My friend Delia tells me that we will be able to assess the standard of the Afternoon Tea we are about to be served by whether or not the crusts have been cut off the sandwiches. We avidly await the arrival of the sandwiches,
not only to check on their crustlessness (is there even such a word?) but because we have both foregone a large lunch for the sake of of our stomachs.
We are here
in the function room in Worthing’s historic Dome to partake of Afternoon Tea with a little over forty other people, all of whom lead groups for the local U3A (University of the Third Age.) I lead two groups, Nomination Whist and Singing for Pleasure
(jointly with my friend Sue) but this only entitles me to one Afternoon Tea, not two. I’m not complaining, though, I am most gratified that we group leaders are being rewarded for our efforts. Even though the pleasure of running a group is all ours.
The round tables each seat eight people and Delia suggests we take up a position at one of the tables near the back of the room. I briefly contemplate the fact that, were
Mr B with me, he would have insisted on arriving half an hour before anyone else in order to secure the Best Seat In The House. On entering the room, he would have made a bee-line for one particular table nearest one of the windows, pushing past anyone who
dared to block his path. Having bagged our seats he would have turned to me with a gleam of accomplishment in his eyes and said: “Don’t I always look after you?” Not noticing my embarrassment at having had to apologise to everybody
he had trampled on in pursuit of the Perfect Position. As it happens, there isn’t such a thing as the best table, as far as I can see, and our table has a good view out into the sunshine through the Dome’s beautiful windows.
Our table is set with a charmingly eclectic mix of pretty tea cups, saucers and plates, none of them matching. It’s as if somebody has raided Granny’s china cabinet and
rescued all the odd remains of tea sets she has accidentally smashed over the years. I speak, not in criticism, but as one who still mourns the china I have broken in my years of marriage; in my glass cabinet I have a single, beautiful Royal Doulton milk jug,
the sole, sorry remnant of the tea set we were given as a wedding present. At one time I started collecting milk jugs, mainly as a way of making it seem that its solitariness was on purpose, rather than (quite literally) by accident.
The waiters and waitresses start circling the tables with pots of tea and I, inveterate coffee drinker that I am, decide to “take tea” on this occasion. Afternoon Coffee
simply doesn’t have the same ring of truth about it, now does it? My tea cup, though extremely pretty in design, is somewhat on the small side so I keep having it refilled over the course of the afternoon, hoping nobody is noticing my Prolific Requests
for a Top Up. Three large plates of finger sandwiches (yes, indeed, all perfectly crustless) appear on our table and Delia and I peer at them in a bid to work out the fillings. I do wish I was the kind of person who just takes what’s on offer gratefully
and doesn’t need to know what I will be eating. For one who is Always Thinking About Her Stomach, I can be quite remarkably unadventurous when it comes to the humble sandwich.
One plate is the fishy plate - smoked salmon and tuna sandwiches; another is the meaty plate - beef and ham with mustard; the third is the veggie plate - egg and something else I never managed to work out. One of the problems with being seated at such
a large table is that the plates, having travelled around the other guests, invariably end up out of reach at the other end of the table. I sit plaintively eyeing up the egg sandwiches (my favourite) hoping somebody will notice my egglessness (yet another
word which probably doesn’t exist) and pass me the plate. Delia is having none of it and sensibly asks our fellow guests opposite to hand them over. Obviously not in so many words, you understand, Delia is nothing if not polite.
Finally the scones, with jam and clotted cream. We all tuck in with gusto and nobody, thankfully, starts off on that age-old argument about which should be first, the jam or the cream. It really is
far too pleasant an afternoon for an argument.
There is something about Afternoon Tea, don’t you agree? Something quintessentially British, so very
Another cup of tea? Don’t mind if I do...