The dark tea-time of the soul


This Sunday afternoon the girls and I went to RHS Wisley for an autumnal walk. We had just missed the sunny part of the day but the colours were still stunning and it was good to get out in the fresh air. To be honest, the air soon grew a little too fresh for us and in the end we headed to the cafe for a warm-up. For us, having a treat in the cafe is always part of the fun of an outing to Wisley or a National Trust property and I never expect it to be cheap. At NT properties in particular we feel that the steep prices in the tea-rooms are at least going towards the good cause that is the National Treasure.

We used to prefer the Glasshouse Cafe at Wisley but they have rejigged it all in there and it feels rather like queuing up to place your order at McDonald’s in the olden days before the computer ordering system. So now we go to the main Food Hall by the library and restaurant. We had two small hot drinks served by an unsmiling lady; the rest – one slice of cake, a boxed apple juice and a bag of fudge – we served ourselves. It cost over £14. We sat down at two small tables for two pushed together. Both wobbled irritatingly and incessantly, as did one of the chairs. The hot drinks were lukewarm by the time we sat down and in terms of size, small very definitely meant small. The juice cartoon was also pretty diminutive. The chocolate cake was nice enough but it alone had cost over £4 (we shared it). I sat watching the food wibble backwards and forwards in front of me and felt slightly nauseous. Partly because mocha and chocolate cake together is really overkill on the sweetness front but mainly because I had wasted £14-something on a few sickly treats eaten fairly rapidly in an unattractive cafe with wonky tables; you couldn’t even sit and enjoy them comfortably. I felt like a fool.

In contrast, every Friday when my daughter goes to her ballet class we visit a pop-up vintage cafe in a local church hall. It is run by Nickel Support, a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities. The charity gives them the opportunity to work in a community shop or serve in the cafe, to learn how to upcycle furniture and curiosities, to get involved with photographing these and selling them online and to get experience of using social media to showcase the charity and what it’s up to. When we go to the cafe everyone is always welcoming and friendly. If there aren’t enough tables and chairs they get some out for us and serve us at our tables. The really delicious cakes and biscuits are £1 or £1.50; hot drinks are £1. It’s popular with elderly people, mums with toddlers and babies and, of course, the parents, grandparents and siblings of children attending dance classes or uniformed organisation meetings at the church halls. Last week the cafe couldn’t open (a rare event) and we all stood miserably around in the dance changing rooms while the rain hammered down outside. We missed our cake, tea and the atmosphere of the cafe.

Two charity cafes. One is very much my cup of tea; the other, not so much.



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