The Golden Ticket

I once had a glamorous job as a showbiz reporter-cum-girl about town, trawling the hottest haunts of London and writing about vacuous celebrities. I met them all – from the dregs of lollygagger Dean Gaffney and omnipresent Calum Best, to the A-list highs of pearly-toothed Tom Cruise and scowling Madonna.

My champagne lifestyle was the envy of many; the reality quite different. Most evenings would be spent shivering on the edge of the red carpet at one of the twice-weekly film premieres – cheek to jowl with pushy journos – or standing awkwardly in a darkened night club, deciding how best to broach the subject of Alan Partridge’s penchant for lapdancers. Many a night I cut a forlorn figure – scampering home across Waterloo Bridge, picking up a reduced sandwich from Tesco to supplement my canape diet, and then riding the No. 77 bus home. It was the best and worst of times.

So, when I received a phonecall to tell me that I had ‘won’ two tickets to the VIP opening of the new beauty salon down the road, I think it’s fair to say I was a little underwhelmed – grateful, of course but let’s just say, it wasn’t the highlight of my yearly calendar.

But the organiser of the tickets had other ideas. First, he explained in the phonecall that this really was a VIP event – so VIP that even the beauty salon owner’s friends and family hadn’t made it onto the guestlist. Really? I felt like one of the golden ticket winners at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Next, I received a text checking that I was definitely coming. Of course. What else could be more important at 6.30pm on a Wednesday evening?

The next text wanted to know which of my friends I was going to bring with me. I consulted my ever-depleting ‘friends who might be free on a Wed evening’ list. Friend 1 – baby to look after; Friend 2 – ditto; Friend 3 – temporarily absconded down South; Friend 4 – packing to move house. This left Friend 5 – recently acquired new puppy but willing to abandon dog duty to accompany me to this ultra-exclusive opening.

But when I texted the organiser with the name of my friend, this was his reply:

‘Oh, *insert name of friend*, okay… Can I just remind you that you are both representing *insert name of local residents’ association* so you will need to be on your best behaviour. The dress code is smart/casual by the way’.

Best behaviour? Smart/casual? Seriously? What kind of tomfoolery was he expecting from a 30-something teacher and a respected homeware designer? Turning up in matching Vicky Pollard tracksuits, bad-mouthing the beauty products, and hustling the guests?

Wednesday came and when I finally swept through the hallowed doors of this much-vaunted event, I had an insane urge to really do something bad. Should I open up my large tote and sweep a whole shelf of nail polishes straight into it, when no-one was looking? Should I drink all the champagne, start emptying the goody bags out of the back door, and make off with all the freebies into the night (actually, I have done that before – the goody bags, that is. Maybe he had a point!)?

Instead, I plumped for stealing an extra cupcake on exit (one for me, one for the husband) and attempting to balance them on my knee as I drove home – yet still managing to get fresh cream all over the steering wheel.

So much for VIP. But it beats catching the bus with my Tesco reduced sandwich any night.

Let Them Eat Cake

It started with a simple lemon drizzle. I bought a few ingredients, threw them into a mixer and marvelled at the simplicity of it all. If there’s one way of garnering instant gratification with colleagues and loved ones alike, it’s presenting them with a homebaked cake.

And so began The Great Baking Obsession of 2012. I went from having never baked a cake in my life, to attempting several creations in one night alone.

For several months last year, this cake-making frenzy escalated to worrying heights. Most evenings saw me careering manically around the kitchen, head-to-toe in flour, with one hawk-like eye fixed permanently on the oven.

When The Husband arrived home from work, and tentatively enquired as to where his dinner might be, I would yell: ‘Dinner?! Can’t you see I’m up to my EYEBALLS here!’, whilst furiously whisking eggs like a deranged Mary Berry.


Carrot cake, banana nut, raspberry and passionfruit… my great bake-off continued to be met with glee by both my workmates in the staff room, and the husband’s cake-loving colleagues.

I was, what women’s magazines would dub, an ‘office feeder’: taking some sort of perverse pleasure in fattening up my fellow teachers with cal-horrific muffins, yet eschewing the cakes myself and smugly pecking on my porridge. As the compliments rolled in, I would mutter modestly, ‘It was nothing, really. I just threw a few ingredients together and… voila!’ – all said with a sanctimonious bat of the hand.

I was flying high on waves of gratitude, ever-hungry for appreciation of my newest creation. I thought I was the new Nigella.

Then one morning, I left my latest offering on the staff room table unattended. When I came down a little late for break time, some of my gluttonous colleagues had already helped themselves, wolfing down the coffee and walnut cake without so much as a crumb-spluttering mumble of thanks.

My cakes were no longer being appreciated.

Worse still, it was The Husband’s birthday the following day, and with it the expectation from his workmates that I would be creating ‘something special’. He had already put in a request for a Victoria Sponge, his favourite.

Wearily, I trudged down to Waitrose to procure the necessary ingredients. It had been a long day. The cake obsession was beginning to wane. Just as I was reaching down to pick up a bag of flour, I spotted it: a perfectly-formed Victoria Sponge, winking at me from behind the glass counter. Resistance was futile.

Arriving home, I removed it from its pink Waitrose packaging, poked at it a bit to give it more of a ‘home-baked’ look, and packed birthday boy off to work with it the very next day, passing it off as my own creation.

His workmates declared it ‘delicious’… ‘the best yet’, no less!

It was nothing really, I claimed. (No, really – just a simple drive up the road to the supermarket).

They wanted more but it was already too late. Overnight, the baking obsession had ended, leaving me with a couple of extra inches on the waist line, a burnt out blender, and a ludicrous amount of cake tins.


Let them eat cake.

But next time, I’m going to Waitrose.