ANOTHER STRING TO MY BOW
Barbaras tea garden syndicate had got underway by the summer holiday season, so that when we returned in late July and reported our presence, I was considered available for duties. Ella had made it clear she would look after the garden at Park Street during my tea garden activities.
Barbara Milton, who I had met whilst she played squash with my step-daughter, Barbara, passed me an apron to put on and asked me to give a hand with the washing up. Shortly, you will be able to take over Sarahs job of waiting on the customers, while she has a break for tea. I was quite impressed with the tea garden layout and kitchen arrangement.
The entrance to this tea garden was in the most central position in Dunster High Street, where the famous Octagonal Yarn Market, built in the year, 1609 was close by on the left of the entrance. On the right, further along the High Street were the gates leading to the Castle, built in the year 1070 by the Normans, which was the home of the Luttrell family.
This was a prime site for the tea garden, where its notice Cream Teas Now Being Served attracted the sightseers milling around the adjacent shops on the cobbled footpaths. The tea garden was set to the rear of a fancy goods shop, and was narrow in shape, extending 20 yards alongside the shop premises. The tables and chairs were on slightly raised stone paved ground, needing care when taking trays to customers.
Whilst washing up, my eyes were observing the dozen or so clients outside, some of whom sat under a shelter eating mainly buttered scones and ice cream. Ice cream seemed to be the favourite among the young and their families. My Barbara was at work at Hinckley Point, but would be taking over the next day, on Saturday, for a week during her summer holiday. This would give Barbara Milton a chance to attend to their boarding house she ran. She was divorced from her husband who was in the police force and had three teenage children.
Occasionally in the past I overhead her telling my Barbara, the problems she had with her boarders, and how she had to throw their belongings out of the house to get rid of them. She was well built, had strong arms and legs due to her squash activities and would be a match, for any trouble makers amongst her boarders.
James, her son, who was in his last year at his school, had his sights set on becoming a Royal Marine officer. He too, was well built, tall for his age and no doubt took after his father in seeking a service life. At present, he was assigned to the Old Tea Garden consortium and served where his efforts were most needed, generally in the kitchen at the beck and call of whoever was in charge at the time.
Her two daughters, Sharon being the eldest and Samantha, were busy helping out doing their own thing. Sam, as she was called, was home on leave from school, taking orders and serving customers in the tea garden, as required.
Sharon and Sarah were generally busy receiving orders through the kitchen window, where a counter had been built to bridge the window sill to allow trays to be passed to and fro between the customer or waitress and the catering staff.
The kitchen dining room had been divided by a screen with washing up facilities on one side, and the preparation of food on the other side. Those washing up received the dirty crockery through the back door and placed the clean crockery onto racks in the screen, allowing staff in the kitchen to make up food on clean plates, for serving.
This kitchen layout, inherited by the Barbara consortium, where goods inwards and used utensils entered by the back door, through the cleansing section and then into the food processing area, and finally served via the window hatch, could hardly be faulted. It had all the hallmarks of a work study practitioner having initiated the layout.
My idea of being head waiter and welcoming clients into the Old Tea Garden soon became dented further after being required to wash up. My first full day involved carrying the crates of items delivered before 8 am from the entrance of the tea garden to the rear of the garden. Wash and brush down the tea garden floor and pathway. Give the wooden tables and benches a good scrub, after which I would be served a breakfast. Barbara hoped that I did not mind doing these menial tasks in place of James, who would be away at army cadets training camp for a week. I told her that this was all job experience, and could be helpful when seeking another head waiters job. My main concern was that I could suitably wear my black bow tie sometimes when actually carrying my prime role!
With my Barbara being in charge for most of the week, Ella took stations on a bench close to the kitchen entrance. One of her hobbies was making dried flower posies for each table. The most numerous foreign tourists were the Americans and the Australians, who I usually greeted with, Welcome to Dunster, how long are you over here, and where do you come from? I felt as if I was a public relations officer for the Tourist Board. When I was asked to have my photograph taken with them, I knew that I had scored a hit, and who could know, an invitation to visit them could follow!
An Australian revealed that his family came from Newcastle, where I was able to tell him that my niece, Gail Mayo, also lived in Newcastle, NSW, with Gary, her husband and two sons. He gave me his address, should I ever visit Australia, and to call on them when in Newcastle.
Opposite the gates of the Old Tea Garden, across the High Street, mother and daughter, Maureen and Thelma, ran the Café Willow Tea Room. Barbara and Sarah were very friendly with them, and envied their lifestyle. At the end of the summer season, they closed down the tea room and went off to some exotic holiday resort, such as the Bahamas. Barbara told them that they were opening the Old Tea Garden and hoped to leave them some customers. They were not concerned and thought that it would be good for both of them, as tourists would have no need to wander away from the centre of Dunster for light refreshments, be it indoors or outdoors.
When trade was slack at the Old Tea Garden, spies were sent out to find out how the Willow Tea Room was faring. This sometimes demanded bigger notices outside the Tea Garden gates.
From April to December, events of one kind or another, such as Dunster by Candlelight took place. Barbara Milton planned to have a barbecue on the day of Dunster Show, to be held on Friday, 16th August. The following week, when she took over charge of the Tea Garden, she built an open fireplace from materials loaned to her. One of the objects of this venture was that the aroma would percolate to the entrance, and entice passing shoppers or visitors on show day.
It seemed that there was no way of separating the smell of the food being grilled from the smoke; the garden was like a funnel, for the smoke moved slowly parallel to the ground. Everyone in the Tea Garden was coughing, as the smoke just hung around the tables, some started to leave before they had finished their food. The garden was blocked off at the rear, so that there was no through ventilation, only the entrance, acting like a suction pad to draw the smoke-cum-aroma from the garden. If you do not try, you do not know what can or cannot be achieved!
I was pleased to have taken part in the Tea Garden project and I felt sure that they would not lose on the venture financially, and for the Barbaras, it would have proved a testing time for their close relationship.
For the lower ranks, such as Sarah and Sharon, I know that they had the equivalent to the swear box. This time, it was a slip of paper with remarks that they thought of each other when things went wrong, which were put into a large jar. These slips of paper would be read out aloud when the Consortium had its final dinner at a restaurant at the close of the summer season. This did happen, and at the time of writing, they were still on speaking terms.
We would have liked to have spent longer at Dunster, taking part in the Tea Garden venture and meeting fresh people everyday, from other parts of the country and, in many cases, from other parts of the world. I think for Ella, as well as myself, it was a stimulant to be in the company of young people, going about their tasks with a jocular remark now and then.
I had entered the bowls club competitions and was required to get them played off during August. Ella was in the same position as myself, but neither of us did very well this season, not winning a cup for our efforts. This was understandable, being involved with the Dunster project.
Ella had enjoyed staying in Dunster, and expressed her wish that we have another short break during autumn at a hotel in Minehead. I scanned the Saga brochure and found the one we were looking for; the hotel was facing the sea front and only ten minutes walk from the shopping centre, for four days from the 14th October. We should have to keep our fingers crossed that the Old Tea Room syndicate did not extend their season from September to include October.
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: January 15, 2001