When I pictured having a daughter, I imagined our girls’ days out, indulging in pink, cupcakes-and-sprinkles afternoon teas in fancy hotels. My beautiful girl would wear her prettiest princess dress and I would wear a matching outfit (twinning is winning). We would giggle together, bond over fondant fancies and enjoy each other’s company as best girlfriends do.
Thanks to fantasies like these, when I had my 20-week scan about four years ago and discovered I was having a second boy, I cried for a week, and felt vaguely miserable in the months leading up to his birth. While I knew how wonderful it was to have a son as I had a brilliant one already, my tears were for the daughter I’d never have; I never wanted more than two kids.
As soon as my second son was born, I fell deeply in love with him, as I had with my first. Because of course, I didn’t give birth to a generic ‘boy’; I gave birth to my own wonderful, unique child, who is totally different from his brother.
I also knew, despite what our gender divisive society tells us, that just because you have a girl, it doesn’t mean she’s going to love pink, princesses, cupcakes, clothes and kittens. Hell – when I was a kid in the rainbow-Lego-for-all 80s, I wore jeans and t-shirts (just t-shirts; not ‘girls’’ t-shirts), was faster than all the boys in my class, and spent my spare time making mud pies and gang huts and playing on our death-defying rope swing. My storybook hero was Mardie (from the books by my favourite children's author Astrid Lindgren), who used an umbrella to parachute off the shed roof (sadly this didn’t end well but hey – good on her for trying). I had never even heard of a ‘princess dress’, although my favourite colour was – and has always been – pink (quelle surprise). Some people called me a 'tomboy', but I wasn't any kind of boy - I was a child enjoying childhood.
But I do have a conventionally ‘girly’ side (current obsession: my Hill & Friends hot pink handbag), and perhaps that’s why those cupcake fantasies still crop up at times: when I pass a particularly pretty girls’ dress in a shop window; when my friends with daughters talk about having “girls’ time”; when my son says, “Ugh! I HATE pink.” I still wonder occasionally if I’m missing out on something; that ‘something’ that only a daughter can provide.
So when the opportunity arose to take my six-year-old son Oscar (favourite things: cursive handwriting; Star Wars; cute baby animals; ice cream; Lego) for the kind of fantasy afternoon tea to which I’d always dreamed of accompanying my daughter, it seemed the perfect opportunity to put this final cupcake fantasy to the test. Plus, it is afternoon tea week next week (8-14 August) so it seemed like good timing. Here is our story - the story of...
Afternoon tea for two at the Dorset Square Hotel
Chapter 1: First Impressions
It is early afternoon on a sunny Sunday. Oscar and his mum have spent a lovely morning walking through Primrose Hill and visiting London Zoo (“look Mummy – that blue frog can kill 100 people COMPLETELY DEAD!”). Now it’s time to head to the Dorset Square Hotel’s Potting Shed (“Mummy, can we go on the Jumbilee line?”) so Oscar can experience their extra-special kids’ DIY Afternoon Tea. And so his mum can legitimately drink champagne pre 3.30pm.
Descending below street level, they are immersed in Kit Kemp’s luxurious world of pattern, texture and gentle humour. There are warm green walls, softly lit by the large roof windows that afford up-skirt views of passersby on the pavement above. There are imaginative displays of pots, some filled with succulents, others arranged in a grid on a wall and randomly illuminated, creating an ever-changing work of art. And on the table there’s the tea set Oscar’s mum was anticipating: Kemp’s Mythical Creatures design for Wedgwood: weird and wonderful beasts crawl colourfully around the teacups and saucers, rest on top of the teapot, and meander over the milk jug.
“What do you think of these cups?” asks Oscar’s mum.
“Cool,” says Oscar, studying a cricket bat collage made of corks.
Chapter 2: The Order
The waitress arrives, all smiles, menus and questions as to what they’d like to drink. Oscar’s options include milkshakes and orange juice; he likes the sound of both.
“Have the orange juice first, then the chocolate milkshake afterwards,” the waitress suggests. “You can go wild!” Oscar’s face lights up: yes please! His mum orders pink champagne and Earl Grey – the two drink rule doesn’t just apply to minors.
“I know she said you can go wild,” says Oscar, solemnly, once the waitress has gone. “But that doesn’t mean you can scream.” His mum agrees screaming wouldn’t be ideal in such surroundings.
After a few minutes the first round of drinks arrive: orange juice “with bits” for Oscar, champagne and tea for his mum. Oscar takes a sip.
“Delicious!” he declares, before downing the entire glass in one and stifling a burp. “Pardon me. I think it took me 40 seconds to drink that.” A waiter arrives, and, with a wink at Oscar, removes the empty glass. Another, much taller glass, filled with milkshake, swiftly replaces it.
“Look! It’s huge! It’s so huge it’s got two straws!” Seated, the top of the straws end a good foot above Oscar's head. “I have to go on my tippy toes to drink it. Mummy – we can have one straw each.”
Together, Oscar and his mum drain the glass, agreeing its chocolatey contents are very tasty indeed. Rubbing his stomach, Oscar starts to read his menu out loud:
“ ‘Selection of finger sandwiches’ - yucky! Fingers in sandwiches!’ He looks genuinely distressed. His mum laughs and ruffles his thick auburn hair, wondering fleetingly how long before he gets teased about it at school.
“Finger sandwiches just means long thin sandwiches. They’re called finger sandwiches because they’re shaped like fingers, not because they’re filled with them.”
“Oh,” says Oscar, with a relieved grin. “That’s ok then!”
Chapter 3: Cake creation
The food arrives with a flourish: two cake stands with pink-edged, Perspex tiers, overflowing with cakes, finger-free sandwiches, scones, jam, cream, and – on Oscar’s – a plain cupcake alongside two bags filled with icing, plus little pots containing sugar sprinkles, white chocolate drops and mini marshmallows, so he can decorate it as he likes.
Oscar’s eyes appear to have been Snapchat-filtered. His mouth drops open: “Wow! Do I have to eat all that?!” His mum assures him he can eat just as much of it as he likes, and steals a pink marshmallow.
“Hey! That’s mine!”
Faced with all this fabulous food, he hesitates, unsure what to do or eat first (his mother experiences no such indecision and sets greedily about the sandwiches, before smothering a scone with clotted cream). Finally, Oscar picks up an icing bag and carefully draws a chocolate spiral, starting at the centre of the cupcake and working outwards. When he reaches the edge he puts the icing bag and iced cupcake to one side and eats two chocolate cakes in quick succession. His mother, having finished with her sandwiches and scones, pours a second cup of Earl Grey, champagne three-quarters finished. She feels much more relaxed than she had on the Jumbilee line.
“Are you going to carry on decorating your cupcake now?” she asks. Oscar is sitting awkwardly on the edge of his seat, toes just touching the ground. He is fairly small for his age, with a light build, and there is something touching about seeing him in such grown-up surroundings, behaving so beautifully.
Chapter 4: Orange Kippo
“Yes. But I’m going to have a stretch first.” He stands up. “Mummy, my tummy’s a bit sore.” His mum notices his shorts – which are Gap Kids age 4 – look a little tight. She fiddles around, unbuttoning the waistband adjuster so they are as loose as possible.
“Maybe you shouldn't have drunk quite so much juice and milkshake. Is that better?”
“Yes. Water please.”
“I think you’ve done a lot of growing lately. When we get home, what do you say to us going on a shopping trip to buy you some new shorts and a few other bits?”
“And some new Crocs?”
“Yes, if you like.”
Oscar smiles at his mum. “Yes please.” He sits back down and picks up the pot of sprinkles.
“There – I’ve finished!” The final cupcake is rather attractive – his mum is surprised by his restraint, given the topping options available – but still he doesn’t attempt to eat it.
“How about this little ice cream thing,” his mum asks, pointing to a small glass tube containing tiny red and yellow icy balls. She tastes them with the tip of her tongue. “I think the red one is raspberry sorbet. And the yellow…mango. Which would you like to try first?
“The raspberry.” He opens his mouth wide, like a baby bird awaiting a worm, and eats the sorbet off the proffered spoon. “Mmm – it really does taste like raspberry! No, I don’t want to try the other one…oh ok.” He eats the spoonful of yellow. “I don’t like it.” A second’s pause as it melts in his mouth. “Actually I do! It tastes like Mango Baby Brekkie.” He takes the glass vial from his mother and starts stirring the remaining ice balls together with a teaspoon until they make an orangey slush.
“Look Mama – I’ve made ice cream soup!” His mother fails to look disapproving. “Have you had ice cream soup before, Mama?” She shakes her head. “Well I have!”
“When was that then?”
“Remember when I had the orange Kippo?”
“The orange what?”
“Yesterday, when I had the orange Kippo. You know – when there was just orange juice left at the bottom? That was ice cream soup.” It dawns on Oscar’s mother that her son is referring to the Calippo he'd had in Battersea Park the previous day.
Both are now full to bursting, although Oscar’s mum eats the rest of her son’s sugar sprinkles with her teaspoon, just to be tidy.
“That’s how I like to eat them too,” whispers a passing waiter.
Final chapter: Mythical Creatures
Once the beautiful mess has been cleared away, and while Oscar’s mum finishes her second pot of tea, Oscar turns his attention to the Kit Kemp Wedgwood Competition entry form he was given earlier. The idea, he reads, is that kids design their own version of the Mythical Creatures china on the mug and plate templates provided, and the winner’s designs are made into actual Wedgwood crockery. He sets to work and has soon drawn a thunderstorm raining down on a selection of animals – “that’s a poisonous bug, that’s a sausage dog and that’s a blue mouse”. He signs his name and sits back, satisfied.
“Do you think I’ll win, Mummy?” he asks.
“Well, I think you should win,” she replies, proudly. “Let’s take a photo of you with your design.”
The last drop of tea has been drunk; it’s time to go. They thank everyone for a lovely afternoon, climb back up to the pavement, and start walking to Baker Street station, hand in hand.
How amazing, thinks Oscar’s mum; my cupcake fantasy actually came true. And I didn’t even need a princess dress – or a daughter.