Tufnell Park Teas
Katie G, one-time tea co-ordinator, explains how they work
The two questions I was asked by all prospective hostesses were ‘What do I need to do?’ and ‘What happens at teas?’
You really don’t need to do very much. You do need the wherewithal to make tea and coffee and enough mugs. You do need some space, not oodles but enough for half a dozen small people and their larger hangers-on, some of them sitting on the floor, plus somewhere to shove the chariots.
If you don’t have that sort of space, then don’t feel in the slightest bit bad about saying so and please don’t feel that you can’t come to teas because you can’t host.
Things you absolutely don’t have to have include Jane Asher type ways with sponge. There are some domestic goddesses among the regular hosts, but there are also some domestic dunces. Like me. I always forget that it is, in fact, my tea that morning and have spent precious minutes between the first, bright, 9.30am phone enquiry as to whether tea is on and the 10am start scouring the cupboard for comestibles and wondering whether I can get away with mince pies in June. As stated above, you also don’t have to live in a mansion. And you don’t have to have kiddie-proofed your house. The small visitors are the responsibility of the large visitors, not your responsibility. Once you’ve pointed out any real elephant traps (missing stairs, unearthed plugs – the usual) you’re done. Also, if you don’t want to host a tea for whatever reason (and you do not have to explain that reason) then please just say no. There’s no point feeling guilty, saying yes, wishing you hadn’t and cancelling on the day. It really is fine to pass.
The What Happens bit is harder to explain. Superficially, it’s that thing you dread before you have a baby: a Mothers’ Meeting. Taken literally, it’s a little specific in two regards. Very occasionally a Pater is lurking somewhere in the shadows and once in a turquoise moon a Pater participates. Also, you don’t have to be a parent. My Mum has taken Monkey to teas many times (one of the reasons why I love the TPP is because of the immediate warmth and kindness with which she has been received) and some nannies and childminders come too. We’d love more Daddies and non-parent people but, most of the time, it’s mostly Mums.
As to the figurative side of teas being a Mother’s Meeting well, yeah. We guzzle tea, say, ‘I shouldn’t but I will’ to fifth biscuits and yak for Britain. People have the time of their lives because it’s all new, there are loads of smalls and Other Children’s Toys and they get to eat loads more biscuits than they’d ever be allowed at home. And sometimes there are cats. And gardens. And tiny babies.
That’s it in a nutshell, but I would like to finish with some very personal observations. To say that I wouldn’t have managed without Tuesday and Friday teas would be fatuous and stupid – of course I would. But they were a very important source of help at a time of trouble.
My baby cried all the time and I loved her and loathed looking after her in equal measure; I was in a complete mess, got all stewed up over nothing all the time and I genuinely didn’t know what to do. Teas were an oasis. People said, ‘What a lovely baby,’ which restored calm; people held the baby while I went to the loo – on my own; people said, ‘Don’t worry – all things will pass,’ and, ‘Oh yeah, mine cried all the time – complete pain, isn’t it?’ which made me feel normal. On one occasion, ‘Oo, isn’t she alert!’ made me feel competent. And mostly, people were bothered about how I was much more than the baby and gave advice which was practical and born of experience in a thoughtful way which was not remotely patronising. And when I went to the next tea, people would remember and ask how things were going.
We were given things too: teething powders, I remember (I’d never heard of them), and a sock when I turned up one winter tea with Monkey in a sling feeling rather on top of things actually, only to have it pointed out that one foot was bare, blue and in danger of losing a toe to frostbite. Now that Monkey’s two and a half, she loves the prospect of ‘tea party’ and seeing the friends she’s made and it’s great having a ready-made source of entertainment.
I’m not a joiner, couldn’t wait to get back to work and didn’t really think this tea lark was for me, but they really are special, precious times. If you haven’t, please do give it a go – I guarantee that you will find at least one person that you hit it off with and if you hate the Mummy chat, you can always hang out with the smalls.
So, to all the hostesses, and to all those who have been so good to Monkey and me, thank you so very, very much.