Saturday, October 22, 2005

High Noon Tea

Today I’m feeling slightly nauseous, and it’s not only because the boy who lives downstairs insists on smoking pot on his front doorstep in the rain. Some advice to late night tokers who live in high density housing in subtropical regions: limit your habit to days on which the wind will snatch the evidence of your illegal activity away from your neighbours who are trying to breathe while they wash their dishes.

The main reason I feel queasy is because I have ingested too much sugar. Today I met up with a friend in the city to celebrate the recent return of her PhD from her examiners, complete with glowing reports that have not asked for any corrections. The traditional celebration may well be to hit the nearest bar and consume copious quantities of champagne—a fine way to toast a hard earned achievement—but for an alternative, or even another occasion to add to your celebration itinerary, may I suggest the ritual of the high tea?

There has been plenty of time to contemplate how to mark the point from which L_____ will ever after be known as Dr H_____. She has resisted being congratulated since submitting her thesis back in May, wary of stories she had heard about people who had been asked to resubmit their Doctoral project as a Master’s (That is quite frightening!) Dr H_____ was unconvinced when I pointed to the fact of her brilliance, and the attention to the detail of her work paid by her supervisor, as some kind of insurance against failure or resubmission. While the second examiner took their sweet time sending a report, there has been time enough to examine various options for a celebration.

The high tea was the preferred option because neither of us had partaken of one before thus making it a suitably special experience for the gravity of the occasion. I asked at one café that had lots of flower covered chairs and polished wood if they served a high tea. The woman there said they didn’t get much call for them, although they had the makings, if not the tiered cake stand presentation. Can it be called a high tea if it isn’t, well, high? I didn’t think so; that would make it just tea. And isn’t part of the ritual the feeling of being waited on with selected dainty morsels? Surely having to make a decision for one’s self undermines the whole nostalgia for the high Imperialist moment?

I found another place with regally cushioned booths and the requisite polished wood that had all the details of the high tea worked out for the plebeian class who were unsure of the minutiae of the ritual. We parted with enough money for the set fare and were served with a glass of champagne to settle in with, a necessity to toast the achievements of Dr H_____. Then the waiter arrived with the tiered stand that stretched so high we could only catch a glimpse of the delicacies on the top level. Dr H_____ eyed the uppermost tier and asked whether it was compulsory to start at the bottom level, which held asparagus and smoked salmon wrapped in soft brown bread and secured with toothpicks. While it’s true that part of the attraction of the high tea was its sanctioning of the consumption of multiple desserts, I thought that champagne would go better with asparagus and we should at least attempt to exercise some restraint. On the next level there were chicken mayonnaise ribbon sandwiches and individual quiches, which also go very nicely with wine of the sparkling variety. Did I mention that it was already 11.30 and neither of us had eaten breakfast in anticipation of this event? In such circumstances, champagne only travels in one direction, and that is straight to a teetotaller’s head. I still had a third of a glass of wine after I’d eaten my share of the savoury items and since I wanted to drink tea with the sweets that I couldn’t wait to eat, I swiftly drank the remainder of the glass. I wasn’t so bad, just a touch light-headed.

On the most heavenward tier there was, for each of us, a mini lemon curd tart; a chocolate butterfly cupcake; a heart-shaped biscuit sandwiched together with jam and topped with pink and white icing; and a scone with portions of jam and cream. We requested the Earl Grey tea be served, pausing to marvel at the artistry of the little creations before devouring them.

And then we slipped into insulin-induced comas.

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