Having My Cake

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I’ve never been able to quite understand why, when a cake is cut into equal portions, I always manage to get the smallest one.  It has to be a matter of perception, right?  When I was a child, my brother and I had to share most things – it was just the way it was – so my mum had a rule: one of us got to cut the portions, the other one got to choose.  I was the eldest so, naturally enough, I got the knife, and no matter how hard I tried to make the segments exactly equal, my brother always got to choose the biggest one.  (Unless, of course, I was portioning tinned sardines when, not unreasonably, my brother would choose to take none on the grounds that I had ruined them, and I would be left with the task of finding somewhere to hide the whole can of fishy mush.  Something which I managed so successfully that we never had any visitors for about six years.)  It is very much a sign of age that, when somebody offers a slice of cake, you may say ‘Could I have a slightly smaller piece please?’  (That is ‘you may say’, of course, because I would never say such a thing.)  Those words would never pass the lips of anybody under the age of sixteen.

I am very much of the ‘Are you leaving that?’ generation.  Anything left on a plate (unless it was green, of course) was fair game to anybody around the table who had already finished what they had been given.  It was definitely not advisable to take a short rest during meals: one break for a contented sigh and by the time you looked down your last sausage would be long gone.  We were not encouraged to rush meals – that was definitely frowned upon – but we did need to keep our wits about us at all times.  I was not around for the end of rationing – it ended in 1954 – but I was no stranger to privation.  Waste was definitely not tolerated and children were right down the pecking order – with women – so you took whatever you were offered.  A slice of bread soaked in gravy often took the place of the meat – which only stretched far enough to feed the men who ‘put it on the table’ – at Sunday lunch.  There was loads of veg – every back garden was full of it – but nobody ate just veg did they?  It was always meat and two veg (at least one of them, sometimes both, being the ubiquitous spud) or three for the overtly rich.  They were definitely the Harrison & Starr of the gravy dinner world.  If I’m honest I can still to this day eat just about anything if you put enough gravy on it.

And gravy dinner – Sunday Lunch – brought with it the only pudding of the week: occasionally jelly, but more often cake and, if we were lucky and the cake was on its second week, custard.  I remember that a decent sized cake could take quite some time to transit from moist, to just about palatable, to palatable with tinned (evaporated) milk, to needs custard.  I didn’t care.  I could (and can) eat cake in any manner it is offered to me and, as I am now a mature adult, in any portion size I am given.  Although it doesn’t mean that I don’t still envy the person with the biggest slice. 

19 thoughts on “Having My Cake

  1. “Could I have a slightly smaller piece please?” is the kind of thing my wife would say. Yes, everyone knows that if they have something left over they better offer it to me.

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  2. Thanks for the slice of life. At boarding school (8 to a table) turns were taken daily to cube the butter into eight. The cutter always got to take the last and smallest piece. We never got cake!

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  3. It still stuns me that rationing was still going NINE years after that last final dig towards victory in 1945. The British cupboards were bare and bare boned for a loooong time afterwards. I, too was spared rationing but even today if anyone puts a slab of spam on my plate… You can dress it up with a sprig of parsley, heave on a bucket of warm gravy and it will sit there, cold and untouched as Bruce Goodman’s House Matrons heart until the Rapture.

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    1. As a non-meat eater these days, my memories of Spam are not bad ones. But then again, where I came from Spam was a luxury food and Luncheon Meat (an emulsified lump of God-knows-what) was the affordable alternative. The memory of luncheon meat fritters with tinned tomatoes and cold, lumpy mashed potatoes still brings me out in hives…

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      1. Oh yes, luncheon meat fried, I had forgotten that delicacy. Luncheon- (what a presumtive name! Here it was called Belgium, God knows why?) was fine, laid out on a shred of cold lettuce, in a butterless doorstop of a sandwich, leavened with a scrape of Vegemite. But hot? Indigestible, even if you could somehow chew it down your gagging gullet. Thanks Col, my day and appetite are ruined!

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  4. I have an idea: Bake cakes yourself Colin and then you can make as much as needed to get the size of portion you’re looking for. I recall a grateful parent of someone who once a week would bring in the hugest homemade gâteau she had made herself for the staff. As on night duty, I might be the one that brings it into the building, put it in the fridge and get the first slice. I’m imagining it right now. Especially the one with these coffee bean shaped hard chocolate decorations, and man was that gâteau soft and moist and…

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