COFFEE, TEA OR THE EMPIRE

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In 1979, Queen Elizabeth II was tasked with the duty of meeting with the U.K.’s newest Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to hold such a position and leader of the Conservative Party for the past four years. Mrs. Thatcher was also the first P.M. with a Bachelor of Science Degree (in Chemistry), but who was once turned down for an early job having been assessed as “headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.” Leaving science and turning to law and government, the future P.M. earned the same reputation. Thus, the Queen saw the meeting as one of obligation and not pleasure.

Sitting in her dressing room, Her Majesty is being attended to by her hairdresser who primps then picks up a can of hair spray.  “Not too much spray,” the Queen directs.

“Yes, Ma’am,” she replies. “Would you like some more powder?”

“No. That’ll do.” The phone rings and she reaches to answer it. “Hello?  She’s a bit early. Have her wait. I’ll be down in a few minutes.” She hangs up and turns to the hairdresser, “Mrs. Thatcher has been waiting for this moment her whole life, I imagine.”

“You’ve met her before?” she inquires.

“Oh, yes indeed,” the Queen shoots back with a bit of attitude in her voice. “Always been very pleasant to me. I hear I’m the only one, though,” letting out a bit of a Royal chuckle. “That’s it then.”  She rises and puts on her lime green matching jacket, adjusts her bejeweled brooch, and heads for the door.

Mrs. Thatcher waits outside the meeting room with a palace guard, as the doors are closed. From inside, the doors are opened by two more guards and she is invited in.  She crosses the room to greet the Queen, foregoing a full curtsey and arriving with a slight bow of her head and then extending her hand, which Elizabeth shakes. The two ladies exchange greetings and the Queen leads her guest to chairs beside a tea service on a table.

“Would you like coffee or tea, Mrs. Thatcher?” the Queen asks.

“Tea, if you please,” the new Prime Minister responds. A butler pours cups for both ladies and then recedes. They each sip genteelly.

Mrs. Thatcher puts down her teacup and suddenly announces, “We must ban the import of coffee to the U.K. It will be one of my first acts as Prime Minister.”

The Queen is stunned. “I beg your pardon?”

“Yes,” Thatcher continues, “Tea is our national drink. Coffee is for the French and the Americans.”

Taking a pregnant pause, “I’m not sure that’s wise,” the Queen responds. “This is a free country. Our people should be able to choose what they drink.”

“I respectfully disagree. If we allow Philistines to dilute our national identity, we will wind up a third world nation,” she insists.

Her Majesty turns stern. “Look, Maggie, we’re not banning coffee to suit your personal sense of nationalism.”

Thatcher laughs. “You have no power to stop me. You’re just a figurehead. A tourist attraction. I call the real shots around here, …Liz.”

The Queen’s eyes grow wide. “What makes you think Parliament will go along with this preposterous idea?”

“Because they are loyal tea drinkers, every one of them.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’ve had many of them over for coffee right here in my home,” the Queen counters.

Mrs. Thatcher is visibly shocked and lets out a gasp as she rises from her chair.  “You drink coffee!?” she exclaims.

“Of course I drink coffee when I feel like it. You act as though you’ve never had,” the Queen responds.

Slowly turning away, Mrs. Thatcher admits, “No. I never have,” she says stoically.

“What? That’s impossible.”

Mrs. Thatcher turns back and sits quietly. “No, I never have and I never wanted to.”

The Queen looks at her with pity. After a brief moment, “Then, my dear, it’s time you had.”

Mrs. Thatcher sees what’s coming, “Oh. Oh, no.”

Her Majesty turns to the butler in waiting. “Mr. Richards, pour Mrs. Thatcher a cup of coffee, please.”

“No, no, no. I won’t. You can’t make me,” an alarmed Mrs. Thatcher begs, as the butler pours the cup and brings it to her. She stares at the cup with terror.

“As your Queen, I command you to drink,” the Queen says sternly.

Mrs. Thatcher is frozen with fear. The Queen adds, “Go ahead, it’s not hemlock. It’s just coffee. And a very nice one from Kenya with lovely notes of Blackcurrant.”

The cup rattles profusely as Mrs. Thatches takes it from the butler. She looks down into the cup with great trepidation.  “Oh, go ahead,” the Queen prods.

She raises the cup to her lips and sips. Then, a welcomed look of relief comes over her.  She takes a second sip. “Why, this is actually quite nice,” she admits.

“Of course it is, you silly twit!” the Queen retorts. “You were getting your knickers in a twist over nothing.”

“Why I think I actually like coffee,” the grateful Prime Minister declares.

“Oh, for the love of Saint George, this meeting is over. Go take charge of the country.”  And with that Her Majesty rises and exits the room.

Mrs. Thatcher turns to the butler and asks, “Would we happen to have a donut?”

 

End

 

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