Bedtime drinks

With the passage of time, life becomes ever more prosaic. A bedtime drink now is a mug of hot milk, anything with caffeine would mean getting up in the night. I can never understand how my grandparents could drink Camp coffee at bedtime, the thick black liquid looked potent enough to keep anyone awake for hours.

My Mum always drank Horlick’s, the distinctive jar with a blue label and lid was a familiar. Horlick’s seemed an appropriate sort of bedtime drink, it went with warm fires, soft pillows and woollen blankets. Horlick’s meant the family being together, with curtains closed against winter nights. Horlick’s meant a feeling of security, the doors locked and the silence of rural Somerset all around. Horlick’s meant our mother fussing over us and our father checking everything was ready for the morning.

When they were empty, the last teaspoon of powder taken out and the jar tipped up, lest any remain, Horlick’s jars would never be thrown away. My grandmother would use them for jam and marmalade, their distinctive shape becoming associated with bread sliced thickly from fresh loaves, spread with layers of butter that would show your teethmarks, and then with strawberry jam or coarse orange marmalade.

Horlick’s seemed a symbol of happiness, of feeling safe and well. Such symbols seem more important with the passing years. Sometimes it is the most unlikely things that can be reassuring, things like Milo.

As well as Horlick’s, there would sometimes be tins of Milo in the house. Milo was a chocolate drink, it is still marketed in many countries, and, to my delight, I saw it on sale in the Co-op this week.

Being in the Philippines at the end of 1990 and beginning of 1991, two days drive from Manila, I sat by myself in a deserted dining room of the small hotel in which we had stayed. Home was 8,000 miles away, a three minute telephone call cost £6, and the area we were visiting was beset by violence. Feeling despondent about the place in which we were staying and the projects we were visiting, I wanted to be far from this place where militiamen wandered around with grenades and automatic rifles, this place where the bodies of church workers would sometimes be found in the river. I remember turning around and seeing a tin of Milo on a shelf behind a counter. At once, I was back in the kitchen of my childhood, with my Dad making the bedtime drinks.

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