My mother has come over to Scotland on holiday, bringing a tin of homemade cookies, vegetable shortening, Tim Horton's coffee and my best red suit, which I fit into once again. Today she has a refresher driving lesson, so as to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road. This is a brilliant idea.
Yesterday we dressed in our best Ladies Who Lunch outfits and went to the Caledonian Hotel (officially now the Waldorf Astoria, as it is called by nobody in Edinburgh) for afternoon tea. My mother loves hotel teas. But it's not the tea or the food as much as the ambiance, really, that is so romantic to my mum. And "Peacock Alley" is certainly an impressively grand space. (I suppose it could be described as romantic, only this time I was there with my mother, and the one time B.A. and I sat there we were with Polish Pretend Son, and PPS looked like he was about to stab the tardy waiter with his pen knife, which is romantic only in songs.)
Tea, you should be warned, is 25 squid per person. But you do get some very yummy things: sandwiches with the crusts cut off, two kinds of scones with clotted cream and two kinds of jam, slices of chocolate jelly roll, several petites fours, and an extra plate of cookies and lemon loaf, plus multiple cups of your chosen tea. My mother and I munched our way through the plates of goodies discussing family news.
I had the vaguest sense of being a British colonist somewhere in Africa in the 1950s, hearing about home. Canada seemed very far away, and yet the snazzy afternoon tea ritual is as familiar to Canadian hotels as it is to Scottish ones. The King Edward in Toronto, for example, has an absolutely splendid tea and an equally grand hall to consume it in. And I asked eager questions of sisters, brothers, nephews and niece.
Peacock Alley was mostly populated by women, mostly slender, with excellent hair and expensive business suits. A few women had a man (and at one table a child) with them, but more often than not the tables were woman-only spaces. Afternoon Tea is a more feminine meal in Edinburgh than it is in Toronto--which I first discovered when Benedict Ambrose baulked at attending my own tea parties at home. I offer the idea of Afternoon Tea to single female readers as an excellent social activity for women, single and otherwise.
On Sunday night, B.A. and I went to the birthday dinner of a dear friend, and as usual we were the only married couple there. There were eight lifelong Singles and us--ten childless people. It was all great fun, with piano duets and singing in the sitting-room afterwards. And naturally I would have rather have been home with children because, whatever anyone says, the crown and fulfillment of married life is children.
I know that there are women with children who, being very bored and lonely, would have swapped places for me for an evening to go to a party with a lot of Single people and listen to piano duets. However, I also know that they would hasten home to their children feeling terribly glad that they had them.
Fortunately for me, one of my brothers and one of my sisters HAVE had children, so I don't have a totally "child-free" existence. I have three childish personalities to ponder, especially in the run-up to their birthdays and Christmas. And I look forward to the day when they are ready to be dumped on their Edinburgh uncle and aunt for a month in the summers while their parents see what a holiday from parenting is like.
When in Poland this year I talked about being married-but-childless, a lady asked "What about adoption?" "What about adoption" is a very painful question to the childless, particularly now that adoption is so expensive and wound with red tape. It is also wrought with bad feeling as Catholic parents lose battles to place their children with other Catholics, or even with a traditional married couple. Personally, I would have taken the Slovak Roma children in a heartbeat--although in the next heartbeat I would have remembered that I should have asked B.A. first.
I mentioned to highly politically-active friends that I would quite happily take in Christian Syrian refugee children, just as the British took in refugee children during and after the First and Second World Wars, and that I was rather surprised nobody has asked me to do this. This led my neighbour to decry the racism of the UK government and the fact that only 24 Syrian refugees have been allowed in--something like that. This confused me as Syrians are white and Christians are, er, Christians, so I don't know what racism has to do with it--other than that "race" is a highly social construct and changes from society to society.
And so this post, which begins with a delicious and expensive afternoon tea at a prestigious Edinburgh hotel. ends with the reminder that hundreds of thousands of fellow Christians are suffering horrible privations, massacres and homelessness. And I with my cash-poor but certainly circumstance-rich lifestyle am vaguely wondering why nobody has asked me to help take care of them. Oh, sure, I do get emails from a Catholic relief agency asking for money, but I don't have money: I have time, a love of hospitality and a desire to help fellow Christians. During the Second World War, I wouldn't have had to go looking for children to help; they would have been billeted on us already. What has changed?