beyond multi-tasking

Afternoon tea by Adriana Huffle
Afternoon tea Adria Davidson

I learned something valuable this weekend. Maybe you already know it, but I’m a bit slow in this area, and it’s good to be both reminded and assisted all at once: the best kind of teaching.

I offered a storytelling event as a fundraiser for the biodynamic community garden in my local area. As is often my habit, I was somewhat challenged by asking for help. I had hoped for a few cake bakers, some folk to help out a little, but wasn’t diligent in following up. A fellow community gardener, Grit, made a cake and she encouraged a friend, Andrea, to bake one too. Their offerings were delicious and much-appreciated.

I had bought some less magnificent afternoon tea snacks, organised the musician and rehearsed the stories. I arrived more than an hour before the start, set up the room and the chairs, laid cloths over tables and helped the modern lyre player, Elizabeth McKay move from a different room to the one where I was set up—yes, the venue was a little confusing and lacked signage.

In the kitchen, I left the tea, coffee, crackers and biscuits on the bench, put on the urn and wondered vaguely how I would manage to set up the afternoon tea after the event. I feared it could be a bit of a bunfight. I just had to trust that people would be patient or pitch in or both, and I could make the switch from performer to tea server—I had done it before.

Just as I was pondering this dilemma, Leonie, a woman I had never met, arrived. She was early, as she had been told to come at 2pm and the event didn’t start until 2.30pm. Leonie was the kind of woman you often spot at events, ususally with a tea towel over one shoulder or a plate of scones in hand. ‘Can I help with anything?’ she asked.

I pointed her in the direction of the kitchen, and said, ‘If you wouldn’t mind…’ Well, she needed no further invitation. All at once—as they say in fairy tales—the cups were set up, the milk jug was filled, biscuits were neatly arrayed on plates and covered with tea towels.

Towards the end of the performance when I mentioned that I was about to tell the last story, I noticed Leonie slip out. She made sure the urn was hot and the biscuits and cakes were set out on the tables. She ‘womanned’ the urn, plunged the coffee, and offered cups as people lined up to receive them.

After everyone had eaten, drunk and chatted, she stayed until the last plate, cup and spoon were washed, dried and returned to their proper places.

I thanked her profusely—my kitchen angel. She looked at me, eyes sparkling behind her jet-embellished spectacle frames,‘My friends and I make sure we get together regularly,’ she said. ‘We don’t want to wait for the funerals. And one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t make a cup of tea and answer the front door.’

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