These days, weeks and weeks into Life-with-Covid 19, I crave a nice quiet dinner with people I know, tea parties with friends, or a chinwag in town over a good cup of coffee and a fresh-from-the-oven buttered scone. And I can’t have any of them.
Instead, I’ll settle for memories of a tea party from a few years ago, when we met with good friends to celebrate a couple of birthdays. No tea shop for us, but instead a jaunt on the Wensleydale Railway, a Heritage Railway which runs in normal times through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales .
As we rattled along, enjoying countryside views, smart serving staff plied up with elegant little sandwiches, properly fattening cakes, and the all-important scones served with jam and cream. And tea, of course. And prosecco.
It’s not often that afternoon tea with all the trimmings includes an ever-changing bucolic view through the window.
Oh, I’m so glad you’re here – welcome to my little party. Look, I’ve made coffee already, but if you’d prefer tea, I’ll pop the kettle on. Darjeeling? Ceylon? Do you prefer milk or lemon?
I was hoping you’d come along, so I’ve baked a cake. I thought carrot cake would kid us into believing we were having one of our five a day, and this recipe from the Guardian looked good . But I’ve got biscuits too: I made these with teff flour in case anyone’s gluten-free, but I love the slightly malty taste.
I hope Su will come along. These virtual tea parties were her idea. Is my carrot cake like yours, Su? And Jo. Jo always appreciates a slice of cake, though usually at the end of one of her Monday Walks. Which aren’t happening anywhere just now. Kiki wangled an early invitation, so … come on in! We don’t have to practice social isolation on line. Let’s have a good time!
What could be more quintessentially English than tea and cake? What could be more quintessentially English than fundraising with tea and cake?
Hire the village hall. Get the Good Ladies of the Parish to closet themselves in their kitchens, dig out their favourite recipes, don their aprons and get stuck into a couple of hours combining butter, flour, sugar and eggs with favoured additions such as chocolate (got to have a chocolate cake), lemon (got to have lemon drizzle cake), coffee, walnuts (got to have a coffee and walnut cake), dried fruit (it would probably be a criminal offence not to offer scones), and any other pièce de résistance that the accomplished home baker can offer.
And on the day itself, friends, family, passers-by, readers of the Parish magazine will all be tempted to drop in and cheerfully while away a half hour or so with a slice or two of cake, or even the makings of a light lunch, all in pleasant, light-hearted company. All talk of calories and healthy options is banned. This is waistline expansion in a very good cause.
On Saturday, we gallantly took ourselves over to Fewston Village Hall to support our sporty friends Barbara and Tim. The cause? Almscliffe Tennis and Bowling Club. Now what could be more English than bowls?
‘Everything stops for tea’. Not if you take it on the train it doesn’t. Just imagine. You and your fellow guests are seated at an elegantly appointed table covered with a damask cloth. Here are china cups and saucers, heavy cloth napkins, weighty cutlery. Before you, a Proper Cake Stand, prettily stacked with sandwiches (cucumber, of course, but also egg mayonnaise, ham and chutney and so on), two kinds of scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam on the side, and properly English cakes: chocolate cake, sponge cake, cream-filled meringues, tiny eclairs. Attentive and charming service. Unlimited pots of tea, of course too .
We were on the Wensleydale Railway, at the invitation of Susie and Pete, old friends from France and currently visiting England.
This is a heritage railway, staffed by volunteer enthusiasts, with engines and rolling stock from earlier times. Our carriage had been built in about 1913, at the behest of the infamous director of the Titanic who dressed himself as a woman in order to make his escape from the sinking vessel in a lifeboat. Our tea time experience was masterminded by the Institution at Bedale.
Our tables were ranged down the middle of the carriage, enabling us all to have views of Wensleydale as we sat enjoying our tea. The train chugged steadily along the track, offering views quite different from those available to us as we travel by road, or walk along country footpaths. We were in another less hurried age, and enjoyed passing through little stations, past signal boxes pressed into service once more when trains like ours are on the move.
At Redmire, we had to dismount as the engine chugged away to turn round and pull us back once more to Bedale. We had time to admire the rolling stock.
Our steam train was off for repair. This youngster dates from the 1960s.
This was afternoon tea at its finest: a leisurely experience enabling us to put present worries aside, just for a couple of hours.