Monday, 12 November 2007

Cake: Policing the menace within

Sunday, 3.45 PM in the park. It's cold and the sky is a miserable bleached grey, with thunderclouds on the horizon; it has been threatening rain for hours. The childrens playground is nearly empty as a result, whereas normally it is packed with people. Nini and I are pushing the girls on adjacent toddler swings: both are still small enough to think that a ride on the swings is one of the most fabulous experiences the world has to offer. Neve is still awestruck by the whole things- she sits clinging to the straps, her knuckles white, her face frozen in the widest grin as the swing gently sways to and fro at about 3 m.p.h. Amelie is more daring; within seconds she has kicked off her welly boots, is leaning over the guard rail to make a 'Superman' position, and is demanding on each backswing that I alternately push the swing harder or tickle her sweaty outstretched feet.
I few minutes pass. The swings creak.
"I know what I meant to tell you," says Nini. "Do you know what the new Health and Safety rules are that the 'mum and toddler' group insist on now? About cake?"
"Cake? No. What about cake?"
"Now, if you make a cake and bring it along, you have to provide a full list of what's in it, and where you bought each ingredient."
"You do? Why?"
"In case there's something in it and anybody gets sick from what you've made."
I puzzle over this for a while. It seems well intentioned but nonetheless ridiculous, like the immigration forms you get that ask if you wouldn't mind ticking a box for the benefit of border control to let them know if you're a terrorist. I can only draw one conclusion.
"Sounds like you'll all be eating a lot less cake, then?"
"Right..."
Nini pushes Neves swing up to a full 4 m.p.h, eliciting an "Ooooooooh" of exhilaration.
"That sounds like disastrous news for you", I say, and genuinely mean it. (To explain: My wife is something of a cake fiend. Most people can map out the landscape of their childhood by reference to treasured memories: days out, birthday treats, holidays, school friends, etc. Not so Nini. My wifes mental landscape is pretty much marked out in milestones of cake: She has fond chilhood memories of watching Alberto Tomba make a winning run on Ski Sunday, which she can recall with absolute clarity - but only because on that occasion she and her family were enjoying a particularly successful Paris-Brest choux pastry ring. She has forgotten what she got for her fifth birthday, but she can recall the cake. Thank God there was cake at our wedding, or she'd never remember our anniversary...)
Nini nods sadly. "Yes. It is bad news..." she agrees, in the kind of distant sorrowful voice you would normally reserve for wistfully recalling the antics of well-loved but long dead family pet. "But you can still bring shop-bought cake. That's easier, because you only have to explain the...you know, the provenance of one item."
"Just the cake itself?"
"Yes. But it's just not the same, is it? Shop-bought cake?"
I scratch my nose thoughtfully (becoming unpleasantly aware that my hands now smell faintly of Amelies socks) and wonder what to say. In truth my interest in cake is fairly short lived and I don't care either way whether its shop-bought or home-made. However, I know from bitter experience that saying this aloud in Nini's presence is considered heresy: she will be righteously indignant on behalf of the patissiers of the world - so I elect to make a vaguely soothing affirmative murmur and silently hope that we won't have to have the whole 'I am married to a cake philistine' conversation again.
She sighs aloud. "Promise me, if something happened and I couldn't do it for myself, that you'd make cakes for us all instead?"
"What?"
"Promise me you'll make cakes for us if I can't make them myself."
I look at her worried face. Unbelievably, she is actually serious. Neither of us have written a will yet, but in the event of an accident she wants to make sure emergency cake supply procedures have been agreed in advance.
"What accident? Why wouldn't you be able to make cakes?"
"Maybe I lose an arm, or something."
A mental picture of my wife with a giant prosthetic whisk for an arm briefly crosses my mind. "Are you saying that if you lost an arm, it's the lack of cake that would bother you?" I ask incredulously. "That's nonsense."
"Do you promise?"
"I promise I'll buy you cake..."
"But it's not the same!"
"This is a ridiculous conversation. I am not agreeing fallback cake-making procedures with you for the event of a lost limb."
Nini look sulky. "I'd do it for you" she says. "If you lost an arm, I'd still buy you videogames."
"That seems a bit cruel, don't you think? What am I meant to do with them, enjoy reading the boxes?"
"I would, er... play them for you."
"That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"
"You would still get to see them. You could play them through me"
"OK, how about I make a cake, eat it, and then tell you what it was like?"
She looks horrified, and a little bit teary. "You wouldn't!" she gasps.

And to think people accuse me of stretching the truth on this blog. If only they knew how often I really wished that was necessary....

1 comment:

MisterImpatient said...

You can make a movie: Nini Mixerhands. Who to cast in the leading role...Charlize Theron?