The Tiger Who Came To Tea was first published in 1968. Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr, the classic picture book has long been ripe for a satirical re-write. Thanks to Thalia Kehoe Rowden, we have just that.
Once there was a little girl called Sophie, and she was having tea with her mummy in the kitchen, a room her mummy never seemed to leave.
Suddenly there was a ring at the door. Sophie’s mummy’s heart skipped a beat as she hoped for a visit from an adult – any adult – to help her feel less alone.
Sophie’s mummy said, “I wonder who that can be. It can’t be the milkman because he came this morning. And it can’t be the boy from the grocer because this isn’t the day he comes. And it can’t be Daddy because he’s abandoned us to enjoy adult company, respect, and fair pay for his labour. We’d better open the door and see.”
Sophie opened the door, and there was a big, furry, stripy tiger. The tiger said, “Excuse me, but I’m very hungry. Do you think I could have tea with you?” Sophie’s mummy said, “Of course, come in,” because the patriarchy had conditioned her since childhood to serve the needs of others.
So the tiger came into the kitchen and sat down at the table, like he owned the place.
Sophie’s mummy said, “Would you like a sandwich?” But the tiger didn’t just take one sandwich. He took all the sandwiches on the plate and swallowed them in one big mouth full. Owp! Sophie’s mummy began to be very worried about how she would make the weekly housekeeping allowance stretch if her unwanted guest continued like this.
And he still looked hungry, so Sophie passed him the buns, like a good little girl, ready to serve all males of any species, even if it meant she would go hungry.
But again the tiger didn’t eat just one bun. He ate all the buns on the dish. And then he ate all the biscuits and all the cake – Sophie’s mummy needed to eat her feelings, so she had catered accordingly – until there was nothing left on the table.
So Sophie’s mummy said, in a parched whisper, “Would you like a drink?” And the tiger drank all the milk in the milk jug and all the tea in the teapot, without having any consideration for those who were serving him.
Not satisfied with rudely eating everything on the table, the tiger then looked around the kitchen to see what else he could find. The womenfolk, of course, said nothing.
He ate all the supper that was cooking in the saucepans… and all the food in the fridge… and all the packets and tins in the cupboard… and he drank all the milk, and all the orange juice, and all Daddy’s beer – Sophie’s mummy’s gin was well hidden from Sophie’s Daddy – and all the water in the tap.
Then he said, “Thank you for my nice tea. I think I’d better go now.” And off he went, without offering to help tidy up, of course.
When Sophie’s mummy woke up from her mid-afternoon nightmare, channelling her desperation as an oppressed victim of the capitalist patriarchy, she realised she had been too angry and depressed to do any housework or cooking all day, and she damn well wasn’t going to start now.
Sophie’s mummy said, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve got nothing for Daddy’s supper. Perhaps we can trick Daddy into suggesting we go out for tea.”
And Sophie found she couldn’t have her bath because Mummy couldn’t face cleaning up puddles on the floor today, and surely it was good for everyone’s microbiota to wash less often, anyway.
Just then Sophie’s daddy came home. So Sophie and her mummy told him that a tiger had eaten all the food and drunk all the drink.
And Sophie’s daddy mansplained, “I know what we’ll do. I’ve got a very good idea. We’ll put on our coats and go to a café.” And Sophie’s mummy was relieved that he thought this was all his own idea.
So they went out in the dark, and all the street lamps were lit by invisible workers, unappreciated by the patriarchal overlords, and all the cars had their lights on, and they walked down the road to a café.
And they had a lovely supper with sausages and chips and ice cream, because Daddy liked being the good cop, and didn’t trouble himself about sensible nutrition – that was mummy’s job.
In the morning Sophie and her mummy went shopping as an outlet for Sophie’s mummy’s emotional torment, and they bought lots more things to eat.
And they also bought a very big tin of Tiger Food, as a reminder of how to get through another day of drudgery.
Thalia Kehoe Rowden is a former Baptist minister and current mother and development worker. She writes about parenting, social justice and spirituality at Sacraparental.com.
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