Creative things to do with burnt cake

14 December

Like every female out there, I never thought I would become a middle-aged woman with those dubious-looking brown patches on the back of my hands, a wrinkly neck and unreliable eyesight. So I’ve decided that I’m not.

One of my cunning tricks is to pretend I don’t need to wear any of the fifteen pairs of Primark reading glasses I have scattered around the house in strategic places. This has not worked particularly well though, as it’s led to the tragic demise of this year’s Christmas Dundee cake. I misread the recipe and instead of baking for two hours at Gas mark 3, I baked it for three hours, blithely ignoring the smell of burning coming from the oven because, of course, I Know Best, being a woman with many years’ experience of baking Dundee cakes.

When I finally took it out of the oven, I realised what had happened – clues were the black crust around the edges and the fact that I couldn’t test its consistency with a skewer without hammering it in with a mallet.

As Mr Young was out walking Ruby at the time, I thought I might be able to remedy the situation by sawing off the charred sides, top and bottom with a bread knife, and then soaking it with brandy and wrapping it in foil without him even having to know.

It was quite a lot smaller when I’d finished. And the bread knife had a definite kink in the blade.

However, Mr Young fancies a slice with his tea today, and my not-so-cunning ruse turns out to be a miserable failure when he tries to cut a slice; this takes a considerable effort - that extra hour really hard-baked that baby, I can tell you! - and I have to confess the whole sorry story.

Recommending that I invest in one of those chains that go round one's neck to hang my glasses on, Mr Young suggests that perhaps we could make a trifle with it so that it doesn't go to waste.

This is a ridiculous idea, I tell him. Trifles are supposed to be a mushy, alcoholic, custardy delight. Finding wedges of this lurking at the bottom of your bowl would require the sort of Herculean chewing no-one would want to inflict on a dinner guest. Not one you liked, anyway.

I’m going to hide it at the back of the cupboard and hope he forgets about it.

Maybe it will just crawl away on its own, somehow, and star in its own disaster movie.

But I’ve got a feeling it will squat there malevolently and outlive us all, just to get its revenge.

15 December

My father comes to stay and suggests an afternoon at the cinema. Except there’s nothing we want to see apart from Murder on the Orient Express, and he’s not even keen on that because of all the poor reviews he’s read. But we go anyway, because I convince him it’ll be worth it just so he can experience our fabulously re-vamped cinema.

We arrive late, so it’s pitch dark, and he tells me off when I randomly press buttons so his chair lurches back and forwards, and his legs rise and fall gracefully and distractingly during the trailers, but eventually I get him settled in an upright position.

The film’s actually good – ha, what do you know, film critics? – starring Kenneth Branagh’s Moustache, which makes impassioned Shakespearean-style speeches to Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, and loads of other famous people, in wonderful costumes, with a fabulously dramatic ending which has the Moustache positively quivering with thespian excitement; I would be on the edge of my seat if I hadn’t gone for the reclining-position, legs-raised option.

We wait until the very end of the acres of screen credits for the lights to go on so that I can show my father how luxurious the cinema is now, with all the new spacious seating, but it remains just as dark, even when the screen also goes black. There is some conspicuous coughing from the side, and I realise that we are the last to leave, and the Showcase staff are waiting for us to go so they can clear up.

“Why aren’t the lights on?” I call into the gloom. “I was waiting to show my dad how lovely it all looks in here now.”

“They’re broken,” floats out a disembodied voice, and a faint beam appears. “We have to use a torch in here to clear up.”

The staff kindly lead us out in single file, like potholers blinking into the sunlight, feeling slightly silly.

16 December

I now answer the phone suspiciously every time an unknown number calls me. Occasionally, very occasionally, it’s a genuine person, who really does want to talk to me, but its usually about PPI, or (unnervingly) funeral plans, or fake competition wins.

And, of course, that traffic accident I was involved in during the last three years.

I love these. So much opportunity to improvise.

“Is that Mrs Young? Blah blah blah… accident during the last three years?”

“Why yes! How thoughtful of you to call!” They always get so excited at this point. “It was dreadful, so traumatic - I wish I’d thought to pursue it at the time, but I just didn’t think.”

I can hear them practically falling off their chairs now.

“It would be wonderful if you could help me,” I say.” Let me ask a nurse to get a pen and paper so I can write some details down…” long pause…”I can only write with my mouth, now, you see” long pause…”what with having had all my limbs and my torso amputated, it can be tricky speaking and gripping the pen with my teeth at the same time…”

Sometimes they hang up straight away.

But sometimes they’re not too sure and carry on asking questions, which is slightly odd, because I have to continue a conversation about what it’s like living life as just a head.

But I have occasionally asked them about their own funeral plans at this point, which is when they get really confused.

Perhaps I should ask them if they've ever been mis-sold any PPI.

17 December

Tom is applying for jobs at the moment, to be something that sounds like something made-up at somewhere a million miles from home. Having spent a million years at university – which I’m sure is worth it, because he is now a doctor (but not one who could say in an emergency, ‘It’s all right, I’m a doctor, let me through’) he now has quite a few consonants after his name.

(I’m allowed to show off, because I carried him around inside me for just over nine months and he was bloody heavy.)

Naturally, I’m being incredibly relaxed about the whole jobs-abroad thing, because stoicism is supposed to be something you acquire as a grown-up person. Like a mortgage and a toilet brush. But abroad isn’t just down the road, and being stoic all the time is hard work.

I’ve thought about telling him that there is a vacancy here at home for Professor of Keeping His Bedroom Tidy and Putting His Clothes Away, but I suppose he’s too old to fall for that at 29. And the money wouldn't be great.

Still, if I have a son who’s applying for a job abroad, and I (apparently) need to get one of those cords that hang round my neck so I don’t lose my glasses – the elderly person’s version of toddler’s mitten strings – then I must be a properly middle-aged woman.

I probably even have those brown spots on my hands and a wrinkly neck.


I expect I’ll be able to see them when I have my glasses on….