A recent clear out has turned up a photo of me on my third birthday. In it, I’m blowing out one candle on a simple, plain, round Victoria sponge. It has no icing, no cream, no jam. In between shifts as a night nurse, my mum spent more money than we had on ingredients and made it for me. It was a rare treat and I was delighted with it.
Fast forward to the children’s parties I accompany small son to and boy things have changed. There’s an unspoken, unacknowledged need for every cake to be a “showstopper”. I blame Mary Berry. (I blame her for quite a lot of things).
I hadn’t noticed this trend until I started attending a play group with small son when he was a babe in arms. This was a group of beautiful, thin, perfect mums with perfect children. Lumbering, awkward me and my enormous noisy son didn’t fit in. And that was before I was asked to join the cake rota. Every week, someone (usually with a minimum of two small children) made the cakes for the group. These were things of beauty. If I’d seen these in the shop, I would have assumed that I couldn’t afford them.
And it continues. In the last year or so, I’ve seen cakes that are taller than me, cakes resembling fairytale castles, replicas of race cars, guitars, film-themed cakes. Every cartoon character, every CBeebies character has been make into cake form, and every party sees a bigger and better creation each time.
All of this is great. However, am I the only person who feels that this is yet another way of people assessing your parenting skills? Is it just me who feels that if you don’t have time or if your icing is not professional standard, then it looks a little as though you’re not a good enough mum? As a mere mortal, or if you work, or if you (put your hands over your ears, Mary Berry), hate baking, then this is one of the worst parts of modern parenting. For me, it’s all three.
One way around this is – of course buy a cake. This is what I planned for small son’s last birthday until I got a quote of £80. £80! That’s a week’s worth of groceries, for a pretty standard round cake with a cartoon character on top.
Our school this week found a new way to bring ritual humiliation to anyone in the same boat as me. We were asked to make a cake to bring in, and then you could buy a raffle ticket. Raffle tickets were placed next to the cake you wanted to win and one winner was drawn.
By this time, work had stacked up and I was up to my eyeballs in writing. I made a cake that somehow looked more like an omelette than a baked good. I got rid of the evidence by putting the bad half in the bin and eating the semi-edible bits.
I returned to the supermarket – this time I BOUGHT a cake and MADE the icing. Go me! But a combination of small son eating my efforts and then producing icing that wouldn’t co-operate made cake number 2 look more like Boxty.
So with time running out, I decide to return to a trusted recipe of small lemon pies. Easy enough and they taste ok, but somehow, not aesthetic enough.
I place them up for adoption and notice that not one person has put their raffle ticket in this particular pot.
Then I see some of the other cakes. One is a faithful reproduction of a bucket of popcorn IN CAKE FORM. There are all manner of beautiful objets d’art. They are so brilliant in fact, that when I congratulate a parent on their creation, they can see that I don’t even own an apron, and ignore me, sweeping past me triumphantly and leaving me to cry into my cake mix.
Then, something happens that completely lifts my mood. I am not alone! Small son’s name is called and he is invited to collect his prize which is…a shop-bought packet of Mr Kipling’s fondant fancies. Whoever donated that is an exceedingly good person!