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Tea And DIY

Two Great British Obsessions – Tea and DIY

Tea and DIY identity

The British builder's mug of tea is as much a part of his tools of the trade as his shovel or electric drill. First-time DIYers recognise this very clearly and see tea as a means to professional inclusion. To feel that you are not just an amateur bodger you have to behave like a profes­sional. A number of first-time DIYers who had worked alongside professional craftsmen articulated this very clearly: "I feel as if I'm part of the workforce if I'm drinking tea with them."

Tea as transitional marker

Tea serves to mark the progress of DIY projects, from conception and deliberation to the celebration of a job done well. Apart from the beneficial properties of the beverage itself, tea takes on a ritual significance – what anthro­polo­gists would see as a transitional marker of progress and achievement, an essential element of the DIY rite de passage. Without the punctuation that drinking tea provides, the structure of the complex elements of DIY activity would be lost.

Tea breaks

Tea breaks were seen as quite essential to good DIY by the large majority of our informants. There were, however, a number of variations in this ritual, particularly with regard to the frequency and length of tea breaks during the work itself. Some took a break every half hour while others sawed, stripped, painted and hammered for up to three hours at a stretch without a cup of tea at all. But an interesting inverse relationship between break interval and break length is apparent. Where breaks are most frequent, they last for only five minutes. When they are least frequent, they may last for as much as forty minutes. Everybody, it seems, needs more or less the same total length of time for drinking tea during the day, but they divide this time up in different ways.

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