Last week, Lady Devotea and I found ourselves at an afternoon tea. Not a big surprise, it’s somewhat of an occupational hazard for us.
We were surrounded by members of The Bonnet Squad.
Now, it is traditional to describe people who are so incredibly lost in the world of Jane Austen as “Janeites”, but quite frankly, that’s a clumsy word for such a hip and happening* lifestyle. So, we’ve redubbed them The Bonnet Squad for several reasons.
- They descend en masse and with seemingly little notice, much like Scotland Yard’s celebrated Flying Squads
- They are often not just into Jane Austen but several other writers of the era; for example the Bronte sisters usually get a mention
- Lady Devotea came up with it and I think it’s rather funny
- There is an awful lot of of bonnetry on display. (Although it’s not universal. The one male attendee and several of the women dressed as Austen male characters )
I was conversing with a woman in a bonnet and white dress about suitable tea for a forthcoming regency-themed wedding anniversary party, and she dropped into the conversation that she had been married at a Shakespearean-themed wedding. My mind immediately went there:
- Romeo and Juliet? Did the families draw swords and slash at each other across the tables? Did anyone top themselves at the end?
- Macbeth? Would have made for an alarming honeymoon.
- Hamlet? Would have made for an even more alarming honeymoon.
- Was it an Henry V-themed second wedding? “Once more unto the breech, dear friends…”
No, it turns out they went for A Midsummer Night’s Dream theme. I wasn’t there, but I assume that means it was very carnivalesque and sumptuous, and nobody fell in love with a donkey. (Incidentally, I note that Russell T Davies has just directed a TV version, so if you’ve not read it and you find Shakespeare a little hard to cope with, that might be an alternative. In fact, it could be very alternative.)
Themes are fun. I once worked in a job where I was responsible for taking new employees around. Our company had casual day once a month on a Friday, with drinks, and I used to say to each newbie “Every month we have a theme, and this month it is you have to dress in colours found in Liquorice Allsorts, and not just black and white”. When the day arrived and they turned up in orange, lime green or pink the whole office would chortle all day at them.
Anyway, it got me thinking about two ideas. One one hand, what other themes can I come up with for Afternoon teas, and alternatively, what other events could become tea-themed?
Let’s take the latter first.
Weddings: probably not to replace the traditional wedding reception, but these days, bucketloads of people get married at 11am or 1pm in a registry office. and if you combined it with the idea of being a themed event, then I’m just going to say that a registry office wedding followed by a bite at your local Mexican restaurant is absolute rubbish compared to a wedding and Mad Hatter Tea’s Party combo.
Funerals: If you’re over 80 and pass away in a nursing home, I imagine after the funeral everyone goes back to the home for tea and a biscuit. so why should every one else have to endure booze and sandwiches? Seriously, themed Funeral Afternoon teas is a business idea just waiting to happen. One call, business turns up, serves everyone soothing teas and comforting cakes while they talk through their grief and remember the good times, with a theme that covers the recently-departed’s most notable passion, be it favourite football team / past-time / movie / breed of cat. A damn sight better idea than a drunken wake, where those of us who don’t drink get to watch some of those who do descend into chaos.
Birthdays: Hang on, I do that every year. Not really a new concept.
Religious observations: How many of those could become an afternoon tea? Lots! Obviously not anything involving fasting, but imagine how much fun you can have: turn a dull Confirmation or Saint’s Day into a riot with a nice cake and a pot of Finbarr’s Revenge. Note that any religious ceremony that involves lopping bits off of children should be teamed, in my opinion, not with tea but with arrest and charges.
Release from Prison: I had a conversation with Glenn Wheatley, an Australian entrepreneur who was incarcerated after being blatantly stitched up, and he told me one of the things he missed the most in prison was loose leaf tea. In honour of him, all people released from prison should be shown to a hall where they can enjoy good tea and cake with their loved ones. This is like a decompression chamber to help cross the divide from inmate to free citizen.
Anyway, there are a million more key life events that it works for. Getting out of hospital after a lengthy stay. Engagement. Graduation. First paycheque. Exoneration. Transplant. Divorce. Permanent residency. Emancipation. The list is literally endless**.
Now, we move to the first part of my contention. And it’s dear to my heart, because Lady Devotea and I actually put on themed tea tasting events.
Some of the themes we’ve come up with in the past have been a real hit. “Scandals and Scoundrels”. “The Women Who Made Tea What It Is Today”. We once put on a 1700s recipe degustation and tea and story paring event.
These are obviously planks in our arsenal, and as tea history is full of pirates, smugglers, Princesses, Emperors , Lords and Ladies, fast ships, slavery, dodgy characters and cunning and conniving ratbags of all sorts, we have no shortage.
But for our more traditional readers, here’s a few easy ideas to make your next afternoon tea different:
- Dress Up (or Dress Down if you prefer)
- Bring a (loose leaf) tea and cake to share
- Come as a parrot
- Star Trek vs Star Wars (tell the Star Wars fans the wrong date)
- Dress as your favourite The Devotea Tea
- It’s 1953!
- Dr Who (you will need to hire a Dalek and have the exits well signposted for the panic-stricken stampede)
- Dress as your favorite racehorse
The list is literally endless**. That lot took me less than a minute. Do you want me to do all the work? Come on, make an effort.
I’ll just finish up by saying after all this wonderful advice, I imagine you’ll want to say thanks, by inviting Lady Devotea and I to your next afternoon tea.
And we’d be happy to come, although I think our parrot costumes are at the dry cleaners at the moment.
* By “hip and happening” I mean that at least three I spoke to had recently had hip replacements
** Theoretically the list is literally endless, although clearly I’ve ended it.