Every year I help out at my best friend Jo Fairley’s charity cream tea – see my friends Sally and Rima working on the tea table above.
This is a magnificent event, which Jo and her husband host in their glorious garden, using Jo’s vast collection of vintage tea sets, table cloths, cushions and patchwork quilts – many of which I was there when she bought them, on the many junketeering jaunts we’ve shared since we met over thirty years ago.
In fact I first came to Hastings, where I now live, with Jo in about 1986 on a junk shopping mission from London. We found so many treasures that day the car could barely make it back up the hill to town.
Many of my precious purchases – Cornishware jugs, gold framed mirrors and the like – came to live with me in Sydney, when I moved there and have now come back to Hastings. Which I find a little bit spooky.
Anyway, back to the cream tea. It’s great fun, especially working with another volunteer on the tea pouring table – an experience so particularly British, it inspired a scene in my last novel Everything Changes But You.
It all happened exactly as recounted – except it was me and my friend Natasha wielding the huge tea pots (heavy!) rather than a 23 year old Aussie girl and a dashing Englishman of the Hugh Grant genre – which she calls ‘Pom Poms’.
I’ve put the extract at the end of this post.
This year I was on scones, which isn’t quite as fraught as tea – except for a tense moment when it seemed we may have run out of cream. Luckily, Natasha was on the next table over – jam and cream – and found another stash.
It was a perfect English summer’s day, as I stood under the dappled shade of the mulberry tree this year, and the weather helped to attract a bumper crowd. That was great, but every time I tried to nip away from my post to take some pics, another ten people seemed to turn up looking for their scones, so I didn’t get to take any.
Big thanks to Susan Turner for coming to my rescue – via Facebook – and supplying some great shots. https://www.facebook.com/NealsYardRemediesGuildford?ref=hl
The big numbers led to record proceeds. Between the door charge and the takings from a bumper raffle of beauty products, from Neal’s Yard Remedies and other lusciousness, they raised £1,700 for the excellent charity Thrive, which enhances the lives of disabled people through gardening.
Here’s Amy on the raffle table.
If you’d like to add to the fune, here’s the link. http://www.justgiving.com/Josephine-Fairley/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=Josephine-Fairley&utm_campaign=pfp-share
Everything Changes But You
Ali was laughing so much she had to lean against the mulberry tree to
catch her breath. Dominic was being so funny and naughty she hadn’t
expected that. Not only was he the ideal Pompom poster boy, he cracked
her up laughing too
To be fair she had been close to hysteria to start off with, the whole
scenario was so perfectly what she’d imagined and she thought she
looked spot on for it in the floral vintage dress she’d borrowed from
Hannah, although it was a shame she hadn’t actually had the white
lace gloves and parasol, as they would have been the finishing touches.
Mind you, she’d had to abandon the straw hat pretty early on,
because it kept catching in the low-hanging branches of the mulberry
tree their serving table was set up under. Plus the wide brim made it
hard for her to get close enough to Dominic to hear the hilarious things
he was muttering – and getting close to Dominic was the whole point
of the exercise for Ali.
In that over-excited state, she did know that even the most mildly
amusing remark would probably have set her off, but the things he was
saying about the people who came up for their tea were so wicked it was
just cracking her up. It was the way he managed to say them under his
breath while simultaneously charming the punters with his Pompom
smile that was so naughty.
‘Do you think I should offer them some tea made with the tears of
virgins?’ he whispered after one lady was surprised they couldn’t offer
her any Lady Grey and another expected Lapsang. ‘And brewed in the Holy Grail?
Using the Turin Shroud as a strainer . . .’
Every single person who came up seemed to have a different demand.
I like it good and strong, thank you. Oh, very weak please. Have you
got any skim milk? Soya milk? Goats milk? Do you have any green
tea? Herb tea? Darjeeling? Assam? Decaffeinated? It got to the point
where Ali wanted to hug every customer who just smiled at her and
said, Lovely, thank you, when she handed them a cup of plain English
breakfast teabag tea.
Then there were the ones who wanted the milk in first and the ones
who wanted it in second. Ali had started off putting milk in all the cups
that were out, to save time, but Dominic had tactfully suggested that
might not be a good plan, explaining there was a distinct difference
between the taste of tea which had the milk in first, or second, and
Brits were very thingy about it.
Ali looked at him in disbelief.
‘You’re joking, right? You Poms are freaks about tea. It’s just milk and
tea – how can tea and milk be different?’
‘I don’t know, it just is.’
‘Which do you like?’
‘Oh, milk second,’ said Dominic, as though it were a stupid question.
‘I’m going to try it,’ said Ali and she poured some tea into a cup,
then added milk. She took a mouthful and swallowed. ‘Right, that’s
definitely tea, with milk.’
Then she poured some milk into a cup, followed by the tea and drank
some. Her eyes popped open wide and she turned to look at Dominic.
‘It does taste different,’ she said, amazed.
‘I told you.’
‘It’s sort of creamier if you have the milk in first.’
‘Yes,’ said Dominic, ‘that’s exactly why I prefer it the other way, you
want the tea to dominate, not the milk.’
Ali’s hoped she hadn’t sighed too obviously. So he had a gourmet
After that there was a major rush as what seemed like hundreds of
people arrived in the garden at once and for a while it was all they could
do to keep up with the constant stream of people wanting tea and refills.
Then along came the lady who really set Ali off.
‘Don’t you have any coffee?’ she asked crossly, looking at all the
pretty tea cups and saucers laid out on the table, as though they were
something quite nasty.
‘No, just tea today,’ said Ali as brightly as she could, thinking, just
tea, at a cream TEA, are you NORMAL?
‘I don’t drink tea,’ said the woman, as though Ali had insulted her
by even suggesting it. ‘I’ll have some plain hot water.’
‘I’m afraid we don’t have any of that,’ said Ali, feeling the giggles
starting to rise in her like a belch you can’t keep down, ‘they just bring
us out the pots of tea and we serve it . . . There’s some squash in the
jugs there, if you’d like some of that.’
‘I don’t drink squash,’ she replied, now looking really outraged. ‘So
I’ve paid £5 and I won’t even be able to have a drink!’
‘I’ll go and get you a glass of water, if you like,’ said Ali, ‘and there are
lovely scones with clotted cream and home-made jam at the next table.’
‘I don’t eat cream,’ said the woman.
Ali turned away quickly to stop herself screaming with laughter and
immediately caught Dominic’s eye. He had clearly heard the whole
exchange and looked quite delighted by it.
‘Oh dear,’ he said, in his most grandiloquent Pompom tones, ‘so you
don’t drink tea and you don’t eat cream and you’ve found yourself at a
charity cream tea . . . Life’s a bitch sometimes, isn’t it?’
He was looking at her so innocently – and so bloody handsomely – she
clearly couldn’t tell if he was being rude or not, even though the particular
emphasis he had put on the words ‘cream’ and ‘tea’ must have
resonated with her. He’d rolled the ‘r’ in cream quite luxuriantly. Ali
couldn’t hold it any longer, she ran round to the back of the mulberry
tree and bent double laughing. She had tears running down her face.
After a couple of minutes, she peeped round the corner of the tree
trunk to check if Mrs Grumpy had gone, to see Dominic grinning at
her and gesturing for her to come back.
‘It’s all right, Ali, you can come out now, she’s gone to ask if they’ve
got any scone-free scones. I don’t eat scones,’ he said, in such a good
impression of her snippy voice, it set Ali off again.
If you’d like to find out what happens between Ali and Dominic, you can buy Everything Changes But You here