Some years later, cuddled up, snuggling in bed at my uncle Lex Devitt’s unlined house on Tiger Hill, I would wake to hear him, cheerful always in the morning, boisterously crushing paper to light the open fire. An antique iron urn with tap, water still warm from last night’s embers, sat on an old piece of railway line which doubled as a fender and hotplate. For many years I’d wake hearing my uncle lighting the fire, though the electricity was eventually connected and the sound of a boiling electric kettle replaced the urn boiling on the hub. A biscuit barrel full of Milk Arrowroot always had pride of place on his the kitchen table, occasionally mixed with equally enjoyed Arnotts Teddy Bear biscuits ‘for a change’. My uncle would loudly and happily exclaim ‘Rise and Shine’ as he brought us our cups of tea with Milk Arrowroot biscuits.
My Grandfather and Uncle were clearly ‘morning people’. Cheerful and ready to meet the day, they enjoyed the ritual of preparing a treat with which to wake up their family, leaving special memories to be cherished over time.
The Milk Arrowroot biscuits weren’t only an early morning treat, they featured at afternoon tea and supper, whenever we had a cup of tea and cakes weren’t available. This was often – we weren’t really a ‘cakey’ family. I wonder now whether the experience of the Depression and the need to make ends meet meant that the ritual partaking of Milk Arrowroot biscuits became an inexpensive way to have a treat!
My sister, who takes a while to wake up and loves to snuggle up in bed before greeting a busy day, is blessed to have a loving husband who always wakes up early and brings her one, if not two, cups of tea in bed, often with Milk Arrowroot biscuits, each morning. What a treat, and what a joy to have a husband happy to carry on the family tradition.
I can never go past the biscuit shelves at the supermarket without thinking of my grandparents, uncle, and also my mother, whose shopping lists always included ‘Milk Arrowroot biscuits’, with the occasional change to ‘Nice’ or ‘Malted Milk’. A deep sleeper who often took time to wake up, my sister and I would take turns in giving our mother a cup of tea in the mornings, letting her know the time as we gently tried to rouse her. Always with a couple of Milk Arrowroot biscuits, of course!
Interestingly, when telling my sister recently that I thought perhaps I’d write about our family ritual of sharing cups of tea accompanied by Milk Arrowroot biscuits, she shared her own memory of our grandmother suggesting she try the customary practice of introducing a milk arrowroot softened with milk to her daughter when she was making the transition to solid foods.
Perhaps this is when we become addicted to the delightful if dubious practice of dunking Milk Arrowroot biscuits!
Throughout my life a particularly deep and meaningful question has always arisen when having Milk Arrowroot biscuits with a cup of tea in public – to dunk or not to dunk! Our family across generations has been one which accepted and thoroughly enjoyed the ritual of dunking. We were, however, advised and well aware that we were not to dunk our biscuits when out in public!
I became impossibly sad recently at the thought that, as a 70+ year old spinster without children, it is quite unlikely anyone will bring me a cup of tea with milk arrowroot biscuits to waken me when I am snuggling up in bed ever again. It certainly hasn’t happened for a long time. The last time was possibly in 2009 when my then 96 year old mother wheeled a cup of tea and two Milk Arrowroot biscuits balanced on the seat of her wheely walker into my bedroom at her unit, greeting me warmly to welcome the day. It is a very special memory of her I will always treasure.
Many of the beloved human beings who shared the ritual drinking and dunking of Milk Arrowroot biscuits with me over time have passed on. These days, the closest I get to being on the receiving end of a similar ritual is, when in hospital, I hear a tea trolley in the corridor and not long after am courteously asked, ‘Madam, would you like a biscuit with your cup of tea?’
(Prepared for 'Family Ritual' initially, then presented for another session drawing on items from our Ideas Piggy Bank, in this case imagine two Milk Arrowroot biscuits!)