Friday, 3 March 2017

a tea party

I had friends round for tea today.  I announced yesterday that I would like to use the study instead of the sitting room because it is so much easier to heat at this time of the year, and is fairly tidy at the moment, apart from the sort of normal surface mess of a room that gets used for hobbies besides eating and watching television.  The Systems Administrator vacuumed in the morning, and lit the fire after lunch so that it would be warm.  I moved an extra chair and a little table from the sitting room, washed the teapot which I hadn't used for such a long time that it was dusty, and dug out a milk jug.

I had a box of chocolate Liebnitz but nine biscuits seemed rather mean among four people, even if they were posh biscuits, so I made a honey loaf.  It was rather a long time since I'd done one, and I couldn't remember whether it needed a baffle over it in the bottom oven of the Aga.  Turns out it did, or at least the top caught.  The risk of cooking sponge cakes at too low a temperature is that they don't rise properly, so it was a gamble either way.  It is a good recipe, pleasantly moist, keeping for days and tasting of honey, but lacks kerb appeal even when you don't singe the top because it looks so plain.  When I've made it for club events I've brought back more than half each time, and yet people who do try it like it to the point of asking for the recipe.  You melt four ounces of soft brown sugar, five of butter and six of honey with a tablespoon of water, add two eggs and seven ounces of self raising flour, and cook it in a lined two pound loaf tin at 180 C for fifty minutes to an hour depending on your oven.  Use a large saucepan to melt the butter and you can mix the eggs and flour in the same pan, leaving you with very little washing up.

My friends insisted they had never been in the study before.  One of them knew the people we bought the house from, and she had never been in the study when they lived here either.  It seems to be a fundamental feature of domestic architecture, holding across time and cultures, that dwellings have a hierarchy of rooms.  There are relatively smart rooms, used for formal entertaining or business, and there are less smart (and possibly warmer and cosier) rooms, used for informal entertaining or reserved for private family use.  Human nature being what it is we get a buzz from either the first time we are promoted to dinner in the grand dining room after a diet of coffee in the kitchen, or invited into the private sanctum and allowed to see the books and personal clutter instead of the tidy face of the house normally presented to outsiders.  Upstairs is another country, rarely visited in other people's houses except for the loo.

Our Ginger who adores visitors planted himself firmly in the lap in front of the fire, and spent the rest of tea purring massively and moulting prodigiously.  The artists formerly known as kittens believe that visitors are an appalling concept, and made themselves scarce.  Even after our friends had departed and the kitties had been called in for their supper, Mr Cool was unnerved by the sight of the tea tray, and ran out into the garden when the Systems Administrator moved the little table back into the sitting room.  The spare chair is still here in the study.  We thought we'd better wait to move it until Mr Cool was out.

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