I used to love baking. I was never very good, certainly not bake-off standard. I was competent and never had any problems with taste; well, nobody ever complained. But bakes were never particularly even – I laugh at the idea of trying to get a dozen biscuits to look identical. Over time, I stopped. The other half was much better at baking, in every way: cakes were neater, biscuits crisper, icing immaculate. And so it goes: we fell into the jobs that we were good at, although we did our best to split the nobody-wants-to-do-this jobs fairly.
When the twins arrived, it was more of the same, but with an added veneer of never enough sleep. I ended up changing more nappies, but that’s just because I was home more. Hubbie would leave me with meals ready for the day and I would do my best to make sure that entropy didn’t swallow us whole.
Suddenly, the twins were eight – how on Earth did that happen? – and I realised that life was a lot better than it had been, and I’d not noticed. Things were still manic, with clubs and classes and Brownies and Cubs and all the rest of it, but it was amazing how much of a difference a full night’s sleep every night of the week made. The twins could also occupy themselves for longer without causing (too much) mischief and mayhem, which in turn allowed more time to get things done and to keep the house ship-shape and Bristol fashion despite being back at work part-time.
The twins, as I said, were magically eight, and that meant DH would be thirty-five. That’s one of those odd birthdays, which feels like it should be a big one, but isn’t really. It’s half of your three score years and ten, but in terms of a working life, you still haven’t hit half way to retirement. Forty’s the new thirty, and – well, you take my point.
Normally I buy a cake for his birthday. He, of course, does the children’s and there have been some amazing ones. There are a lot of misconceptions about twins, in terms of them liking the same stuff. Our two are inseparable (except when they’re not), but they definitely have their own personalities. No dressing our two identically, oh no, and not just because we’ve got one of each! My lovely little girl is a complete tom-boy, so there wouldn’t be any problem in her wearing the same as her brother, but they just like different things. I think my favourite cake was probably the Gruffalo/Ivor-the-Engine mash-up, although the best concept we’d discussed was Peppa Pig being eaten by a giant Mr Dinosaur. Tthat’s the kind of cake you can only ever talk about – it’s not one you can put in front of (most) five year olds.
The build-up to DH’s birthday went along the usual lines. I’d decided what I was going to get him about six months beforehand, purchased it four months beforehand and kept it hidden. I had time(!), so whilst helping the twins make their present and card, I made a rather lovely card myself – all rainbow paper and 3D flowers, almost professional, if I do say so myself.
It came to me that I could actually make a cake myself. Whoa. I checked the cupboards and the basics were there. My motto is, when in doubt, less is more – keep it simple, stupid. So I decided on a classic Victoria sponge. To up the ante (slightly) I got some up-market jam, fresh strawberries and proper cream. The tricky bit was hiding these extra ingredients, but I put them at the back of the fridge, putting some things around them as a disguise, but so that it didn’t look like a wall that was shielding something important.
I’d planned on making the cake the night before but life being what it is, I didn’t get that far. No worries, DH was treating himself to a round of golf for his birthday so he’d be out of the way, and I thought the kids could look after themselves for an hour, or so. I wanted clear decks for this – I know how easy it is to get in a mess just because there aren’t any clear surfaces. I cleared everything away, put the oven on to warm up and then picked up the bag of washing and went through the living room to the patio to hang it up. This was the second load of the day, so I folded up the dry stuff already out and put it in a basket to put away. I thought it wouldn’t take me a minute so I went upstairs and sorted all of that lot out.
It was about then that it struck me that the house was awfully quiet and that I hadn’t seen the children for a while. Oh dear. I called out and looked in all the rooms upstairs. Oh dear oh dear. Downstairs, still calling. I was about to poke my head round the door into the living room when I realised that the kitchen door was firmly shut, which was not how I had left it. Hmmmm.
I opened the door and the two guiltiest faces you’ve ever seen looked up at me. The mess was epic, with flour in the air, dribbles of egg running down the side, sugar scattered everywhere. To be fair, the mix looked good – they’d been cooking with their Dad for years – and they’d got it in the pans without spilling too much. There are two ways we could have gone after that: I chose to help them tidy up and bake the cake, to decorate it with the strawberries and cream and jam. When DH came home, we had a lovely party.
But you know what? The expression on their faces as I walked into the mess they’d made in the kitchen – that. That really was the cherry on top.
© 2016 David Jesson