Afternoon Delight

via Daily Prompt: Tea

Last week, my niece Amber celebrated her seventh birthday. She told her mum that, instead of a party, she would like to go for afternoon tea at an upmarket local hotel. It’s one of those places with a gym and a pool and Amber had seen the Afternoon Tea menu advertised one morning when her mother took her swimming. We all thought this request was out of character, as Amber is the archetypal tomboy. If she’s not playing football or being Spiderman, she’s climbing trees and having fun with her two dogs. But the menu choices seemed to have mesmerised her and her mind was firmly made up.
The whole family, well, the distaff side, turned out, dressed to kill and ready to hit the dining room. There was Amber, her 11-year-old cousin Cara, mum Maggie and me, Auntie Noreen, Granny Brigit and Great-Auntie Josie. Talk about competitive! The two seniors had donned wedding hats and brandished their handbags like weapons, and Amber even wore a dress – unknown!
In the dining room, we could almost inhale the gentility. Flowers were everywhere, dahlias and gladioli, in sparkling containers brimming with greenery. The table linen was as gleaming white as Granny Brigit’s new dentures. Our chairs were noiselessly adjusted by smart young waiters as we were seated, conversations hummed around us in muted tones, spoons really did tinkle against fine bone china. It all felt a bit like an Agatha Christie murder mystery was about to kick off, so much so that I found myself peering round to see if there was any sign of Jane Marple or the immaculately French Hercule Poirot. But no, there was only our excited little party and a dozen or so other ladies, taking tea at tiny tables, waited on by a contingent of attentive waiting staff.
Until. We had oohed! and ahhed! over the neat pyramids of wafer-thin sandwiches, the light crumbly scones with oodles of jam and cream, and were dreamily contemplating the heavily-laden cake stand – chocolate and cholesterol heaven – when HE arrived. Our daddy, Brigit’s ex, Willie.
Picture the scene. A mature – 85 next birthday – stocky chap, short in stature but making up for it in havoc potential, paused in the doorway. It was like an alien had entered the chintzy room and every female’s eyes swivelled to check him out. Willie wasn’t wearing his glasses – vanity being another of his main attributes – and seemed to be having some difficulty in focusing. Our entire table groaned, before turning to concentrate on the contents of the cake stand.
Except Amber. Reverting to her usual demeanour, she leapt to her feet and yelled, ‘Grandad! We’re here! Just look at the size of our bloody chocolate eclairs!’ The very room seemed to gasp. Grandad followed Amber’s call, weaving his way through the seated ladies, occasionally nodding and winking, coming close enough to hover over Cara, eyeing the unfamiliar bevy before him with something resembling incredulity.
‘Is it you, Brigit?’ he eventually blurted. ‘Is that you? What’s wrong with your face? You look like a tomato plant!’
As one, we turned to look at Granny Brigit. To say she’d turned scarlet would be an understatement. She swayed to her feet and removed her primrose hat, crumpling it against her green twinset in short fat ring-festooned fists. She’d gone from tomato plant to velociraptor in the space of five seconds. Fiery sparks shot from her eyes in Willie’s direction.
‘I invited you,’ she growled. ‘I distinctly remember asking you to come. But you said you’d a snooker match at the club. Too busy playing with your coloured balls to come to your grand-daughter’s party. And what in the name of God is that you’re wearing?’
She’d done it now. Everyone in the room stared at Willie’s turquoise silk jacket, peach chinos, yellow paisley cravat and engineer boots. The fact that he is only sixty inches tall and had his hair slicked back like John Travolta in Grease seemed to somehow complement his choice of outfit. ‘He looks like our old Andy Pandy with a quiff,’ I whispered to Maggie, who glared at me and tried not to giggle at the same time; no mean feat.
‘It’s not the party, Granny,’ Amber piped up. ‘The party’s tomorrow. Today is afternoon tea.’
‘Afternoon tea?’ Willie’s eyes widened to a zombie stare. He gripped the back of Cara’s chair, threatening to tip her out of it and onto the parquet flooring. ‘Don’t they serve any proper drink in this fancy shebeen? I’ve not got done up in my best gear for bloody afternoon tea!’
A rush of activity ensued and Willie was surrounded and rapidly seated by the smooth young waiters. As though by magic, a pint of Guinness appeared on the gleaming tablecloth beside the waiting chocolate fancies. Willie smiled and chucked Amber under the chin. ‘That’s more like it, you know what your old Grandad likes, darlin’, don’t you?’
Amber looked at him innocently and nodded. ‘Yes, Grandad, football and drinking and snooker and chips and golfing and…’
Cara dived in to change the mood. ‘Would you like a scone first, Grandad? Before your drink?’
Willie thought about this. He looked around the table, taking in the mixed expressions of the adults and the trusting young faces of the two girls. ‘Well, if there’s no chip butties on offer, I suppose I could risk a scone.’
Beside me, I felt Millie relax. Across the table, Brigit’s face still threatened war, but we knew that she wouldn’t spoil her granddaughter’s special day. The ladies at the other tables had lost interest, sensing that no fireworks were going to be set off, and returned to their muted gossiping.
Amber picked up a china plate and loaded it with a huge fruit scone, a pot of thick cream and a tiny jar of strawberry jam, before handing it to her Grandad. She waited while he prepared his feast and took a bite before turning to Maggie, her expression serious.
‘Next year, Mummy, if we come for afternoon tea, I think we should all wear fancy dress, like Granny and Grandad. I’ll be Spiderman.’

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Sport? Not by any definition.

Today I am making Paella. I’ve got chicken pieces, prawns and Chorizo sausage. It should be easy – how hard can it be? It’s only a sort of risotto with protein in, instead of my usual mushrooms. I’ll tell you how it turns out.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with my liking for flesh. I won’t lie, I love nothing more than a crispy bacon butty, a nice thick rare steak or a succulent piece of salmon with pasta. But something on Twitter recently stopped me in my tracks. It was a whale hunt, taking place in the ocean around the Faroe Islands. The first post I read, last week, was about a mother and baby pilot whale, a type of dolphin, who’d become separated from their pod and, seemingly, escaped the hunters’ nets. But not for long, as a photo showed all too graphically. Mother and baby, dead, laid out side by side on a blood-soaked beach. That day, the Twitter post informed me, 193 animals had been slaughtered. For sport. I moved on quickly to the next post and put the image out of my mind. It was nothing to do with me, after all.

But a day or two later, there it was again, further news of how the hunt was progressing and the shocking information that nearly 1000 Pilot Whales had been killed by this hunt in just two months. Nearly one thousand dolphins. I had a mental picture of them, rounded up, trailed to shore in the nets thrashing and trying to escape, to save themselves and their young. Then suffocating on the beach, before the ‘sportsmen’ – read ‘killers’ – arrived with their clubs and their lances, the surf turning red. I couldn’t ignore a thousand dead dolphins: I opened the attachment and read further details. It appears that the whale carcasses are used to provide food for farmed salmon, you know, the type I buy, once a week, in the supermarket. I don’t know why this should have affected me so much, killing whales on an industrial scale, for sport and to fatten captive salmon, to feed me and other people like me, just ordinary people, who enjoy a bit of fish once or twice a week. I didn’t know about this annual slaughter: did you?

Why did it trouble me? I thought of the dolphins I’ve seen, off the west coast of Ireland, surfacing, splashing their tails, swimming alongside the tourist boats with their calves. Maybe they were Pilot Whales, dolphins, maybe not, does it matter? They were just alive, happy, splashing along, going somewhere, wherever it is that dolphins go, but not expecting anything like a boatload of hunters – ‘sportsmen’ – to be waiting, planning their deaths on an industrial scale.

I think I’ll cook the mushrooms.

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Eddie the Edible Dormouse

Now, serendipity is all well and good, but do you really believe in it? I didn’t, but then it appeared, just like that, as WordPress prompt of the day. Edible. If you’re a food blogger, you might have occasional reason to use this word, but only if you think your recipes are, perhaps, a bit iffy. Iffy is another satisfying  word, the much-used English phrase, a bit iffy, meaning something not entirely wholesome or desirable. What about that one for prompt of the day? But, forgive me, I digress…

The Edible Dormouse, which sounds a viciously cruel title, came to visit us in France last week. His proper name is Glis glis, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is much less exciting then his nickname.  But, look up Edible Dormouse on Wiki and you will find him there. The first time I heard of Eddie was when he was mentioned by a friend who has lived in France for about 20 years. ‘Edible Dormice?’ I said, disbelieving, ‘are you pulling my plonker?’ At this point I should perhaps apologise for using another English colloquialism. Although I’m sure you will get the general gist. Oops! More slang and digression…

This friend explained that GG had been farmed and eaten by the ancient romans, among other early europeans. To add insult to injury, they were mainly consumed as a snack, not even as the entree.  Poor little blighters, I thought, though I must tell you, having now met an Eddie, they are not so little. About the size of a decent hamster, and looking a bit like a small squirrel. Our meeting occurred when he dropped in, literally, I think from the beams in the kitchen, onto the fridge, where SOMEONE had left a couple of dog treats.  Not a bit frightened, and definitely not camera-shy. You can see him for yourself, below. Cute little chuffer, isn’t he? Apparently, they like to settle in and make themselves at home…

 

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Don’t Lose that Holiday Feeling

You know how it is…you go on vacation, have a great time, swear that you’ll change when you come home, talk to your family, drink less, dump the junk food, exercise more, ignore the small stuff that winds you up and makes you a grumpy bear. Then you come home, and reality bites. We’ve all been there, for sure. How is it possible to hold onto that optimistic vacation mood when you’re back in the rat-race, when the morning alarm sets you in motion for the day, when you’re working for the man or, increasingly, you don’t even know who you are working for? What then, Happy-Chops, or should that be, Sad Face?

Well, I’ve been thinking about this: there must be a way to keep smiling, or at least stop living out your days behind a clenched jaw and gritted teeth. No, I don’t mean win the lottery, or inherit a fortune and an island in the Caribbean, though that would be pretty awesome. And this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Stop predicting

No-one does this more than me: I am the original prophet of doom. Even though my predictions are generally way off, I always think I ‘know’ what’s gonna happen. This is so wrong: nobody knows. So don’t do it. Just stop it, okay? Wait and see. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Think new day, every day

Okay, so yesterday was a bummer and gave you a headache. And today you’re not going to take shit from anyone. But, you know what? Today might just be the day someone smiles at you and treats you like you’re a human being. Or you could reverse this and try using the smile technique yourself. It’s amazing the difference a little friendliness and politeness makes. It’s positively contagious, and I mean positively. Try it, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. And it works, too.

Don’t give yesterday’s hurt a free ride

You know how sometimes you are so pissed off about something, you just can’t stop thinking about it? Even though you can’t change it or control it? So, what happens is, you are so intent on replaying your pain that you don’t leave any room for a little joy to sneak into your day. So, thinking that one through, how are you ever going to feel better, to feel happy again? You’re just letting the pain take you over. And that hurts, you know how much. So here’s what to do. Allow yourself one hour a day to obsess on the cause of your unhappiness, no more. Set the alarm if necessary. After 60 minutes switch the thought off. You can go there again tomorrow, and the next day, for as long as you need to. But I think what you will find, if you do this and don’t cheat, is that each time you will need less time to relive your pain. And what does that mean? You will have more time for joy. And that’s a good feeling, right?

I’ll come back to this topic again, so check in from time to time and let’s see if we can keep smiling together.

Happy Holidays!

 

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Hunters’ Feast

We joined the local hunter’s club for their annual feast yesterday. For six hours we dined on fresh produce, venison, local cheese, cakes and wine in company with around 100 local hunters and their families. A delightful, friendly, fun day, with much warm hospitality and good humour.

The meal was conducted at a leisurely pace, with breaks for the odd unexpected fanfare from a little chap with a genuine French hunting horn, a surprisingly competitive tombola – after which widespread swapping of prizes took place – loud snatches of song and lots of franglais with our nearest diners. Spontaneous outbreaks of applause rippled around the large dining area: I have no idea what prompted these but we joined in merrily, clapped and cheered along, presumably to thank the organisers, the chefs, the horn-player, the singers, the waiters-on and the clearers-away. And, of course, the bold hunters for providing the huge amount of game in the first place. I am no gourmet and have not previously eaten much venison, but theirs was succulent and wine-soaked and very delicious. Even the Bambi jokes didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

 

 

En Vacances…

Here we are, week two in La Belle France. Phew! What a scorcher! is an understatement. Since we arrived, there has been permanent Caricule (heatwave), with warnings on the autoroutes and elsewhere to take care and not do anything too taxing in the heat. So going in the garden has been restricted to the hours before midday and after 6.00 pm. Talking loudly and laughing like maniacs, both of which we tend to do after a few beverages, result in exhaustion and require a lie down in the cool cellar.
We were invited to a BBQ last evening and enjoyed it immensely. There were several nationalities present, in alphabetical order: Australian, British, Dutch, Irish. Fascinating to hear all the different cultures comparing notes on food, customs, language, etc.. Why on earth are we even considering leaving the EU? It’s lunatic, is what it is.

Green Shoots

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Could it be? Is Spring really on the way? The snowdrops have been decapitated in the recent winds, the daffs are nestling in their fat, papery cocoons, waiting for the whistle, and the begonia my sister sent me for Christmas is displaying new leaves. It’s quite an event when I don’t, by default, kill off a plant. I was sure it wouldn’t last, but here it is, Lent’s begun, and it’s still alive, shooting up, as they say of adolescent boys and drug addicts, though not with the same optics.

I love Spring. You can see where you are, for one thing. I could never live in Sweden, even though I worship Agnetha and Anni-Frid. And Bjorn Borg. Can you imagine anything worse, six months of near-total darkness? Or am I thinking of the Arctic circle? Could be, though the thought of cold and ice would probably drum out any worries re darkness. Never mind, here in jolly old Albion we have the proper four seasons, lucky us. Each has its own joys and wonders. Spring can be truly delightful, with crocus fields, bluebell woods and an end to your drippy nose.

Summer often results in the odd sunny day, the occasional butterfly, ladybird and even a bee or two. Not so hot that you have to leave your vest off, or anything, but pleasant, good for attempting a little weeding and washing winter’s smears off the windows. Don’t make the mistake of doing that in Spring, as it’s only too likely that winter hasn’t really gone away.

Autumn is lovely, with chestnuts and mushrooms and crunchy leaves to stamp on and the magnificent colours of tree foliage. That’s if the trees haven’t all been removed from the local avenues by the council, as ours recently were, to keep down the cost of renovating the roads. Such nonsense. Use my council tax to maintain the trees and start subsidising public transport again, you cretins. I will not start a rant about trees combatting air pollution, but I expect you know where I’m coming from.

Winter, I’m afraid, isn’t much fun. We don’t often get ‘proper’ snow, the kind you can build snowmen from, the kind that allows you to stay off school or work because all the roads are blocked by mountainous drifts. We get cold, wet weather in winter these days, with icy roads and pavements in the mornings, just to upset people who are already upset because they have to go to school and work, instead of tobogganing and throwing snowballs at the neighbours.

Still, at least they’re not in Malmo.