By Ann Milne, who founded the new style SWI group Deen Divas in Aberdeen in 2015
Today I went out for coffee. I met a friend and we went into town, with the intention of heading to the cinema to watch the new Avengers movie, so that we could pretend to be cool and have something to chat about with the young folks at work, what could be nicer.
But we got distracted. We got very distracted. The power of Thor’s hammer couldn’t compete with the draw of the lovely new season fashions in the shop windows. Never mind that it was barely 10 degrees outside, that the wind was howling in from the North Sea and that we hadn’t yet cast any cloots (listen to your mothers ladies!), we got severely distracted.
We needed to stop the shopping before bankruptcy bit, and anyway those white linen shorts that looked so amazing on the model didn’t really match anything else in my wardrobe (although they matched the shade of my wee Scottish chubby legs quite beautifully!) and probably wouldn’t really do for going to Tesco’s in Aberdeen in May. And what makes you think about muffins more than a cheeky wee muffin top peeping over the waistband of those shorts? So we stopped for a coffee… and a muffin, obviously.
Since when did going for a coffee become so complex? I’m not really a going out for coffee kinda girl - the kettle in my kitchen works perfectly, and the lure of the wine bar is generally much stronger, but today we were being grown-ups so coffee it was,
Only, which coffee? A grande Caffe Misto perhaps? Or a velvety flat white? Or even an ever so exotic hot teavana? (I’m guessing that’s tea not coffee) Grande? Short? Tall? Venti? If I had to put those in size order to win the fastest finger first question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire I’d have to phone a friend or go home humiliated! The whole experience was completely traumatic, not the relaxed cappuccino and blueberry muffin served by a friendly waitress that I had envisaged when I agreed to such a reckless suggestion.
While waiting in the queue to have my triple venti half sweet non-fat caramel macchiato lovingly prepared by the superior hipster barista boy (I’m nothing if not adventurous!) I got to thinking about our refreshment expectations.
When you’re in the process of setting up a new branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute this question weighs particularly heavily. After all, everyone knows that if you want the best fly-cup in town there is no better place to go than the local SWI meeting, where guaranteed there will be an abundance of cake, tray bake, scones and jam (homemade of course!).
Would my prospective new members come along to their first meeting with the expectation of a Victoria sponge made to traditional SWI standard? Beautiful sandwiches cut with geometric precision and filled with delights for their delectation? If so I was in deep trouble.
As someone who once tried to bake gingerbread using the turbo-grill setting of my oven, the thought of being asked to be tea convener, catering for a group of discerning ladies who are used to the joys of a triple macchiato filled me with pure terror. And how do you explain to the uninitiated that that’s what you do as an SWI lady? They too would surely be filled with terror and flee, never to darken the SWI doorway again. After all the modern girl about town, who I was hoping would become my new captive audience, gets her cake kicks from the Bake Off, and the closest they’ve come to a soggy bottom is jogging home from the gym on a wet winter’s night.
So high on my wish list when selecting a venue was somewhere where the cakes came ready to eat, where the coffee was served freshly brewed and where we didn’t have to wash our own cups.
Or at least, that was my preconceived notion. But that’s the beauty of setting up a brand new branch of the SWI. It means that you get to leave the preconceptions at the door. It means that you have a brand new group of ladies, with brand new ideas, who’ve never even heard of a tea convenor and don’t lose sleep over a dodgy urn. It means that while I never have to worry about cleaning my oven because it’s still shiny like new more than a year on from me taking possession of it, much to my surprise these new ladies are just as good at creating an orange and almond cake that would make your heart sing as their more experienced SWI sisters (not a soggy bottom in sight!). And best of all, they are so enthusiastic about doing it.
So if you are thinking about starting a new branch of the SWI don’t be put off by the preconceived notion, my dears. Remember that the whole point of starting a new group is just that, it’s something new. Forget the way it has always been done, forget about how you think it should be done, don’t worry if you can’t think of how to do it. Instead do it the way your new members want to do it - I promise you they will have a million suggestions, all of them exciting, whether it be about how to cover the catering or what meetings to have, you will never be stuck.
After all, preconceived notions are only notions, that barista boy probably doesn’t even like coffee, and would shave his hipster beard off for a slice of that homemade orange and almond cake, isn’t that a lovely notion?