I closed my eyes and savoured the taste of white and red and soft. Homemade scones that melted in my mouth, smothered with clotted cream that was not too sweet, topped with a dollop of strawberry jam that was deliciously sweet – a perfect pairing – and all this, mid-afternoon, in Bath, England. What better way to spend a Saturday?
My friend Julie and I had toured the Roman baths, where history oozed from ancient murals, silent yet bursting with stories we could only guess at. In roped off niches, groups of archaeologists dug under traffic-filled streets high above us, piling up mounds of rocks in the hope of unearthing yet more treasures. The majestic beside the mundane, how typically atypical.
We had walked the cobbled streets lined with Georgian row houses and roamed side streets where second stories hulked over our heads and “Gardez l’eau!” was once a warning not to scorn. I saw a quirky monkey tree. Jane Austen, I heard, was not the least bit impressed with the same sights that awed me. Here, too, perhaps, Chaucer conjured his Wife of Bath, who gossiped about her five husbands and told everyone what women really want most is to be in charge of their men folk. Geoffrey would have been fun to know.
But it was at the Sally Lunn’s Teahouse* – in the oldest building in Bath – that the pinnacle of sensory elation heightened my anglophile yearnings. It wasn’t just one thing that contributed to an indelible memory. It was the rain falling softly, streaking the window panes, and the warmth that greeted our chilled hands. It was the sloped creaking floor. It was the charming accent of our waitress. And the teapot held leaves, not bags on strings.
I was over the moon just being there. I broke open the golden crust on a hot scone to find a flaky whiteness that awakened my taste buds to a treat I had never before experienced. The lemon curd and jam angled for supremacy. The genteel finger sandwiches had to wait their turn. When I inhale the memory, I eat the memory. I knew the nostalgia of the moment before it happened.
by Elaine Coish