Today I effectively begin with another tea shop review….but for reasons which become clear one with a difference. Then I will move on to another bit of spiritual tourism. Yesterday was one of those days where I went on surreal adventures….although I did get lots of work done first.
Yesterday some friends from my church back down south were visiting and had kindly invited me to meet them in the Royal County Hotel to take afternoon tea with them and the friend they were staying with in Durham. This is served in the hotel lounge, an area with character, which has been destroyed by a huge tv screen running Sky Sports. One cannot imagine Dickens being in one of these places writing the Pickwick Papers if he had been distracted by a screen next to him giving mindnumbingly dull information on the latest newspaper down the road tiddlywinks league fixtures.
Anyway, I digress, afternoon tea was ordered, eventually, after the woman taking the order had establised the group before her were ordering the full afternoon tea experience for four people, not a pot of tea and a sandwich each. After a relaxing wait the table was laid with the appropriate pots of tea, (was slightly disappointed that “normal” was referred to as “normal” not English Breakfast), sandwiches, scones & appropriate accompanyments and cake. A picture was then taken, (apparently the guests came with instructions to get a decent one to show in church back down South on Sunday when they’re praying for me and Third Party). Anyway, sorry, I’ve got diverted again…back to the food. The sandwiches involved a choice..a choice I thought was going to be difficult until I found out what I thought was slightly strange looking tomato was actually smoked salmon. – Please remember at this point I am actually quite common and unacustomed to such refined surroundings. – Anyway the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches were glorious. Then on to my favourite part, fruit scones with thick cream and fresh strawberries. Now to be fair the scones were average, no where near as good as those encountered in Vennels a couple of weeks ago, but the cream and succulent strawberries were delicious. The mini blackforest things I had to finish with were rich and induldgent, but so good I ended up having two, (thus missing out on the banana bread which the others finished up with).
So what did I make of it. Well, it was an experience… a terribly decadent and indulgent experience which I was v. greatful my friends allowed me to enjoy with them.
After a small interlude in a library to try and get some more work done I headed for a bit of spiritual tourism with a friend. Sung Evensong in a beautiful college chapel where Rabbi Lionel Blue was speaking, (Wiki link has given me a host of info I wish I’d known yesterday). Whilst some what hesitant and obviously getting quite frail we were given a host of thought provoking humour with depth to it from another one of those people you wish were your grandad. Being the evening when Pentecost began for the Jews we were told about this and the significance of the giving of the law. The main significance, according to the Rabbi, is for us not to do to others what we would hate to happen to us. This is similar to the “love your neighbour” thing in Christianity. He pointed out in a world of fear and anger that becomes particularly important and that one of the best ways to counter the negative emotions is through humour.
I came away from the service with mixed feelings. I was a bit sad this bloke was clearly so frail, but encouraged that even in his frailty he was continuing to share his wisdom and build Jewish / Chrisitian understanding. Yet again I was left wondering why, in this country, we don’t give our OAPs generally the respect they deserve and rarely give them the opportunity to share their insights, wisdom and stories with the younger generations? Ok, over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to hear three extremely gifted and amazing men, all aged 78 or over…but I think back to my grandfather and others I have enountered over the years and the amazing stories they would tell aswell.
I also came away wondering about “experience tourism” both secular and spiritual. Whilst in Durham I have been v. much an experience tourist, where ever possible engaging in wonderful opportunities simply because they are there. They are experiences which belong to a world I will never actually be part of but which are, for a while, open to me to enjoy. They are experiences I seek to learn from, aswell as enjoy. For example I didn’t realise whilst the significance was different that Jews celebrated a festival of Pentecost aswell. Experiences which hopefully will give me some better understanding of those for whom this is life. They are also experiences which allow me, on occassion, to escape. They are cheap ways for me to escape everyday life and have the benefits of a holiday without leaving home.