Saturday, 15 July 2006


Yesterday's birthday awoke a memory, from over fifty years ago, of the first (and for a very long while, the last) time I went to a birthday party…

First, some essential background information: my mother was a cake-maker supreme: all of them unfailingly light, fluffy, fruity (according to their nature) and always PERFECT! If they contained jam it was always very thickly spread; if the recipe called for them to be dusted in icing-sugar, then they were subjected to a small snow storm!

The weekly baking day in our basement flat at 16 Cicada Road guaranteed that the kitchen would be filled with the most mouth-watering aromas. Best of all - once the tins and trays were safely tucked inside in the oven - the various bowls, still generously smeary with rich, raw, tasty cake mixtures, would always be surrendered for "licking out"!

When it came to special cakes (Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, even Bonfire Night!) Mother, the Cook, combining her talents with those of my Father, the Artist, in order to bake and decorate the most extraordinary creations that - in those bleakly austere post-war years - were miracles and marvels of multi-coloured marzipan and icing-sugar.

Actually, 'Cakes' is really too small a word for what were nothing short of artistic masterworks. It seemed, in fact, almost an act of vandalism to approach them with a knife - however urgent the desire to slice and taste!

So, to that birthday party in, I think, 1953...

The celebration is for little Tommy who lives on the other side of Cicada Road and who is, today, four years old.

The scene: lots of children (doting mothers in attendance); cheap birthday presents (magic colouring books, crayons, tins of blowing bubbles); silly games ('Oranges and Lemons', 'The Farmer Wants a Wife', pinning the tail on Muffin the Mule); uninteresting things to eat (sandwich-spread sandwiches and pink wafer biscuits); and then - the appearance of the birthday cake!

There is a chorus of delighted "Oohs!" and "Aahs!" from everyone --- except me! All I saw was a very ordinary Victoria sponge with a meagre smear of strawberry jam and a miserly thin coating of water-icing…

Next, the rituals: the usual off-key “Happy Birthday to You-ing” with everybody joining in - more or less, sooner or later - and the blowing out of four small, twisty, blue candles. followed by laughter and the clapping of little hands.

The moment now arrives to slice-up and dish-out of the cake: pale, feebly thin wedges handed round on waxed paper plates decorated with a picture of Noddy and Big Ears.

Then the faux pas that will ensure that one child is NEVER AGAIN invited to a birthday party in Cicada Road…

“Brian, would you like a piece of Tommy’s birthday cake?”

A shake of the head and the imperious reply: “No thank you. My mum makes one of those EVERY week!”

[Image: Farmhouse Cookery]

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