Time for Tea, By Mark Davison
Grey Dove Village Cafe, Walton on the Hill
IT WAS a bitterly cold, grey, winter's afternoon as I motored up Reigate Hill. Just beyond The Yew Tree public house, there was a dramatic change in the scenery.
Suddenly, all the trees were delicately decorated with a filigree of snow and the fields near Wray Lane were as white as far as the eye could see. The snow had fallen two days earlier but had remained unmelted in the freezing weather across Surrey's North Downs.
A few minutes later, pootling through the pretty village of Walton on the Hill, I felt a little nostalgic. For as I approached the duck pond, I was taken back in time to when I was a young child. My grandparents used to take a spin out from Surbiton to the village with me in the back of their Humber. They would purchase some biscuits at the Cullens store opposite the pond and we would sit by the water's edge feeding the ducks from a bag of bread crusts and crumbs.
I looked around. Every silver birch, fir and oak was covered with an illuminating blanket of snow which had frozen to every twig and branch.
A sign warned motorists to beware of ducks and cygnets.
I parked near The Blue Ball public house and glanced up to see it boarded up. Apparently, the last landlord shut shop blaming very high rents.
I crunched over the snow-covered common and paused by the pond. I reflected on my grandparents.
After a few moments deep in thought, I crossed the road and headed for the Grey Dove Village Cafe. The plate glass window at the front was steamed up and I could see the blurred outline of customers sipping coffee through the condensation.
Taking a seat I perused the menu.
Quite a few mums were sitting around with their young charges, dressed in the red uniform pullovers of the village primary school.
One of the mothers was greeted by another who had just popped in.
"Hello there," she said. "Is this a Wednesday treat for you? Do you come in here every Wednesday?"
"Oh no," her friend replied emphatically. "It's just that I am so exhausted. I've got six hours during the day to get everything done so I thought I'd sit down for a moment with a coffee."
Another of the ladies' young daughters was wearing a furry hat in the shape of a bear's head. She had hurt herself while playing with a fellow pupil in the cafe and was close to tears as she approached her weary mum for some comfort.
"Shall we go?" sighed a rather exasperated mum. Soon all was well and they decided to stay but in this brief period of unrest, a teachair toppled over. Mum again sighed, righted the chair and then all was reasonably calm.
A young waitress in the stylishly furnished cafe enquired of my order.
Dithering slightly, I pretended to be decisive, and opted for the chicken, leek and Cheddar cheese pastry with a side salad.
Being such a bitter winter's day, I also asked for a tall glass of hot chocolate, declining the offer of marsh mallows on top.
A ballad by Barbra Streisand played in the background which, I think, calmed the frayed nerves of the beleaguered mother.
Outside, a gritting lorry with yellow lights flashing, spread salt on the village roads. I sipped the hot chocolate and scooped the cream off the top with a long teaspoon.
A ponytailed waitress, who, I gleaned, was from Romania, brought my food to the table and smiled politely.
On the next table, a bespectacled father wearing a padded, quilted jacket was treating his young son to a drink and a cookie.
The child broke the biscuit into small pieces and practised his maths by arranging the segments in different orders.
"Yes, that's right. Half of six is three," said Dad, repeating: "Half of six is three."
When the boy broke the pieces into crumbs, his father's patience was tested and a few stern words were muttered.
The child turned his attention to Dad's mobile phone and became preoccupied by a game.
I had another glance at the menu and saw that a range of toasties, baguettes and wraps were available and up to noon, a variety of breakfasts. Cream teas are available, too.
I tucked into the hot pastry, cherishing every bite. The salad was daintily arranged at the side. I enjoyed a scone and jam afterwards.
Two men nearby were discussing the high cost of petrol.
"It's £141.9 a litre at the BP in Addington."
Another dad arrived with his son and the two men became engaged in conversation.
Another schoolgirl approached the counter and ordered a smoothie. The blending machine caused a racket, drowning out a Johnny Mathis-type singer on the sound system.
An elegant chandelier sparkled in the gloom of the grey afternoon.
It was time to settle up and depart.
Walking along Walton Street wrapped up against the cold, I noticed snowflakes falling. They became heavier and the snow was starting to settle. It was definitely time to go home.