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FROM THE ARCHIVES View From The Valley


WHEN AUNTIE CAME FOR AFTERNOON TEA


by Elvira Adams D


uring my childhood days, back in the 1930s, just before the outbreak


of World War II, going out for tea was the norm. When my parents moved to their new home, in 1936, my mother became friendly with a few other young housewives and young mothers and it was the polite custom to invite each other back for tea.


My mother had a friend, although no relation, whom I called ‘Auntie’. Every Wednesday, she would call over to our house for tea. She arrived exactly at 4 p.m. and would leave promptly at 6 p.m., just in time to catch her bus. In turn, my mother would be invited to tea with Auntie every Friday. In preparation for Auntie’s visit, my mother would spend a day baking cakes and pastries. The dining room would be polished and the table laid with a starched white linen tablecloth - our special linen was always sent to the laundry, collected on a Monday and delivered back every Wednesday morning. The table would be laid out like a banquet adorned with the best china tea service and canteen of cutlery - a wedding present - a glass jug and glass tumblers and a two-tier floral cake stand, which took pride of place in the centre of the table and would overflow with the cakes and


pastries my mother had baked. She was an excellent cook and took great pride in her jam tarts, fairy cakes, rock cakes and apple turnovers. On an oblong plate would be sandwiches with cucumber, cheese and egg filling. Jelly and blancmange would fill a deep glass bowl. During World War II, we had a similar dish we called ‘junket’. Tinned fruit would also be laid on, which Auntie ate with lashings of cream. The table would be surveyed to check that nothing had been forgotten and the final touch would be the napkins - again white linen - rolled up and placed through napkin holders.


About an hour before the


bus delivered Auntie, my mother would change into her best clothes, and my hair would be brushed, my face and hands scrubbed and my best dress would come out too. My mother


was the perfect hostess and after tea we would all settle down for some friendly gossip. My mother and Auntie would usually exchange recipes and talk about their hobbies of embroidery and knitting. I would sit and listen and feel very bored but became more interested if the subject of 1930s’ art deco was mentioned. I remember that Auntie had a lovely collection of pretty art deco vases, which, these days, would be collectors’ items. Just before it was time for Auntie to catch her 6 o’clock bus, I would be invited to get involved. Because I loved poetry, I would be asked to recite the latest poem I had learnt, then, once Auntie had left, my mother would switch the wireless on at 6 p.m. prompt, so that I could listen to The Ovaltinies. During the war years, we


were sometimes forced to take tea in the Anderson shelter! For 50 post-war years, the


routine of Auntie calling over to our house for tea continued until both she and my mother passed away - sadly within months of each other. I have fond memories of those days and to this day I can still hear Auntie asking me if the milk should be poured in before or after the tea!


(This article was first published in Bedfordshire County Life - [summer edition 2009, number 45]).


www.countylifemagazines.co.uk


County Life 23


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