Tag Archives: afternoon tea

The Swarthy Gent in the Panama Hat

We left Maisie and her friends, way back in October, fidgeting and worrying about the Swarthy Gent due to call upon Maisie the following day.  The story continues..

After a restless night during which Maisie was convinced she had no more than a few snatched minutes of sleep, she was awakened by Jackson with her morning tea and the morning newspaper.

Usually Maisie was content to lie abed and sip her tea while reading the newspaper, but this morning she had too much on her mind to settle.  So she asked Jackson to pour her bath and having drunk the tea repaired to the bathroom to attend to her morning ablutions.

Dressed, she descended the stairs to breakfast.  This over she decided to call her friends to confirm that they would be with her well before the appointed time for Fotheringham to call.  They each assured her that they would and Juliet suggested that they have lunch together at a new tearoom that had recently opened in the area.  Imogen agreed with this suggestion and so it was decided.

None of the three friends felt like shopping even for new hats and so they met at the tea room at the appointed time and it was a subdued trio who sat down to a light lunch.

Lunch over they retired to Maisie’s house to await the arrival of the guest.  They were still worrying about him and the reason for his calling upon Maisie right up until the time of his arrival.

Promptly at 4pm the front door bell rang, followed by the tap-tap of Jackson’s feet on the tiled front entry.  This then was followed by Jackson’s knock on the door of the drawing room.  The gentleman had arrived and Maisie instructed Jackson to bring him in.

What a handsome fellow he was and how gallantly he greeted each of the ladies in turn.  He appeared just a little surprised to see three ladies instead of the one he expected.  However he quickly recovered his equilibrium.

Jackson was instructed to bring tea and while they waited for this they indulged in the usual small talk about the weather (very English), what friends they had in common but no talk about the depression or the recent stock market crash.  Ladies did not discuss such disasters.

Tea arrived and when all had been served, Maisie decided to take charge of the meeting.  She expressed her surprise at the intrusion into her life of a complete stranger and in her usual straight forward manner asked him what he wanted.

Thomas Anthony Winston Fotheringham, aka “Billy” Fotheringham was unused to being addressed in such a forthright way by a lady and spluttered into his tea cup.  When he had recovered his breath he said that what he had to say should probably be told to the Countess of Waverley in private.  “What nonsense” snapped Maisie.  “Whatever you have to say may be said in front of these two ladies”.

“Well then,” countered Fotheringham “the truth of the matter is that I am the illegitimate brother of your husband, the Hon Reginald Benton-Smythe.  His father had a liaison with a local woman in India and I am the result. ”

He went on to say that Major Thomas Fotheringham had been the old Earl’s batman and when the pregnancy was discovered, he accepted a large gratuity from the Earl in exchange for staying in India, marrying the pregnant woman and bringing up the boy as his own.

Can you imagine the looks that passed between the three ladies at this news?  They were stunned; almost incoherent.  “But that’s not possible”  and “How could that be?” and “Reggie’s father would never do anything like that”.

Through all the spluttering and exclamations Billy Fotheringham sat unmoving with a small, sardonic smile playing around his mouth.  He assured Maisie that he was indeed her brother-in-law and proposed to remain in London making the most of this family ties.  Maisie was horrified.  What could she do to stop Reggie being ruined and his father and their family name being dragged through the mud.

“Just what do you expect to get out of this preposterous tale?” she enquired in an imperious voice; the voice that had been known to shrivel lesser mortals in their shoes.

“Just what is mine by rights” was the reply.  “And in case you are asking I can prove my claim.  I have come into possession of a pack of letters sent by your father-in-law to my mother.  And I have the deathbed confession of the man who I always thought was my father.  These things are irrefutable and are available for inspection by you, your husband or any other reputable person you wish to name.”

“Are these papers in your possession now?” enquired Maisie.

“Would I be foolish enough to carry them around with me when London is full of footpads and pickpockets?  No, they are in a safe place where only I can get ahold of them.  So what do you want to do now?  Do you want time to discuss it with your husband and father-in-law, or can we make a deal between us?”

The effrontery of the man quite took away Maisie’s breath.  How was she going to deal with him and the fall out if his claims became known in Society?  She would need some time to think and plan; perhaps consult Reggie; certainly consult Sir Charles (Juliet’s brother) and his friend Sir Hector Ryder, Head of the Metropolitan Police and maybe even  the ailing Earl.

But time was certainly needed.  She would put this scoundrel off for a couple of days to give Sir Charles and Sir Hector time to delve more deeply into this man’s past, although the thought of bringing the fellow’s claims to their attention  horrified her.

“Well obviously I shall need some time to consider what you have told me this afternoon” she said. “And equally obviously I shall need to see the so-called proof of the relationship between you and my husband.  So I suggest that you leave now and come back again in two days time, with some proof of your claim at which time I shall have an answer for you.”

With that, the swarthy gentleman picked up his Panama hat, gave each of the ladies a broad smile, thanked the Countess and took his leave.

A shocked silence remained in the drawing room after his departure.

To be continued….



“An apology costs nothing but can save a situation or even a friendship. ” Judith Baxter

One of the blogs that I follow is Lisa’s at Woman Wielding Words.  Lisa’s blog dated 2 October (yesterday, today?) talked about Blogging Etiquette among other things.  This post led to a number of very interesting comments and I would direct you to them.

Having read it and thought about it and the comments I then thought of how very easy it is to upset people even in the real world.  I wrote about my week a couple of days ago and told of how I had been taken out to high tea.  A thoroughly enjoyable experience but one that I thought was misnamed.

Afternoon tea

I had occasion to call the tearoom  the next day (to tell them that 500 grams of loose tea was far too much for me) and to tell  them how much I enjoyed the experience.  While doing so, I took the opportunity to point out, in what I thought was a very pleasant manner, the difference between high and afternoon tea.  Meaning to share some constructive not destructive criticism.

English is not the first language of Henry to whom I spoke and imagine my surprise when I had a message on my i-Phone (can’t resist that plug for my new toy) from the owner saying that she understood I had been disappointed in the tea and could not understand why.  She pointed out, quite sharply, that they were not trying to be traditional and in fact, were trying something different.

I immediately called back to speak with her and got her mother – apparently she is involved in the management of the tearoom – to be told that her daughter is very susceptible sensitive to criticism.  I explained again the reason for my comment and assured her that I had enjoyed the experience greatly.  But I wonder if she was convinced.

So I shall have to make another trip to that tearoom, not only to sample that wonderful tea blend once again but also to make peace with this woman whose ego is so fragile.

This experience has brought to mind once again, the inherent dangers in communicating in ways other than face to face.

Best friends

Communicating in person, face to face er.. dog to dog.

`Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
`I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, `so I can’t take more.’
`You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: `it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’
`Nobody asked your opinion,’ said Alice.”
From Alice in Wonderland of course.

I’m English so I drink tea

“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.”  ~Author Unknown

Growing up it seemed that the adults were always drinking tea and the little brown teapot above is exactly the same as the one my Mother had, the one my Grandmother had and from this distance, it seemed that each of my aunts had the same teapot.

During and immediately after the Second World War tea was rationed and so they didn’t just make another pot of tea when the pot was empty they added hot water.  The tea was left to ‘steep’ for a long time so that the dark brown color could come through.  And of course, it was leaf tea – no tea bags available then. And there was a ritual to making tea.

First the water always taken from the cold tap, was brought to the boil  It had to be watched because usually the kettle sat on the stove and there was no automatic turn off.  Whistling kettleOur kettle was a whistling kettle – the noise when the water came to the boil was enough to frighten anybody. Then  the pot was rinsed in hot water.  Note here from Mother – ‘always take the pot to the kettle, never the kettle to the pot’.  All these years later I don’t know why; I do know we just did it that way.  Then when the pot was rinsed out the tea leaves would be measured into it from the tea box, water was added and then the tea cosy was put on the pot, the pot on the tray and tea was ready to be served. If you don’t know what a tea cosy is click here.  You will even get instructions on how to make one.

Tea cup and saucerCups of tea were offered and drunk at every opportunity it seemed.  But we children were never offered any.  I think I was probably about 13 before I got my first taste of tea and I remember that I didn’t like it!

Tea has a different taste wherever you happen to be in the world.  London water is so hard that tea is almost bitter, while tea made in Glasgow is sweet.  Glasgow’s water (at least when I lived there 40 years ago) was among the purest in the world.

As children we eagerly looked forward to afternoon tea after school.

Victoria sponge cakeIt always seemed to have a Victoria sponge cake on offer – perhaps that is all Mother could make with the rationed ingredients.


Here’s a potted history on tea:

  • According to legend, tea was first discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 BC when some tea leaves floated into a pot of boiling water. It wasn’t until the mid-1600s, however, that tea finally reached England. Due to its sale being controlled by trade monopolies, and that it had to be imported from China via boat traveling around the Cape of Africa and then north to England, it was a rather costly commodity.
  • The first known record of tea being imported into England was the charter granted by Elizabeth I to The East India Company.
  • The first merchant to sell tea was Thomas Garway who offered it in both a dry and liquid form at his coffeehouse in Exchange Alley in London. The coffee houses proved very popular and by 1700 and there were more than 500 in London.  By the middle of the 18th century, tea replaced ale and gin as the nation’s drink.
  • As with most customs in England, when having tea became an accepted practice of the Royals, it then spread down to the working classes.

Because it was so expensive the loose tea was kept in a locked box to stop Victorian tea caddyservants from stealing it.  In some instances these were very elaborate.

On a hunt to purchase a Christmas present for my late husband I came across a delightful Victorian silver tea caddy.  (Picture will come later when I have renewed the batteries in the camera.)

So now I am off to have breakfast – 8.30 am on Saturday morning here in New Zealand – and am about to make myself a pot of tea to have with my toast.

Tea pot

Toast and marmalade






Tea! thou soft, thou sober, sage, and venerable liquid,… thou female tongue-running, smile-smoothing, heart-opening, wind-tippling cordial, to whose glorious insipidity I owe the happiest moment of my life, let me fall prostrate.
~Colley Cibber,
1671  1757) English actor-manager, playwright

and Poet Laureate.

And from Lu Tong,  790–835  Chinese poet of Tang Dynasty known for his lifelong study of the “Tea Culture“.

The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat,
The second shatters the walls of my loneliness,

The third explores the dry rivulets of my soul
Searching for legends of five thousand scrolls.

With the fourth the pain of past injustice vanishes through my pores.

The fifth purifies my flesh and bone.
With the sixth I commune with the immortals.
The seventh conveys such pleasure I am overcome.

The fresh wind blows through my wings

As I make my way to Penglai.

LU TONG, Thanks to Imperial Censor Meng for His Gift of Freshly Picked Tea

And I make no apologies for the fact that there are two quotes in ending today.  I could not choose between them.