The Birthday Season is still in full swing, and this time it was Sally’s turn to celebrate, which she did with unmitigated enthusiasm by dragging herself out of bed far too early in order to minister unto a dining room full of people. She had been lulled into thinking that this was some kind of surprise party, but, no – in fact it was just a small gathering of hungry guests.
However, once breakfast and a few essential chores were out of the way, the rest of the day was hers, so we left it to Sally to decide how to spend the time. She opted for a trip in the Brecon direction for the four of us to treat ourselves to a cream tea at a tea shop some distance west of Hay. Judging by the website promoting this little haven for weary travellers, it promised to be a grand day out, with the prospect at journey’s end of a cream tea to rival Gentle Jane’s. We had a couple of book orders to send off, and we were going via Wormelow, which still has a functioning Post Office, so we thought we would post them there.
Sally jumped out of the car as soon as we pulled up, disappeared into the shop and seconds later reappeared, still carrying the parcels.
“Closed for lunch,” she explained.
Surprising. Not that the Post Office was closed for lunch, but that it was already lunchtime. At this rate, it would nearly be time for a cream tea!
“Never mind,” said I, “There’ll be one in Kingstone.”
There was. Sally leapt out of the car again and once more reappeared in less time than it takes to tell.
“Closed for the rest of the day,” she said.
In Peterchurch, the Post Office is right there on the main road through the village, and it is part of a busy village shop. Sally grabbed the parcels again and headed for the door. The minutes ticked away, and no sign of her.
“Third time lucky,” I suggested, hopes rising.
More time passed before she reappeared – but she was still carrying the books! We all looked to her for an explanation.
“Well, there was someone in there, so I asked if I could post my packages. She said, ‘The person who deals with the post has just gone to the toilet. I’ll just go and find her,’ and she disappeared round the back of the shop somewhere. I waited for ages and no one came back. The place has been completely deserted since then, so I came out again!”
“Ummm . . . shall we try Hay, or Glasbury?” I ventured.
The road to Glasbury doesn’t go through Hay as such, so we opted for Glasbury.
As we approached the town Sally noticed a Post Office sign outside a filling station. Out she dashed again, only to return within a minute, packages still under her arm.
“I could really do with a cream tea,” she pronounced, offering no further explanation as to why the parcels were still with her.
Well, at least we had the magic tea shop to look forward to, and it wasn’t long before we came upon it. Though it looked somewhat unprepossessing from the outside, we knew that on the inside we would find the best of local produce, home cooking and, allegedly, the finest Italian coffee. We couldn’t wait.
On entering the premises, the first thing we noticed, besides the fact that the place looked very cluttered and smelt of deep frying, was the big industrial aluminium sink in the kitchen, clearly visible past the counter, because there was no door to block the view. Undaunted, we sat down.
We were handed some laminated menus by the beaming proprietress. At the same time, she waved a casual hand in the direction of the specials board, in case we fancied a light, though by now late, lunch. However, we were here for the cream tea, so she was unable to persuade us with the gammon and chips, or even the chicken nuggets and chips.
I can’t speak for the others, but my heart sank as my eye took in the specials menu. I glanced casually at my three fellow travellers and caught Sally staring at the plastic flowers adorning an alcove in a wall on the other side of the room.
“Nice fresh flowers,” I commented.
She gave me one of her looks.
Searching the menu for something – anything – that looked like the mental pictures we had retained after perusing their website, the possibility that this place would be able to deliver a cream tea to rival Gentle Jane was looking ever more remote.
I decided to opt for an espresso and a scone, basing that decision on the logic that they couldn’t go far wrong with something this basic.
But it is a fact of life that, when it comes to culinary alchemy, it is often the most basic things that are the most difficult to get right. I need not elaborate.
Sally and I, of course, dedicated to the cause of finding interesting refreshment venues for our guests, remain undeterred even in the face of adversity. You win some, you lose some. We take it all in our stride, and we are fair in our assessment. Thus we were quite prepared to give this place a couple of points for novelty value – after all, finding a ‘60s seaside tea shoppe on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park is always good for a laugh. But not good, it would seem, for the finest Italian coffee.
And the books?
The books still hadn’t been posted, but there was just time to get back to Hay before the last post, so we headed off.
At the Post Office counter, the gruff man on duty took one of the packages and tried to drop it through the slot in the Post Office Preferred Patent Perspex Package Probe (see entry for 10th October . . .).
“It won’t go through,” he said.
“It will,” Sally disagreed, “We’ve posted dozens of these and they are all the same size – and they all go through the slot.”
“Well, I’m telling you that if it doesn’t drop through the hole, then it’s too big.”
He chose the wrong moment to make a stand. Sally gave him the full benefit of her experience of posting books, as well as the unabridged version of what she thinks of something that should be so simple but in fact is so open to interpretation that no one standard can apply and therefore, having no inbuilt failsafe mechanism, should not be used ever again. I could almost see her thinking, “I wonder if his mouth is big enough to use that as a gauge for a 25m book?”
And so, another birthday, full of surprises, as these days should be, drew quietly to a close, leaving us all with a clutch of happy memories to keep us warm on the rest of life’s haphazard journey.