Kieran Plasto, with two must-haves for when your world turns bullets and bombs.
Given the headline of this post, one could imagine a musing written about making tea and the ethereal joys of drinking tea out of a china cup. Or about a Japanese tea ceremony and a lesson on the benefits of antioxidants being handed down from samurai to samurai. However the art of tea is for possibly next week’s effort and if I write about that this week then next week will start off on the back foot. Nothing worse than a week that starts off prematurely. Nothing.
So this is a column about a china cup and not a story about drinking tea.
From 1995 to 2006 I was both a Detective in an Australian State Police Force and a Police Negotiator. Both pretty high scorers on the cool occupations scale—but it was the negotiating activities that gave me the greatest highs and lowest lows.
I was fortunate in my time as a negotiator, team leader and finally as a counter-terrorist negotiator to have never ‘lost’ anyone—but mostly that was more good luck than good negotiating skills.
Post 9-11, I got to spend some time with a Special Forces unit understanding negotiating strategies in the event that a member was captured. As part of that experience I spent a lot of time with a unit non-commissioned officer called Smith (obviously not his really name and apart from being the most popular surname in Australia, when you add a ‘y’ on the end, as Australians always do, a whole new layer of anonymity is obtained).
Smithy was not a tall man, about ten to fifteen years older than me, pretty quiet on most things, not an overly easy man to get to know but not unfriendly. Just hard. Not tough. Hard. Not pretend-tough like wannabe bad guys or martial arts dudes but hard like having a stare about him that says “Everything I want or need is right inside me. I have no need to impress.”
As Hemingway said, “You lose if you talk about it.” Smithy never spoke about ‘it’.
A veteran of over twenty years in special ops he was barrel-chested with a broken nose, a quiet laugh and an aura that exuded confidence. If you have ever met a genuine hard man you will know what I mean—their aura is enough to give you a nose bleed.
From our first day I noticed he drank his tea and coffee out of a china cup. A dainty Royal Doulton china cup. And saucer. Whether it was in the mess, the office or even on bush exercise, always the china cup. This cup was clearly not a ‘my favourite cup that I drink tea from whilst I’m in the office’ but a cup with a story, a meaning, a significance.
My initial reaction was to blurt out an inappropriate question regarding said cup and saucer and story behind but given that everything about WO Smith and his aura said ‘Fuck Off’ I held back.
In fact I didn’t even ask anyone else about Smithy’s cup lest it should get back to him that I had an unnatural preoccupation with his cup and I subsequently find myself hooded, zip tied and taken for a long ride with other very silent and hard men.
Over a period of time, and constant interaction, Smithy seemed to warm to me enough that we started to have conversations and ultimately our relationship reached a point where I felt I could ask about the origin of the cup. Which, by the way, no one else in the unit seemed to even notice. It would appear that like the Emperors’ new clothes, Smithy’s cup and saucer were in fact, invisible.
Until one day Smithy opened up on the three reasons he carried his cup and saucer.
Firstly, as Smithy rightly pointed out—tea tastes better if one takes tea from a china cup. Note one does not drink tea from a china cup but one takes tea.
No dispute there.
Royal Doulton has known that for years.
Secondly, in Smithy’s own words, “If you are carrying a china cup and saucer in your webbing, in a pocket or somewhere on your person then you have to be careful how you throw your body around. You can’t be willy nilly throwing yourself on the ground like a temper throwing two year old and hope your china cup is going to survive. It’s a reminder that as I get older-so does my body and I need to look after it. Even in a gunfight”.
Good point Smithy. And I get into gunfights about, um, never—but good point nonetheless.
Thirdly, (as if you need a third reason), “My china cup is a reminder of what I can control in my life. It represents my sphere of influence. It’s what’s important when the world goes to shit and the bullets, real or metaphorical, are flying around you—you can make a cup of tea or coffee and drink it out of your china cup. It’s what I can control in uncontrollable situations. It helps me keep myself safe by controlling what I can”
So with that explanation I learnt a three point lesson from a genuine warrior and wise man.
Before I left the unit a few weeks later, my secondment finished, Smithy gave me a china cup and saucer.
No card, not wrapped in pretty paper, a china cup in a small brown paper bag. The receipt in the bag, the price tag still on the cup.
And with it came the spoken words, “Here is your china cup. Look after yourself.”
And most of the time Smithy, I do.
My challenge to you is this—what’s your china cup? How do you find calmness in the maelstrom?
Photo: Royal Doulton