As we made our way back to the Green Park Hilton for afternoon tea, I allowed Hubby to linger under the misconception that he would soon be eating a sandwich. In Hubby's world, a sandwich is also variously known as a sub, a hoagie or even a grinder. Whatever you call it, Hubby believes that a sandwich should be a great, honking Dagwood doorstop of a meal. Boy, was he in for a rude awakening.
When we got to the hotel, we were shown into the Berry Bar and Lounge by a uniformed waiter and seated at a cozy banquette.
"Thank God we're out of those crowds," sighed Hubby. "You can't walk two feet in London without finding yourself in the middle of a crowd. Crossing the street is like taking your life in your hands. I hate crowds."
Our waiter returned and handed us each a flute of champagne.
"What's this?" asked Hubby.
"I thought we were having tea."
"It's a champagne afternoon tea."
"What? They can't make up their minds? When do they bring the menues? I'm starving."
"There aren't any menues. Afternoon tea is afternoon tea."
The waiter returned with a box of tea samples, presented it to us and then left us to make our choices.
"Tea. We have to choose which tea we want. See the labels here? Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Gunpowder, Lapsang Souchong . . . . . . "
"Do they have Lipton's?"
Sigh. "Afternoon tea is a ritual. Sampling and selecting the teas is a part of it. And there's a Wellington connection to it, too."
"Of course there is!"
"Way back when, in olden times, dinner used to be served late. Like around eight or nine o'clock. So there was a woman, the Duchess of Bedford, who used to get hungry between lunch and dinner and so came up with the idea of taking afternoon tea at around four o'clock. It was like a small meal, with tea, sandwiches and cakes. It's generally believed that she came up with the idea while staying with the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle. Other people came to find out about this and they, like you, thought it was a great idea and soon all of the aristocracy came to make afternoon tea a part of their day."
"My kind of dame."
"I don't think so. She wasn't very nice." Our waiter returned at this point to inquire as to our tea preferences.
"Earl Grey, please, for both of us." I would have preferred Lapsang Souchong, but went with Earl Grey simply because it was easier.
"What's Earl Grey? I just want tea. Plain tea."
Sigh. "Earl Grey is the same as Lipton's. Getting back to the Duchess of Bedford . . . . " Here we go again. Why go back to the Duchess of Bedford at all? Compulsive, that's what I am. "She was a great friend of, and Lady in Waiting to, Queen Victoria."
"Uh huh." Once again, our waiter returned, this time with our loose tea. He placed this in our individual tea pots, added boiling water and set our timers for the brewing time.
"A tea pot. It's got a diffuser in it. The tea has to steep until it's ready. See the timer? We have to wait for the tea to brew properly. So, there was another lady in waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, who the Duchess of Bedford started a rumor about. It seems that Flora was getting a little heavy around the mid-section and the Duchess and Baroness Lehzen told the Queen that it was because Flora was pregnant."
Sigh. "Flora wasn't married. We're talking about the Victorian era. It was a big scandal. They hinted that Sir John Conroy was the father."
"In reality, poor Flora had cancer. It was a tumor that was changing her shape, not a baby. She died soon after the whole scandal broke. Don't do that!"
Hubby, anxious to get the show on the road, had begun to depress the plunger on the tea pot - up and down, up and down, up and down - thus releasing the loose tea leaves from the diffuser and sending them throughout his tea pot.
"Relax. It's fine. I'll drink it."
Sigh. The waiter brought us our tiered tray complete with scones, sandwiches and cakes. Just as the Duchess of Bedford would have ordered.
"It's a scone," I replied, slathering it with jam and clotted cream. I handed it to Hubby on a plate and he took a bite. "Like it?"
"Not really. There's not much to it. What's this pink stuff in the glass at the top?"
"I don't know. Try it." Whatever it was, he liked it and we plodded through the rest of the meal.
"Ready? We have to go up to the room and change."
"Change for what?" Hubby asked, picking a tea leaf out of his teeth.
"What? What the Hell is Winter Wonderland? You're killing me. Can't we just go to bed and watch the rest of the darts match?"
"I've told you about it. It's a big fair, rides and food and stuff. We've got tickets for the Giant Wheel and the circus."
"Yes! It's more of an adult circus. You're going to love it," I said. "Come on, we'll go upstairs and have a rum and coke and then we'll change."
"What about the Duke of Wellington?"
"You said the Duke had something to do with afternoon tea."
"Oh, right. He was great friends with the Duke of Rutland."
"The Duke of Rutland. He owned Belvoir Castle. Where the Duchess of Bedford invented afternoon tea. And where Wellington often visited. In fact, if I did some research, I might be able to discover whether Artie and the Duchess were ever at Belvoir at the same time. I'm sure they must have been. Though I don't see how I could prove that it was the same stay during which she came up with the tea idea."
"That's it? That's the connection? They were both friends with the Duke of whatever?"
"Rutland, the Duke of Rutland. Yes, that's the connection. If you look hard enough, you can always find some kind of Wellington connection, no matter what the topic is."
"You're the only one in the entire world who would look that hard. And the only person who'd think I'd be thrilled at the idea of going to the circus!"
Part Five Coming Soon!
Labels: A Couple in England, Duke of Wellington, Kristine Hughes