'Blimmin’ heck,’ muttered Sweary Mary as we laboured up Keere Street. ‘This blasted hill gets steeper every dang day.’
For purposes of pre-watershed publication I have replaced Sweary Mary’s usual epithets with quaint alternatives.
‘It better be jolly well worth it,’ she said threateningly, twisting her ankle on a cobble.
‘It will, don’t you worry,’ I gasped, grabbing onto a passing Sherpa.
I’ve long been singing the praises of Shelleys to my chums in the face of general scepticism and indeed, entreaties to shove it. I’ve endorsed the terrific afternoon teas; applauded the charmingly vague staff; waxed lyrical about the invariable emptiness of the cosy lounge, which is probably not on Shelley’s tick box list but is a positive thing for the tired person who’s trundled from the bottom of town. And every time I mention these delights, my friends say, ‘Yeah whatever. Baltica then?’ I know I probably need some other friends, but in the current economic climate it seems profligate to acquire a batch of glossy new mates when the old ones could be good as new with a bit of patching. Reuse, Repair, Recycle, that’s my motto. Except when it comes to afternoon tea. Cake, Scones, Tea makes more sense there.
Anyway I had pretty much given up trying to persuade anyone into Shelleys, or The Shelleys as it has renamed itself, when Sweary Mary suddenly lurched over and said ‘Flipping heck Tucker’, no she didn’t, my name’s not Tucker, ‘Flipping heck,’ she said, ‘If I go into Baltica once more this week they’ll be erecting a blinking plaque to me. I need a new top town venue pronto. What’s that damn one you’re always blathering about?’ Yes, I know it’s not very polite but it’s a step on from ‘Yeah whatever’. And lo it came to pass that Mary and I toil-ethed up the steep hill-eth to partake of The Shelleys cup of good cheer.
‘Jumping jellybeans, I’ve never been here before,’ Mary said as we arrived at the pretty peach-coloured building. ‘Will they let me in with my dratted trainers?’
‘They’ll let you in wearing flippers,’ I said, explaining again how the amiable staff always seem surprised, though pleasantly so, to find they have a large hotel on their hands.
We went into the homely sitting room which was nicely void of other tea-takers. There was then a lacuna of some goodly while, during which Mary muttered nervously, ‘Jiminy Cricket! They’re taking their time,’ and ‘Swipe me, I could use a cuppa.’ However I relaxed into the squashy sofa, secure in the knowledge that sooner or later or perhaps later than that, someone would find us and maybe even bring a menu.
Finally, the reward: a proper tea with melty chocolate cake, moist fruit slices and fluffy scones.
‘Crumbs,’ said Mary, brushing crumbs off her trainers, ‘This is a confounded bit of all right. Why the deuce have you been keeping it to yourself?’
‘Gee willikins,’ I cried exasperatedly, and poured myself a soothing Assam.
Beth Miller, 13th October 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith.