Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Tea Party

Yesterday I saw my sister at the airport bus, baked two cakes and did a lightning tidy of the Historical Flat. At three I put on a dress and some lipstick and then leaned out the dining room's round window to look for my guests. They came in a throng, all but one in hats and all in pretty skirts or dresses. It was reminiscent of another age, too, as the one guest my age chaperoned the girls through the woods. I had sent pink invitations by post: it was all very girly.

When I was twelve or so, the book of books was Little Women, and of course I wanted my life to be like Jo's, only without the dying sister and the Unitarianism. Eventually I came to the sad conclusion that Life in Books was completely incompatible with Real Life, no matter how many ideas for games and plays I adopted from the great LW. For one thing, there were no girls around like those girls to be friends with.

My conclusions have been overturned by better acquaintance with homeschooling Catholic families. Parents who strive with might and main to give their children classical educations and protect their vivid imaginations from the stultification of pop culture perform a wonderful service for society by producing truly interesting and entertaining young people. The good influence of these children on other like-minded Catholic children is quite apparent, too.

Normally tea parties--wherever tea parties still happen--are conducted in the parlor, sitting-room or drawing-room, but it was an unusually hot and muggy day for Scotland, and I thought it would be too taxing on my young guests to have to practice the traditional balancing act with the cup and the cake plate. We had our tea and cake in the dining-room instead, with the round window wide open, and the seven of us around the table.

The table had two cloths--a thick pale gold washable damask and a paler gold lace hand-crocheted by my mother which I never, ever use for dinner parties, for fear of wine stains. It also held two cakes: a chocolate Victoria sponge, which is the standard British butter-sugar-flour cakes, with chocolate buttercream icing and a low-sugar nut-flour cake of my own invention covered in whipped cream. Both were decorated with fresh strawberry halves. There were also two pots of tea--English Breakfast (black) and liquorice (herbal)--and a carafe of cold water, as the day was so hot.

I would have liked to have had the party in a certain secluded corner of the garden, which is very green and surrounded by trees and hedges, but it was terribly wet from the morning's thunderstorms and more thunderstorms were promised. Perhaps I can have a party there another day.

The dining-room party, in which eldest sisters were addressed as Miss [Surname] and  younger sisters as Miss [Christian Name] [Surname] struck me as very Edwardian, although our eventual withdrawal to the sitting-room was incredibly Georgian. (It may have been the only party in my life in which everyone agreed to a precedence protocol, beginning with the Senior Married Woman Present and the Youngest Unmarried Woman following obligingly at the end.) Once in the sitting-room, the pianoforte was opened, and the musical young ladies played their best memorized pieces. Then songs were sung, poems were recited and a French fairy tale told (in French). It was easy to imagine that, had there been any men present, the furniture have all been pushed to the sides so that we could next dance a quadrille. (This assumes, of course, that any men of our acquaintance would have the foggiest clue what a quadrille is.)

At a quarter-past five I remembered that I had to buy ingredients for my husbands supper, so I accompanied my guests through the sun-dappled woods to the most convenient bus stop. The girls did not seem any the worse for having consumed the greater part of two cakes, and I had the agreeable sense that my party had been a great success. I had also been very well entertained by all the music, recitations and stories of Guide camp adventures.

Since then I have found a very large button which I believe belongs to Miss T's raincoat and a green ribbon, so I will keep them until I see their owners at church.

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