Well, boys and girls, it all started with a giant teapot. That’s how we ended up with a stall, tastings and a talk at Ladies Day at a retirement village.
Years ago, we looked the economics of holding tea events in Aged Care homes and retirement villages, and they simply weren’t there. Not enough money, too much effort. and my own prejudices.
You see, the main ladies of that age group I have regular contact with are parental in nature, mine and Lady Devotea’s. And though remarkably different in virtually every way, they are nevertheless united on one front: using teab*gs.
I know, the humiliation and the shame of writing that is almost too much to bear.
Anyway, Lady D’s in particular is in a retirement village, so every so often I get to visit, comforting myself that the enormous security gates that are allegedly designed to keep people out may, in fact, be keeping them in. Basically, I like to pretend it’s a minimum security prison.
So when we got a call from another prison, er, retirement village asking us to do our thing there, our initial thoughts were: no, no and no.
But then they mentioned Colleen.
Colleen is a caravan that has been turned into a giant teapot. They had rented it for the day, and we could work out of it. We thought of the great photo ops that would afford us, and decided to go along with the whole thing.
Fast forward to the day and we arrive to the news that the ground is too soggy to take Colleen across the lawn to where she needs to be. It’s also damn cold, so the whole event is now indoors.
And poor old Colleen has been abandoned in the car park.
We had the wrong end of the stick as far as the tasting and talk went. Our idea was that the tasting would be incorporated into the talk, so we were ready to correctly time several pots, pour small samples at each juncture whilst we waxed eloquently about various tea related things. I have this wacky rule where my entire preparation for any speaking event is only eight words. Here’s what my notes said for the day:
So, instead we find out that (a) I am giving a 15 minute talk at the very start of the event (b) the tasting is to be free-form over 3 hours and (c) there is musical entertainment and three other presenters – two police officers, a demonstration of tai chi with a ball whilst sitting down and a lady who is expert in incontinence products. There is also belly dancing at some point.
We quickly get the urn on, teapots ready and then the festivities start with the microphone being handed to the centre manager.
Who is totally mad.
Let’s be kind and say eccentric. Glass houses and all that.
She starts by welcoming everyone – to set the scene, it’s a room full of about forty ladies entirely clad in shades of purple, who have all invited daughters and granddaughters along, of whom there are about six.
She firstly suggests that she’s more than willing to take the credit for the event on the basis of all her hard work and organisation – every resident laughs themselves silly at the thought of this being the case, so these people may be elderly but they are keenly aware of who does what. Could be a tough crowd.
She then lambasts the SA Police for sending along two female officers as opposed to burly, strapping uniformed men. She threatens to get the Metropolitan Fire Service instead next time. She runs through the list of speakers in a breathless fashion, and hands me the microphone.
The fact that a specialist in incontinence was to follow gave me my opening line, and I was off. A tight 15 minutes, covered scandals, Robert Fortune, Captain Pidding, Empires won and lost, the usual. No footage exists of this no doubt highly amusing and informative effort , but it was well received and I felt pretty good about it. Job done.
From there I took a back seat and made tea.
Well, the police officers were really dull (“Don’t forget to lock your doors, dears”), the belly dancers had talent and enthusiasm (unfortunately I am describing two people, one of each), the chi-ball was soporific and the singer had an interesting relationship with pitch (based on avoidance). I must say, though, that the incontinence lady slayed them in the aisles. A class act, and probably the perfect audience.
Whilst it is always me who will grab the microphone and do the en masse stuff, when it comes to one-on-one Lady Devotea is incredible. Over the course of the next few hours, she spoke with virtually everyone in the room, remembering names, hearing potted histories, making everyone feel special. I don’t know how she does it: after all these years I still try to keep up, but it’s best if I just make and dispense the tea.
One of the brilliant ideas that the organisers had was to ask people to bring a special tea cup along for the tasting.
And many of them did.
In the cases pictured here, it was a privilege to serve tea into such special cups.
We had to make a bit of an adjustment early. We guessed that the English Breakfast style black teas and the flavoured black teas would be the most preferred, but there was a substantial following of some of the greens and whites. In fact, 1001 Nights was the most popular one tasted. Regardless of what they say about assumptions, we like to think “When you assume, you’ll get away with it if you have a plan B on hand.” And we did.
All, in all, the event was actually great fun. We always enjoy representing our teas, and encouraging tea drinking generally.
Any time you can take a room full of people who would most likely be served one cup of teaba*g tea, and turn it into a room of people drinking multiple cups from loose leaf, it’s a winner.
The folk who attended, both residents and families, were really lovely, and it would be nice to do such things more often. Not for the commercial benefit (there really isn’t one) but because everyone has a right to learn about great tea and have it shared with them, no matter what life stage they are at.
So don’t wait for your grandmother to get out the teapot and the loose leaf, collect your tea making equipment and head over there. Ask her to invite some friends.
Listen to the stories, and share the tea.
Oh, and the obligatory shot in the giant teapot? Here it is, you’re welcome.