October 23: Chapel teas

Methodists do the best teas.  True, Anglicans have wine, which always helps but maybe that’s why the Methodists try harder.

A Methodist tea is a feast.  Tables groan with cakes, pies, sandwiches, tarts, buns,gateaux, sausage rolls, fruit loaves, scones, sponge cakes, brownies, parkin, corned beef squares and custard slices…  all of it home-made and all of it melt-in the mouth delicious.

Right back to John Wesley, Methodists always appreciated their food.  One of Wesley’s companions in the Durham Dales wrote  with feeling

The promised land from Kilhope top

I now exult to see.

My hope is full (o glorious hope!)

Of good spice cake and tea!

That was in the 1770s and the tradition endures.  It’s like being at  your gran’s on a very special occasion.    All the time women  keep bringing more food or staggering under the weight of enormous teapots, urging you to try this, that, another mouthful here….  And always in a little room in the back there are yet more Tupperware boxes filled with yet more food.

As chauffeur to my husband – who writes about church services – I’ve gate-crashed many such teas, often in tiny little chapels in almost deserted dales.  The population has dispersed, the congregations have dwindled but  even in their final fling they’re still filled with busy, generous women intent on sharing food as  the most basic act of communion.   Cake is always cheering and particularly suited to sharing and celebration.

Many of those chapels have now closed. They’ve been converted into holiday homes or antique shops, the pulpits and pews, boxes of china and giant teapots sold or dumped and scattered.

But in among the other memories, there are still  the ghosts of all those cheeful busy women who cooked and baked and prepared and washed up and ironed tablecloths and turned refreshment into celebration and food for the soul.

It’s a memory worth preserving.




October 9: Backpack ladies

You see them everywhere with a spring in their step – ladies of a certain age with all the day’s essentials in a day pack on their backs.  Sometimes the packs are seriously smart and the rest of the outfit too.  More often, the clothes  – and especially the shoes – have practical comfort first.

But whatever, the women bounce along as if a weight has lifted from them, especially if theyr’e alone.

The chances are that they started their working lives carrying  handbags until motherhood  left them unable to go out of the house without a baby, a buggy and a bag of nappies, bottles, raisins, wipes, spare clothes.   By the time they got back to work there were briefcases, laptops to carry and a handbag big enough to carry emergency essentials for everyone in the family.

(I once emptied mine for a radio programme and as well as the usual – makeup, Tampax, Ibuprofen – discovered a penknife, corkscrew, football studs and a bike pump…)

These women have gone through  their adult lives literally weighed down by work, family and responsibility for other people.

And suddenly they’re free…

So you see them in galleries and theatres, shopping, strolling, sitting in pavement cafes in foreign cities soaking up the sun and a glass of wine.There are lots of them in National Trust properties, country pubs and anywhere interesting. They have time and energy to look around them, explore new places, new experiences.

Hands-free, hands in pockets, alert, lively  and free, literally, of the baggage they’ve had to carry for years.

Women’s liberation for grown ups.