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Birthday High Tea @ The Ritz

We left our cottage in Durley, said goodbye to the Merc in Reading*, and caught the train to London. A budget hotel near Paddington would be our home for three nights, then dad and I would fly home.

* where I managed to leave the mount for our satnav still attached to the windscreen, not discovered until I got home. Dummy.

I’d been to London briefly twice before (including at the start of this trip) and had expected to not like it. The opposite happened. So I was glad to have another couple of days there – even if it was only a couple of days. And even if this time would force me to start crossing the threshold into another decade….

Ten years ago for my 30th I had a joint party with my father who turned 60 around the same time (it was billed as our ‘90th’). As it transpired, within a few months I began my 30s by leaving a city and a marriage and starting what has become a great new life in Wellington.

I wasn’t as inclined to be quite so dramatic this time round. But what to do for the 40th? Another party? Travel? Both? 🙂

The trip concept with mum and dad started to take form, which was partially built around being able to celebrate dad’s 70th in St Andrews. Between that, the family history stuff, and proximity to my birthday, the trip went from concept to certainty. I would meet mum and dad in Scotland at the beginning of May, take dad on a side trip to Turkey, meet back up with mum in England, and finish up in London where we’d have an early celebration for my birthday.

The dilemma then became what to do in London that was a bit special, a place in which you’d never be stuck for choice? As well as my parents, I have a couple of friends there who I was keen to include. It was pretty easily decided in the end: high tea with everyone, and a dinner cruise on the Thames with mum and dad.

So where for high tea? You could lose yourself in the research as it seems there are so many excellent places these days. But I wanted more than just great food, service and reputation, I also wanted the ambience and decor – and in looking at websites it wasn’t always obvious what the dining rooms looked like.

I chose The Ritz. It seemed to tick all the boxes.

At the beginning of this year, four months out, I decided I better make the booking. There was only one viable day and I’m lucky I didn’t muck around any longer as I only had the choice of an 11.30am sitting or 7pm! ‘High lunch’ it was.

The day arrived, a really hot day. This was London’s heat-wave-before-the-many-weeks-of-dismal-weather-before-the-Olympics. We caught a cab and loitered outside the prestigious address until my friends arrived. It was lovely to see them.

Inside we transited through the amazing hotel entrance and lobby were shown to our table in a very proper, naturally, but friendly manner. I was so pleased with the choice: the Palm Court was stunning. Golden tones, elaborate furnishings. It was buzzing with other high tea goers in this two-hour sitting.

Louise has been a friend since babyhood and has lived in London for several years. Danielle I met soon after moving to Wellington. She moved to London at the beginning of the year and it was great to share my 40th with her, as I travelled to Vietnam to help celebrate hers a couple of years ago.

We all enjoyed the tea offerings. To be honest though, I went to a high tea at one of the nice Wellington hotels last year and while The Ritz tea may have been more traditional (?) I didn’t feel it was any better in either quality or taste than my enjoyable local experience. We happily nibbled from the tiered plates of food, alternately sipping between chosen teas and glasses of bubbles.

But there was also cake! There was a minute of happy embarrassment as the cake was brought out and the staff sang happy birthday. Everyone at our table had to have a compulsory slice though I don’t think anyone had room.

Dad and Louise. Until recently, when dad retired, he worked for Lou’s father in rural West Auckland.

The time flew. It was sort of like a wedding day – a bit surreal; lots going on and not enough time to do proper justice to the company, the food, the surroundings. All too soon it was time for us to vacate our seats as groups for the next sitting were already hovering in the lobby. It’s a shame you can’t linger for longer, but it is a hugely popular activity and their several sittings per day are usually booked solid for at least three months.

(The balloon was part of the gift from Louise!)

Not sure what I’m looking at!, but around that time an odd man watching our proceedings shouted a few offensive things at us. That didn’t mar what had had been a fantastic occasion, especially the brief catch-up it enabled with the girls.

And after dipping my toes in the waters of 40, I wasn’t feeling too bad. Just very full.

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