Most celebs and rock stars hang out in fashionable areas like the Cotswolds or Surrey. But not Ronnie Wood, the Rolling Stone who has come to rest in our part of the world, at Little Gaddesden. One of his favourite haunts is the Alford Arms where he’s a regular patron.
As star-struck locals my wife and I decided to go and see the art exhibition he’s been staging at Ashridge this month, hoping for a glimpse. Needless to say, Ronnie wasn’t there but we did admire his touch with the brush, especially his images of his fellow Stones.
Afterwards we called into the cafeteria for some tea and cake. Seven pounds! The cake was so-so but the tea was historically awful. It was either made from a Poundland teabag or was the 10th serving from a single bag. Either way ditchwater would have probably tasted better.
I’ve always liked tea shops. From the very upmarket Betty’s in Harrogate to the quaint but sadly extinct Castle Tea Rooms in Berkhamsted they have been one of those life markers I always look out for. It probably dates back to the time my mother used to take me to the Primrose Cafe in Chesham back in the late 50s where she would tuck into a slice of coffee cake washed down with a cup of Nescafe while nattering to her friends. When I lived in Devon, Sundays wouldn’t be complete without a cream tea at The Southern Cross in Newton Poppleford where the signature dish wasn’t the tea but a pot of cream about a foot high!
My most memorable cream tea was on a holiday in Cornwall back in 1975. We’d taken my wife’s 12-year-old brother with us and had settled down to scones and cream in a sunny garden. When we came to leave we discovered he’d managed get a finger stuck in the hole normally occupied by a parasol on our table! After much manoeuvring of the finger, and table, the finger was still firmly stuck. We finally managed to free it by the application of a large dollop of cream and revolving the table round the finger until it could be pulled out!
Our local experiences of tea shops started at the Castle Tea Room back in the 80s. It was on the ground floor of a house in Castle Street run by a woman and her two daughters. With tea shop specials on the menu such as ‘coddled egg’ and ‘syllabub’ it was the real deal. Sadly it closed when the owner tired of having her Sundays taken up week after week with cooking and coddling. After that we gravitated in an upward direction to the Attic Tea rooms (now Black Goo) on the top floor of Home & Colonial. Happy days as we enjoyed Sunday lunches of Eggs Benedict and teas with toasted tea cakes. On one memorable occasion a very apologetic waitress told me that my much anticipated tea cake had accidentally been burned to a frazzle and they had no more!
No time for tea at The Tea Tree
So when the Attic morphed into something more trendy it was with great pleasure that I welcomed The Tea Tree to Hemel Old Town’s High Street. This was a tea shop in the old traditional mould of 1950s furniture and flowery crockery. We’ve been in there a few times and see owners come and go. Disappointingly, on a recent occasion we called in at 10 to 4 to be told we were too late, they were closing at 4. ‘But we only want a cup of tea’ I mildly protested. ‘You can only have a takeaway’ came the reply. We gave up and left. I don’t give much for The Tea Tree’s chances of survival if this attitude prevails. It would have cost them nothing and earned our goodwill by staying a few minutes past closing time.