A BIRTHDAY tea without cake is like Wimbledon without tennis. It was therefore vital that cake should be on the menu for grandson Joe’s sixth birthday – and preferably a cake that was ready for devouring the very second he arrived home from school in his usual state of near-starvation.
My daughter, who makes every scrap of her family’s food from scratch, had embarked on the cake-making part of the tea preparations as soon as she’d cleared away the chaos of toddler Zach’s lunch.
All seemed to be in good time, then, for the return of the hungriest small boy in the world. Joe is having his official party in the woods in a fortnight’s time so this tea, on his actual birthday, was just for selected guests: his mummy, daddy, little brother and Geoff and me.
The table was laid and looked so tempting and lovely with toothsome things to eat by the time we arrived after our two-hour journey.
However, crashings and bangings from the kitchen, interspersed with a few cries of woe, indicated all was not well in the bakery department. “I’ll have to throw this one away and start again,” said my daughter, normally so tense you could use her stress levels to power the National Grid, but now at absolute pinging point.
I asked what the problem was and learnt that the oven was too small to accommodate two layers of sponge cake so she was having to bake one at a time. The first one had come out at the due time with its top burnt and its inside still liquid.
“It’s OK, you’ve got time,” I lied, in a calming voice. Unfortunately, not only does my daughter currently struggle with a temporary dolls-house sized oven but her kitchen is on the less-than-grand size, too, so cannot comfortably accommodate two cooks while they spoil the broth, or in this case the cake. I had no choice but to follow orders and get out. My task then was to try and mask the sounds of exasperation and frustration coming from the kitchen and occasionally to put my hands over Zach’s ears.
Soon the birthday boy came bursting through the door, home from school with Daddy, and in a high state of excitement.
Naturally, the first thing he asked Mummy was if she had put the candles on the cake yet. Her “No, not quite yet,” came out a little strangulated.
Feeling brave, I peeped into the kitchen and saw that one cake half was successfully baked and the other was about to be mixed.
As the two boys, and we adults, too, grew increasingly hangry (hunger-induced anger) we decided to launch into the spread of food and hope the cake would make an appearance before bedtime.
We ate well and then my poor frazzled daughter eventually appeared from the kitchen bearing a prize-winning cake sandwiched with strawberry jam and topped with a translucent layer of icing, as per Joe’s specific request. The candles were lit, Joe puffed them out, Happy Birthday was sung, and at last everyone had a slice of cake on their respective plates.
“I’m sorry, Mum. I just can’t eat any more,” said Joe, who looked forlornly at his still-complete slice. We adults divvied it up between us. His small brother licked the icing off his piece before announcing that he couldn’t eat any either. “The jam is too strawberry-y,” he declared.
That’s the trouble with birthdays and cakes – you just can’t please everyone. Except greedy grown-ups.