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The Tiger

from The Tiger Who Came to Tea

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By Sophie

A photo of a girl with her face painted as a tiger

It’s Sunday. It’s around six o’clock. I’m sitting cross-legged in front of the gas fire in the sitting room, and I’m about to tuck into a crumpet, saturated with butter. Mum and Dad are pouring their tea. It’s just like every Sunday evening – the ‘back to school’ feeling encroaching as the clock ticks towards bedtime. But maybe – just maybe – this Sunday will be different. Maybe a tiger will come to tea.

Teatime was a staple feature of my childhood. And I mean a proper tea. Not a fresh fruit or vegetable in sight. If you’re going to have tea, then do it properly. I’m talking about carbs. Crumpets, muffins, hot cross buns (when in season), teacakes, pancakes, fruitcake, Madeira cake; if there’s cake in the name then you’re on the right track. Other useful criteria:

You can spread butter on it.
You can toast it.
It has little to no health benefits.

A tea like this tended to take place on a wintry Sunday evening, with the curtains drawn against the dark and the drizzle outside, and the fire casting a cosy glow within. It represented all that was familiar and safe in my childhood. It was warm. It was comforting.

When I read Judith Kerr’s ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’, it transformed this cosy familiarity by adding a touch of the extraordinary. Funnily enough, I didn’t come across many tigers growing up in the Glasgow suburb of Bearsden. I suppose the climate wouldn’t agree with them, and they would create quite a scandal with the locals. So the idea that a tiger might turn up for tea one Sunday caught hold of my imagination. It added a touch of magic to the mundane, and a frisson of excitement to my Sunday tea.

I had other storybooks that took me to more exotic places, and books where the characters went on grand adventures but, for me, ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ was more exciting. The idea that something so extraordinary could happen without even leaving the house fascinated me. It made my ordinary childhood feel more special, and unpredictable in the best possible way.

There was another bit of magic printed on those pages – the little girl who the tiger chooses to visit. Her name is Sophie. I felt like the book had been written for me, and the tiger and I were fated to become friends, if only for the duration of one teatime.

So I would settle down in front of the fire. I would fill my plate and enjoy the moment of anticipation before the first bite. But I would also listen out for the doorbell, just in case we had a visitor waiting at the door. Large, orange, stripy, and very hungry.

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.

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