"As a plate spinner, I'd like you to demonstrate your plate spinning skills at a brunch event on Sunday in Leeds. We'll pay your train fare and hotel" wrote @culturevultures Leeds arts supremo Emma Bearman, brimming with enthusiasm.
How do I break it to her, I thought. I did once try plate spinning at a circus workshop, the sort of thing you end up attending when you have a small child, but I wasn't very good. Neither can I juggle.
Fortunately plate spinning is Emma's way of describing people that keep several projects going at the same time. I merely had to write up my life on ten plates.
The event, a brunch catered by @nofishybusiness was a gathering point for several 'platespinners' including artists such as Kirsty M Hall, who is doing an art in jar project. I talked to four different groups about The Underground Restaurant, why I started, how I started, the book, and basically ended up declaring a political manifesto eg: "Sod the patriarchal 9 to 5 having a proper job system, do your own thing! Don't wait for permission or certificates, just do it!" I felt especially motivated to talk about the political underpinning of the underground restaurant movement in the North, where many people, in fact some of the people at the event, are being made redundant because of the Tory cuts.
On Saturday I finally got a chance to go to Lynn Hill's Secret Tea Room in Leeds. I remember when Lynn first started in December 2009. She had to cancel because of the bad weather. She felt like giving up. Don't! I wrote. I persuaded her to continue and now she's booked up for months in advance. Lynn helps me administrate the supperclubfangroup.ning.com and is often willing to listen to me whinge down the phone from London. It was great to taste her baking, meet her lovely husband and daughter, look around her cute and well tended garden.
The guests at her tea party were all very interesting, a theatre director who is doing a play centred around knitting and yarns; a lady who lives in the Yorkshire Dales who I've convinced to set up her own tea room supper club; and boys. Yes, boys who bake and apart from one, they weren't even gay. The only men that attend my teas are gay or Asian, otherwise it's ladies. But tea in Yorkshire is not just for girls. Men are macho enough to admit that they too like cake. The men at the Secret Tea Room even discussed making macarons and the difficulty of achieving 'feet'. Amazing! But straight Yorkshire males often call each other 'love' and 'flower'. The men are so friendly, enthusiastic and warm, even my burly taxi driver told me how he just 'loved' my fascinator.
The menu and vintage china were in evidence.
In my honour, marmite sandwiches on white bread!
The crumbliest pastry and mini fairy cakes
At The Secret Tea Room, another secret tea, in the back room. I wondered where Lynn and this lady Danni from BBC Leeds who was interviewing us kept disappearing to... I only discovered these ladies in a back room at the end!
Lynn also runs the Clandestine Cake Club which is being held here at The Underground Restaurant on June the 11th. Here is her mad notebook of cakes. Wondering what I will make?
Saturday night a bunch of us visited Sunshine Bakery, a venture started by David Bennet who was head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White for many years. They also have occasional supper club nights.
David and his sous chef made us a delicious dinner: sea bass with fresh pasta, tortelloni and butternut squash.
The 'platespinners': @artistsmakers, @bettaculture (whose events, a series of 5 minute lectures such as 'why Myra Hindley is a cultural icon' sound hilarious), @culturevultures, @mardixon, @kirstymhall
Beautifully cooked vegetable, a cream sauce from a teapot. Again, butch straight men running a tea room with vintage china, lacy tablecloths, award winning cupcakes, the works.
I met another Northern supper club hostess, Monica of The Spice Club, who came to buy my book!
On Sunday I visited @nouveaucakes, another secret tea room in Huddersfield, run by Marie-Claire Picuta (no she isn't French). I was a last minute guest.
The entrance to her cute Yorkshire stone cottage.
I took off my fascinator and relaxed with a cup of tea.
Deceptively simple but tasty sandwich made from local Wensleydale cheese and dressed carrot salad.
The lightest cakes matched with wines from Lindley Fine Wines, a local shop.
Men like cake too. In Yorkshire having tea is normal.
The back of Nouveau Cakes HQ with cupcake and cat.
Marie-Claire and me.
I stayed at 42 The Calls, a boutique hotel with friendly helpful staff and a comfortable bed. The train from Kings Cross only took just over two hours. I met lots of Northern tweeters, I can't wait to go again! The only downside was the horrendously frustrating one way system all around Leeds. Get rid, councillors! You end up using more petrol, going round and round trying to reach your destination.
Finally thanks so much to Emma Bearman for arranging all this. Very inspirational.