I’ll never forget my mum telling me about the first time she was invited for tea with an English friend. She had just started University and like all freshers she wanted to get to know the other students. So, when she was invited in for a cuppa and was presented with that- and only that- she was somewhat taken aback. How we laughed when she recounted the scene to me.
Years later, like a rite of passage, I too accepted an Englishwoman’s invitation of cup of tea. There we were leaning against the breakfast board in their kitchen and before me was a mug of milky tea – bag left in for posterity – and nothing more than my mother’s words ringing in my ears.
In a world where ‘do you want to come in for coffee‘ means something different entirely, to the Northern Irish, inviting a person over for a cup of tea is a wee bit like that Dylan Moran sketch where he goes to visit friends in the country and they lay on a spread fit to give him gout.
We are an unashamed nation of bakers and feeders. Awash with tea, we share stories of our lives and inevitably, of the lives of others. One cuppa usually becomes two as we put the world to rights and is always accompanied by a traybake or a biscuit.
This past week we’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of close friends who have come to our home, arms laden with buns and loaves and homemade jam should visitors call unannounced; soups and pies and stews when we couldn’t face cooking for ourselves.
On Monday when Laura heard Nanny had been taken into hospital she began to bake. On Saturday when food was the last thing on our minds she brought us homemade soup and scones with currants, made from scratch. Iris baked cakes and made jam from berries harvested in her garden before saying a prayer for us in Mass. Rosie’s husband Wes made us his speciality – lasagne – and those who couldn’t bake thoughtfully called into farm shops bringing wholesome fayre, flowers and friendship to our door.
Of course, it’s not about the food. It is the gesture of kindness which is most appreciated. Food is the gateway to conversation and it did us good to share memories of Nanny with dear friends this week. She will live on in our hearts and in our stories.
We are so lucky to have such caring people in our lives. Thank you to each and every one for rallying round us this week; we are forever grateful.
See you next time, L, X