Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tea with the Queen

Sorry, Mom. I still didn’t have tea with the Queen.

This week I had the rare opportunity to tour the state rooms of Buckingham Palace. For years one needed at title more impressive than “Dr.” to gain entrance to these opulent halls, but then the Queen’s beloved Windsor Castle burned. To raise the pounds needed to restore that palace, the Queen agreed to open her downtown digs to the public for a few weeks each year.

For Cecile, I’m sure, it was a chance to view the stunning artwork and architecture. For me, it was another chance to remember my mother.

My mother was London born and bred, but her family was more on the “Andy Capp” side of the pedigree chart than the “Duke of Roxburghe” side. When I was a boy, hot tea heavily laced with milk and sugar was the medicinal equivalent to chicken soup. “What you needed is a good cuppa” meant sit down, get in touch with your senses and let’s talk for awhile.

But for my brother and me, tea was also the key warning that we had reached the limits of Mom’s patience. My mother insisted on a modicum of table manners – not a simple demand on a pair of rough-and-tumble 1960s boys.

“Clyde and Mark! Stop throwing food. How am I ever to take you to tea with the Queen?”

Tea with the Queen. Was that supposed to mean an old lady in a crown would help me recover from a headache or a bruised shin? It was several more years before I discovered “tea” in this case was the meal, rather than the beverage. But in the meantime, the phrase became part of the sophomoric banter young brothers share.

“Good one, Mark” I would say when his attempt to laugh while drinking milk resulted in a white geyser. “You’re never getting invited to tea with the Queen.”

For me, it was usually a reminder of my penchant for missing my mouth with my spoon. As I looked down on blob of oatmeal drooling down the shirt Mom had just ironed for school, Mark would say “So I guess you won’t be having tea with the Queen…”

But for the record, Mom, I was on my best manners when we were at the Palace. I said “please” and “thank you” instead of nodding and grunting. I didn’t wipe my mouth with my arm, burp or throw a sock at a surrogate brother. And on the food side, they knew I was coming: Large signs banned food or drink.

So I know it wasn’t my fault. I think the Queen was just away enjoying the Scottish air in Balmoral.

I guess she’ll never be invited for beer at the ‘Berg.

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