At the invitation of Lottie, I gave a talk last night on quiltmaking at a Malago Women's Institute meeting. I could not have been more warmly welcomed. From the jam jar of pink flowers, chalked message on the blackboard, and big bucket of cow parsley and ferns at the entrance to the hall, to the very friendly, cheerful committee and the delightful, smily audience, it was a treat to be part of what is evidently a remarkable WI group.
I was also bowled over by the tea and cakes. Now, everyone knows that the WI is a bastion of baking, but this was something else. At one end of the hall, there was a long trestle table that was a beauty to behold. It was covered with vintage hand-embroidered table cloths (I definitely spotted some crinoline ladies) and held the most mouthwatering selection of home-made cakes and biscuits all neatly labelled with brown card luggage tags and displayed on a selection of cake-stands and old, bone china plates. There were jugs of big roses and old paperback cookery books at various intervals, and a scattering of rose petals throughout. And, of course, there was tea. It was all as pretty as a picture, and delicious to boot.
How incredibly welcoming - not just for me, but for everybody at the meeting. Someone, well a few people, had made an effort and added a few lovely touches and the effect was fantastic. It didn't take ages and apparently this is what they do for every meeting. But the thing that really struck me was how genuine this welcome was. That it had nothing to do with baking oneupmanship and competition or striving to attain 'domestic goddess' status; it was simply something they enjoy, led by Alice who is the Creative Director.
A little while ago a journalist drove a long way to my house to do an interview with me. Now when anyone visits - friends, family, journalists - I like to bake something for us to eat, as a little welcome and as an excuse to bake that day. It's what I do. But instead of seeing that this as a simple welcome, she chose instead suggest that it was because I was obviously a domestic goddess, with the attendant implications that come with this hackneyed phrase of playing a role, giving a performance, baking to impress rather than to simply welcome. It saddens me that this most welcome of welcome gestures is being interpreted negatively - and this is not the first time this has happened to me.
But if I lived in Bristol, I'd be joing the Malago WI in the blink of an eye.