Sunday 27th March 2016
If I could design myself a dream job, somewhere on the shortlist I’d put church tea reviewer. I’d only have to work on Sundays (which being irreligious, isn’t a concern for me) and I’d get to visit lots of beautiful churches in wonderful locations, knocking back free tea and biscuits. I would become feared and renowned by church volunteers across the land and would be forced to adopt a series of disguises and alter egos to prevent my true identity from being revealed.
“What brings me to Little Bitcrappington Parish Church?” I’d say. “Oh I am a travelling cutlery salesman and I heard a whisper that there’s a shortage of good teaspoons in the area. Do you mind if I try another slice of that sponge cake and maybe just one more cup of tea to soak it up.”
Then I’d retire to my hotel, paid for on expenses of course, to pen a witty and incisive review, giving each church a smiley face rating ranging from “cross” to “heavenly”.
And if that dream came true, then St Bartholomew’s free tea service would have been rated as “heaven on earth”, just one smiley face down from the highest possible rating.
The tea was served from two giant teapots, one of which sported a knitted cosy in the shape of a pumpkin that I offered to buy. “We could have sold it hundreds of times over,” said the cheery lady in charge of the pumpkin teapot, but it’s not for sale,” she said in a reverent way that suggested the Alstonville Cosy was as sacred as the Turin Shroud. Sure, handrails may come and go (and come back again), but the pumpkin tea cosy was staying for good!
What Are You Doing Here?
As we stood around sipping our tea we were welcomed by a constant flow of curious parishioners who asked us the same questions about where we were from, where we were heading and what the devil we were doing here.
Our story seemed to spread quickly around the room to the point where people were approaching us and jumping straight to question three: “Let me get this straight, you’re travelling ALL around Australia and you chose to start your journey in Alstonville! Alstonville??? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I live here and I love it, but even I wouldn’t start a trip around Australia from here. I’d go somewhere else first and start the journey from there. Why are you starting your journey in Alstonville”.
I wish we had a profound response, like Jakkie had a vision where a host of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven told her “you must travel to Alstonville and begin your journey there”. But all we could offer was that it was close and quiet and you have to start somewhere, which left everyone feeling a little unsatisfied.
Still, as time (and the pile of free biscuits I’d nabbed) passed away, the novelty of our presence seemed to fade and we were left talking with three younger churchgoers (by which I mean they were under 50).
The Joy of Free Cake
We were just about to leave when the lovely pumpkin lady came round with a plate of sponge cake and asked if we wanted to take some with us.
“Ooh, is there any fruitcake left,” I asked cheekily, “that was really tasty and it’s got fruit in, so it’s one of my ‘five-a-day’.”
And in a blink, the kindly guardian of the Alstonville Cosy disappeared in the kitchen and returned with a huge hunk of free fruit cake, wrapped in cling film (or Glad Wrap as the leading brand is called Down Under). I felt well and truly mothered, especially as it’s the kind of gesture my own mum would make, and I loved it.
As we left St Barts for good, just a small host of hardcore worshippers and tea drinkers remained and I swear I heard one of them say: “Yes, I do too, but would YOU start your journey in Alstonville?” And I definitely heard a familiar voice saying something like, “Well I’m just glad we got the handrail back in good time for my funeral”.
The Local Nut
As we hit the pavement an old lady walked by and complimented the top half of my Sunday Best saying, “that’s a great shirt”. I turned to see the nut lady I’d passed four hours earlier, now straining under the weight of a bulging bag of nuts.
“Did you find a few pecans?” I asked.
“Yes, I’ve been out collecting them for my husband. If I knew I’d have to walk to Wollongbar (the next town) to find them, I wouldn’t have bothered,” she replied.
If he likes free food, I thought, you should send him to church. We’ve just enjoyed tea, biscuits, mini Easter eggs and have been given a massive lump of cake, and we only walked a few hundred yards.
“Oh well”, I said instead, “Happy Easter!” And we headed home, in different ways, with our Sunday foragings.
- Easter Sunday Part 1: Finding A Church
- Easter Sunday Part 2: Singing out of Tune
- Alstonville, where the pecan nuts are free for all
- Our first night on the road in Alstonville