Monday, 6 February 2012

The Delicate Art of Making Cake

I don't suppose Marie-Antoinette ever said 'Let them eat cake.' But she might have done.
I could understand it if she did. It would be the wish of any Queen for her people.
Bread is about survival. There's something altogether more significant about cake.
Cake is aspirational.

Arthur, Wellington's son moves to pastures new

I have been thinking about cake because yesterday we drove over the mountain
We took Arthur to his new home where he will live the life of Reilly with my friend Tina and her happy jumble of family and animals.

The mountain was silent, spare and untouchable. Drab browns and dull greens seemed dingy on a misty, wet February afternoon. The only living things we saw were sheep and the flock of wind turbines that, facing the same way and turning slowly in ghostly unison, felt like some strange cabal caught in ritualistic prayer. It felt like alien country.
And I felt like a stranger.

On top of the grey mountain with a lens full of rain

Husband and I were not inspired to chat, as we followed the lonely road.
Instead I found my mind turning to vagrancy, my feet itching.
The cake came later.

When people ask, 'Where do you come from?', I never know what to say.
And, as you know yourself, it's not an uncommon question. Particularly if you don't have a local accent.
When I was young, I used to try and explain, but it's like 'How are you?' No one wants to know about your explosive diarrhoea or bunions. They just need to place you.

For quite a few years I used to say: 'London', because that was where I'd most recently come from.
But generally though, I just say: 'I'm a vagrant.'
Because it's the easiest answer, and it feels like the truth.

I was born in Africa, I grew up in the West Indies, I lived in England for a good while, and for the last 18 years I have lived in Ireland. But none of that qualifies me to be African, West Indian, English or Irish.
In Ireland, we're called 'blow-ins' - a term applied to anyone who wasn't born within the Parish boundary, so I don't take it personally.

The Hound of the West is definitely not a blow-in. He was born in the Parish (where, as you can see, he plans a reign of terror)

The thing about blow-ins is they can blow-out again. I suppose that's how you start being a vagrant, and once your feet get itchy, there's no end to it.
The seriously good side of vagrancy: is that you get to lead an interesting life and live in loads of places.
You don't feel rooted to the land.

On the other hand, there is also a seriously bad side to vagrancy.
I don't feel rooted to the land. And quite often, I don't feel connected.
And sometimes, like yesterday, I feel like an alien.

When we got to Arthur's new home, Tina brought us into the house and fed us delicious hazelnut cake - a recipe from her childhood in Germany which she said she often makes on Sundays. We sat in her kitchen with cats on our laps and the fire crackling brightly in the stove, and afterwards we all went out and looked at Arthur, who was being eyed up by the locals.

One of the locals

The area where Tina lives is wild and open - wetland criss-crossed with small streams, tucked under a heather blanket, fringed by forest and with the bare, bleak highlands of the Ox Mountains as a backdrop.
Tina is a blow-in just as I am. But to her this isn't alien country. This is the place that - when she first saw it umpteen years ago - she recognised straight away because somehow it was already imprinted on her soul. This is the place where her children have been born and raised, the place she would hunger for if she had to leave.It is the place where she makes cake.

Tina may be a blow-in, but I don't think she's a vagrant. I think she is very rooted, and very connected.
You can tell by looking at her, and her family, and all her laid-back animals.

Lazy afternoons in bed

We drove home, Arthur-less, across the bleak, bare mountain, silenced again by the enormity of the place.
And when we got back to the lush coastal plain with its trees, its green fields and its vista of the Atlantic, I stopped feeling quite such an alien. And back inside the house, snug with the fire and the animals curled up in their beds, I had an overwhelming desire to make cake.

And I realised that cake isn't about hunger, or need, or nutrition. Making cake is something special we do when we are happy, when families get together, or friends come, when we are going a step further than just feeding ourselves. Cake is a statement of well-being, an offering, a simple but eloquent way of marking an enduring connection between people, time and place. It says that right here, right now a delicate balance has been achieved.

I may be a vagrant, an itchy-footed blow-in. My roots may not be deep, and they may not tap into the land, but they tap into home - wherever that may be.
Home is where I feel connected.
It is where I make cake.

Jack-flak - definitely a cake-of-choice


  1. Its excatly like it is Lorely....thanks for that beautiful story.....

  2. I guess making cake quietly says that the underlying important things are at ease, giving us the courage to essay a bit of fanciness. An iced cake would therefore be quite a ballyhoo.

    "Home is where I want to be but I guess I'm already there"...

    1. An iced cake would be a very rare thing - a ballyhoo indeed! Nice to see you, Mise!

  3. well written. thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. A lovely, lovely post.
    My cousin is also a blow in. She lives with her husband of thirty years plus in the place where he grew up, while her childhood was a handful of miles away.
    Belonging and being at home are far different to coming from somewhere.

  5. Thank you all for these thoughful comments. I appeciate them all very much.

  6. Beautifully written, thank you. I am a blow-in but my family roots lie deep within the soil of Sligo. I thought this connection would ease us into becoming locals. Perhaps it is the having of children that grow and go to school that makes the connection. It is their home and therefore your home.

    1. I think kids do help to a point, but my kids were raised here and I'm still a blow in... I don't think that's just me, I think others would say the same. It's about birthrights.
      Thanks for your comment.

  7. I'm off to make cake!

  8. I have read this little story and then recognize, that you wrote about Tina, who I know in Ireland. She is the friend of a german friend, Linda, who lives nearby Tina and I know Tina since a few years now...and I really have to say: that's Tina!
    We invited her and her husband as we stayed last year in Ireland for a dinner and she brought a great applecake with her! It was like art! I had to take a photo!
    And I can say, that I really see it in the same way as you of her way beeing rooted!
    Great story, thanks a lot!!! It was a nice surprise to read about someone I know!
    Warm greetings
    Sabine from Germany

    1. life on the bog7 March 2012 at 00:13

      Huhu Biene, until today I never realized that you followed Lorelys wonderfull stories....I ccold 'sign' everything she writes and if you are around in summer we might go and see her beautiful secret garden....I bring the cake :-)

    2. How interesting to read your comment, Sabine and I'm delighted you recognised Tina from my post! Funny to think you know her, when you are in Germany.

      I shall enjoy welcoming you both to my Secret Garden in the summer, and I'm looking forward to the cake already!

  9. Hi Lorely, I have been reading your blog for the last couple of hours, its very good, i'm just sorry i hadn't checked in on it before. I am also an animal lover, especially dogs and cats and so i know how difficult it can be when they are gone. I agree that if your not born in a certain area that you are always a blow in. I have lived in Ireland since i was ten, i am now 44 and as you know i have six kids but i have been told on numerous occasions that i am only a blow in and i certainly have never had a feeling of being rooted here but i often remind people that if they check their family tree, they will discover that we are all blow ins! Colin


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