Her Take! Tea at Sketch, London

(If you haven’t read His Take on tea at Sketch, you should definitely do so first. This is my response to that post.)

I cannot lie: I like tea.

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To XFE: I’ll see you one Taylor Swift and raise you a Tom Hiddleston.

Some of my very fondest memories of my time in England were of having tea. It was everywhere.

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The minute you walked into a home or any communal space in a workplace, the first question is usually, “shall I put the kettle on?” The British seem thoroughly convinced that a cup of tea can make absolutely everything better and I’m not convinced that they aren’t correct.

Telling a friend about a fight with your boyfriend? She’ll likely respond with a sympathetic cluck and ask you if you’d like a cuppa. Commiserating with a work colleague over some looming deadline? Out comes the PG Tips. It’s just what the British do.

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So I didn’t think it was such a big deal to have tea in London on an otherwise cold and dreary day. In fact, it seemed like the perfect thing to do on a cold and dreary London day. Except in the eyes of my manpanion-for-life.

Oh, he went along with my afternoon tea plans at Sketch, but there were a lot of questions, puzzling looks, joke-making, judging, maybe even a few eye rolls. He seemed utterly perplexed by the whole thing.

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To be fair, Sketch does skew a bit quirky and in a very feminine way. There’s a hopscotch board drawn onto the floor, as if you’re going to merrily skip your way through the restaurant.

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That does kind of look sort of masculine though, no?

The tea room or “gallery” is full on womb pink, for crying out loud.

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The artwork is loopy and looks like something a school girl would draw on the cover and back of her Lisa Frank notebooks.

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Even the bathrooms are all white and rounded edges and slightly womblike.

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The cleaning crew were wearing pinafores and frilly maid caps!

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So yeah, not a very masculine space, to be sure.

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And I understand that while I may love some Coronation chicken salad, crustless finger sandwiches are hardly a manly meal. XFE would have had to eat about 50 of those things to feel satiated. I completely understand.

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However, I don’t think that’s the point of tea.

The point of tea is to sit back and let a cushy, overstuffed chair (or, even better, pink velveteen settee) enfold you in its familiar embrace. Tea is meant to allow you to take a little time out from whatever drama or stresses may be unfolding—and these days, there’s quite a bit of it. Tea is meant to be a quiet time of reflection, a time to put the world on pause and find a bit of barely caffeinated comfort in the bottom of a pretty piece of porcelain. Maybe even having a nice little biscuit and or a small sandwich with bland fillings just to give you something to thoughtfully chew while you ponder what to say next or how to respond to what you’ve just heard or gather your thoughts on what to do with the rest of the day, the week, your life.

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Or, if you’re XFE, tea can provide a perfect excuse to tease your girlfriend. And do some not-so-secret people watching.

It’s ok. Tea can mean different things to different people. The main thing having tea provides is a sense of community. We’re doing this together. We’re taking a time out and reconnecting. I think XFE would agree with that sentiment as well.

David Beckham Visits China - Day 6
If it’s good enough for this footballer, it’s good enough for me.
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His Take! Tea at Sketch, London

(AKA: The great British treat of extended pinkies and wasted afternoons.)

(Editor’s note: This post was written by XFE. Check back on Monday for the MUCH shorter “Hers” version of our tea at Sketch.)

This post is most likely a bad idea and will get me in trouble.

But somewhere during a very lovely afternoon spent with Sheryll in London in March, we hatched the idea to do a “His-and-Hers” take on the same British tea experience.

This tea outing was something that Sheryll wanted to do and I truly went in to it indifferent, having no real prior knowledge of what to expect.

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Let me just say on the outset that I had a really lovely afternoon. While I am not sure she felt that was true at the time (due to my non-stop joking) and I know she will not believe me now after she reads the rest of this post (due to my continuing non-stop joking).

But in all seriousness it was a great experience doing something new with the person I love. The post has merely been crafted to engage readers through the more entertaining aspects of the experience and not comment on the truly lovely time I had with Sheryll.

Now on to putting another nail in my coffin.

Continue reading His Take! Tea at Sketch, London

How to Feel Broke in London

Step 1: Fly to London.

I’d love to tell you that this was an informative blog post full of tips on how to see and do London on a budget. Something along the lines of “have a practically-free-yet-utterly-fabulous time in London on less than $50 a day.”

But that would be a really short list because (1) London is ridiculously expensive and (2) not to sound bougie or whatever, but $50 a day is really not a lot of money.

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Heck, I’m not even sure I exist on less than $50 a day here at home because (1) the greater D.C. area is ridiculously expensive and (2) if I do, for some reason, sally forth from my nice, comfortable home office, the cumulative expense of hours not worked (ah, self-employment) and money pissed away during an Old Town gallivant that probably includes stops at Anthropology, Bluemercury, Gap Outlet and a red velvet cupcake from Bittersweet certainly tallies up to way over $50.

It’s not that I don’t know how to do London on a budget. I lived in London for six months back in 1997. I was a poor college student/waitress and I rented a small, freezing one-room bedsit in Islington with a plug-in electric radiator that would put a scald on whichever side of your body happened to be closest to it, but did nothing to heat up the rest of the room. Also: No TV. No radio. No computer.

As you can imagine, I did not spend much time in my bedsit/prison-I-actually-paid-money-for. Instead, I spent a lot of time getting to know London, and since I didn’t have parents footing the bill and I was living on my meager waitressing salary, I spent a whole lot of time doing free/cheap stuff, ie: going to museums and churches, browsing in stores, seeing cheap West End shows during the day, nursing a single cider for hours on end and reading a book at a pub.

But thankfully, those poverty-ridden days are long behind me, and while I’m certainly not rich, our last trip to London confirmed two things for me: (1) I am, in fact, bougie, and (2) London is a lot more fun when you have a little bit of money.

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Preach, Erika.

So, here’s a roundup of some not-so-free things we did in London.

Black Cab Tour – This was my manpanion, XFE’s first time in London. Thankfully, all he really wanted to do was go to every possible soccer match (see below) so we didn’t have to do too much touristy stuff. Still, I felt it was my duty to give him at least a rudimentary amount of exposure to the glories of the British Empire. So, I arranged a private tour in a black cab. We did the Classic Grand Tour, a 3.5 hour whirlwind through about 1,000 years of history.

We got driver David Cannell and I’m pretty sure we were the easiest, most low-key clients he’s ever had. We hardly even stopped for photos (neither one of us are really big into selfies). I happily chatted with David about British history (I got especially excited hearing all about Tyburn Tree, because who doesn’t love a good public execution?) and XFE watched the scenery whizz by. (Cost: £175 GBP or around $250 US. I will say the cab could have held up to 5 people, which is quite affordable.)

Gin Tour—XFE’s other major interest is gin and—as one would expect in a place where the consumption of gin was causing so much strife and ruin it had to be banned—there were a lot of gin-based activities to choose from. But the Gin Journey’s Shake, Rattle and Stir tour worked best with our schedule. We started at a small, very dark underground, totally hipster bar called the Whistling Shop in Shoreditch where we were introduced to our very cool guide, Cocktail Kate.

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After getting a brief history on the star of the evening—gin—and quaffing some Sipsmiths, we set off in a mini-bus for stops at five more gin parlors/distilleries/bars (dipping in and out of the City, Shoreditch and Hoxton, mostly) over the course of 4.5 hours, enjoying specially selected premium gins and fine gin cocktails made just for us. The tour was mostly made up of Londoners (with a couple of non-English speaking Italians in the mix) and was a really fun way to spend an evening. I can’t recommend it enough. (Cost: £60 GBP per person or around $85 US)

Tea at Sketch—I know I said I didn’t drag XFE to a bunch of touristy stuff, but that’s not entirely true. I did have one London bucket list item I insisted on crossing off the list.

Despite having lived in London for six months and downing copious amounts of the stuff, I’d never actually been to a proper English tea*. Like in a fancy tea room with mini-sandwiches and cakes. I decided to skip the traditional, stuffy hotel high teas (sorry, Dorchester) and go for something more modern and fun: Sketch.

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This restaurant/tea room/coffee shop/lounge nestled in an 18th-century townhouse right on the border of Mayfair and Soho is kooky as hell. The vibe is very Alice in Wonderland with oversized doors, coat check closets hidden behind swing out bookshelves, toilets hidden in egg-pods and quirky staff uniforms (the waitresses in the tea rooms were wearing these sort of World War 1 nurse’s pinafores, for lack of a better description).

The tea room decor was a suffocating plush ballerina-pink cocoon that made me think: this is what it must be like to live inside a jewelry box. And it was packed to the gills with (mostly) female tourists, even on a weekday in March. XFE was pretty much the only guy in the place, unless you count the guy wearing a dramatic silk scarf, lip gloss and some heeled boots in the corner banquette (his tea companion was a gorgeous, exotic girl with a wrap shirt that kept gaping.)

The tea itself was pretty meh—we manned it up by splurging for the Champagne Afternoon Tea. Sandwiches included coronation chicken salad, egg salad, a posh grilled cheese, the usual suspects; sweets included assorted cakes, some lemony pudding thing and that most overhyped of all cookies, the macaron, of course. The people watching though: that’s worth the admission price. (Cost: £57 per person or $81 US)

*(I had, however, had a Devon cream tea with clotted cream and scones, and honestly, I liked that way better.)

Soccer matches—If I end up living in the poor house or becoming an indentured servant (or worse, working as a barista at Starbucks….again), it is because I gave all my money to the English Premier League in 2016. Specifically, the Tottenham Hotspurs.

We went to three games while we were there, one against Swansea at Tottenham’s grounds, White Hart Lane. The second against West Ham at their playing grounds, and the third against Arsenal back at White Hart Lane.

Buying tickets to overseas soccer games is usually a bit of a difficult enterprise involving months of research, repeatedly checking the team websites, Ticketmaster, StubHub and any other online resource you can think of. It usually requires the assistance of a hotel concierge, who can’t really provide any confirmations on successful acquisition of tickets until much, much closer to the match day, when the teams finally, reluctantly release tickets to the general public. It is not at all uncommon for us to get on an overseas flight without knowing for sure if we have tickets to a game or where our seats will be.

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London and the EPL, however, are even more insular and stingy with their tickets, so the whole process requires the combined efforts of a hotel concierge, online ticket brokers, bicycle delivery personel, plus copious amounts of cash (in all three cases) and subterfuge (in at least one instance). It’s almost, ALMOST enough to make you think that splashing out $1,113 for (guaranteed) VIP tickets to a game is reasonable and sane. Almost.

These hoops and hurdles prove to be particularly true when you are dealing with major London rivalries like Tottenham and Arsenal, and most especially when it’s close to the end of the season and those two teams specifically are in a hot-and-heavy, three-way race for the top spot in the League. I’m not allowed to divulge any more information into how exactly we got our tickets, particularly to that last game, but I will say it probably would have been easier (and cheaper) to get “Hamilton” tickets (flights included). (Cost for three EPL games: I don’t want to talk about it)

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