This weekend, we got up quite early to get our items ready for collection. We dragged a king-size mattress to the end of the drive by the pavement and piled on eight old chairs that we hadn't been able to give away and which were taking up valuable space in the greenhouse. There was a manky, large and very heavy nylon carpet which I had used to kill the weeds in the veg patch a few years ago, a bundle of brittle bamboo canes of varying lengths, quite a lot of woody hedge prunings and a couple of broken casserole dishes. We stood on the pavement to admire our impressive haul and husband disappeared indoors to get some cold refreshment while I hurriedly stuffed some more hedge prunings into bags before the muncher arrived. I heard giggling behind me. "Chrissie, it's next week."
We needed cheering up a bit after we dragged our mini Steptoe's Yard back down the drive. So we decided to go for a drive through one of our favourite areas of Cambridgeshire. "Are we anywhere near Grantchester?" I enquired after we'd been driving for about half-an-hour. "We could be" came the reply, "Are you thinking of a visit to the Orchard Tea Gardens?" That man is a mind-reader. The tea gardens were established early in the last century at a time when Rupert Brooke and his chums were lodging in the area and writing poems and having earnest discourses. Students would punt up the river from Cambridge for a refreshing cuppa and it became a haunt of Virginia Woolf, even Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes have consumed the odd beverage there.Husband didn't complain at all when we arrived at the village and found that most of the population of East Anglia had got there before us and were queuing for a cup of tea, but I think some irreverent sprite invades him just when he oughta say no. We joined the queue and instead of being really British about it all and silently shuffling along, husband decided to read, out loud, some of Rupert Brooke's poems which he'd found in a leaflet provided by the tea rooms for the entertainment of long queues. Not only did he read the poems but proceeded to give them a robust critique too. I was just hoping that anyone within earshot was a visitor to these shores and couldn't understand a word he was saying. When we finally got close enough to the counter to see the scones and clotted cream, he changed his tack. "60p for a teaspoon of strawberry jam!!! Let me get the bank manager on the phone and check my overdraft facility." Mock horror. That kind of thing. I had to laugh.
It had been 25 years since I'd visited the tea gardens and my memory was of a ramshackle old hut, mismatched china and a few tables and chairs spread out under the apple trees. Things have changed. There is a corporate theme now - green wooden tables and canvas deckchairs, matching white crockery, black plastic trays. Unfortunately, it was such a blazing hot day, all the shady spots had been taken and we sat in the full glare of the sun to eat our cream tea and watched our foil-wrapped butter-pats run away into greasy puddles. Husband wished he'd picked a scone with raisins in. He wondered if there was honey still for tea and was it ten-to-three yet.