Richmal Crompton was big on high teas.
William Brown would poke his grubby visage around the door of the drawing room to find his sister Ethel and boyfriend nibbling cucumber sandwiches and sipping tea from bone china tea cups with Ethel’s little pinkie set at a jaunty angle.
I’m pretty sure the Famous Five had good high teas too. I remember questioning mum closely on why we didn’t have ginger beer or luxury multi-course breakfasts with cream in the porridge or high tea including unheard-of delights including meringues.
“Why don’t we have mer-in-gews?” I whined.
” You do sometimes. We pronounce them mer-angs,” she said. How we laughed.
In the Welsh valleys, it’s still the case that dinner is at dinner time (lunchtime) and you have your tea at tea time – the time that, as a kid, your mam called in to eat the main meal of the day. We didn’t have crusts cut off. You were supposed to eat crusts to make your hair curl. Scones didn’t exist back then. In Wales, even now i suspect, your ability as a cook is judged exclusively on your roast lamb, your gravy, your Welsh cakes and your iced custard tarts.
The Ritz started this high tea thing. Friends who have taken their parents report that you have a set time in which to enjoy your substantially priced dainty treats before you are kicked out for another set of people to leave expensive crumbs.
This kind of top-notch afternoon repas has percolated down to the provinces to the extent that any cafe with a high-rise set of plates will stick a sandwich and a scone on there, call it high tea and charge you three times the price.
But (and it’s a big iced but, sandwiched with jam and perched on the very top of an eye-watering heap of home-made buts) in spite of all that, I found myself seated with two women pals at a Welsh hotel anticipating high tea last Saturday.
The room was full of women stuffing their faces with delectable sweetmeats and nattering. There was only one bloke apart from some of the serving staff.
It was all a bit *prissy* with too many waitresses and waiters and a bewildering array of teas – black teas, green teas, white teas, fruit teas, Chinese teas. You could have as many different sorts as you wanted – but in reality, you only had room for two pots.
If you were catheterised and your bag was attended to regularly, you could have worked your way through at least half a page of teas but as it was, two pots sufficed.
There was an enormous fuss about the high rise calorie stand which was brought to the table and it was explained at length and with some reverence what every dainty morsel consisted of. There were bits of quiche and savoury creamy whirls on toast at the top while the delicate sandwiches were on the bottom tier. In between were the cakes, which didn’t need much explaining. Ane fule can tell a Bakewell from a Manchester Tart.
It all started well, although if I had been on top form, I would have had prosecco or champagne as well as tea.. but as the time went by and we demolished a goodly proportion of Calorie Mountain, we began to flag.
“More tea. Need a break!” gasped one pal.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to get through it all. They give you a doggy bag to take home,” said my other pal, slightly waspishly, I thought.
The idea of taking some of it home was a surprise to me, as I was steadily munching my way through it all plus demolishing the smoked salmon sarnies and the prawns which nobody else liked. I thought I did pretty well considering I’d had a week of being ill.
But hey, even I have my limits. I am totally Woman Versus Food when it comes to spare ribs but with cakes, you do have to be careful because after the massive joyful sugar rush comes the devastating sugar low and the need to nap for a couple of hours.
After the Cage of Calories (Cage Aux Folles would have been appropriate if you were trying to lose weight) was finished with – plus the strawberries and cream – it was time for the final course, the warm scone with butter or cream and jam.
Actually, that was the nicest of all and that, in its simplicity, would have done me but by then we were all too stuffed to appreciate it.
Elegant gluttony with posh shoes, several pots of tea and a really good long natter set us back nearly £30 each.
To be honest, I probably won’t do it again.
Next time, it’ll be warm Welsh cakes. Can’t beat ’em.