The brutal reality of vicarage tea parties


I SAW where Mr Justice Moriarty warned jurors at the outset of the Michelle Rocca damages case that it would not fall "within the realms of a vicarage tea party".

If by this he meant that the case would not prove a sedate affair, he has obviously been proved correct. However, I wonder when was the last time Mr Justice Moriarty attended a vicarage tea party. His notion of what goes on at such gatherings is seriously out dated.

It is true that many years ago, things were very much as Mr Justice Moriarty now imagines them. Back in the 1970s, I myself worked for a time as a gardener for the vicar of Petherbridge, a small village in north Devon.

To say the village was sleepy would be like saying Rip Van Winkle enjoyed a pleasant nap. Jocelyn Avenclare, our vicar, was a pleasant and decent fellow, but his idea of an exciting time was a two mile walk to the neighbouring village of Cumberstone. The preparations alone usually brought him to a fever pitch of agitation.

Jocelyn's Wife Betty was a very nice person, too. Sometimes she would have half a glass of sherry on a Friday evening, wander out to where I was working in the rose garden and regale me with the story of her visit by bus to Truro some years previously. There were living people there, I gathered. Betty was glad to come home.

In the five years I spent in Petherbridge, the Avenclares managed one vicarage tea party. On the appointed day, at the dot of 3.30 p.m., the entire village turned up in the garden. Nothing happened, over and over. Then everybody went home. It was 5.25 p.m. Three gallons of tea, 52 watercress sandwiches and nine Swiss rolls had been consumed. For the following 18 months, the village knew no other topic of conversation.

Over the next couple of years, twinges I began to feel in my psychic extremities were diagnosed by the local doctor, when I woke him up, as the first indications of creeping inertia. He asked if I had a history of tedium, then fell asleep again.

By super human effort, I made the decision to leave Petherbridge. Jocelyn and Betty wished me well, and we all had some elderberry tea. I moved to Alaska. There I found work as an adventure sports instructor. Regular near death experiences soon brought me back to life (so to speak), and I stuck it out for four years, but I never stopped thinking about herbaceous borders.

I came home to work as a gardener for Jack Revington, the vicar of Amberton, a very pretty village in north Cumbria. It seemed a quiet spot. But appearances can deceive.

Jack and his wife Rita were rather different to Jocelyn and Betty. To start with, they had a vicarage tea party every weekend, and not once do I recall seeing tea served. Jack like whiskey and Rita liked gin and their hundreds of tea party guests liked anything and everything that provided a decent alcoholic kick.

Some people went home late, others later, many stayed the night - and a small group usually decided it was not worth their while going home at all since the next tea party would be getting under way quite soon.

The goings on were most peculiar. One evening, at the height of a particularly exciting tea party, when I had already laid out five guests neatly on the lawn, Jack went in search of Rita. Eventually he found her in the conservatory, looking a little dishevelled. A few moments later, Harry Willoughby, an old friend of Jack, staggered in, looking rather wild eyed.

Quite jovially, Jack asked Harry - where he had just been.

"Upstairs," said Harry, after some thought.

"Doing what?" inquired Jack.

Wandering about, it seemed.

Jack got all the details of Harry's tour of upstairs. Had me met Rita there? Yes, emerging from the bathroom. Upstairs? Of course. Then he came downstairs? Exactly.

Jack put an arm round Harry's shoulder and asked him for how long he had been attending the vicarage tea parties.

"Three years," said Harry.

"Well Harry," said Jack, "I'm going to let you into a secret. This is a bungalow.

And with that, Jack, Harry and Rita dissolved in hysteria, and more drink.

I enjoyed life at the vicarage, and the tea parties were much more fun than Mr Justice Moriarty imagines, but eventually I decided to opt for a more sedate life.

These days I work as a go between for the Mafia.