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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

I have decided that my considered response to Serenity can probably wait until the second or even the third time that I get to watch it, because even after the last few days of reasoned reflection, my brain still sticks to that one scene, and if you’re a Firefly fan and you too have seen Serenity (and it seems like many of us have, since Serenity came in as the number one film in the UK this week, hoorah and well done to all involved) you will also still be wandering drunkenly around slamming into walls and wandering off on unplanned tangents, much like a leaf on the wind, if you know what I mean. And if you know what I mean, I applaud you and ask you to be my best friend.

Today instead, I will tell you about Sunday, and the most spectacularly brilliant thing I’ve done since arriving in London. Mrs Bishop was staying over for the weekend, and that in itself is always a wondrous occasion worthy of celebration, but to mark this occasion, and to ensure that this weekend will always be known as the-weekend-where-we-had-afternoon-tea-at-the-Ritz, we went and had afternoon tea at the Ritz.

Oh good lordy, but you’ve no idea. We panicked mildly that morning about outfits, because we’d been out at a gig the night before and were feeling a tad delicate and completely unable to make proper decisions about what is smart and what is merely smart-casual. We were also unsure about dress code, because although gentlemen must wear a suit jacket, and jeans and runners aren’t allowed, there’s no strict guidelines for the ladies among us.

In the end we scrubbed up quite well, me in m’fancy boots purchased only the day before and Mrs B looking dapper, all suited and booted in glorious black. We wandered about unwisely for a bit, thanks to non-running trains of both the overland and underground variety, and accidentally ended up outside the Dorchester with 10 minutes to spare (which was surrounded by frightening Michael Jackson fans who all seemed content to stand and wait and do absolutely nothing, particularly not talk to each other) and finally flagged down a black cab. The driver was amused to hear that we were going for tea at the Ritz, advising us that we “won’t get much change”. Suitably flustered and full of nervous giggles, we’d arrived.

Even walking through the door of the Ritz, knowing you are for once supposed to be there, is eventful enough. A man directs you to the tea room, and bows. Two more men bow low as you arrive and start to scrape the floor with their foreheads while directing you to the cloak room in which you can deposit your coats. You arrive back to the main bit, stare around the place at the décor that is at once breath-takingly appalling and admirably attractive, being a weird mixture of golds, pinks and wall to wall mirrors. All around you, waiter penguins walk quickly but discreetly with pastries and sandwiches and so much silver crockery that your eyes want to melt.

We two were sat slap in the middle of it all, with the waiter penguin man standing behind us to push in our chairs and placing the napkins on our laps while we avoided each other’s eyes for fear of snorting all of our nervous laughter all over his immaculate waist coat. He bowed to face his own knees and left. We were the youngest two there by at least 30 years, if you didn’t count the two Japanese girls sitting quietly in a corner. Another waiter penguin came and took our tea order, and I ordered off menu, which absolutely delighted me. He seemed impressed, we could tell, by the twitchy manner in which his farewell bow was performed. Tea came in the leaf variety, and in massive unfinishable pots, which we continued to drink from for a full hour and a half without stopping. Yet another waiter penguin came and gave us our three-tiered tray of food: bottom filled with rectangles of sandwiches (with the crusts cut off); middle row had scones (two a piece) and two slices of fruit cake; top layer was all about the pasties, with lemon and chocolate mousse and a pavlova affair to accompany. This waiter penguin talked us through each and every bit of food, and also explained the clotted cream and jam that had arrived. He then bowed, licking the soles of his own shoes, and left us to it.

The next hour and a half flew by so quickly it’s hard to imagine that we were there at all. We bravely tackled the sandwiches first, barely pausing before moving onwards and upwards to the scones. I was in the middle of making some kind of fabulously insightful point about whatever it was we were conversing about – it was probably something to do with flowers or ponies, since we’re both ladies, I don’t remember the exact details – and I had to pause mid-sentence after I had taken a lady-like nibble from the side of the scone-clotted-cream-jam ensemble I had created. I’ve never eaten anything so exquisite in my life. My mouth and that scone became engaged to be married at that very moment, such was the rush of love between them. Sincerely breath-taking.

The pastries were on the same side of perfection as the rest of the food, and we had to refuse all offers from each waiter penguin who came past bowing and offering replacements for everything we’d already eaten. Throughout, a harp (golden, of course, to match the surroundings) was played by a man whose highly talented heart must be daily broken, as he continued to play medleys of Disney songs, Andrew Lloyd Webber hits and other musical spamming. And then, all of a sudden, like waking suddenly from a perfect dream and realising it’s Monday morning, our time was up. A waiter penguin came and whisked away our food before we’d a chance to gasp without so much as a bow, but kindly replaced them with yet more things to eat, this time some kind of cream based fruit whatsit, in order to lessen the blow of the thought that we were about to the ejected from what must genuinely be some people’s actual idea of what heaven is really like.

What I’m saying is – Yay. Tea at the Ritz is so fantastic it should be experienced by every single person in the world at least once in their life, and I’ve just today remembered I’m doing it again mid-November when another visitor comes to stay. Oh yay, oh joy, oh the merry delight of it all.

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