I’m going to begin this column with indelicate references, so my apologies to sensitive readers. On Saturday morning I subjected myself to a particularly undignified event. After ordering my long black with milk on the side, I needed to visit the facilities in one of Nelson’s most welcoming and comfortable cafes. The facilities had been patronised just before I entered them, so I reached for the handily positioned air freshener. One push on the canister’s white plastic pump, a delivery device I had not encountered before, and my face was tingling under a thin film of rosemary and rose scented air freshener. Lovely.
Of course, it’s all coffee’s fault. Why? I wouldn’t have been in this recently vacated and odiferous lavatory had husband Steve and I not decided to drive all the way from Stoke to Nelson City solely to drink coffee at our favourite café. Of course, my increasingly dim eyesight can take some of the blame, as can luck and timing, but the fact is that I would not have blasted myself with air freshener had I not been satisfying my need for a regular Saturday caffeine fix in congenial surroundings.
I’ll admit right away that I’m addicted to caffeine. I like a well-made long black or flat white, but I also like plunger, filter and instant coffee. I even like sludgy, black-as-night Turkish coffee and, at a pinch, I can drink those execrable 3-in 1 combinations of coffee, whitener and sugar that come in boxes of sachets. I’ve recently cut down my intake to three cups a day, most days anyway, but any fewer and I suffer the kind of headaches that make you want to crush your head in a vice just to get some relief from the heavy hammer demolishing the back and sides of your skull.
I still remember my first cup of coffee. We’d been visiting relations staying at D’Urville Island’s Cherry Bay and the trip back to French Pass in the late afternoon was rough and frightening. I sat close to my mother in the front cabin and clung onto the hand rail, expecting the ply speed boat to break apart on every wave its bows smashed into. I must have looked pale and wan and in need of reviving because Paula Graham, who we called on before driving home to Waikawa Bay, gave me a cup of hot, sweetened instant coffee. I felt better almost immediately. I was, I think, ten or eleven years old at the time. A tattered bottle of Bushell’s essence of Coffee and Chicory was the only coffee related object in my childhood home and I’d never encountered instant coffee before. Its restorative powers seemed like a miracle.
I didn’t realise I had a problem with coffee until my late twenties when I was an enthusiastic, if talentless, jogger. Training for a half marathon, I decided I’d go the whole hog and cleanse caffeine from my system. I lasted two and a half days by which time I was prostrate on the couch with aches and shivers that had me convinced I’d caught one of the nastier flu viruses. I could not believe that this was caffeine withdrawal but I decided to see if a cup of instant coffee would help. Twenty minutes later I was restored to full health. Soon afterwards, I discovered that Erin Baker, a very successful triathlete of the time, trained and raced hydrated by bottles of flat cola. Relieved, I gave up the idea of giving up.
Since this incident my relationship with caffeine has changed and grown. Like any addict, I am always aware of my ‘supply’: have I got enough, and, if not, where will I obtain it? While not an issue in daily life, so well supplied are we with dozens of ways to imbibe caffeine, supply can be an issue when further away from civilisation.
Tramping with friends on the Wangapeka, a long and tiring first day delivered us to Stone Hut. I’d had an early breakfast including what would be my last coffee of the day. That night, after a wash in the river and a delicious meal whipped up from our carefully planned, combined supplies, we collapsed onto our bunks early. I woke a little after midnight with a pounding headache. The penny dropped: I had not had a cup of coffee since yesterday’s breakfast.
I scrambled down off the top bunk and, with my tiny torch, began to search as quietly as I could for the snap lock bag of coffee granules I knew someone in the party had brought. There was no way I was going to disturb those sleeping soundly by lighting my tiny gas stove and making a proper cup, so when the vital supplies were located, I decided to eat a couple of spoonfuls ‘raw’ hoping that would quell the jack hammer inside my skull. It did, and I slept well until daylight, but when I greeted my companions, my desperate addiction was revealed by the shameful number of coffee granules that decorated my smile. Not my most graceful moment and one I haven’t been allowed to forget.
However, humiliations such as I’ve described have little impact on a coffee addict. On Saturday morning I wiped the air freshener off my face, took a seat in the sunshine and enjoyed a delicious and satisfying cup of coffee. Lovely.