Last time, we had a tale of triumph, with our heroine successfully completing a 10k race, and treading many of the same roads that proper Olympians trod, albeit a great deal more slowly.
This episode takes up where the last one ended. I went home on the Tube, and set about baking for the Westminster City Council Games. ‘What Westminster City Games?’ I hear you cry. Well indeed. In July this year Westminster Council staged its own mini-Olympiad, with a rather wider set of sports and activities that reflects the more rounded skill set which the modern public servant possesses. Yes, there was some running about and such, but there was also a pub quiz, giant jenga, a treasure hunt, rounders and a baking competition. Baking.
Unfortunately, I started baking at precisely the same moment as the Great British Bake Off hit our screens three years ago, so it is the one of the few areas of my life where I have astonishingly high standards. Hawk like, I scrutinise the crumb for lightness and loveliness. Ninja like, my tongue searches for spongy goodness. Honestly, if you wanted a highly effective mechanism for killing one’s love of cake, lobbing that level of perfectionism at it is a jolly good way to start.
Anyhoo, against my better judgement, I entered the competition. There were three categories, and I spread my bets, entering them all. I scrutinised my cookbooks keenly. I debated cake options with my beloved, before concluding a roundel in cake form might be easier to take to work than a full scale London Eye, and that a Big Ben Bourbon and London Blueberry Bakewell might do the trick in the biscuit and tart rounds. Two days before I had hefted all the ingredients home: enough for a dress rehearsal with my friend Emma and her new son Alfie. On Saturday morning my back was stiff, giving me the look of Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, but I was too busy to notice. On Sunday morning I was absolutely fine, and I did my run, before returning home in triumph to do all my baking whilst watching the first Briton in years appear in a men’s Wimbledon final. All was well with the universe.
The following morning, I couldn’t stand up. Bending over reduced me to tears. When spouse offered to help me put my tights on, I decided it was time to call in sick. I lay down, dealt with as many phone calls and e-mails as I could, and then gave up and watched crap telly. That night, the beloved iced the cakes I had made the day before. That man was up to 12:30 at night transforming my sweetmeats into London themed cakey goodness, and I loved him for it.
The following morning I rose unsteadily, a bit like the Mary Rose being pulled out of the Solent in 1982. Tearfully, I dressed. Slowly, I walked to the tube. Halfway up the (normally) two-minute journey, I paused, much as Sherpa Tensing presumably paused for breath halfway up Mount Everest. My resolve wavered. But dammit, my husband had wrestled with thermonuclear gel colourings to render that bullseye roundel historically accurate, and my will was up to the task. So I travelled on, on, on to the Westminster City Council canteen for the judging.
As I pushed back the doors, my heart sank. My eye fell on this bad boy here.
Yes, that’s right. A seven tier Olympic cake complete with stadium, Lion, medals, Torch AND flame. And then my eye landed on this creation.
With chocolate icing like a millpond and sugar crafted roses, my poor little Roundel had no chuffing chance. I did notice it was getting wry little smiles (like the Opening Ceremony the Nix entry had gone for verve and ingenuity over skill and budget). But in the battle of the cakes we were definitely the London to the Olympic cake’s Beijing.
Happily, competition was slightly less stiff in the biscuit round, so we scored second there, with my Big Ben Bourbon-esque biscuits.
I got a wooden spoon and went to Boots for some drugs. I asked the pharmacist if it was a good thing my legs were tingling like that, and she thought no, I should see a doctor sharpish. The NHS rallied when I called them up and got me an emergency doctor who offered me diazepam. I turned her down (which I immediately regretted, when the NHS offers opiates you should take them with both hands, it turns out).
As with all crises, friends and TV are the answer. My friend Emma took to calling me in the morning to make me do stretches. My friend Zim explained about back cushions and stuff. My own doctor gave me a sick note and I fell into an odd routine. Epic quantities of Smallville, punctuated by Four in a Bed, Come Dine and Pointless. One day, as a special treat, I went out to drink tea outside, and bought the Paul Hollywood “How to Bake” book. In a curious way, although it was hefting enormous amounts of baking ingredients that caused the damage in the first place, baking also proved the perfect antidote. Those with duff backs need to potter. Baking is the activity of choice of the potterer. You do something to ingredients, they do something back, you take a little break while they do their thing and lo and behold you find you have made something. An actual thing you can eat, or give away, or something. And so days began to have a purpose again. That said, if you want to put a lot of weight on quite fast, a week spent lying flat out on your pally-ass whilst eating cake and bread is a damn fine way of doing it. But of that, more another time. For now, lets all take a moment to revel in the victory of the Big Ben Biscuits, and my glittering prize.