Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Too good to eat . . . !

Did I tell you that I’d been invited to a strawberry tea at the House of Lords? No, I don’t think I did. I agree that it seems totally unlikely, something way outside my normal orbit, but thanks to the kindness of a dear friend, and my participation, many years ago, in the launch of . . . but no, you don’t want to hear all this. Let me tell you what happened today. There is also a story to make you laugh, but that comes later.

The tea was to launch ‘The Village Well’ - an inspiring and innovative social enterprise project. Our host, a Lord who was himself a GP and a keen supporter of complementary medicine, had invited about fifty guests, and we were to present ourselves at the House of Lords at three-thirty. When you’ve always looked upon the House of Lords as no more than an imposing backdrop to sweep past in the bus, there needs to be a considerable mental shift when you find yourself approaching, invitation in hand, in the role of potential guest. I mingled with the other guests on the pavement, all of us trying to look worthy of the splendour of the occasion, but finding it hard to curb our excitement. At three-thirty, on the dot , I displayed my ticket at the door and was formally ushered in.

The whole event was moving . . . and memorable . . . and magnificent . . . The surroundings were mind-blowing. You didn’t want to be there as a guest, you wanted to be a fly on the wall so that you could just stand back and drink it all in - freed of the need to converse and the anxiety that you were in the right place and doing the right thing.

The first ‘right place’ was the splendid room where we assembled for drinks. Heavily ornate, it demanded robes and flunkeys, not a crowd of eager tea-goers in their best summer clothes. The tea took place in a room overlooking the river. In no way could you forget where you were as a vast window offered panoramic views both up and down the Thames. And, if you weren’t hypnotised by the scene out of the window, your attention was captured by the splendid ceiling. Draped with fabric, and hung with chandeliers, it transformed the room into a fabulous Eastern tent.

Never have I met more people whom I really wanted to get to know - fascinating people from all over the world. People of all faiths and all walks of life. A most impressive woman who had worked to get complementary medicine accepted as part of the NHS in Northern Ireland. Another estimable woman who worked with long-term prisoners and their families. A very engaging man who persuaded me to get his new book on the scientific origins of God! And our lordly host who insisted, most courteously - and, I’m sure, without really knowing who I was - that he would love me to come again!

Before leaving, we were offered drinks on the terrace. The boats chugged past below us, in the distance the rays of the evening sun reflected on the dome of St. Pauls. Way beyond . . . was that the Gherkin? What an incredible view! What a privilege to be there. As we stood, sipping champagne under the slowly revolving gaze of The London Eye, no-one could have doubted that The Village Well had received the launch in deserved.

And now the quiet chuckle I promised you. I've only one regret (and don't repeat this because it makes me look terribly greedy!) but we really didn't do justice to a magnificent tea. Oh, I've never seen a more delicious and more lavish tea. There was every conceivable type of sandwich - all small and delicate; there were bowls of strawberries and bowls of cream; there were mouth-watering scones; there were stands of the most appetising and elegant cakes . . . yet no-one seemed to want to eat anything. I know that they were all eager to discuss the project, but it is possible to eat and talk. And, as I saw it, it was positively ungrateful to send such exquisite food back again.

So I started passing it round . . . I handed the sandwiches to the neighbour on my right . . . the scones to the neighbour on my left . . . I did my utmost to persuade them that it would be ungrateful to leave it all. But leave it - or most of it - we did. Not a single cake was eaten, half the sandwiches remained on their dishes, and bowls of strawberries remained untouched. I can't eat strawberries because of the acidity, but it did seem a shame. Mind you, I did have one of the scones with cream and jam and a lighter, more delicious and mouth-watering scone I've never tasted!

But, I don't know, perhaps it's better to come away visually satisfied (and it did look so beautiful), with not a trace of indigestion and not a whit of extra weight, than to have made a thorough pig of myself and regretted it afterwards!

Driving home in the bus, my mind strayed to the hope that perhaps those beautiful cakes and scones were not being wasted after all. Perhaps, at that very moment, they were providing an unexpected and welcome supper for the fish and wildfowl of the Thames.
Alas, I doubt it!