Saturday, 22 February 2014
Afternoon Tea? Why Don't You?
We had a fabulous afternoon at Luton Hoo last week. Luton Hoo is a large mansion house, which is now a five star hotel, on the borders of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. It has some stunning formal gardens designed by Capability Brown and is surrounded by glorious parkland and meadows. We were delighted to have received a Christmas gift of an afternoon tea there from our friends Ilaine and Richard.
The present house was built in the 18th century, which makes it a perfect venue for a traditional English afternoon tea seeing the concept of 'afternoon tea' was developing at this time; however, it was during the early 19th century which really saw a rapid rise in tea consumption, as the upper classes increased the tradition for serving afternoon tea following a trend set by Anne, the seventh, Duchess of Bedford. She started taking a light meal of afternoon tea each day, then started asking her friends to join her. This soon developed into her throwing big afternoon tea parties and this trend soon caught on amongst the upper classes and everyone began throwing afternoon tea parties.
The demand for tea increased greatly, resulting in the 18th century clipper ship era, where regular tea runs where made between India and China by ships like the Cutty Sark, which is now based in Greenwich, London.
Eventually, as people began to travel more and more, many of the big hotels began to serve afternoon teas and tea shops began to open up everwhere. A traditional afternoon tea usually includes a range of sandwiches, various cakes and scones, jam and clotted cream, typically served with loose leaf tea in a pot and sometimes a glass of champagne.
Nowadays we still enjoy our tea and cakes amidst our busy lives as we stop to enjoy a break from shopping or sightseeing. It is more of an occasional luxury or treat though to be able to get dressed up in your glad rags and enjoy an afternoon tea in a large country house or fancy hotel together with a glass of champagne.
We had been really looking forward to this, getting all 'poshed up', visiting a historic house and enjoying a treat of sandwiches, cakes, scones, tea and champagne. We weren't disappointed. The service was very attentive and we felt well and truly pampered. They presented us with a beautiful platter of cakes and scones and as I am unable to eat various foods because of my poor immune system they went out of their way to provide sandwiches that I could manage. They offered us a selection of various teas, brought as many fresh pots as we needed and even poured it for us! Then we rounded off the feast with a relaxing glass of champagne. I am allowed a glass of alcohol now and again and it's nice to be able to relax and enjoy one now that I'm feeling much better than I have for years.
It had been a very stormy day, but as we were ready to leave, the sun was peeping through and shining on the stunning gardens. We could see the sweeping view through a very tempting pair of glass doors as we left, so we decided to venture out there and explore, as usual, a camera to hand. The sky was looking stormy and at the same time very spectacular as the late afternoon sun was about to set. It cast a beautiful red glow over everything.
We wandered around the gardens, admiring the views and I was deep in thought about what it would have been like to live in those grand old days of glamorous afternoon tea parties - I think I had been enjoying myself too much, had got myself into the spirit of things and have watched a bit too much of Downton Abbey! I was abruptly brought back to earth as I skidded on the slippy pathway: the paths have suffered with all the wet weather and were mossy and slippy and I did have my high heels on after all! Luckily my balance is back and my legs are strong again following my transplant and I managed to save myself from falling.
Returning to the 21st century once more, I suddenly realised how different life is today. I wouldn't have survived my illness if I had lived back then as there were no such things as Hickman Lines and no medicines for Pulmonary Hypertension, no technology: in fact Pulmonary Hypertension wasn't even heard of. It is only a recently identified illness and work is still in progress to find more effective treatments and a cure. Fortunately for me, the drug Flolan had been developed and it helped stabilise me until I could receive yet another feat of modern medicine and science, my transplant.
I think we are blessed to live in these times and I couldn't help but feel, yet again, as we continued to walk around the grounds, how lucky I have been. A truly modern day woman, in my own quirky way, and not through fashion, not through lifestyle, but with what I always carry within me.
As I looked up to the sky and saw the red glow of the sun shining out through those dark storm clouds I thanked my donor and their family once again that I am able to enjoy these precious moments in life. Somehow it seems an aptly timed moment after such a perfect afternoon.