GUEST BLOG:Coffee in the Blood

“A Yorkshire lass living in Scotland and married to the great grandson of an African chief who would eat people if they caught him having a bath. My husband prefers showers… and chicken. I’m a TV bod, script supervisor, production manager, writer, swimmer, believer, wife and full-time working step-mum to two fantastic girls (11 and 8) who are my stylists, my daily cheer and my reasons for cleaning.”

I had my first cup of coffee when I was 5 years old. Dad had a new percolator. Proper 80s swish. The 70s Teasmade had died its passé death, relegated from the bedside table to the local dump. Ground coffee was the new thing and my early love affair with the liquid black gold began right there as I watched the bubbles, listened to the gurgles and saw the clear water transfer from its see-though container to appear as if by magic in the waiting coffee pot next to it. Drip by dribbly drip. The smell was divine. The taste was not…

… Not for a 5 year-old anyway. But somehow a Saturday morning ritual had begun: coffee with my dad in the kitchen as he made my mum her morning porridge in bed. I piled in the sugar and sipped at the tiny cup with pursed lips. Half was always left. The taste was bitter, thick, an unexplained adult delicacy. But I liked the social aspect. Just chillin’ with my dad in my PJs.

Cut to 27 years later and I still remember that percolator as I screw on the top of my Bialetti espresso pot each morning, preparing my morning mug of the stuff, understanding now better than ever the adult allure as my bleary eyes beg for the thick voluminous ‘shot’.

I have a problem.

That is until last week, when I decided to do something about said problem, addiction, dependency, caffeine crutch… whatever you want to call it. It wasn’t really a voluntary thing. In fact it wasn’t really a voluntary thing the last time I did a coffee detox either. In fact both times have been necessary due to my job.

The first time was when I was observing true detox bravery. That of the heroin kind. We were filming a documentary about an astonishing detox tool called NET (www.netdevice.net).

Perhaps I first realised I had a problem when we were watching Barry shoot up for the last time in a cold barn. In silence he tightened his tourniquet. I clasped my coffee mug tighter. As his syringe sucked up the concoction, I supped at my cup.

How terrible to have such an addiction, I thought. Then I looked down at my empty cup. Oh.

A while later as part of a follow-up documentary I found myself visiting a detox farmhouse where no stimulants were permitted. Including coffee. That was it, I thought, if these girls can go through heroin detox, the least I could do is support them by detoxing from coffee. The girls found it very amusing.

In the morning  I’d come in and would walk past the living room of hot-water-bottle-hugging girls all dressing gowns and smudged mascara and I felt like I needed to join them.

‘How are you feeling, Kate?’ they’d croak.

‘My pee is orange and my head hurts’. I’d answer, irritably.

They’d crack a smile. I struggled too.

Now, to confess, that was just withdrawal from coffee. I was still drinking tea (which I’ve never really liked as much as coffee) but the withdrawal was still pretty painful. More recently, however, it’s been both.

This time I’m off to Zambia to film an amazing Scot called Donald MacDonald who moved to Zambia to lead a comfortable expat life… only to end up fostering 30 street kids in his own home – a farm known locally as Old MacDonald’s Farm.

Last time I was there researching the story I was bogged down by the malaria tablets clouding my head. This, coupled with the restricted access to caffeine, made my head spin. So this time I’ve decided I’m going to go without such a dependency and get used to it before I leave. The irony being that there’s still a tin of Zambia’s finest ground coffee right next to my redundant percolator. Grrr.

And so I have stopped, dead. ‘Dead’ being the operative word.

Urgggchhh. That’s all I can say about how I’ve been feeling this past week. I’ve not had the pangs of desire that I thought I might have, no kettle switching twitch, nothing like that… but the back pain, oh the agony! You may think this weird but as I lay awake at 3am, not knowing where on earth this pain had come from, I googled the only reason I could think of: ‘Coffee withdrawal and back pain’. And lo and behold, apparently the two are connected.  I just couldn’t lie down, couldn’t sleep for the pain. It really was a test of the will. I now have some understanding of cold turkey and wouldn’t want to go there. Ever.

The pain has since eased and a refreshing energy has replaced my permanent state of being wired to the hilt. I can honestly say it’s been worth it. I’m not sure when or whether I’ll start drinking it again. The dependency doesn’t half creep into your blood again. Something tells me it won’t be a permanent departure from coffee but perhaps I need to develop a more healthy respect for its potency.

Now here’s an odd twist and I never thought I’d say this in my lifetime but I am married to a man whose family own a coffee plantation. Not as Kenco-glamorous or Nescafe bean-rattling rah as you may think, though. It’s now sitting idle and unreachable after the change of regime and devastation in the Democratic Republic of Congo… I thought perhaps one day we could go out there and turn it all around. But guerillas and danger aside, I was very disappointed to learn that they didn’t grow Arabica beans there but the other sorts used more in medicines etc. Robusta beans, I think. Not likely I’ll ever be the Mrs Del Monte of coffee. But perhaps… you never know, maybe this can be the start of my new relationship with coffee: the stuff you can’t drink!

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