I was never going to be the next Steve Cram, it’s not that sort of runner. I’m talking about the type that are ‘allowed’ to make tea, fetch lunch and be general dogs bodies (all on minimum wage) for the ‘important’ media types in the film/television industry. The distant carrot to this all-too-present stick is the possibility of one day having a lackey of your very own to go and get you bacon and halloumi bagels and Prêt a Manger carrot cakes. I was that sort of runner. I never got to the carrot. Or the carrot cake.
For about a year and a half I worked for an audio post-production company in Soho. I ‘met’ (made tea for) a number of “film makers”, some very famous, others very un-famous, some very nice, others total bell-ends. None of it was glamorous.
In the main, it was fairly tedious work, and I left with far fewer anecdotes than I should have. But presented here is one that is truly indicative of the mindset of people who “work in television”.
Around autumn 2007, Kosminsky – “director extraordinaire” was to bring his “daring political hot potato” (both these are actual sound-bites from people connected to the programme that I overheard); a two part television series called Britz to the company I was working at. It was, apparently, a big deal, and the bosses went into that ludicrously over-the-top mode of operation where every facet of the company was seemingly geared towards highlighting the most grotesque decadences of Western civilisation. Among other things, I was told to provide (obviously not from my own pocket) six, one-and-a-half litre bottles of Evian water to the studio each day (this is for, at most, three people).
“But the open bottles from yesterday are still three quarters full”
“Yeah… but just get us some new ones”
“Well what should I do with the open ones?”
“[A pause] you could water the plants with them”
Water the plants with Evian water. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure even Mariah Carey would think twice about such a flagrant waste of money (well…).
The straw that (nearly) broke the camel’s back was the day I was sent to a just totally unjustifiably expensive food shop “to buy three or four bottles of balsamic vinegar”. That little shopping trip was more than the equivalent of a whole week’s wages (plus overtime) for me; it was no more than a constituent part of a salad dressing to my employees.
So, the studio was in full ‘Caligula’s Rome’ (the decadence, not the orgies… or not that I was invited to) mode when Kosminsky finally turned up. Day one, I go into the studio (as always) and get orders for a round of teas (I had to do this every 20 minutes or so. As a brief side note, the more patronising clientele, I think picking up on my (mild) northern accent would say “oh, just a builder’s tea for me” as if they were ‘speaking my language’ or doing me some kind of favour by not asking for anything too complicated. It’s not a favour. I still have to make you a cup of tea. As a job.) Kosminsky was far from being so magnanimous.
“I’ll have a fruity tea”
(No please, no thanks, not even eye contact)
“What kind of frui….”. Cut off by Kosminsky
“Just a fruity tea” he snapped, impetuously, like I’d asked him to stop his incredibly important job (looking at a screen) to help me harvest the fruit himself.
I return with a fairly regular cup of fruit tea. Not anything special I admit, but a cup of fruit tea nonetheless. I place it in front of Kosminsky and turn to leave the studio. I had to stock the numerous biscuit tins with another week’s wages worth of biscuits.
Out of the corner of my eye, I clock Kosminsky bringing the mug to his lips to take a preliminary sip of fruit tea. As banal as the job of making a cup of tea for someone is, I half turn to gauge his reaction, I want to at least get some spec of job satisfaction from the morning. Even in our brief encounter thus far, I know a ‘thanks’ is out of the question, but any sort of smile, even to himself, I could cling on to as a job well done.
No such luck. Kosminsky literally spits the contents of his mouth out onto the desk. Not much liquid, the tea was still too hot for a full mouthful – but a spray of fruit tea droplets is illuminated against the screen. Kosminsky says ‘yuk’. He doesn’t intimate ‘yuk’ with his facial expression, he actually says ‘yuk’. Out loud. Like spitting out tea across the room like a petulant toddler wasn’t clue enough to his feelings towards the drink, he has to make audible his discontent. I still to this day have no idea how anyone can have that strong a reaction to hot water and a fruit infusion. But Kosminsky did. I turned to face him fully, with a heavy heart.
“Is there something the matter?” I ventured sheepishly. Kosminsky is genuinely angry.
“I asked for a fruity tea. This is tea with fruit!” Now, I know that this may sound like poetic licence; that no one would dare to be so obtuse, so pernickety, so rude, no matter how ‘important’ they (thought they) were, but I swear Kosminsky said it. My usual assumption would have been that this was an elaborate joke, but the fact that those last three words – “tea with fruit” – were said with such distain, coupled with a knowing and desperate look from Kosminsky’s long-suffering (I assume) P.A. sitting next-to-but-somehow-lower-and-behind, told me that this interaction was both deadly serious and part of some on-going saga that Kosminsky had made a central concern in his life.
“Would you like me to get you a different fruity tea,” I ask.
“This” he points accusatively at the innocent mug “isn’t a fruit tea, it’s a tea with fruit. I want you to get me a fruity tea”.
I look to my boss, who is watching the whole event with a stony-faced passivity. I pick up the offending mug and leave the darkened studio.
Outside in the canteen we have no other types of ‘fruit tea’, so I run – proper running – to Marks and Spencer. I assume that Kosminsky’s gripe is with the quality of the tea, being as it was a product from the less salubrious Somerfield. Kosminsky is a man with taste, I reason. He has probably honed his palate over years of being served fruity teas, I muse. I return with an overly expensive box of fruit infusions. They certainly look the part. I make one. I go back into the studio, and with a humility and solemnity that even at the time I find hard to believe I have been sucked into, I present this new mug to Kosminsky.
He sniffs the tea. Sniffs the tea, like it’s a fine wine. Without even tasting it, he puts it carefully down on the desk; slowly lifting his cow eyes to meet mine (for the first time) and asks:
“What is this?”
“It’s a blackcurrant and raspberry infusion”
“So it’s not a fruity tea, is it?”
I’m really starting to loose my grip o n reality here. “What do you mean?” I ask, perplexed more than frustrated or angry.
“I have a favourite type of fruity tea” he’s talking at me – through me even – “but all I’m asking for is a half-decent cup of fruity tea, that’s all”.
Outside the studio, confusion becomes apoplectic fury. If Kosminsky is so picky about his fucking tea, why doesn’t he bring his own teabags with his? Or better yet, just say ‘actually, I like my tea a certain way, so I won’t have one thanks’.
As I’m about to begin voicing this rage, the boss pops his head out of the door behind me.
“Just get him a really nice fruity tea”. Like I’ve been deliberately giving him shit ones.
“Where from? What does he mean by fruity tea?”
“There’s a really good [I have learned that this means ‘really expensive’] specialist tea shop a few streets away, just go in there and ask for a fruity tea”.
Some time later, and I’m in the specialist tea shop. I wasn’t wrong, it is expensive. I would love to spend hours browsing through this cornucopia of teas – it looks like film set of a semi-magical, Victorian teahouse. Various glass jars, tinctures and concoctions, all categorised with hand-written labels, fill the small wooden shelves of the two-story, narrow shop floor to ceiling. But Kosminsky’s need for his fruity tea breaks the spell.
I find the nearest shop assistant – a polish man that is both too muscular and too young to fit the ‘otherworldly apothecary’ image I have conjured up and expect to see.
“I’m looking for a fruity tea,” I say. “A good one”.
“All fruit teas are upstairs” comes the reply, and he goes to the spiral, cast-iron staircase to the first floor. Midway along one of the cluttered isles, he stops.
“Here are fruit teas”
I take a moment to examine the numerous boxes of fruity teas. A cavalcade of colour, aroma and excitement. But it is tempered by the thought of Kosminsky’s disapproval. I suddenly catch myself. The seriousness with which I have undertaken this task – this mission – is preposterous. But I’m in the middle of it now, there’s no escape, I’m in too deep, and I cannot face another Kosminsky rejection.
“Any recommendations?” I ask my newly appointed sherpa on this mountain of possibility. He looks. He selects.
“This one is good”.
A bright, jovial looking box. There are virginal white flowers printed on it, dewdrop covered raspberries, reassuring deep-green leaves. I move straight to the contents, examining meticulously, bereft of all fun, all excitement.
“Is this a fruity tea, or a tea with fruit?” I hear myself say. Suddenly I am the emperor with the new clothes – the faux-expert in all things fruity, in all things tea. The muscular Polish man looks at me bemused.
“What is difference?” he asks, head slightly cocked to one side. Remember – his job is exclusively to know about teas, and he can see no difference, semantically or product-wise, between ‘fruity tea’ and ‘tea with fruit’. I continue still further down the rabbit hole.
“I need a fruity tea, you see, not a tea with fruit. It’s important”.
It’s not important really, but I’ve invested far too much in this adventure now. Kosminsky is going to get the best cup of fruity fucking tea EVER!
“Wait a moment, I phone my girlfriend,” says the tea sage “she is expert of teas”.
An inordinately long and convoluted phone call ensues, conducted in Polish, where the nuances of fruity tea and tea with fruit are mooted. Finally, the man ends the call and, without further word reaches to the highest shelf –a hitherto unseen shelf; a forbidden shelf, I dare to think.
From the now sacred top shelf, he brings down a small box. Black cartridge paper emblazoned with silver runes and blood-red swirls. He opens the box silently and presents the contents to me.
Inside are housed five silk purses. I can just make out the sanguine pieces of unknown fruit within the translucent silk. The overall effect is awe-inspiring. Kosminsky is going to shit himself when he drinks this tea.
Now, hyperbole aside, I would like to stress that I really did buy a box containing five teabags, and that those teabags really were made of silk, and although the box didn’t really have silver runes carved on it, it did cost twenty-five quid. For five teabags. Twenty-five pounds. That’s how deep I was into this!
But I didn’t care anymore. I ran back to the studio, elated with my discovery. I had in my possession the elixir of life in fruity tea form. I was king of the teas.
I went straight to the hot water dispenser of the ridiculously unnecessary professional coffee machine. I made a cup of tea with such liturgy, that all I needed was a bearded monk in black robes to swing an incense burner behind me, and I could have formed a new religion.
Kosminsky sat slouched in his chair as I walked in with this sacred cup of tea, oblivious to the tribulations I had been through to get it, blissfully unaware of the taste sensation I was about to unleash upon his life. Here’s your fruity fucking tea, you cunt. Here’s the fruity fucking tea to end all fruity fucking teas.
He takes a sip, almost chewing the liquid in his mouth. And nothing. No orgasm of congratulation, nothing. He sits silent, slouched and unmoved.
I wait for what feels like an eternity; maybe a single tear will roll down his cheek. Maybe he is paralysed by a heady mix of joy and fear; joy that he has supped the nectar of the gods, fear that he will never in his life experience a pleasure like it again. But nothing. Kosminsky sits unmoved. For him it is just a fruity tea. Not as abhorrent as the two abortions I placed in front of him previously, admittedly, but just a cup of fruity tea all the same.
Later in the day, Kosminsky’s mouse of a P.A. sidles up to me timidly. “Where did you buy that fruity tea for Mr. Kosminsky’s?”
I recount the tale – in a less sensationalist tone.
“Oh, I see. I usually just buy him the Somerfield ones, and put two sugars in.” Here is Kosminsky’s secret laid bare, the emperor’s clothes proved invisible. The man is so clueless, so utterly removed from the real world, that he has convinced himself that ‘a fruit tea’ and ‘a fruit tea with two sugars’ are two separate entities, two entirely disparate genera of hot beverage. Far from finding this revelation disheartening, I was relieved. He’s not a genius, he’s not a visionary with a super-human palate, he’s a moron. I win. He is regularly hoodwinked by two sugars in his tea. And that is how the television industry, nay the world, is run.
 You can still watch Britz on the 4OD service. I haven’t bothered yet, mainly because ‘Four Lions’ has rendered this programme at best hopelessly irrelevant and at worst dangerously one-dimensional and under-researched in its approach to the subjects of British Muslims, religious fundamentalism, and racism. I concede that the above story may also have tainted my perspective on this programme. If anyone feels like watching the programme and making a more reasonable comment upon it, I would welcome it.