Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Column: A couple of lows at high tea

Cup of hot tea with milk close up shootStock photo ID:19061414Upload date:January 25, 2012
Jim Carnett’s visit to an English teahouse in Orange County didn’t quite go to plan.
(Photo by Dusan Zidar)

I attempted to sell it to my wife, Hedy, as me being gallant.

My dad always taught me to make the best of an opportunity so, in this instance, that’s what I attempted to do. But Hedy saw through my artifice.

Still, I felt the opportunity was too, too perfect to be refused. It was a high fastball, and I couldn’t lay off it. Things literally fell into my lap. Should I be chastised for trying to profit from them?

I should not.


I saw myself as Queen Elizabeth I, in 1588, conveniently using powerful Channel gusts to political advantage whilst scuttling the most powerful Navy on earth, the Spanish Armada.

But Hedy wasn’t buying it. Not for a second. And my hopes were dashed like Spanish galleons upon England’s rocky reefs and shoals.

Here’s how my personal Armada went down:

Hedy and I were having lunch this fall at our favorite Orange County teahouse. The place exhibits Old World charm and is the haunt of many who hanker for afternoon tea, scones, berries and whipped cream. Hedy introduced me to the place several years ago, and I must say I like it.


We arrived at the teahouse at 3 p.m. and picked a cozy table for two in the geographic center of the establishment. There were perhaps 15 other people in the shop.

Our table was small, about 2-by-3-feet.

When our server had fully loaded our order upon the table it looked like Fenway Park hosting the Super Bowl. Our table held: a large vase and flowers; a teapot, cup and saucer; an ice tea carafe, syrup carafe and a large drinking glass; a tea-timer; a sugar bowl; a tower containing two plates of petite salmon sandwiches; two plates of scones; a cup of whipped cream; a tiny pitcher of milk for my tea; and silverware.

See where we’re headed with this?

About 10 minutes into our tea party, Hedy reached for something across the table. As she retracted her arm over a skyline of dishes, she slightly grazed the top of the large glass, pulling it toward her lap.

The glass was filled with ice cubes and tea. It toppled over the table’s edge and poured forth its contents into her lap, her purse and onto the hardwood floor.

I watched in horror as the scene unfolded in slow motion. As the glass started tipping, Hedy was powerless to do anything. Gravity took over. The ice cubes made a clattering racket as they cascaded to — and then slid across — the floor. Tea splashed in a torrent.

There was an audible gasp throughout the restaurant, and all eyes were on Hedy.


She was mortified.

“Oh, dear Hedy, sweet girl,” I muttered as I watched the spectacle intrude upon the room’s atmosphere like the choral finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. My heart anguished for her.

In five seconds it was over. The glass, the cubes and Hedy’s ice tea were spilt across the teahouse floor: an Armada-sized disaster. Absolute silence followed the collective gasp. For a moment, the world stopped spinning.

Hedy and I looked at one another with primal expressions on our faces.

She immediately grabbed a napkin and commenced daubing. Our server organized a search and rescue team for our table. I thought: “What if I, just now, intentionally drop my teacup to the floor to wrest attention off Hedy? Might I save her some embarrassment?”


Then, five minutes later I — quite by accident — pulled my own stunt. As I reached across the still-cluttered table for a delicious sugary morsel I caught my small milk dispenser with my sleeve and jerked it over the table’s edge and into my lap. Are you freaking kidding me?

Some might suppose I did this intentionally to rescue Hedy from her faux pas. I assure you, I was not so gallant as that.


Eyes were now upon me.

“You know, I did this for you.”

I tried a final gambit with my lovely bride but Hedy shut me down with a withering glance. OK, maybe not.

I’m told we were the subject of tea house chatter for weeks.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.