then, Linda and I were sitting opposite each other at work. She had some plastic sheep’s knuckles (to play knuckle bones) and in an effort to get my attention, she decided to lob some of them into my cup of tea. I think one of them had liquid paper (paint) on it, which came straight off into my cup of tea as well. I think I said I wasn’t too impressed πŸ˜‚

      That’s wonderful to see you getting out and about in a very healthy way after your vaccination. We have been lucky again with this lockdown. We are out of it tonight, but our vaccination program is so far behind. My sister and her husband are still be on their way over to us from Tasmania later next week. They are both vaccinated. It will be the first time seeing each other in 7 years!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for sharing a feel-good story Sean, it uplifts the spirits! It’s funny that it became a symbol for your work environment; for camaraderie & good laughs! It reminded me a bit of Harry Potter when the food cart strolls down the going back to school train with a tray full of Chocolate Frogs and Jelly Beans. A good time guaranteed. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • My pleasure, Linda. It was very much a key symbol. When the tea ladies were replaced by machines after I moved on, there was much dissatisfaction re what the executive saw as a minor change. Yes, I think HP and the food trolley definitely is tapping into that universe of a small comfort that actually turns out to be quite the delight 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, delightful experiences still linger in the memories, able to evoke joyful emotions! The potential of a small comfort was truly discovered and able to (literally and figuratively) fill people’s cups. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I remember the tea ladies well, who were replaced with canteens … and sadly now with β€œmechanical Mearl’s” (Mearl was the canteen ladies name) ie: vending machines 😒
    I am still always pleasant to and respect the cleaners wherever I go, you never know when they will have to clean up your mess! They also know more than anyone else what’s going on in the building, a great source of gossip and it pays to be on their good side πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Mechanical Mearls” is a great name despite what they depict. Yes, I always found vending machines and the like not my “cup of tea” at all. Agree with you 100% re the cleaners. They cop a bit of bashing sometimes, but I have always found them to be extremely pleasant, very helpful and do a great job, often under difficult circumstances. Yes, stay on their good side 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a lovely story about tea lady. Even though I have no experience of this, I feel the warmth of it and I can imagine the scene of your dunked tie in a tea cup. That’s so funny in a very good way. I wonder how bad this delta variant will be and probably we also need another lockdown. Wish everything can be passed but there seems no end in sight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing such lovely thoughts re the tea ladies, Haoyan. I think we will be living with the Delta Variant and other variations for a very long time. So, we need to make the most of what we have, be positive and keep ourselves up to date on how to be prepared and tackle each variant. We will succeed eventually.

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  11. What a wonderful story to read on a lazy Sunday morning! This is exactly what tea/ coffee does, it gives us a chance to chit chat with one another and have a little gossip. It’s like a refresher or a reset of the brain. Oh yes, the tea ladies would definitely have all the gossip, haha. Love it! I honestly cannot imagine myself going back in a second lock-down, but what can you do if it’s for your own good and the wellness of others? Sucks but has to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so happy that you enjoyed my post and I hope you enjoyed the rest of your Sunday? A refresher or reset for the brain is a really good way to look at the interactions with the tea ladies. Lockdowns help if they are used constructively, which we have managed to do here so far. So, for us, we have been lucky. The lockdowns have been like short, sharp surgical strikes in tracking down and containing the virus.

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  12. Pingback: New Word #46: Recently Learned – Haoyan Do

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