Right, here we go: flour, butter, eggs, one teaspoon baking powder, caster sugar… Hang on, I need four eggs and I’ve only got two.
I get in my car, and drive to the local convenience store. “Hi. Have you got any large eggs?”
“Large eggs,” says the assistant. “No, don’t think so. Got some medium.”
“No,” I say, in the manner of someone asking for a shot of methadone. “I need large ones.” He sucks his teeth in, shakes his head, and wanders off to the back of the store, where he triumphantly produces a box of six large eggs.
“Just found these for you,” he says, looking for my approval. I thank him profusely, and drive home again. Once back in my kitchen I see that three of the eggs are cracked, but what the hell: I only need two more anyway.
OK, here I go again. Eight ounces of flour, eight ounces of butter, four eggs, one teaspoon baking powder, eight ounces caster sugar. Everything is in place, baking trays at the ready, mixer lined up, and off I go. I put the radio on to LBC and James O’Brien – he will help me through the next hour while I create my masterpiece. Then the phone goes.
“Hello darling,” says my Mum. “You ok?” She doesn’t even wait for an answer. “Just thought I’d let you know there’s been a bomb scare at Marble Arch.” Mum, always the harbinger of doom, with the latest news story that she just has to share with me.
“Well, OK, Mum but I’m not going to Marble Arch today. I’m actually trying to bake a cake. Can I speak to you later?”
“Well, just make sure you don’t go there. You don’t want to make things worse.”
“Don’t worry. I’m in my kitchen, miles away from Marble Arch. They won’t get me here, Mum.” She rings off. Mum seems to think that I, and I alone, am responsible for most of the problems in the world today. She is convinced that I started the war in Iraq, and nothing I can do or say will convince her otherwise.
I get back to my baking. Eight ounces of flour, eight ounces of butter – the doorbell rings, catching me in a fright.
I drop the bag of flour and it goes all over the floor and all over me. A fine white powder is floating round the kitchen draping itself over everything. I rush to open the door. “Parcel for you, love. Sign here. Blimey, have you seen a ghost?”
I catch sight of myself in the hall mirror, and I am in fact white all over. “No,” I say haughtily. “I’ve just dropped a bag of flour.”
“Oh well,” he says. “You could always audition for a part in A Christmas Carol. You’d make a fabulous Marley’s Ghost,” and he goes off down the path, laughing hysterically to himself at his own joke. I close the door quickly, swearing to myself silently.
Back to the kitchen. Four eggs, eight ounces of flour – a new bag has now been opened – one teaspoon baking powder. The phone goes again.
This time it’s my friend Susan, with yet more tales of her errant husband who has designs on the woman across the road. “Actually, Sue,” I say, before she can carry on. “I’m just in the middle of trying to bake a cake. Can I call you back?”
“Baking a cake?” she says in disgust. “Haven’t you heard of Sainsbury’s? They’ve got dozens of cakes.”
“Yes, I know, but I wanted to bake one myself.” She puts the phone down in disgust as if I’ve just told her I’m boiling the cat.
I go back to the kitchen. Eight ounces flour, four eggs, eight ounces sugar, blah blah blah. I start to weigh out the sugar and the flour, and that’s when the phone rings again.
“Linda, it’s Mum. I forgot to tell you that Roger and I are thinking of taking up ballroom dancing.” Roger is Mum’s latest boyfriend and, at 86 looks like he can’t even get out of the armchair.
“That’s great,” I say. “But actually, Mum, I’m trying to bake a cake.”
“Well! I thought you’d be pleased for us,” she says.
“Yes, I’m very pleased, but I can’t actually express my pleasure at this moment because I’m busy. Can we talk about it later?” She rings off.
Eight ounces flour, sugar, butter – hang on, have I added the sugar yet? I look in the bowl. The flour is definitely there but I can’t see the sugar. Must have done. I’ll take a chance, I say to myself. I start to add the four eggs. Two go in and, as I’m about to put the third one in, there is a rapping at my back door. It’s my neighbour, Karen.
“Hi, sorry to be a nuisance. Just locked myself out of my house! Could I borrow my spare key?” Karen and her family are always locking themselves out of their house so they have deposited a spare key with us. They seem to use it with irritating regularity. I locate the key and see Karen happily on her way. I get back to the kitchen.
Now, how many eggs did I put in? Was it two or three? I can’t remember. I have a stab at three, then find two more lurking behind the bowl. One neatly deposits itself on the floor with a splat, adding to the flour. It occurs to me that, if I throw some milk on the floor, I could make a giant Yorkshire pudding. I ignore the mess, take another egg out the fridge and plop it in with the others. As I switch on the mixer and start to make the cake, I smile happily. James O’Brien tells me it is ten o’clock and I suddenly remember I have a dental appointment.
I quickly oil my tins and cut the parchment paper into expert rounds just as Mary Berry told me to do. And here I have a bit of a guilt trip: I have been faithful to Delia Smith for many, many years but, just lately, I must admit I have been having a bit of a fling with Mary Berry. I just hope Delia never finds out. I have even considered buying a little string of pearls to wear round my neck so I can look like my heroine, but haven’t yet got round to buying any.
At last everything is ready and, with a flourish, I pop the cakes in the oven so they’ll be cooked on my return. I step over the giant Yorkshire pudding, and rush to the dentist. As I approach the reception desk, the girl behind it looks at me in a troubled sort of way. “Blimey,” she says. “Have you just seen a ghost?”
Not you as well, I think, not another comedian. I now realise that I should not have left the house in such a hurry, and I definitely should have washed my face before I came out. “No,” I reply wearily. “I’ve been baking.”
I wait for the smart reply, but to my delight she says, “Oh, a proper little Mary Berry aren’t you!
My heart swells with pride. “Yes!” I say. “But please don’t tell Delia.”