Monthly Archives: November 2012

High tea

The Coeliac version of high tea

‘High tea’ is commonly known around the world as a dignified outing where refined people partake of their tea and sandwiches with perky pinkies outstretched. But, in the late 18th century ‘high tea’ was instead a hearty evening hoe down for farmers and working folk who downed meat, cheese and eggs with gusto, and scoffed bread and cake with their pinkies firmly tucked in. ‘Afternoon tea’ was another meal altogether and it’s what we have in mind when we order our English Breakfast with milk. Allegedly, the Duchess of Bedford had a hard time getting through the evening’s entertainment program without having a little something beforehand (it seems lunch didn’t really exist – only breakfast early and dinner rather late). The Duchess started inviting people round for tea and scones before heading off to the theatre and thus afternoon tea was born.

And grateful we are for it! I adore afternoon tea but for such a genteel activity, high tea in my experience has often been hilarious, interesting, fascinating but rarely genteel.
Here are three of my favourites:
The Lobby, Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong

They actually call it afternoon tea here!

There is an airport bustle feel about such a dignified place. Amongst the lofty pillars and gold leaf, there is laughter, clatter, chairs scraping and cutlery clunking. Everything is run with remarkable efficiency – clockwork precision. Things arrive, flutter and land on the table: tea and then the compulsory three-tier cake stand.

I watch enthralled as a middle-aged fellow sits down at a table alone. He has a big smile on his face which lights up further when his cake stand arrives. Then, he takes out his video camera, holds it in his left hand, and turns it on himself while he scoffs a scone with his right hand. He practically smacks his lips with joy and closes his eyes with pleasure. He then gives a running commentary in a foreign language and I have enormous fun imagining what he has to say.

Tiffin Room

Tiffin Room, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The Raffles Hotel is all those clichés – majestic, regal, palatial. The white columns are solemn and beautiful, and the colonnades are a cool and subtle oasis in the constant humidity. So there’s something particularly galling about having to line up outside the door of the Tiffin Room like riffraff lining up  for a hip nightclub on a Saturday night. Ok, the clientele are decidedly older and more conservatively dressed but otherwise, there’s that same buzz of excitement and boredom, anticipation and annoyance.

This was my first high tea as a Coeliac (no gluten usually = no cake). There was no cake. But there were sweet little jellies, chocolate dipped strawberries and blueberries and cream which were – no other word quite fits – delightful. The sandwiches were sound but the extensive, steaming, delicious looking buffet that called to me like a siren was off limits. Reasoning with myself that I had missed out on scones, I greedily dared to ask the waiter, ‘please sir, can I have some more?’ and was duly rewarded with more sandwiches made with the chef’s ‘secret recipe’ bread – so delicious that at first I thought they weren’t, in fact, gluten free.

The Tea Rooms, Gunner’s Barracks, Sydney

The Tea Room

Surely this is one of the only places in the world where you have to guard your plate against swooping kookaburras stealing your smoked salmon sandwich. One swept onto the balcony, quietly but clumsily snagged a morsel, sending crumbs scattering and hands waving, and then took it back to a tree only meters away and smugly ate it.

This was a decidedly hilarious afternoon tea. My friend and I decided that the one (very camp) waiter, who made a (suitably camp) fuss over us, did everything in this restaurant. We decided that he was not only serving the tea and coffee but making it as well, and quickly donning a lace-edged white apron to make the sandwiches. He was out of the room when some smooth crooning suddenly came through the stereo system. We fell about laughing thinking that he’d taken on that role too and was singing into a microphone in between tea top-ups. We cried with laughter. I was actually in danger of throwing up all over my Royal Doulton and it was only the thought of that that subdued me a little.

Information souces include (but not limited to):

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Itinerary: Adelaide to Singapore to London to Madrid to Malaga

Bubion, Sierra Nevada mountains, Spain

I hope you read that title and groaned in horror. It was bad. Primarily because every now and then, whilst travelling in a plane, I suddenly have a freak out and think I’m going to plummet violently towards earth and my death (see flying-high). When I’m not having a freak out I find plane travel incredibly, monumentally, and stupendously tedious.

Following are edited excerpts from the journal I kept during my first solo travel overseas.  

June 25 Adelaide – Singapore

Terrified but happy.

When I checked my luggage in I asked ‘Is this backpack actually going to make it all the way to Malaga?’. The attendant smiled cheerfully but looked doubtful; ‘It should’. She sounded apologetic.

I’m pacing myself. I have 30 hours of travelling in total. I’ve managed to just sit for an hour doing nothing at all. This morning the woman at the shop counter routinely wished me a good day. I grinned back and practically shouted, ‘It certainly is a good day – I’m going to Europe!’. Because it’s not often you get to say that. I could tell though, that she didn’t care.

Still June 25 Singapore Airport

I feel fine! I still have to board another three planes but so far, I’m fine! No freak outs!

I love travelling on my own. You don’t have to worry about any judgements about, say, lying on the floor (like so) or joining other people’s toddlers in a compact game of indoor soccer at Gate 568.

But I like to talk and no one will talk to me. The fellow on my first flight sat with a giant newspaper held up in front of him for about 8 hours.

I live in fear of hearing DING DING DING ‘Passenger Tina, please see an airport attendant at Gate Lounge 42’. Who are these insubordinate passengers? Actually, I know of one whose departure time was changed, who missed hearing her name over the loud speaker and who was frogmarched out of  a duty free store and told the plane was waiting just for her and that she had better run.

In transit. I’m on my way to somewhere else. Malaga apparently. I’m in fine spirits!

Still, I’m afraid, in Singapore Airport. Still June 25.

I’ve not gone far at all – Terminal 2.

It’s almost midnight. It’s been a long day. ‘Day’ here is loosely defined as a set of hours.

London, Heathrow

Small freak out:

Mid-flight, whilst flying over the ocean, someone decided they’d had enough of plane travel (in fact, I distinctly heard her say ‘Right, I’ve had enough’ and I sympathised), marched boldly down the aisle and started rattling the exit door. The lady beside me clutched her husband in terror and whispered ‘We’re going to die’. But the attendants were on it straight away, man handling the lady back down the aisle. Perhaps to be sedated and/or restrained?

How do I get hold of those sedatives? Because I was shaking for some time afterwards.

I’ve only slept four hours. Turns out, camomile tea is not as potent or effective as commercially manufactured sleeping tablets. Especially with rivers of adrenalin coursing through your veins, triggered by the fear of imminent death.

And I’m sure I’ll never see my luggage again.

London, Heathrow. Still. June 26? 25? 27?

I’m constantly being told to ‘wait in the lounge’. I’ve started repeating it out loud which is not a good way to make friends. I’m still ok. I’m just F…ING BORED OUT OF MY GOD DAMNED MIND.

And I still have yet another two flights….

London to Madrid. Late June.

People keep saying ‘good morning’ to me which means very little at this point. I’m seriously starting to lose it now. I don’t know what to eat, when to eat it or even why or how. I’m looking forward to having a significant conversation with Connor, the guide for my walking tour, who’s collecting me at Malaga Airport. Was it the domestic or international terminal? What time was he coming? Oh my God. What if I show up at the domestic and he’s waiting in the international and he waits there for three hours and decides I’ve changed my mind and leaves and I don’t have any hotel or contact numbers or currency or probably my luggage.

I’d like to sleep now. A long long nap.

Why am I going through this mild torture? Ah yes. For a nice relaxing holiday.

Madrid then. Waiting for Malaga flight.

Surely this is my lowest point. The domestic terminal is eerily silent, except for a Spanish rendition of the song ‘Mull of Kintyre’ being piped over the loudspeaker. Which I find so absurd and unlikely, that I start to hum along. Rather loudly. There’s nobody here anyway. As far as I can tell, I’m the only person going somewhere today.

I haven’t eaten for hours now – I could not stomach another fetid, rancid plane meal. My ears are ringing and crackling and whistling. NO MORE PLANES.

Oh go on then, one more.

I’ve put on some lipstick. I feel better.

Malaga airport, waiting for Connor, shit scared.

So the baggage carousel stops going round. It was empty. Everyone had taken their bag and gone. Everyone except me.

So. Looks like my backpack didn’t make it.

I walk towards a large, glassed in, official looking office and wander inside. There’s no one in there but there are a number of suitcases. I decide to check if my bag is here. This is the state I’m in – I’m travelling with a big soft black backpack half my height. However, I proceed to check the luggage tag of every case there: a bright green Benetton case, hard red leather rectangular suitcase, a tapestry carrybag with a zip, and regular black trolley suitcase with easily identified yellow ribbon. I earnestly flipped over every luggage tag looking for my name.

No luck. Crest fallen.

Then the baggage carousel again started up behind me. I wander out again and watch, incredulously, as just my little backpack pops out and dutifully comes around to meet me. I take it, look around, shrug, say ‘thank you!’ quite loudly and wander through the exit.

Do I have anything to declare? Just my sanity.

Bubion, a village in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

Connor walked up to me in the airport and asked if my name was Tina. I looked at him seriously and said, ‘I’m not really sure anymore’.

He steered me into the back seat of a van in which two other tourists were already happily sitting waiting. ‘How far away to the village’, I ask? ‘Oh, only three hours’. Clearly my deeply distressed facial expression indicated I might pass out at this news: ‘Just have a little lie down’, he said. ‘We’ll be there in no time.’

I was asleep before he finished that sentence.

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