Joeblade

An unexpectedly expensive cake

While for many Easter is a time for eating chocolate eggs, my Easter Egg habit lapsed as soon as people stopped buying them for me. I can’t buy them myself; doing so seems so tragic, like buying yourself a bunch of flowers and having them delivered to the office. No, for me, an Easter Egg is a joyless thing, as emotionally hollow as it is in life.

Fortunately, I discovered Simnel Cake, a fruit cake with a fuck-tonne of marzipan on top and almond paste through the middle. This, I decided, was an Easter tradition I could get behind. My cake provider of choice would be London’s Famous Fortnum & Mason because it was the first result that came up in Google when I searched for ‘buy simnel cake london’ and I wasn’t in any mood to fight my way through a local Sainsbury’s for one.

The ice age Britain is trapped in hadn’t made me feel particularly Spring-like so I’d put off buying until the last minute; I was trying to buy an Easter cake in central London on the Saturday after Good Friday so I wasn’t surprised that Fortnum had sold out. I wandered around for a while trying to scare one out of the undergrowth but it looked like I’d missed my moment. I was ok with this; I’m not so hung up on the traditions of my own devising that I was going to throw a strop in the middle of Fortnum & Mason, so I improvised, grabbing a pack of hot-cross-bun‚Äďshaped lumps of marzipan and a small, non-denominational fruit cake. Feeling pleased with myself for my ingenuity and looking forward to a full day of lining up lumps of marzipan and cake on my table and doing them like tequila shots, I headed for the tills.

Then, I saw it. The last Simnel cake in all of Fortnum & Mason, left in full view of everyone on top of a glass deli counter. Unassuming. A little proud, like a stag. Had anyone else seen it? Why was it there? Why wasn’t anyone else grabbing it? Maybe they were all, as I had been, looking in the depths of the cake stands or behind the shortbread, trying to find one buried out of sight.

My nascent hunter-gatherer instinct kicked in and I tossed my backup items aside. Before, when I’d expected failure, I was fine with a compromise. Now though, everything had changed; if I didn’t get this last one after that my eagle eye had picked it out from a distance, blood would be spilled. I wasn’t going to be the loser who had to settle for less. It was cake, or death.

Sadly, this is to be the least-exciting retail-based hunting story ever; I just walked across the room and picked it up. Nobody else seemed that bothered, really. I gave it a once-over to make sure I wasn’t about to try and buy a cardboard display cake or something, and I looked around at the staff to see if any of them were about to leap into action to prevent me from taking it. Nope. It was fine; the cake was mine. Off to the till, trying to think of a way I could show off to everyone that I’d found and taken the last Simnel cake, without actually speaking to anybody or making eye contact.

“That’ll be ¬£30,” declared the lady at the till and I suddenly found myself clenching involuntarily. ¬£30? What the hell? I looked again to make sure I hadn’t accidentally picked up ten cakes, or perhaps just one that was made of gold. Nope; one cake, no gold-plating. One cake that now seemed very, very small. Five inches across. Just over two inches deep, or maybe two and a half if you include the apostle-representing marzipan balls on top.

“Hwurgh,” I replied, sweating slightly, and put my card, already out of my wallet in anticipation, in the slot. Too late to back out now, I thought. What would these total strangers, whose opinions mean less than nothing to me, think if I walked off now? They’d think I was a loser, that’s what. They’d wonder why I was even in Fortnum & Mason if I couldn’t afford to spend approximately ¬£2.72 per apostle’s ball. No, throwing the cake back and walking off in disgust just felt unseemly. Uncouth. A bit‚Ķcontinental.

“It’s heavy, isn’t it?” said the lady at the till, appreciatively and a little sexually, as if she was appraising the weight of my genitals.

“Yeah,” I replied weakly, hoping that she was right, and that while the diameter and depth of the cake were lacking, maybe the density would make up for it. Perhaps this would turn out to be the neutron star of cakes, and I’d be eating it for a year, one small mouthful keeping me going for a solid week. Lembas bread, but with decorative marzipan flowers and a thick layer of pretension.

“Have a good Easter!” the lady at the till exclaimed with a smile as she handed over a bag containing a small cake with a street value of approximately ¬£1/25g.

“Thanks, you too!” I replied, as brightly as I could, wondering what I’d be putting on eBay to cover this absurd purchase. Possibly the cake itself; after all, it was the last of its kind, so had to be worth something.

By Paul Haine, in