Margaret Henderson Smith Margaret Henderson Smith
Margaret Henderson Smith
‘It usually happens that way!’

It’s half-term, but no rosy apples this week. Their daddy’s mummy and daddy and the chocolate cake have travelled a long way to see them. Their daddy’s mummy makes the most heavenly chocolate cake in all the world. Rosy apples can’t wait for it to arrive, along with their daddy’s mummy and daddy, of course.

I miss my rosy apples. We usually have a large bake-in during the school holidays. They weigh and measure and crack the eggs and mix the whole lot up with their hands before licking it off their fingers. I am reminded of my teaching days. Maths, science, language, personal and social development; there’s hardly a missed area of the whole curriculum in a morning’s baking. Except when they’ve had enough of weighing. The flour and sugar gets over-tipped. Half the drum of chocolate powder accidentally lands in one or another’s bowl while I’m on my hands and knees trying to scoop up egg white and yolks escaping from shells cracked miles away from where they need to be. It usually happens that way!

Then, like magic, order from chaos. Each rosy apple in their turn popping back into the kitchen to peer through the oven glass, watching their own twelve little cakes slowly rising whilst I’m washing up.

Not this week, though. We’re planning on a big family Halloween party. We’ll see them then. I must think of some spooky things to do to keep them entertained.

‘Any ideas?’ I ask my better-half.

‘You know I don’t go with Halloween,’ he declares.

‘Better that than waiting for the phone to ring,’ I answer. ‘Waiting for the call from the estate agent. Thinking of a promise of a higher offer and then no word.’

‘It usually happens that way!’ he decides.

‘Don’t you think we’ll hear from them again?’ I ask.

‘I shouldn’t think so. All things considered we’ll be sitting on it for a while yet.’

I agree with him. We talk about house prices. We talk about how many times we’ve taken advice and dropped the price to keep pace with the falling market.

‘No! We’ve gone too low,’ my better-half declares. ‘We need to redress that. We need to get it back in line with the rest of them.’

I agree with him. We decide to do just that. We decide to increase the price by ten thousand pounds. We are prepared to wait for the market to stabilise. We have absolutely nothing to lose. I am filled with contentment. I decide to bake a cake.

I am thinking about baking. I am thinking about the time we were raising funds for the new community centre. We are having a summer fete. I gather my favourite relation to help me run the cake stall. I arrive late. It usually happens that way!

My cakes make me late. The last batch so over-baked they are decidedly reminiscent of little brown stones. No turning these into butterfly wings. I need to make more icing. I need to hide their brown crusting tops. My favourite relly is already there sorting out scones. I rush in and unload my masses of fairy cakes in all their variety. I am proud of them. My favourite relly pays me many compliments. I forget about the brown variegations beneath the icing as I pile them nicely alongside somebody’s burnt scones. I quietly admire my handiwork as I’m thanking her. She smiles as she busies herself with paper bags and a margarine tub full of loose change.

I am getting a bit above myself. I turn to my nearest and dearest again. I am pointing at the scones.

‘Look at these,’ I say. ‘Just look at these!’

She stops to look.

‘Who would ever have dreamed of bringing these. They’re burnt. They look awful!’

‘I did!’ she says. Her face changes. I am mortified. I am apologising and back-peddling like crazy and getting nowhere fast! I suddenly remember.

‘Anyway, I should talk. You should see some of mine. The icing’s hiding a multitude of sins.’

She looks at me in disbelief. ‘I’ll find one and show you, if you like.’

Her face breaks into a smile.

‘When you get older,’ she says. ‘You don’t care what people think.’

I return her smile. She’s lovely. She makes me feel young as I approach the Big 40.

‘Just you wait! What you see is what you get at my age. You’ll be the same when you get older.’

Back to today. I’ve got my head in the fridge reaching for the eggs and butter. This is to be a very special sponge cake. One to die for. In the eyes of those who’ve eaten it, it’s got to be able to hold its own alongside that well travelled chocolate cake. I want everyone to gasp in delight as it touches their lips.

I want to get on with it. The phone rings. It usually happens that way!

It’s the estate agent.

‘Can you do a viewing this afternoon?’

I hesitate. I’m baking.

‘I would if I were you. They know about the increased asking price,’ she advises.

I agree. My better-half groans.

‘Oh no,’ he says.  ‘I thought we were in for a prolonged period of dormancy.’

‘But they know we’ve increased the price,’ I say. ‘It’s unbelievable!’

‘It certainly is!’ He agrees. ‘It usually happens that way!’

Well in reverse actually. A few years ago we were sitting on one house forever and decided it really was time to drop the price. I am about to call the estate agent. That precise moment the phone rings. Viewers! They come. They look. They are smitten. The very same day they offer us the full asking price. In the timing of a phone call we are saved from losing thousands.

Back to today. I return to my baking. I’m elated. I decide a three tier sponge is in order to mark this occasion. I must hurry up. I need to return the house to its show-home status to stand a chance.

I experience something of the joy of my rosy apples as I throw the flour from the scales to the bowl. My mind is elsewhere. An extra couple of eggs for this one. It will need more sugar. More butter. I stop weighing. I haven’t the time. I’m mixing away. I’m thinking I mustn’t burn this one. I remember the instant when my better-half was forced to rush home. We were socialising. Another family gathering.

‘The cakes,’ I panic. ‘I’ve left a tray of cakes in the oven. I visualise the house going up in flames.

He rushes off. He rushes back to tell me off.

‘Just in time,’ he scolds. ‘A minute later and the house would have been filled with smoke.’

I am reminded to be careful. That’s not quite the way to sell a house.

I pile the mixture into the tins. There’s loads left over. It usually happens that way! I find another tin. I fill it. The oven’s hot and ready. They sit in pairs as they wait their turn. Soon the air will fill with that most enticing of aromas, home baking.

I rush around minimalising everywhere. It’s looking like a show-house again and the cakes smell good. I wonder if I have time to make an apple pie. Then I think better of it. I think of the last time I stewed apples. Enough for an army! The necessity for more pastry grew. I’ll tell you the story.

‘Overdone it again?’ my better-half asks.

I nod my head. It usually happens that way!

We take a slice of warm apple pie with our afternoon tea. My better-half is smiling. Now he doesn’t mind.

‘Very nice,’ he praises. ‘How many have we got?’

‘Too many,’ I say. ‘I’ve baked too many. They’re going in the freezer.’

He smiles at the prospect of being filled with apple pie for weeks to come.

Later on the doorbell rings. It’s an old friend calling by to discuss something or other with my better-half.

‘That smells good,’ he says.

‘Apple pie,’ declares my better-half. ‘She’s not too bad at that.’

He tells us he’s away for a few days. I promise him one on his return.

He beams. He goes. The next week he calls to collect his apple pie. I give it to him straight from the freezer. I defrost one for us. Afternoon tea and my better-half is smiling.

‘And a piece of apple pie,’ he says.

I check it. It’s defrosted. It’s gone pale and squishy. I try to cut it. I end up spooning a mushy mess onto a tea plate.

‘What’s happened to it?’ declares my indignant better-half. ‘It looks like it’s taken fright!’

I think of our old friend. Then I try not to think of our old friend. I cringe in the hope I never, ever have to see him again.

Back to today. My thoughts are still negative. If it’s not the apple pie, it’s the trifle. I was making it for a very special occasion.  A very special treat for everyone. I empty half a bottle of sweet sherry over the sponge cakes. They lap it up. It suggests the need for more! I finish it but something happens to it overnight. The glass bowl reveals thick layers of fruit-filled jelly, custard and cream. It all looks fine. I watch our first eager guest head towards it. He plunges the serving spoon deep into the whipped creamy top. Instantly he’s fighting it as the jelly base swirls from under whizzing around in a pool of sweet brown sherry.

‘Wow!’ he says. ‘That lot nearly landed on the wall.’ I accept full responsibility in the hope of returning the colour to his cheeks. It did! It went down well! Like the rabbit jelly. After struggling in vain to remove it from its mould I run it under the hot water. It went down very well, never saw the light of day as it disappeared down the plug hole!

Back to today. The cakes, I take them out of the oven. All four of them less than perfect specimens. I save the least burnt one for the top. I jam them and stack them. They start to slide. They ooze masses of red strawberry jam from each circular periphery. It’s looking like the leaning tower of Pisa but I’ve gone too far, impossible to go back now. It usually happens that way! I reach for the icing sugar. My favourite relly comes to mind. I am past the Big 40 now but I am not old enough not to care, not yet! The Big 40 hasn’t changed that. I need a tin to keep it fresh. I’m on a loser. There are no cake tins in the whole of the world ever made as large as that. I think of the chocolate cake. I think I must take some lessons from my rosy apples’s daddy’s mummy.

‘Good grief! What on earth is that? Another geological sample just like last year’s Christmas cake!’

I pretend I haven’t heard. ‘It’s for tomorrow,’ I tell him.

‘Trick or treat?’ he asks, laughing.

‘Treat!’ I declare.

‘As much of a treat as that apple pie. Put them together, blindfold the kids and let them poke their fingers in. You were looking for something scary to entertain them. You couldn’t do better than that!’

I pretend I haven’t heard. I’m looking for somewhere to hide it. We’ve got viewers. I don’t want to frighten them off. The doorbell goes. I’m still holding it! It usually happens that way!


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