Saying goodbye and good luck

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When I left London seven months ago I wasn’t interested in saying goodbye to friends. I knew they’d still be here, we’d have other opportunities to socialise and I was far more interested in the prospect of a better life elsewhere.

Last night I went to leaving drinks in London for a friend who was leaving for good and returning to her life in South Africa. Gwyn and I have worked together for two years and during that time she has been a massive influence on my life. It was Gwyn who introduced me to the My Fitness Pal app through which I became more aware of what I was eating and began to eat to fuel my body. From there I started doing more exercise and went from being the person that used to dread school sports days to someone who regularly wakes up early on a Saturday to do Parkrun, a weekly organised 5k route through the local park. There’s a 10k race through my home town on my birthday next year and I plan to do that even though I’ve never run that far before and the thought of doing it scares me a little. I wouldn’t be doing any of those things if it weren’t for Gwyn.

Last night’s drinks were an emotional event as Gwyn said goodbye to her friends and her life here in the UK. Throughout my life I have said goodbye to great friends from all over the world but it’s never that sad for me because I never believe that I won’t see them again. Thanks to social media, over the past ten years I’ve managed to keep up with all of them. Friends whose faces I used to see every day and who were a huge part of shaping the person I am today. When those friends message me on Facebook or call me on Christmas day my heart skips and my mind is transported to the time and place where we shared our lives. When we do meet, which happens more often than I could have imagined when we said our goodbyes, it’s like we’ve never been apart. Gwyn is one of those friends now. Last night’s goodbyes were really adieu.

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The great wedding cake off

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This weekend a couple of our good friends, the Wards, got married. I have been looking forward to their wedding for ages. Not only was it to be the first social event in the past six months to which I would actually be escorted by my husband but also the invitation included a request to enter The Great Wedding Cake Off. Rather than having a single traditional wedding cake, the Wards had invited their guests to bake a contribution and compete for first place.  This instantly appealed to my competitive nature.

At the time of putting my name forward for the Cake Off I was in the process of buying a house and imagined what pleasure I would have baking for such a special event in my very own kitchen; selecting ingredients from the pantry and mixing them in my beautiful Kitchen-Aid artisan mixer. The wedding being on a Sunday I planned to bake the cake on the Friday night, allow it to cool and then decorate it on the Saturday morning. I wasn’t sure what to bake at first but one of those cakes with the Barbie doll standing in the middle wearing a delicate gown of white icing seemed the most appropriate option, if a little ambitious.

As the wedding drew nearer I began to realise that I wouldn’t be baking the cake in my very own kitchen. We are no longer buying that house and are instead trying to buy a different one but the completion date is no where in sight so until further notice we continue to reside as guests of my lovely sister, her fiancé, their five month old son and his (the fiancé’s) dog.  The dreamed of pantry remains limited to a single kitchen cupboard and a shelf in the fridge. My Kitchen Aid remains in storage. Growing increasingly disheartened by the house buying process, I failed to give the Cake Off much thought until two days before the wedding.

Now, two days is not much time to create a winning cake. I was determined not to back out at such short notice though so I accepted my cake was unlikely to be a real contender and I would just be ‘baking’ up the numbers! I asked Matt what he would like to eat at the wedding and decided to bake that.

Cake decided (he chose coffee and walnut), recipe found (thank you very much Nigel Slater) I spent Saturday night beating eggs and sugar by hand, chopping walnuts and brewing coffee. The kitchen smelled delicious. The cake rose perfectly and after ten minutes of cooling on a wire rack I was brave enough to cut it in half to prepare for filling. By the time Howie walked in at 1.00 am the cake was assembled, filled and two-thirds covered in coffee and walnut butter icing. I kissed him hello, handed him the mixing bowl and asked him to whip up more butter icing. By 1.30 am the cake was complete and I was finally able to go to bed.

At the wedding a dedicated table for cakes was set out. I placed my lumpy, tan coloured creation between a beautiful three-tier Victoria sponge decorated with fresh flowers and a striking raspberry pavlova, satisfied that although it wouldn’t win any beauty contests, my cake was at least taking part.

Hours later, after we had watched the Wards walk down the aisle, drank a lot of prosecco, played wedding golf, been amazed by the magician’s sleight of hand, eaten a wonderful wedding breakfast and starred in hundreds of photographs, the newlyweds went off to judge the cakes, tasting each of the entries and deliberating in a dark corner of the room. I was excited to see which of my friends’ creations would win.

In third place was the pavlova, which I’m told should have won as it was divine. In second place was the surprise inside cake baked by my good friend Laura, with delicate lemon icing and a filling of sweeties that spilled out as the cake was cut. In first place – against all odds – was my ugly coffee and walnut cake! My sister told me she had never been more proud of me in her life, I was speechless. What a great wedding.

Autumn is in the air

A walk in the park

Normanby Park

I love autumn! The fiery colours of the leaves contrasting against the verdant green of the slightly longer than it should be grass on which they fall, the smell of damp earth and the feeling of cold air against my cheeks. I even enjoy the rain at this time of year. It’s not yet so cold that it stings your face as it lands but its cold enough to be refreshing and reminds me of the cycle of nature relentlessly turning regardless of what we humans are up to at any given time.

Last weekend Miles and I went for a walk with Grauntie in Normanby Park. (Well actually he dangled happily from his sling while we walked.) It was the perfect day for an autumnal stroll. The air was cool and there was mist in the distance. The damp gravel gave a satisfying crunch with every step of my snuggly Ugg booted feet. We watched the deer from a distance as the stag loudly warned us to stay away (which fascinated Miles) then walked through the leafy park until our cheeks were suitably rosy and it was time to head home.

The best bit was remembering to take my camera. It’s hardly been used so far this year and I’m determined to get to grips with it. The park provided the perfect opportunity to practice.