‘ARVO TEA AT THE CRICKET……..’

(With thanks to guest blogger, Simone Kerwin.)

Afternoon tea…the words conjure a range of delicious images in my mind. 

Firstly, there are those sparked by the Enid Blyton stories I devoured as a child, in which there were always ‘lashings’ of this, and tables ‘groaning’ with that…. Or my favourite Roald Dahl books, which often feature gloriumptious feasts enjoyed by the Queen, or the heroic saviour of some wretched waif.

These stories set in the English countryside, and its magical forests and woodlands, were a world away from reality. However, the sun-baked country Australian cricket ovals I roamed as a youngster, also offered up the distinct highlight of indulging in that very English-sounding pastime of ‘afternoon tea’.

Anyone who has ever been a cricket-following child knows the rule – that once the players and umpires have finished ‘Tea’ the remainder is fair game.

So it was for my brother, sisters, cousins and I, who would hungrily try to sneak a peek inside the Tea-Room on cricket days, to glimpse the treats that might be in store for us.

The scene was guarded by adults seemingly overseeing the Crown Jewels, as Dad and his team-mates toiled under a hot sun. But we craned our necks over tables and around doorways, licking our lips in anticipation.

Perfectly aligned rows of sandwiches, trays of biscuits, cakes and scones, lay before us like the Promised Land. All that stood in our way were the cricketers.

When the umpires called ‘Tea” we would hover outside the rooms, watching the red-faced, sweaty, men in white troop in for their rejuvenating feed, and a cup of tea (which, when I was not a tea-drinker, seemed absurd on a 40 degree day.)

When they were done and readying themselves for the next stage of the game, we would strike, stealthily working our way through the leftovers until we were shooed away, tummies full and mouths caked in icing, jam and sandwich crumbs, to return to our play.

Since then, I’ve seen afternoon tea from a number of perspectives.

When my brother was playing, there were the stories which came home at the end of a day’s play.  For instance, the one about the likeable lad who faithfully brought along the egg sandwiches his mum had made, only to leave them, forgotten, in his cricket bag until tea.  They were sheepishly retrieved, squashed beyond recognition and smelling to high heaven. 

Then there was the canny fella who re-packaged leftovers from the previous night’s pizza dinner as ‘savoury slice’.

I’ve heard Dad tell the story of the large Kneebone clan’s approach to game- day at their Everton ground, Brookfield, in the 1920s and ’30s, when the eight girls of the family would prepare afternoon tea while the boys played.  If I had the ability to travel in time, I would love to witness – and taste – what I’ve heard was a simply magnificent spread.

Dad remembers the lavish meals that were put on by the Moyhu Cricket Club when they were part of the WDCA.

They were a struggling team, and you were usually assured of a win. But the highlight of the day would come when you repaired to the large utility shed, set back a little from the ‘MCG’ Oval.

Cream sponges, roughly 6” high, vanilla and apple slices and raspberry tarts awaited your consumption. A lengthy welcoming speech would be made by their skipper, who was , by this stage, usually covered in welts and bruises.

 ( He doubled as the left-hand opening batsman, and found the most suitable method of defending his wicket and ‘psyching-out’ the fiery bowlers on the sometimes treacherous pitch he’d helped prepare, was to let the ‘pill’ thump into his body.)

His speeches usually lasted longer than many of his innings’. Then it was the duty of the opposition captain to thank the ladies profusely for their wonderful catering, and compliment both sides for the chivalrous manner in which the game was being played.

Whorouly always produced an extravaganza. As both the Cricket and Tennis Clubs shared arvo-tea, it was touch-and-go which group convened for the tea-break first. So it was vital to keep an eye on the clock, to ensure that you were over at the Kiosk to get first ‘dibs’ at the ‘tucker’.

Numbered among Dad’s sporting memories was sitting down, at Country Week matches at the Prahran Oval, to the Club’s regular fare of Cantaloupe,  hollowed out and filled with fruit salad. He has vivid memories of the team-mate who provided Tick-Tock biscuits as his weekly contribution

While my husband was playing, I took turns at ensuring the urn was boiled and the plates disrobed of their Glad Wrap covers.  There was even a year when each couple involved in the club took charge of afternoon tea for a round.  When it came to our go, we introduced the revolutionary  treat of ice-cream and two fruits.  Initially, this sounds like a fantastic idea on a sweltering day, but the lethargic performance of some of the home side’s younger members in the field that day, after they had over-indulged, illustrated just why it is not a regular feature on the tea- room table.

Afternoon tea was also a glimpse into the planning and shopping habits of cricketers.  It was always easy to tell who had forgotten afternoon tea until they were on their way to cricket, by how much effort had gone into the fare they produced.  The 12- pack of cinnamon donuts hastily gathered from the entrance of Safeway was a dead giveaway of a rushed pick-up.

Since my daughter began playing cricket, I’ve seen some impressive afternoon teas, often catered affairs, and usually featuring lots of healthy, fresh fruit, in an era when concern for sugar, salt and fat content is at the forefront on everyone’s minds.  My daughter chuckled while padded up and waiting for her turn in the middle recently, when a younger teammate sought her wisdom as he made his choice from the refreshments: “Grace, are apples healthy?”

Her little brother has the appetite typical of any busy 12 year old, and loves the chance to sample what’s on offer, just as I did in my day.

 And I was delighted when our girl returned home from an afternoon spent watching her club’s senior cricket after her morning game, to tell me she and her junior teammates had eaten what was left of afternoon tea when the players had had their fill.

 Isn’t it comforting to know that sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same……..

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