I grew up in the tea-drinking capital of Jamaica.
Mandeville was a mountain resort town. The air was cool, the sweaters were thick and some of the oldest homes were built with multiple fireplaces.
It was a snobbish society back then, and more British than the British. The denizens of Mandeville included the titled, the somewhat aristocratic, and those who wished they were.
Afternoon Tea meant dressing up; cucumber sandwiches prepared by a servant; tea served from heirloom teapots into dainty cups.
I looked down my nose at these customs.
Fast forward a few decades, and I’m at home near Toronto, when a friend serves me my comeuppance. A cup of comeuppance, you could call it.
Marilyn Mirabelli, owner of Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas, catered an afternoon tea for my visitors. As you can imagine, Marilyn is passionate and knowledgeable about tea.
Guests included Shelagh Rogers, the celebrated and beloved host of the CBC’s author-interview program, The Next Chapter. Shelagh had read about our old house and garden in my book, A Good Home, and I was pleased to invite her and her colleagues Jacquie and Erin to visit.
We sat around the verandah table, drinking tea from colourful cups.
We enjoyed delicious freshly-baked scones, fruit preserves, Devon clotted cream, and smoked salmon.
The tea was called Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea.
Marilyn regaled us with tea-tales.
Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn said, it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford – a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria – who started the afternoon tea tradition.
Anna had dizzy spells in the afternoon, so the doctor prescribed tea with buttered bread. Soon, the other ladies-in-waiting joined Anna in her chamber for tea and toast. Queen Victoria liked the ritual so much, she joined the tea party too.
We also learned that a teacup handle is called an “ear”. Guess why?
Marilyn explained the markings on the bottom-side of our saucers, which give clues to the origins of each set. We eagerly held out our saucers to learn more.
My husband dropped in to say hello. He said we were all grinning like girls at a tea party. Which I guess we were. Kinda.
Fact is, for one afternoon, I’d become a lady who does afternoon tea.
I imagined that my teenage self would have been horrified.
“But we’re not snobs!” I told her. “And we don’t wear hats! And the teacups don’t match! And there are holes in the old chenille spread – – er, tablecloth!”
But she was not amused.
So I didn’t dare tell her that I could get to really like afternoon tea.
Just as long as the cups don’t match, the tablecloth has holes, no-one has a fancy title, and everyone knows how to giggle.
56 thoughts on “A Cup of Comeuppance”
I loved this one! I’ve never been a tea drinker, but this made me want to be one. Hugs and love, N 🙂 ❤
Thanks, Natalie. I’m glad you liked it.
Hugs and love back to you.
I loved tea parties as a little girl. But never had a real adult one 🙂 What fun!
You should try it. And use different kinds of cups! But no, I can’t lend you my old chenille spread — er, tablecloth.
Thanks for sharing Cynthia. Love to hear anything about tea. I grew up in Bermuda drinking it, and I love the traditional tea parties, though most often, it wasn’t so formal, only for special occasions. Had one for my bridal shower which was spectacular and recently when I was home we had one a ladies tea party for the female members of the family. That was formal. But lovely, love seeing pics of Jamaican properties. One of my closest friends/neighbors is Jamaican, so I hear a lot of it but never get to see anything.
Ah, Bermuda. Lots of traditional tea parties, for sure. Afternoon tea parties are becoming popular again now, for all kinds of events, including bridal showers, birthdays, anniversaries and ‘just-because’.
thanks for your comment, Jodie. I enjoyed it, as I do your blog.
Wonderful story! I like tea and use my tea sets and my not-so-coordinated tea cups often. Even my husband likes our ritual, right down to getting the water to the right temperature for steeping. What fun you conveyed at your tea party! ☕️
It sounds like great fun. Truth is, I’d almost forgotten we had these tea cups. But they were such a hit.
I’m glad you like the story. Thank you, Susan.
I wouldn’t mind a comeuppance like this. Delightful. 🙂
I love tea and find the afternoon tea ritual quite inspiring and lovely. Of course, I lived in the UK for 5 years, so I guess that some traditions got stuck with me. 🙂
It seems to be a tradition that gets ‘stuck’ with a lot of people. And a great afternoon break.
Lovely post, with some history of Mandeville. Thank you, Cynthia. 🙂
And thank you for liking the post.
Cynthia, I love this post. I live a short drive from Woburn Abbey, its a garden I visit not just for the garden but for its sense of place. They have tea rooms called the Duchess Tea rooms, which serves a decent cup of tea too, although not on such beautiful china. I did not know the history of Anna, thanks for sharing this. Your afternoon looks wonderful too.
Thanks, Julie. It was a lovely afternoon, with smiles all around. How nice that you have the garden of Woburn Abbey nearby. It sounds great.
Nice post, Cynthia. Thanks. Just keep giggling and your teenage self will know all is well. 🙂
Will do, Jim.
What a wonderful afternoon!! I love the teacups you pictured.
Thanks! We’ve had them for ages, and used to use them. Then came the challenges of life, and we forgot them.
I love them too.
What a lovely party! My family enjoys afternoon tea in “colder” weather. We sit on our porch and use a Brown Betty covered with a cozy for our informal teas.
Ah, the Brown Betty!
We have had one for years and years.
Glad you’re having fun and making peace with tea rituals. XD
That’s for sure, Brad. I enjoyed this summer.
I love afternoon tea! High tea at the Four Seasons (when they had it–harumph) or The Drake is a delight for me. And I’m a midwestern American girl. Give me a cucumber tea sandwich and a clone with lemon curd–oh, I’m in Heaven. Your tea party looks lovely!
It was lovely, Kay. High tea sounds fabulous. Lots of good things to eat and drink?
I love drinking tea, but have never been to an “afternoon tea.” I think I’m missing out! And as it gets chillier out, I will be breaking out my tea kettle and searching for some new varieties. This post makes me look toward Fall! 🙂
Tea is definitely enjoying popularity these days, as are “tea sommeliers”/Tea Masters, specialists who know all about tea and can mix them to create special flavours too.
Of course, it helps that tea is a healthy choice, and good for cold weather too. One thing I like about an afternoon tea gathering is that it is an inexpensive way to get together with friends.
Fun with friends is what it’s all about-who cares about the tea! Interesting how the tradition got started. I hadn’t ever heard that.
You’re so right. It was such relaxing fun. And we learned a thing or two!
Oh Cynthia what a lovely story and the great photos of your tea party on your beautiful veranda. I had to smile because my youth was a bit of the opposite: my dear mom was a very untidy person who did not care for well dressed tables and the likes. Unlike her fastidious daughter who indulged in Victorian novels. So when I was a teenager, after tidying up the living room, I would dust of her wedding China and prepare tea with cakes and little sandwiches etc…my mom would sit with me and have tea…and would look at me in bewilderment: how on earth I could be a daughter of her;0) And I still drink my tea from nice cups (not necessarily matching) and still love a well dressed table;0)
What a great story. Thank you!
I understand your mother’s bemusement. My daughters are stylish people who cook and bake well, and have nicely decorated homes. I look at them in total bemusement and wonder where they came from….
Tea time, nap time…whatever works! I also like a chocolate break most afternoons. 😉
This means you eat chocolate or drink it, Lori?
Both! Either! 🙂
I loved this post! My family never had an afternoon tea tradition though we all drank it. My husband’s grandmother loved them – afternoon tea and high tea (with cold meats). I had my first afternoon tea at a tea shop with my husband who loves them (he is a traditionalist)
Good to hear from you, Clare. Glad you went to a tea shop and since R. likes it, you’ve got company!
It’s a good tradition – to stop in the afternoon and have a cup of tea. And since I am almost always at home, I think I will try to do something on a smaller scale by myself every once in a while.
A cup of tea out of a pretty china cup and a freshly baked scone with home made jam and cream, sitting in the garden. Good company. That’ s what I call civilised.
Or, in my case, Chloris, “countrified”. But I agree with you wholeheartedly! Such a lovely and relaxing thing to do. It’s my first summer enjoying the verandah and not agonizing over my garden, and this tea party just topped off what became a gentle summer for me.
What a wonderful idea Cynthia. My “good” lovely china sets are hidden away in the cabinets gathering dust. You have reminded me that I must take them out and enjoy them in an afternoon tea with friends. Great memories of Mandeville!
Yes, you must, Lee. As an older relative of mine used to say: you must enjoy your lovely things. No use waiting for the governor general to visit.
Loved this. I especially like the humour in your writing. I’m a giggler too. I’m English, and an anytime tea drinker, yet mid-afternoon we always have a coffee.
What fun! I have a “splendid” teapot gifted from a friend – tea drinking guests love it! 😀
I’m glad you have a splendid teapot.
Please describe it for me! Is it a Brown Betty or what?Everyone seems to have a special tea pot. do tell us more about yours.
This is one of those tea-for-one affairs. Bright green / blues with gold swirls. The cup is large and shallow enough tea for two cups! My favourite is my white Villeroy Bosch with silver rim though the Royal Albert comes pretty close…..
That tea-for-one pot sounds lovely. Does the pot sit neatly on top of the cup when you’re putting it away? Bright green/blues with gold swirls sounds very cheery.
I really like Villeroy & Bosch. Their newer patterns are sleek and lovely, but I like the old farmhouse versions and the spring garden pattern too. (I would, wouldn’t I?)
Let us all pledge to really USE the pretty stuff. The governor general may never come to visit!
I want those tea cups. One of my favorite things is pretty tea cups. Those are beautiful. Afternoon tea is such a lovely tradition. 🙂
I’ve come to like it!
As long as my friends are prepared to come here to visit me.
Good to hear from you, Elizabeth. Those tea cups are pretty indeed.
Looks like you’ve had a splendid time 🙂
We really did. Laughter, tea and visitors are good for the soul.
I so enjoy your storytelling! I always wondered about the tea tradition, and I am so glad that she was joined by the others. Coffee, wine, and tea are meant to be enjoyed with good friends on a porch 🙂
Nicely put! Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for your interesting blog, too!
There’s a lot to be said for a giggle, Cynthia. 🙂 And some of those mismatched cups are really beautiful.
I came here after reading Ann’s post (on Gallivanta) reviewing your book, which had kind of ‘passed me by’ in the little bubble that I live in. It looks a great read. Are you in good health again now? I hope so. 🙂
Thanks for asking, Jo.
I’ve improved in some areas, and gotten worse in others. Time only heals in some cases.
But one of the tools they taught us at the rehabilitation hospital was laughter. So when I’m in a lot of pain, I usually write something funny, or call one of the other survivors I know and make them laugh. It’s weird – making someone else laugh often makes me feel better too!
That’s the perfect answer, Cynthia. I look forward to another giggle, but not to the pain that it might mean you’re in. 🙂
Well, I’ll be giggling too, and that will definitely lift my spirits….