The poet TS Eliot observed that he had measured out his life in coffee spoons. These days, he’d be better off with cake forks.
We seem to mark major life events with cake. Is it your birthday? Here’s a cake. Had a baby? Cake will help. Getting married? You get a cake that’s actually three cakes bolted together.
A few years ago, an enterprising member of my family decided to bring Mother’s Day into the cake mix and arranged a Bake Off-style competition to mark the occasion. The ‘children’ (we’re actually all old enough to remember Snickers being Marathons) would bake and the mothers would judge.
Unlike the TV series that inspired this fun, we stuck to just one cake each, to avoid baked goods overload. Accidentally putting your mother into a carbs-induced coma until Easter is nobody’s idea of an entertaining afternoon.
The type of cake chosen for us all to have a bash at was our very own Manx national delicacy – bonnag. I’ve eaten many a slice of bonnag but never baked one. Keen to learn, I booted up the laptop and (to use a phrase you won’t find in TS Eliot’s works) googled my bonnag.
Bonnag is flexible, my research told me. It comes in many forms – plain, fruited, treacled. I found a recipe that didn’t sound too intimidating. I’m not a very experienced baker, and charred relics haunted my memories of previous attempts at the art.
I re-read the recipe several times, bought the ingredients, and carefully laid out all the equipment. Baking, I’d learned, is a matter of preparation, precision, and practicality.
I know this tale sounds as if it’s leading up to some domestic disaster. All the island’s emergency crews being deployed while a Manx Mel and Sue squeeze my elbows reassuringly and mop tears. Actually, nothing like that happened.
My bonnag was….OK. Not great. I scraped off some burnt bits. It was a tad too gooey in the centre. Baking isn’t something that I’m ever going to excel at. When it comes to making cakes, I’m less Mary Berry and more Scary Berry. Less Paul Hollywood and more Paul Ealing Comedy. Less Fanny Craddock and more….yes, well, you get the idea.
But my bonnag was edible, looked presentable, and nobody who tried it complained of any symptoms. (I waited 24 hours before checking, to make sure.)
The Great Bonnag Bake Off itself was declared a draw. Like bonnag, mothers come in many varieties – but diplomacy is always a vital ingredient.