TEAS - 100 YDS
In modern times, my mother would have been a successful businesswoman, I'm sure. Living in rural North Derbyshire in the 1930s
didn't present many opportunities, but she found one. She targeted the hikers and cyclists mainly from Sheffield and Manchester to
whom the area was like a magnet. In our cottage, a mile from the nearest small village, she opened a tearoom and accommodation
establishment providing bed and breakfast with optional dinner.
It was the heyday of the hiker and cyclist. People joined clubs, and at the weekend made for the nearest bit of countryside to get away
from the smoke, grime and cramped spaces of the big cities and from wearisome jobs. The image of the jolly hikers in long socks and
long shorts is with us still on old railway posters and in books. A decade or so later, people craved respite from the bombs and their
aftermath. Servicemen on leave from the war snatched a few days of peace and quiet in the countryside; the coast was mainly
out of bounds then.
And so they came. In their dozens they came.
Looking back, I marvel at her venture. We had a small living room, a kitchen with literally no room to swing a cat (no, I didn't try it!), three
tiny bedrooms, a bathroom of sorts, and an outside lavatory. Cooking was on the open fire or in a side oven in the living room, and
there was a small paraffin stove in the kitchen. The nearest grocery was three miles away. There was no fridge, microwave or washing
machine of course, nor did anyone round about have a car or even a telephone. On the plus side there was a small
converted garage (never to be used for what it was intended) and a large productive garden. The facilities can only be described as
primitive but standards were different in those days. Ordinary people - I suppose I mean working-class - were not accustomed to
superior accommodation with all mod. cons.
A sign was erected at the top of the lane to divert the tourists from the road leading to the local beauty spot. TEAS it said, with an arrow:
100 YDS. It was more like 500 but no one cared. They arrived on foot, or cycle, even on horseback, hungry, thirsty and
ready for a rest. No one came by car. They sat in the 'annexe' (the garage) or on the lawn and were fed mother's home-made fare
and drank lots of tea. Once about 30 members of a hiking club descended on us. They were put on the lawn and I was
sent down the lane to borrow crockery from the scattered neighbours.
Those seeking accommodation would appear at any time during the day or evening. I can't recall mother turning anyone away. They
were slotted in all over the place and unbelievably didn't seem to mind. My brother and I occasionally woke up in the garden shed,
having been carried there, still asleep, so that our beds could be changed for the visitors. The shed was a typical countryman's,
full of potting trays, compost, hen feed, old sacks, tools, dust - and spiders. I suppose these days my parents would be reported to
some agency or other for child neglect. We found it exciting.
What about father's role in all this turmoil? He must have been Mr Tolerance himself, going along with what I later discovered he
thought of as his wife's madcap ideas. The garden was his domain, and he provided endless supplies of vegetables, fruit and
eggs, but at the same time he was remarkably sociable and chatty with all the strangers in his home. We children had our jobs to do
too, and had no option but to mingle with the guests because of the lack of space; it was excellent social training.
Inevitably we met a few dubious characters among the clientele, but the happier sort left wonderful memories. I particularly remember
two married couples, friends, who liked to play juvenile tricks on each other. They put holly in the beds, books on top of doors, and once
with great hilarity hid a large bell in a bedroom to be tolled in the night by means of a long piece of string. It didn't work.
How did my mother do it? How was she able to feed an extra family of four arriving late in the day without warning, wanting a meal and
beds? There were no nearby shops or freezers, remember. She would say there were always eggs, garden produce, jam and
preserves, milk straight from the farm, often a rabbit or two. Her stores would include home-made cakes, scones and bread, as well
as plenty of non-perishable things. Shops would deliver in those days, in spite of the isolated location. A note sent via the postman
or schoolboy in the morning would result in a van delivery in the same afternoon from the large store in the local market town. Almost
unbelievable isn't it, given the absence of modern communications?
Guests came year after year and became friends. Her visitors book had addresses from quite far afield, even the south of England.
We had Christmas cards and letters long after changing needs and standards caused the end of her project. We used to
reminisce about the variety of characters we had met and the incidents which made us laugh.
I was very fortunate to have spent my young days in such an idyllic part of the countryside with few of the disadvantages of isolation.
My early life was full of interest, fun, drama, lessons in tolerance and - yes - hard work, all a result of TEAS - 100 YDS.
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