The Annual Birthday Cake Drama

Let me say right up front that I am crap at a lot of motherhood.

I am not house proud. I hate cleaning and, when I do it, I don’t do it well.

I cannot knit. I tried (there is a giant bag full of wool and knitting needles shoved down the side of the sofa to prove it) but the best I managed was two and a half scarves, all a little wonky and full of holes.

I cannot sew. I remember learning how to take up hems in school, and spent a glorious few weeks in my teens deciding to make my own clothes. I still have a photograph of me proudly posing in my greatest creation. However, when I realised how much I’d spent on patterns and spare material, and how many hours of my life I had spent making a slightly ill fitting skirt which I didn’t know how to wash, I decided it was financially impractical to continue and went back to shopping. Much more efficient.

I cannot cook. Not particularly well at least. My first ever Christmas in charge of the kitchen resulted in a wide selection of blackened bread rolls and someone else insisting on taking over the cooking by Boxing Day. I can keep us nourished, but it’s not my strength.

Still, for some reason, every year around this time I decide that I can and will do something domesticated for my family. I make a cake.

Not just a bunch of fairy cakes – that is one of the few things I can manage – but a full on, fancily designed and fully home made birthday cake.

It’s my mum’s fault. She was a proper mum: she kept our house clean, mended all our school uniforms by hand, and made beautiful homemade dinners (including a Lancashire Hotpot, the memory of which sometimes makes me want to abandon vegetarianism). But the thing I remember most of all are the amazing cakes. Each year on our birthdays, mum would present us with a birthday cake so beautifully crafted and tailored to our tastes it was a work of art. Clowns, Barbie Doll cakes, a tardis, a robot, a rat with its guts spilling out, a volcano and once, for my second birthday, a table laid out for tea with tiny hand crafted tea cups so small the borrowers could have used them. It is one the most treasured memories of growing up.

And so, when my own son’s first birthday was approaching, I decided I, too, would institute this tradition.

Dear God, why???

While my mum actually has domestic skills and gained plaudits at school for her cooking, I only achieved my food technology GCSE by drawing beautifully colour-coded borders around my final project and writing a convincing evaluation of why I had burned my cheese on toast (distracted by chatting) and how I would make sure it didn’t happen again (less chatting). Somehow this got me an A! 

Unfortunately, I announced my decision to have an annual Mary Berry moment very loudly and clearly to pretty much anyone I know, and now I’m stuck with it forever.

So, in year one, I bought a book entitled ‘Simple cake decorating’. They must have a different dictionary than me. We have very different understandings of the word ‘simple’.

Grateful that the little man was too young to express an opinion, I opted for the one of the simpler options: a bookworm. A practice run was a good idea.

The first attempt

After several people mistook my bookworm for the Loch Ness Monster, I ventured to the shops to invest in some more cake making equipment. After many hours of work, I emerged triumphant. One decent looking bookworm cake.

My first success!

Then came year two. Overly optimistic after my first success, I gave the boy a choice and let him look through the book. He, of course, chose a dinosaur. Overly confident, I didn’t bother to read the instructions and found myself still slaving away at midnight the night of his birthday, having neglected to realise how much effort was involved.

Still, it was OK. While my rash decision to use stars instead of circles suggested I was making a political statement about the EU, and numerous people commented on the slightly phallic shape of my dinosaur head, it resembled what it was supposed to and got a general seal of approval.

An unintentionally political dinosaur cake

Somehow, nearly a year has gone by and I seem to have lost my mind. Rather than offering a selection, I asked the idiotically open question: ‘what kind of birthday cake would you like?’ The dinosaur obsession continues and so I am tasked with moulding a green triceratops cake.

That’s not in my book! What the hell am I supposed to do?! Google searches reveal nothing but professional attempts or ones which look even more disastrous than my own!

Just days before our family birthday tea I have a bag full of green royal icing and no clue what the hell I am going to do. I find myself at odd moments of the day imagining how to carve a cake into horn shapes and fantasising about materials which could be used in place of a neck ruffle. It’s taking over my life!

Perhaps fate will smile on me and I’ll be hit by divine inspiration in the middle of the night. Or perhaps this will be the year it all comes crashing down.

But that’s OK, we’ve lost our camera and kids don’t start really remembering things until they’re about 4 years old, right?


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