Today Sophie hosted a beautiful High Tea at her house for her 23rd Birthday, with the special guest appearance of a birthday cake made from The Woman's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. Sophie's mother (hereafter referred to as the Legendary Mrs Hall) had provided the following to make her daughter's guests feel as if they were safe amongst the hedgerows and moors of Somerset or Devon:
The Legendary Mrs Hall's Menu:
Cucumber sandwiches, ham sandwiches and cheese pastries.
Chocolate slice and scones, jam and cream.
A cake from The Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book and matching cupcakes.
Iced tea, champagne, juice, tea and coffee.
The party was exclusive and gracious, the Legendary Mrs Hall and Mr Hall fabulous hosts and the food was top-notch nosh. The cheese pastries were tasty, the cucumber sandwiches tart, the chocolate slice rich, the scones bite sized and the marshmallow icing on the dense sponge cake and cupcakes heavenly.
Amongst the quiet chat and delicious food I was reminded of my first Christmas in London. I was working for the Evangelical Alliance and my workmates each extended a warm welcome to me to join them for Christmas celebrations to take the place of my missing family. I accepted two invitations, one on Christmas Eve and one on Boxing Day.
Christmas Eve was a tea at Gill’s house, a short stroll across the Common to South Wimbledon. Tea was taken in a long wallpapered parlour with a log fire, sparkling Christmas tree, plump couches, three couples with a handful of children and a hyperactive Labrador. I enjoyed being in the midst of a family again, especially the kids, as I had begun to miss my cousins quite a bit.
My hostess presided over two teapots from which I had no less than seven cups of tea.
Despite being a Britophile, and one finally in Britain, I was still a reluctant tea drinker at the best of times, although in the various English households I had been a guest in since my arrival I had learnt to drink it in larger quantities. When in Lewes with Elisabeth I had experienced for the first time the tea tray, ever present in the living room, poised and ready for tea every two hours. Christmas Eve with the children and the Labrador I drank a record number of cups of Lady Grey tea and it is still my favourite, my sister buying me loose leaf Lady Grey for my birthday this year.
To my delighted Australian eyes the food itself had been pure Enid Blyton:
Ham and mustard sandwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches, jam sandwiches and cheese scones with gentleman's relish.
Crumpets, meringues, chocolate cake and gingerbread men.
The two pots of tea impressed me beyond measure, I’m not sure if you noticed.
That evening was something unique and fulfilling for me; listening to the conversation, watching the dark through the windows past the Christmas lights and watching the Labrador pacing too and from the kitchen as Gill replenished her teapots. It was exactly what I had imagined English life to be like.
Boxing Day lunch with Carol was in Streatham, the first time I had ventured outside of the Tube Map into the more beautiful parts of London. The Ashley-Smith’s had a house with the one thing I still had not set eyes on, a real English back garden. It was long and hedged, it held a vege patch, an orchard, and to my mind foxes and fairies. That day I learnt what happened to the leftovers of the vast English Christmas dinners (turkey SO many different ways) and I was taught to play bar billiards by Carol, her mother and her 80-year-old Grandmother.
Tramping around the garden with Carol’s father, listening to the stories of Streatham as the resting place of shepherds bringing the flocks from the Sussex Downs to London and scoring 1000 points in bar billiards in a warm parlour with three generations of Englishwomen was wonderful and still a treasured memory.
So although today prompted many memories of good times in London, there was an even stronger reminder of why I am here, now, in Perth. The cake, as previously mentioned, was from The Woman’s Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. This book is an integral part of the childhood memories of many children across Australia. For my own siblings and I the Birthday Cake Book represented Nirvana, cakes that we could dream about, but that Mum would never make. We would sit around it for hours, lovingly cataloguing the endless shapes, icing, lollies and toys that turned each cake into childhood fantasies of racing tracks and swimming pools.
I got to see my first genuine Women’s Weekly Children's Birthday Cake at 26, and not a moment too soon! Life is good.