Saturday 9 October 2010

One Small Step

Today I did something that I haven’t done for eight years. I’ll tell you what it is later.

In the meantime, I’ve been learning things like the name Geraint isn’t French, but Welsh. Yes I really thought it was French and if I saw it written down I said it in my head with a fancy French accent – durr! Thank you Inspector George Gently for enlightening me.

I now know that crane flies and daddy long legses are two different things and that my poor little Tilly is terrified of them. In fact she’s scared of anything that flies and she’s scared of spiders too poor little soul. The other night when a daddy long legs was doing his noisy thing round the light, she sat first on my head, then burrowed under the duvet where she stayed until I turned the light out and the daddy long legs went to sleep.

Moving on – I now know that shanty men make a lot of noise and you can hear them a long way away and they sound very happy. I’ve seen a Thames barge up close – joy. And I’ve seen the Waverley paddle steamer close too and she was a lot smaller than I thought, but an elegant little lady all the same. I’ve been to a book signing where the queue was out of the door – it was for a book of photographs spanning about 50 years of the town’s history.

I’ve realised that I no longer own a dictionary or if I do, I don’t know where it is. My dictionary used to be my right hand man, always on my desk, used daily. It was an essential piece of kit and now thanks to Google and my laziness he’s all but forgotten.

A week or so ago round at my daughter’s house I saw a huge bowl of fruit soaking in sherry ready for her Christmas cakes. The last time I made a Christmas cake would have been eight years ago.

I used to make one for us, one for my mum and until her death, one for my mum’s friend who was the nearest thing I ever had to a grandmother.

I had no idea coming up to Christmas 2002 that it would be the last cake I ever made for my mum or that there would be some left in her larder when she died in 2003.

That year I didn’t make any cakes. I couldn’t face making just one. In all the years (I started making them when I was still at school) I’d been making Christmas cakes, I’d never made only one. It felt wrong. Besides I didn’t know where my recipe was.

So I started buying Christmas cakes. Blimey they’re expensive aren’t they? I don’t eat Christmas cake myself, but I was told every year that bought ones aren’t a patch on home made. They didn’t last as long either. And the marzipan on bought ones is never thick enough.

I bought the fruit and a bottle of sherry and left it to soak for a week – never mind quarter of a pint of sherry, that fruit damn near saw off a whole bottle. Oh and I found my recipe. Today the fruit was plump and ready and I made my cake. It’s in the oven now. I hope it tastes as nice as everyone remembers.

The making of the cake is significant. I’m not sure why, but it is.

Sorry for another ramble. One of these days I’ll post a proper writerly one and you’ll think you’ve come to the wrong place!


  1. Oh Teresa, it breaks my heart to hear you say you haven't used a proper dictionary in years. My byline for Writer's Forum:
    and my blog about reference books touches on just this same topic
    as writers we should be supporting the publications. Their wealth offers so much more than what Google or any Internet dictionaries can offer, honestly. :O)

  2. I used to make a Christmas cake every year. I'd ice it on Christmas Eve, when visitors were arriving and the kids were running around and I was behind with everything. But no-one in my family likes Christmas cake, and so round about Easter, I'd throw it out.

    Finally, the penny dropped, and I stopped making Christmas cakes. I rather miss it. Good luck with yours, Teresa, and save me a cyber slice (I DO lke Christmas cake, but it isn't worth making one just for me).

  3. I have never made a Christmas cake, ever. My neighbour makes me a huge one every year, to which I add large amounts of brandy! When you finally take the lid off the tin, you could fall into an alcoholic stupour just from one sniff.

  4. My mother in law made Christmas cakes in the shape of house bricks and the same weight and texture. As well as fruit they had peanuts in them and I told the kids Grandpa used to sit and suck the salt off them before spitting them into the mix. Naturally, the cake she gave us was never eaten. We used to put bits out for the birds and then watch them running up and down the garden trying to take off. I think I put the whole family off. We'd try a Yule log instead but my mother, when she worked in a cake shop, sold the one out of the window. It was cardboard covered in icing. No-one complained so I guess that got thrown out too. Thanks for starting me reminiscing. BTW my dictionary is by my right elbow.

  5. No one here eats cake, but I make mincemeat, sloshing in far more alcohol than the miserable quantity stated in the recipe. We all stir it and make a wish. The smell is amazing and fills the house with Christmas.

    I hope it works its magic again, but this year has been peppered with family troubles. It's hard to think of Christmas in the same light. It's strange how the happiest occasions can become the saddest. Let's hope the giant bowl of fruit, spices and brandy can restore the Christmas spirit.

  6. I bet your mum would be glad you're making your Christmas cakes again. I love marzipan, and you're right, there's never enough on a shop bought cake. Yours sounds delicious! x

  7. I've never made a Christmas Cake - and it's too late to start this year as I've already bought one (M&S - half price special offer). Never mind, will definitely make an effort next year.


  8. I think the making of a cake is so special, Teresa. I make loads of them - including an Xmas cake or three. For me it reminds me of my mother's baking - she was an excellent cake maker and I'm so grateful that she passed her skills onto me before she died. Whatever I am baking I am filled with memories of her. It's such a comfort. I'm sure your cake is going to be great. I can smell the booze from here!

    Julie xx

  9. What a good idea. I havent made one for a few years either, but i make fruit cake quite often during the year - I love it. Good timely reminder to make the chrissie cake now, of course with lashings of booze.

  10. Madeleine – I feel guilty, really I do. At one time I wouldn’t be parted from my beloved dictionary and I used to love just looking through it. Maybe I should put one on my Christmas list!

    I will save you a slice, Frances! I think I’m the only one who doesn’t like it – you can have mine.

    Sounds great, Hydra. I used to bore holes in mine with a skewer and fill it up with brandy – for some reason I stopped doing that. Hm, might give it a try this year in which case on second thoughts I would have to eat some, just to test it of course.

    Trust you to make me laugh, Lynne! Now I have a head full of pictures of a garden full of birds trying desperately to get airborne and a family sitting round gnawing on a cardboard yule log!

    I’m so sorry you’ve had a bad year, Joanna. Christmas is very hard when it’s been tough for the rest of the year. I hope your mincemeat proves to be magic for you.

    Thanks Joanne – the marzipan is the only bit I’ve ever really liked.

    Ah now Suzanne – Marks & Spencer cake, that is one shop bought cake that is worth buying! Well the wedding cakes anyway and I imagine their Christmas cake is lovely too.

    You’re right, Julie, making cakes is very special and the smells bring back so many memories. My mum used to make hers without recipes and they were always delicious and there was always cake in the tin when I got home from school.

    It’s a great time to make the cake, Nicole. Still plenty of October left for it!