Perfect Way to Spend an Afternoon: Taking Afternoon Tea

What is your favourite way to spend an afternoon?

Taking afternoon tea, comprising a hot drink served alongside a multi-tiered cake stand full of delicious treats, is a quintessentially English thing to do. Yet although there are an abundance of venues that offer afternoon tea, I have only visited them to partake in it a handful or so times. This really should change, because it is probably one of my ideal ways to pass an afternoon.

It feels a delightfully indulgent thing to do. As formal afternoon tea involves the aforementioned multi-tiered cake stand filled with finger sandwiches, scones (to be served with jam and clotted cream) and cakes or other sweet delicacies, you really need to have a light lunch beforehand or skip it altogether.

I had recently booked one at a local period house hotel as a postponed birthday treat for my mother. Typically, the day before we were due to go saw a heavy snowfall hit our region of the UK (something which is pretty rare), which continued for the next few days. We decided to go ahead anyway, having checked that the roads were meant to be clear and indeed, they were.

Seckford Hall is a beautiful country house hotel full of olde-worlde charm and period details. On arrival, we were shown to the dining room and had our pick of tables. Naturally, we plumped for a window table that framed the winter wonderland snow scene covering the landscaped grounds of the hotel. Soon after we were seated, a blizzard commenced which was beautiful to watch from our warm and cosy position.

snow seckford

The table was beautifully set with starched white linens and matching napkins. A little reminiscent of the dining table when I lived in Italy, in fact.

Those who know me well know that I have never been a tea-drinker. I simply can’t abide the smell of it, never mind the taste. I can vividly recall a day when I was at primary school, aged perhaps eight, and the class teacher decided we would have a day for tasting different types of tea. I’m not completely sure what topic this actually related to… On the day, I tried in vain to tell the teacher that I really didn’t like tea but she was adamant that couldn’t be true and insisted that I taste a sip of every different type. There were about ten types… Let’s just say that the experience did little to turn me into a tea convert!

Well, in the last year or so, I have been making an effort to try a few different teas, especially ones with added flavours. I still can’t say that I love it, but I can now drink green tea with cherry or coconut extracts. At Seckford Hall, I opted for green tea with infused with cherry. My mother chose Earl Grey.

We weren’t disappointed when the waiter placed the cake stand on the table. There were both plain and fruit scones, which was perfect because I prefer plain. Whether jam or cream gets spread first is a subject that provokes hearty debate, but I personally prefer jam followed by cream. We couldn’t resist eating a scone first.

Afternoon tea at Seckford Hall cake stand

Next we moved on to the sandwiches. There were cucumber and cream cheese fingers, homemade sausage rolls and smoked salmon and cream cheese mini wraps with a sprinkling of caviar on top.

I imagine most people would agree that the very best part of an afternoon tea is the cakes. Today they certainly didn’t disappoint. There were mini carrot cake slices, battenburg slices and mini chocolate cakes (the latter were decadently rich).

When I asked a staff member where the toilets were, I was directed to a door labelled the ‘Ladies Powder Room’. How quaint is that? To reach it I had to climb up a rather grand old staircase that also led to the the guest bedrooms for people lucky enough to spend a night at the hotel.

On the upstairs landing I paused to look out of the window and survey the beautiful scene. A large pond on the hotel grounds had iced over and snow continued to fall, making it look almost magical. I wished I had taken my phone with me to take a sneaky picture!

All in all it was a lovely afternoon. It’s rare that I spend time with my mother without the children being there and, adorable as they are, they demand constant attention. We enjoyed conversation about all sorts of things and really enjoyed the experience. The older I get, the more I identify with my mother and see her for the incredible person that she is. I genuinely enjoy spending time with her and can only hope that my children will feel a similar way about wanting to spend time with me when they are older, too.

I am determined not to leave it too long before we go again. Perhaps to Seckford Hall again in the summer, to enjoy the landscaped grounds without a snowy white covering. I have already resolved to make the most of my local area and all that it has to offer.

How about you? Do you often go for afternoon tea? Who you you go with? And, dare I ask, do you add the jam or cream to your scone first?

 

Do you make the most of your local museums and galleries? Read about why you should!

How to Enjoy Where You Live and See It Through the Eyes of a Visitor

When we take holidays to locations away from home, it’s usual to research places of interest in the local area. Museums, art galleries and parks often feature as possible destinations.

Yet for some reason, many of us are less likely to take full advantage of the facilities that exist in our home towns and cities. I’m pretty sure that there is a syndrome describing this very phenomenon, but it escapes my recollection right now!

Perhaps if we made an effort to make the most of all the offerings on our doorsteps, in the way that a visiting tourist would, we would view our localities with fresh eyes and a greater sense of appreciation? Obviously, larger cities are bound to have a wider array of offerings, but even smaller towns often have a surprising range of options.

Making the Most of What’s on My Own Doorstep

Despite living in or close to my current town for most of my life, I only visited the main museum for the first time a few years ago- aged well into my thirties! There was lots there to engage my young kids, plenty of interactive displays and an impressive range of stuffed animals. A huge woolly mammoth model was a big hit with my son.

Recently I read about an art gallery in our town, which is small and only holds one exhibition at a time. The current exhibition is about the history of our town which is something that interests me as I’ve always been fascinated by social history. So I took my eldest child along one afternoon to check it out.

Finding Out About Local Life in Days Gone By

I had never been to the art gallery and I’m not even sure how long it’s been open for. It is located just a few doors away from the main museum. On arrival at the art gallery, we were surprised to find it completely empty apart from the lady working there who welcomed us warmly. There were numerous paintings on display, all painted by the same artist from the Victorian era. It was fascinating to observe familiar streets that I have walked or driven along portrayed in their former states, complete with historical details such as horses and carts, Victorian ladies and gentlemen dressed in their formal finery. Many shops were recognisable, albeit with their former names and selling completely different wares in the past.

We had a little time left on our car park ticket so walked the few doors down to the main museum for a quick look around. This was surprisingly quiet, too. My daughter played in the interactive Egyptian area while I pored over the town’s history display. It’s hard to imagine how life must have been for residents here over the past few hundred  years, but the detail given in the photos and text helped me to visualise it.

Appreciating Local Architecture

We enjoyed the short walk back to the car park as the museum is positioned in my favourite part of the town, close to the largest park. The houses and other buildings in the streets surrounding the park are beautiful with rich period details, mostly Victorian but also Edwardian and Georgian. Most of the owners have preserved their homes well and their appearances have probably changed little since they were built.

I would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone makes the most of their local facilities, whether they have always lived in the area or recently moved there. It feels good to forge a stronger connection to the place you live in. We pay for their maintenance through council tax so it makes sense to utilise them. If too few visitors make the effort to go to them, perhaps they will in time be closed down…’use them or lose them’ as the saying goes.

There are also quite a few independently owned cafes and tea rooms in our town centre that offer a more personal, unique experience (often with local artists’ work decorating the walls) than dropping into one of the same old chain cafes. I will make an effort to frequent these more often.

How about you? Do you have many local museums and art galleries. Those of you in large cities are probably spoilt for choice. Perhaps you always intend to visit them yet somehow never get around to it? I would love to hear about ones you have visited or at least intend to. I love it when readers share their thoughts so please don’t be shy.

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Reasons to embrace the arts

Reasons Why You Should Embrace the Arts

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the value of the arts and realise the significant effects they have on me.

Annual trip to the Ballet

For the last fifteen years, the Russian State ballet of Siberia has included our town in its extensive tour every February. The first year that I noticed an advert for it, I mentioned it to my sister suggesting it as a possible birthday present for our mother. She agreed so we booked tickets, not really sure what to expect as we had never attended a ballet before and we weren’t sure if we would really enjoy it.

We were pleasantly surprised. By chance, our tickets were down in the stalls close to the front, where the large orchestra is positioned. Sitting so close to the orchestra and their moving Tchaichovsky instrumentals, while we watched the incredibly graceful, expressive ballet dancers acting out their story on stage was mesmerising. Since then, my mother and I haven’t missed one and they all have a similar impact on us.

Other shows on offer locally…

The same local theatre offers a good range of visiting performers and we have been fortunate to have enjoyed shows ranging from the west end Cats show, Irish Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, The Sound of Music, as well as Abba and Queen tribute bands. Varied, but all thoroughly enjoyable in their own way.

The benefits of attending live theatre

Somehow, opening the mind to different types of performances has a mind-broadening effect and gives a sense of fulfilment. Sure, that’s just my subjective opinion, but interestingly Science Daily reported a few years ago that attending live theatre increased tolerance and empathy as found in a group of students who took part in the research. Tolerance and empathy are attributes that seem to be in increasingly short supply these days, so perhaps all schools should aim to take students to watch plays or ballets from a young age.

The benefits of listening to classical music

Certain types of music move me in a similar way. All through my childhood and adolescence, I grew up in a home hearing classical music several times a week as both my parents were fans of it. To be honest, I didn’t much care for it at the time, finding it dull compared to my preferred pop and rock music.

Yet now, I can’t deny that it somehow has a profound effect on me. I don’t listen to it all the time, but if in need of a little inspiration then classical music helps me find it. I find it awe-inspiring that some of the complex pieces were composed hundreds of years ago. I also find it has a calming effect on me and it seems I am not alone in feeling this way. The Readers Digest published an article featuring 10 Wondrous things that happen to your body when you listen to classical music. Amongst those were feeling more relaxed and productive. More than enough reasons to persuade anyone to give it a try. For a complete beginner’s introduction, I recommend either tuning in to a classical radio station such as Classic FM, or search YouTube for ‘best classical music mix’ or similar.

A classical Italian experience

Some years ago, my husband and I toured Italy one summer, visiting several of the major cities. While we were staying in Rome, we were taking a stroll after dinner one evening and soon after tossing the obligatory coin into the beautiful Trevi fountains, happened to stumble across a large piazza where a classical music concert was about to be performed. Chairs had been set up in rows, many of them already taken but there were still some free seats, and after a friendly lady explained that it was a free performance for the public, we sat down. It’s difficult to fully describe the atmosphere as we sat there in the moonlit, balmy July evening, with the loud, passionate sounds of of Vivaldi and Verdi echoing all around us in that historic piazza. A romantic, special evening to remember for ever.

Foreign Language Films

World cinema is another way of broadening the mind. Through my local library (as well as a small independent cinema that shows many foreign films) I have been able to access many foreign films in different languages. The ones in French and Italian have the additional bonus of helping me brush up my language skills but I have enjoyed subtitled films and series in many different languages. It’s surprising just how many countries have thriving film industries, even if they are relatively small-scale compared to Hollywood. Watching foreign language films, even if they are fictional, gives a fascinating glimpse into life in different countries.

Do you spend much time seeking out the arts in your life? I would be interested to hear which ones appeal to you the most.

Use wall art to personalise your home

How to Use Wall Art to Create a More Personalised Home

Home sweet home

Making our home an inspiring, relaxing haven for us to spend time in is important to us, so my husband and I take care when deciding what deserves to furnish and decorate it. That’s not to say that everything we own is expensive; a large percentage of the furniture we own is from IKEA, and we are not averse to purchasing used items if the quality is good. In fact, our living room sofas were bought second-hand well over ten years ago and still going strong.

Wall art to reflect your personality

I must admit that I have a bit of a thing for wall art. Maybe you do, too? It’s often one of the first things I notice in hotel rooms, people’s houses and other places such as cafes and restaurants. I love observing the way that individual hobbies and interests are often reflected by what people display on their walls. So perhaps it’s not surprising that my husband and I have spent more time and consideration into choosing the art which graces our walls than on most of the furniture in our home. To be honest, many of the art pieces could well outlive some of the furniture items.

A personal thing…

Obviously, art is an intensely personal thing. What appears beautiful to one person could appear hideous to the next. Some couples who live together have rather opposing tastes, which must make it challenging to try to agree on what to decorate the walls with. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I met and married a man who happens to share virtually identical taste to me. Honestly, it’s a bit bizarre. On a few occasions, we have taken it in turns to look around small art galleries or shops and reveal our top three favourite works afterwards. They are virtually always the same ones! This is mostly a positive as we never argue about what to buy for the house, but there is the downside that we have on occasions talked ourselves into splashing out on quite high value pieces because we both love them so much!

DIY options…

Not that wall art has to be expensive, of course. Once I cut a small piece from a wallpaper sample to size and framed it as it matched perfectly with fabrics we already had in a room. In the past I’ve enjoyed making some of my own, using a cheap plain canvas, a roll of plaster of Paris and oil paints. Now, I’m by no means a talented artist (I didn’t even take Art to GCSE level!) but I think that anyone can have fun experimenting with a few art materials that take their fancy and may just surprise themselves with what they can produce when their creative juices get flowing. It can be so rewarding and satisfying to produce something yourself and instil a sense of pride when you see it every day. Have you created something yourself? Here is one of my creations:

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Photo canvases are expensive but popular, especially with parents of young children. However, as it’s tempting to replace them with updated ones as the children grow older, we find it makes financial sense to regularly buy cheaper poster prints (rather than canvases) of our children, which can easily replace old posters in simple frames.

Local Art

Once a year there is an event called Art on the Prom in a local coastal town. As the name suggests, it is held all along the sea promenade which makes it a hugely popular event. My husband and I love visiting this as it is packed with (mostly local) artists showcasing their work for sale. It is so inspiring to admire stand after stand packed with beautiful, original pieces of work and if we were rich (as well as having a house with enough empty wall spaces available) we would probably end up filling the car to the brim with multiple pieces. For the moment, we have to make do with just ‘window shopping’ and allowing ourselves to splash out on just one piece per year if that.

Two years ago, we attended the Art on the Prom event and both my husband and I were captivated by the work of a wonderful local artist called Rachel Shohet. Rachel produces art in a rather unique way: by painting with enamel onto metal, typically selecting quite bold colours and she incorporates various types of animals, as well as 1930s Art Deco characters, into her work. Some of her pieces include iconic architecture from our local area (the county of Suffolk), and my husband and I both particularly loved those ones. We decided pretty quickly that we preferred the one depicting the wide-spanning Orwell bridge, well-known to residents of our county, complete with sailing boats in the river and a flock of sheep in the foreground. The photo doesn’t do it justice:

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A year later, we had been discussing the possibility of acquiring an additional piece of wall art for the kitchen. We considered attending Art on the Prom which was only a few weeks away at that point, but then decided that as we both loved Rachel’s designs so much, we would buy another of her pieces.

A Tough decision

When I phoned Rachel to enquire about this, she invited me to her home just a few miles away. Her house was wonderful, because she has filled almost every available piece of wall space in the downstairs rooms and stairway with her works of art, literally dozens of them! This wide selection of course made it more challenging for me to select just one, but after ten or so minutes of pacing through the rooms several times, I whittled the options down. However, in my heart of hearts I hadn’t spotted what I had hoped would feel like ‘the one’ and I think Rachel sensed that. She switched on her PC and showed me a few additional designs that weren’t currently displayed on her walls. When I set my eyes on one of those, I knew immediately it was the one we were meant to take home. The only slight problem was that Rachel remembered it was currently on display in a local café, but was insistent that she was happy to walk the few minutes to the café to fetch it for me. This she did, and Paul was delighted with my choice when he arrived home from work that evening to find this in the kitchen:

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Make your own FREE wall poster

In the run up to Christmas, I may also take advantage of the clever poster maker that the lovely Cass Bailey from ‘The Diary of a Frugal Family’ blog recently wrote about. Her blog is very informative and inspiring so I wasn’t surprised when she shared this great idea. You simply select around 15 phrases, perhaps the favourite things of someone you would like to create the poster as a gift for, select your colour preferences and the poster will be generated ready to print. Cass is very kindly offering the use of the poster generator for free, see it here. Just add a simple frame and this makes a stylish, personalised gift.

Do you have a favourite type of wall art, or artist? Does it reflect any particular interests you have? Do you find it difficult to agree with a partner what to display on your walls? I would love to see your favourite piece of wall art, feel free to add a pic in the comments.

Thanks for reading, see you again soon 🙂