Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Tag: Afternoon tea

Tea and Carols

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The church in Beddgelert dates from the early 13th Century but the religious community here reaches back to much earlier Celtic Christian times. It is a peaceful spot beside the Glaslyn river and glowed in the late November sunshine yesterday afternoon when a small group of us joined the congregation there for carols and readings which were sung and read in both Welsh and English, accompanied by the sonorous tones of the organ. At the end of the main aisle stood the Advent wreath with its different coloured candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas and the fifth white candle to be lit on Christmas Day.

There is something very special about old churches, as if their very stones have absorbed the love and devotion of the countless previous generations who have prayed their and now, like a charged battery, give back the courage, strength and love of our forebears. As always, the sounds and cadence of my Celtic mother tongue which I do not understand, nevertheless resonated deeply with me and for a brief time brought me directly into contact with my Welsh ancestors. Fancifully, I could hear their voices, and felt at one with them as the Earth once again approaches the Midwinter Solstice and the time of Christmas celebration.

These days I do not often spend time in a church and as the afternoon progressed I gradually became aware that my seat was growing warm and then positively hot. Am I unwell? I asked myself. I removed my glove and placed my hand on the pew seat next to me. Yes, that was warm too! Old churches can be very cold places, especially at this time of the year, but this marvellous building actually has heated seats.

The notes of the last carol died away and then afternoon tea was laid out for us at little tables in the North Transept where we all sat down to enjoy plates piled high with dainty sandwiches, dishes of scones, jam and cream, and cake stands loaded with sweet delicacies. We ate and drank from bone china plates and cups and happy chatter filled the room while willing helpers cheerfully passed among us wielding a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee.

It was also a delight for me because I now met again so many of the ladies who I have come to know over the past few months when I have visited the village to give talks and workshops. Continually waylaid by by warm greetings and hugs from so many, I never got to actually look at the little sale of bric-a-brac and gifts which were on display in the aisle – although I did manage to purchase two adorable knitted festive mice which are now sitting companionably on my mantlepiece. I later learned that the afternoon had raised over £220 for church funds.

The sun was beginning to set as we drove home past Snowdon and through the mountain pass at Drws y Coed, back down towards the sea. What a magical afternoon it had been, and how very much I had enjoyed it. Who needs lots of glitz and excitement? I can get just as much joy from songs in a language I cannot understand, loving welcome from new friends, teatime goodies and, oh, yes… a warm bum!

Tea In A Box

The most enjoyable occasions can arise from something completely unplanned and unexpected.

This afternoon, my husband and I had a real treat. A friend had very thoughtfully and kindly repaid our hospitality by treating us to afternoon tea in a box from the Cornish Company which arrived on our doorstep a couple of days ago.

Having baked and cooked from scratch for the past half century or so, I always really appreciate something which I haven’t had to make myself. The whole concept of everything emerging out of plastic packets is strangely novel and alien to me.

Just before four o’clock, the traditional time for afternoon tea, I filled the kettle and set it to boil on the Aga, laid a small tea cloth over the dark wood of our living room table, switched on the fairy lights which run across the mantlepiece above the stove and swath our seasonal ‘autumn branch’ in the window and began my voyage of discovery as I opened one packet after another… pale scones, little pots of fragrant strawberry preserve, crisp spicey Cornish fairing biscuits, buttery shortbread fingers, sachets of Cornish tea and – oh, joy! – a tub of Cornish clotted cream!

The water in the kettle began to chirrup and sing. I arranged everything on plates of Mason’s ‘Pink Vista’ – the crockery which we had used each and every day in my childhood home at the cottage at Drybones. I chose a red tea pot to accompany the pale red cups and once the kettle boiled, I warmed the pot and then brewed the tea aa my husband and I sat down to enjoy our treat.

There is something particularly special about a winter afternoon tea which defies definition but leaves a lasting impression… a time when the rest of the day retreats into the gathering shadows… time out of time when one can relax and let go of all the busyness which has gone before.  The light faded outside the window, cups chinked, spoons and knives clattered, voices softly undulated in intimate conversation, amber tea streamed into waiting cups and steam fleetingly billowed in the warm air.

As we talked and ate and enjoyed our lovely tea, my memory travelled back across the years to my childhood. This was the time when I would arrive home from school, often cold and wet from my mile-long walk down our lonely lane. Uniform and satchel would be discarded, hands and face washed and then my mother and I would sit close to the hearth, drink tea and eat crisp toast, hot buttered crumpets or velvety little Scotch pancakes which she cooked fresh on the planc over the fire.

While the daylight faded outside, the birds roosted and the cats and dogs found comfortable cushions and corners in which to curl up and snooze, we would light the candles (no electricity there) and encircled by dancing shadow we would share our news of the day, or my mother would read aloud to me, or – putting the tea things aside – we would make and write Christmas cards or make decorations like Christmas crackers and party hats. This was our special time, when the dinner was already left prepared and waiting to be cooked in the kitchen, the fires were all stoked and the kindling and logs brought in for the night, the outside work completed – a time to sit… to catch one’s breath… to be together… to dream.

Now, as I watched the grey twilight of the cloudy, mist-filled day fade into the deep blue of dusk, I felt again the warmth and timelessness of those precious post school hours with my parent which now populate my memories with such love and gentle peace. Again, I experience the sense of solid security of the ancient cottage walls protectively enfolding me, the warmth of the clean-swept hearth, the comfort of the joyfully dancing flames in the grate, candle light flickering on shelves of pots and winking back from shining copper pans and kettles, the tick of the clock in the shadows on the white painted wall by the polished oak chest… the scents and sounds of an old living kitchen as it gradually settled to rest through another frosty winter’s night.

Our ‘tea in a box’ had given me so much more than the transient pleasure of consuming some delicious delicacies; it had provided me with a magical key back into the past where memories of a small child ebb and flow into today; meld and blend as the woman I am now is swept away into another time and place. Surely a truly special gift!

A Very Happy Christmas!

Me with Father ChristmasAfter such an eventful and truly magical Advent, nearly all the pre-Christmas preparations and activities are complete.

Today I have presents to wrap and one or two gifts and cards to hand deliver around the village. I have listened to my own advice and ditched my plans to make a wonderful savoury hot dinner this evening set around a festive table – yesterday evening my darling husband made us all chips while I finished making the last of my gifts and this evening, my lovely son is going to do a stir fry for us all while I put my feet up and celebrate Mother’s Night!

All the baking is done (for now!) and later this afternoon, I shall be setting out a grand afternoon tea with stollen, spice cakes, mince pies, biscuits and all manner of sweet delights. As the light begins to fade we shall all gather around the hearth to light the candles and sing carols and open our gifts from friends, near and far.

This is the last day of deep darkness. Tomorrow morning, the Sun/Son will be reborn and the Light truly with us once more. The Earth which has been ‘standing still’ since the Solstice early on Sunday morning will once more move on and we shall begin to travel the long journey back towards the warmth and springtime.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas Eve and a very happy Christmas. Celebrate truly what is happening around you and within your hearts. As I light my ‘Mother’s Candle’ tonight, I shall think of each one of you and be sending out my very best wishes and love to you.

Good Yule!
Merry Midwinter!
A happy Christmas!

Afternoon at Home

A typical late autumn day. Rain is rattling against the windows and the mountains are totally obscured by cloud. It is almost twilight, although only half past three in the afternoon and I have switched all the lights on in the kitchen and living room, including the little coloured fairy lights above my stove.

This picture of the top of my Aga says it all, really. Two different kinds of fungi drying at the back. A basket of rose hips also nearly ready for processing in the dispensary. A tray of hot fruit scones just out of the oven, ready to eat with clotted cream and home made raspberry jam for afternoon tea by the drawing room fire. Classic FM playing softly on the radio in the kitchen… clock ticking loudly… Labradors snoring sonorously.

Ah, the pleasures of being at home and able to snuggle up cosily in peace. My idea of heaven!

A Summer’s Tale

Me at Portmeirion

On my way down into the village

Summer is here… or so it has been rumoured. I am not too sure about it myself! But what better time to indulge in an cream tea with my dear husband in celebration of Father’s Day – even though our adult ‘child’ was teaching all day and couldn’t join us.

We chose Portmeirion, home of the world renowned pottery of the same name and where the 1960’s cult T.V. series, ‘The Prisoner’, was filmed. I haven’t visited here for some time and we left home bathed in warm sunshine and sporting sunglasses and walking shoes with every intention of exploring some of the 70 acres of gardens and woodland before arriving at the hotel for tea.

Unfortunately this is Britain, and as all us U.K. residents know, the last thing that can be relied upon is

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