3 small plastic bottles of dirty water in an old faded Tesco bag. That’s what my £25 bought me. 3 bottles of murky water that looked like it had been dredged up in Tewkesbury High Street during the recent floods. I couldn’t help thinking a little more effort on presentation wouldn’t have gone amiss. Perhaps sensing my apprehension, the Chinese medicine woman began babbling. Apparently she had used 15 different ingredients to make my brew. She leapt about the shop pointing out the jars. Yep, that’d be why it came out brown, then; manky bits of stuff, scraps of mummified foreskin, dried wizard nipples. And she wanted me to put this stuff in my mouth? Good God, what did the woman take me for? A mudskipper? She explained how I should pour an inch of the potion into a cup then fill the rest with boiling water. She could try and make it sound all delicious and yummy all she liked, like a post-pub Pot Noodle, but it wouldn’t wash with me. It looked like bottled poo water. “Dried mushroom, yeah?” I said pointing at a nearby jar. “No, not mushroom.” That told me. “3 cup a day for 3 month make better.” How much for how long? What had started out as such a promising little consultation between Chinese doctor and English patient had soured. My bottle well and truly gone I backed out the shop clutching my bag of bottles.
You know the archetypal image of the English drinking their tea, all refined elegance, and that peculiar nuance of the daintily outstretched pinkie? Well they obviously weren’t drinking the kind of tea I was drinking. My back arched like a puking cat I huddled over my steaming mug of mud juice. The first sip had smashed my taste buds to smithereens and reassembled them on the surface of my tongue in the wrong order. My sweet and sour and my bitter and savoury were all to cock. It is impossible for me to accurately describe the taste. Alien soup, possibly? Goblin gangrene? What I can say is, never has a cup of tea been in more need of a good garibaldi. Looking into the mug I saw the Chinese doctor’s mocking face reflected in the surface of the poison, “3 cup a day! 3 cup a day! 3 cup a day!” I drained the last of the tea. It was gritty and made my teeth itch. I don’t know if I’ll continue with the tea after these 3 bottles. And it’s not just the awful taste or the extortionate price. More than that it’s because drinking the foul concoction makes me feel ever so slightly desperate, like I’d suffer any amount of torture or humiliation or pay any price just to feel a bit better. I’m not at that point yet, so tea break's over.