Let's face it: I'd always wanted to find an excuse to have afternoon tea at the Windsor Hotel, one of Melbourne's historic hotels. Afternoon tea there is an institution. I'd never got around to it. So when, a few days ago,my Brisbane friend Natalie Prior e-mailed me that she was going to be in town to see her new publishers at Penguin, it seemed a great excuse. She was staying at the hotel anyway; she'd liked it when she was here as a guest at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and decided she'd indulge, despite the hotel's expensive room rates.
On the Sunday, I rang the hotel to inquire about times and prices and discussed it with an amiable young staff member with a pleasant Irish brogue. I booked us in for 3.30 and off I went, Monday afternoon - the first day of my term holidays.
Natalie and I sat in her room and chatted for about half an hour, interrupted only by a phone call from my sister, Mary, who wanted to know something about a payment for her latest article; it was more than she'd expected and she was wondering if there was a mistake somewhere. Natalie told her to take the sizable amount offered and run. Then we strolled downstairs to the hotel restaurant, where we were settled into a nice corner table. The waitress brought us coffee and a huge pile of sandwiches each, along with a cake stand of tiny, dainty cakes. It didn't look much, but by the time we were through with our afternoon tea, there were still half the cakes left.All those sandwiches, maybe? The coffee was a bottomless cup, as much as you wanted. The waitress also brought us each a glass of iced water.
Outside, it was cold and wet; inside, Natalie and I sat and yarned on about family, friends, work, movies, books and publishers - I last saw her a year ago, but it was as if we'd never parted.
Afterwards, when I was standing in a queue to pay for the tea - a set price per person - I was surprised to see several people who were paying extra because they'd ordered wine. I mean, honestly, why would anyone want to buy more stuff when there was plenty to eat and drink within the set meal?
Anyway, now I know how it works, I'm certainly going to do it again, whenever my next interstate or overseas friend is in town.