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During my travels through America I was surprised by the number of people who raised the subject of afternoon tea. For Americans who had never visited the UK, this appeared to be their abiding image of how we spend our leisure hours, sipping from china cups and nibbling on thin sandwiches. A friend in San Diego thought the British were terribly civilised for making time during the day for a snack and idle chitchat. Clearly he had not read any Agatha Christie novels as characters are always being bumped off during teatime.

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He did hit the mark with the sociability of chomping through an afternoon’s worth of cake. According to Afternoontea.co.uk, the Duchess of Bedford invented the concept in the early 19th Century. Apparently until then the British only took two meals in the day (if they were lucky), breakfast and dinner. The Duchess set a trend and soon her peers were posting out invites to hang out and gossip over cups of char.

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London is awash with hotels and venues that charge a premium for what is basically lunch in miniature form; however, I’ve always enjoyed hosting my own. Recently I took my love of afternoon tea to a new level by catering for some 30 people. It was my contribution to the lovely charity Contact the Elderly, which organises Sunday afternoon tea parties for the over 65s. Volunteers pick up the pensioners and drive them to a host’s house, where a spread is laid on.

While the food is important, it’s the company that really matters as for some of the elderly guests this is the only social event they will attend that month. This was my first tea party, and rather a special one as we had the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s string quartet playing. The reason we were blessed with such grand entertainment is that the musicians had volunteered to play at one of the parties. So far no one had the space but as I was hosting the do in my local church hall, Holy Trinity Centre, here was an opportunity to take them up on their kind offer.

Given the number of guests, I was grateful to fellow volunteers, and friends from the Forest Hill Mums Facebook group, who helped out with providing food and hosting skills. I made some rather tasty fairy cakes, but alas the pictures of which were accidently wiped from my camera!

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Picture taken by the talented five year-old Brooke, the daughter of one of the volunteers!

I cannot urge readers enough to get involved with the charity. Not only is it a fun social event for all involved, you also meet some remarkable and interesting people. One of the guests, George, was a former professional musician who had lived a life worthy of a movie.

It’s just a few hours of time to prepare and host a party, and although we were fortunate to have the string quartet, I’m sure the elderly guests will be just as happy with a nice civilised chat.

 

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