Published 31st July 2014
Published by Pan
For fans of The Great British Bake Off, this is a story about family life, unfriendly rivalry and flat Victoria sponges.
Marie Dunwoody doesn't want for much in life. She has a lovely husband, three wonderful children, and a business of her own. Except, her cupcakes are crap. Her meringues are runny and her biscuits rock-hard. She cannot bake for toffee. Or, for that matter, make toffee.
Marie can't ignore the disappointed looks any more, or continue to be shamed by neighbour and nemesis, Lucy Gray. Lucy whips up perfect profiteroles with one hand, while ironing her bed sheets with the other. Marie's had enough: this is the year it all changes. She vows to follow - to the letter - recipes from the Queen of Baking and at all times ask 'What would Mary Berry do?'
Husband Robert has noticed that his boss takes crumb structure as seriously as budget sheets and so puts on the pinny: serious redundancies are on the horizon. Twins Rose and Iris are happy to eat all the half-baked mistakes that come their way, but big brother Angus is more distant than usual, as if something is troubling him. And there is no one as nosey as a matching pair of nine-year-old girls . . .
Marie starts to realise that the wise words of Mary Berry can help her with more than just a Victoria Sponge. But can Robert save the wobbling soufflé that is his career? And is Lucy's sweet demeanour hiding something secretly sour?
*** This is a work of fiction, in no way endorsed by Mary Berry, and where neither Mary Berry herself nor her recipes feature. ***
Dear Granny Gaynor,
I am good. How are you? Rose says hello. Shes at piano. I am not at piano because I don’t go to piano. Mum said you are coming to lunch next sunday and I am glad because you always give us money I miss you. Rose and me are top in English and almost top in maths and french. Mum is making a victorian sponge for sunday. Dad says when he divorces Mum he will name Mary Berry as the other man. I don’t think he means it. Do you really drink falling down water or was that a joke when Dad said it? lots of love Iris xoxoxoxoxo
‘A little wider, Mrs Blyton.’ Marie was peering into the open mouth of a librarian, but all she could think of was cake. ‘Lovely. Your gums have settled down nicely. Using an electric brush at last?’
‘Gnnn uf boom.’ Mrs Blyton waggled her eyebrows for emphasis.
‘Good, good,’ murmured Marie, thinking of cake. ‘Aileen!’ Her assistant was staring into space, shaking her bottom to the Michael Bublé track oozing out of the radio.
‘What? I’m ready.’ Dubliner Aileen waved her pencil, affronted. A spherical five-foot-nothing in her white overall, she was broad of accent and narrow of mind. Sarcasm flowed in her veins and she saw no reason – ever – to hold back. An excellent assistant, she had been with the clinic since Marie had opened Smile! a decade back; Marie loved her dearly, but sometimes it could be tough to recall why. ‘Cavity upper-six distal,’ said Marie, thinking of cake.
‘Ooh, a cavity.’ Aileen loved cavities. ‘Naughty-naughty, Mrs B. Somebody’s been at the sweetie jar.’
‘Ignore her, Mrs Blyton,’ said Marie. Thinking of cake. ‘Cavity lower-one-four mesial.’
‘We’ll have you in dentures if this carries on,’ giggled Aileen.
‘Have a rinse,’ said Marie, thinking of cake.
‘How’s the baking going?’ Aileen approved of little, but she approved of cake.
‘It’s . . . not as easy as I thought.’ Marie selected a slender instrument with a hook on the end.
Mrs Blyton gulped.
‘Open wide,’ said Marie, thinking of her first attempt at cake, the night before.
Eager to get cracking, she had ignored one of Mary’s mantras; she was not prepared. A shopping blitz was scheduled for the weekend – the list had grown until it curled to the floor like Rapunzel’s hair – but Marie’s fingers twitched with the desire to create cakey splendour. Her path to next year’s show-stopper started here.
And stopped here, when she realised she didn’t own the requisite loose-bottomed twenty-centimetre tins.
‘Damn,’ she said, as Robert leaned against the fridge, making sundry poor jokes about loose bottoms. ‘You!’ She pointed at the nearest twin. ‘Iris! Go and ask Mrs Gray if she’s got two I can borrow.’
‘Ooh,’ said Robert, opening the fridge and extracting a friendly little bottle of sauvignon. ‘Sending your poor, de-fenceless daughter into the enemy camp.’
Marie, trying to look as if she was washing up, watched Iris pick her way along the winding front path (Iris never, ever walked on the grass, literally or metaphorically) and trot over to the Gray house.
‘Why is Chloe’s house the enemy camp?’ Rose, sitting beneath the table with Prinny, made Robert jump and spill some of his precious Daddy Evening Juice.
‘That was just a silly joke, darling.’ Marie flashed Robert a punitive pas devant les enfants look – a look that les enfants had understood since before they could parler.
Soon Iris was back, cradling two shiny tins and chewing ‘the most gorgeousest fudge ever – and Mrs Gray made it!’
Mrs Gray can fudge off, thought Marie, as she waved her thanks from her kitchen window to Lucy’s house. ‘Right.’ She put her hands on her hips.
‘Somebody means business,’ said Robert, happily settling down at the table as if front row at a show.
‘Are you going to make stupid comments the whole time?’ asked Marie, running a finger down the ingredients list and stopping, with a start, at margarine.
‘Robbie,’ wheedled Marie, using the nickname she used only when begging a favour or eliciting sex. ‘Could you pop to the corner shop for me?’
‘It’s hardly popping,’ said Robert, holding the tube of Pringles he’d just opened to his chest like a baby. ‘It’s not really on the corner. It’s three streets away. We just call it the corner shop. And it probably isn’t open this late.’
‘It’s always open. Go on. Please. I went through the pain of childbirth – the least you can do is go out for marge.’
By the time Robert returned, the twins had wandered off, bored, to lie upside down on the sofa watching Toy
Story 3 for the hundredth time. Marie met him at the door. ‘I need eggs, too. Somebody used the last one and put the empty box back in the fridge.’
Marie knew that Robert couldn’t wriggle out of that one. She knew he’d boiled eggs that morning for the twins, and they both knew he was a repeat offender at putting back empty packets.
The second time she met him at the door, however, her coy expression didn’t work. Neither did upping the ante and calling him Robbie-Wobbie. He was adamant. ‘I’m not going back to that bloody corner shop. The bloke in there will think I fancy him. I don’t care if you need parchment paper – and what is parchment paper?’
Marie had no idea, and neither did the (flattered) man in the corner shop. Robert returned, like a valiant warrior home from the wars, waving a roll of parchment paper like a spear, having been all the way to ‘the big Sainsbury’s’. ‘Have you got everything?’ he asked pointedly, settling down with his drink and his savoury snacks.
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