tea ladiesI met a former Commission colleague today. He and I spent some time in the old Berlaymont building in the 1980s (long before it was refurbished) and a chance remark got us reminiscing nostalgically about the Berlaymont tea ladies (not like the ones in the picture). Doubtless there was a time when tea-ladies with their trolleys existed in most office buildings, but I’d like to think that the Berlaymont tea ladies were an institution in their own right. They would do their rounds twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. They imposed a discipline on us that has gone now. In those days people didn’t have electric kettles or coffee machines in their offices and there were no vending machines, so the arrival of the aproned tea ladies, announced by a little bell, was in effect a signal that tea-break could begin (and, conversely, when they went it was over). Colleagues queued up patiently, some with their favourite mugs or cups, and in addition to tea or coffee or fruit juices, could buy sandwiches and sweets and chocolate. Many of the tea ladies were cherished characters with witty repartees or storehouses of appreciated gossip or interesting in some other way. They were all characters. Of course, if you were really thirsty you could take the lift down and walk across the esplanade that used to exist to the Rotonde bar. However, as those still in the Berlaymont know, it’s quite a trek to get from the end of one arm to the central core of the building, let alone to go down and out. I forget when the tea ladies were phased out – perhaps it was in the late 1980s? In any case, at some stage the Commission built a press centre in the Berlaymont and that became the new target, for the press bar served ‘proper’ coffees. When the Commission moved out to the Bredyel building something similar happened. Although there was a bar upstairs it was a well-known fact that the best coffee was to be had in the press bar. Now I have drifted from tea ladies to coffee bars. If I don’t stop I’ll start to reminisce about the sixth floor bar that used to exist in the Committees’ own Jacques Delors building when it was still occupied by the European Parliament. For a long time it was the only parliamentary bar and by hanging about it for long enough you could be guaranteed to meet pretty much everybody, staff and MEPs alike.