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Simnel cake 1.jpg

Great-Aunt Augusta was ready and waiting for them.  She was

ensconced in her usual corner of Snodland Nursing Home for the

Debased Gentry and the tea trolley had been parked beside her little


Her gimlet eyes had already detected the Thornton chocolate egg that

Drusilla was bearing.  The old lady smiled broadly and greeted them with

an invitation that could not be refused:  Go on- have some placenta cake.

It’s that time of year.

Snod sat down in one of the institutional high-backed chairs.  What did

you just say, Aunt Augusta?  I need to have my ears syringed.

Placenta cake.  One always has it from Laetare Sunday onwards.

Oh, I see.  You are drawing an analogy with that plakous cake so beloved

of the Greeks?  But I thought that was made with dough, cheese, honey and

was flavoured with bay leaves.  Wasn’t there a recipe for it in Cato’s De Agri


Possibly, replied Aunt Augusta, but people have linked it to our Simnel cake

and Matron has allowed us to have one for afternoon tea.  So, you be

mother, she directed Drusilla.

Dru looked relieved that she was not going to be faced with something

slithery from Call the Midwife.  It looked fairly innocuous, but shop-bought.

Mary Berry BBC Good Food 2011.jpg

It’s to a recipe from that youngster Mary Berry, Augusta informed them.

Ah, simila, meaning ‘fine flour’, Snod pontificated.  It was going to be a

long afternoon.

And you know all about the balls?  Augusta interrogated Dru, distracting

her while she was pouring, so that she slopped some tea into the saucers.

Balls?  Coronets had them and now simnel cakes.  They were ubiquitous. 

Balls? Dru repeated gormlessly.

Gus looked a little red-faced.

They represent the Apostles.  Minus Judas.  But when I baked mine, I

always used to add him in. After all, he did repent.

Hmm, mused Dru.  I’ve been thinking about that during Lent.  I would like to

be inclusive in my attitude too.

You see, Augusta said.  I knew we think alike.  So, assuming that you don’t

have one of those dreadful tramp stamps, I can now give you an Easter

present.  Fair exchange, as I see you have brought me a Thornton’s

chocolate treat.  Just something mother picked up in a souk in Istanbul,

or somewhere.  Don’t get too excited.

Dru looked puzzled as Aunt Augusta opened a kind of Gladstone made

from a Turkish saddle-bag. Or maybe it was Anatolian.  Dru wasn’t an


This is for you.  Don’t open it here.  I’ve been hiding it ever since I came in

here, in case one of the inmates took a fancy to it.  I was going to give it to

your father, but he has had the proceeds from quite a few of Mother’s kelims

in the past, so now it is your turn.

She picked off a marzipan ball and popped it into her mouth.

Like a hole in one, Snod thought.  Not much evidence of a significant


Dru thanked her and together they managed to wrap her up and wheel

her out for the afternoon.  Of course, they went to Wyvern Mote, where,

I am afraid to relate, Aunt Augusta whirled her wheelchair around a

children’s Discovery Trail, as if she was a Paralympian, and bagged

all the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs which had just been secreted by a giant

Easter Bunny in a ridiculous Onesie.

Sugar is very bad for you, she justified herself.  I heard it on the news. 

It doesn’t matter at my age, but I am saving the little ones from future

health problems.

And she stuffed a whole one into her mouth, much as she had done with

the marzipan ball, leaving a trail of slivers of silver paper behind her, like

an orienteering trail, or the shiny slime from a sweet-loving snail.

(I was going to write ‘toothed’ instead of ‘loving‘, but the metaphor didn’t work

for gastropods and molluscs.)  Tant pis, as the escargot race are wont to say.

Once she had been delivered safely and they had driven off, Dru raised a

subject that she had been saving for a private moment.

I had a letter from someone whom I haven’t heard from for quite some time,

she said to Snod, after they had reached a straight section of road.

Oh, who was that? Gus asked, only mildly interested.  Get out of the way,

you plebeian!  It’s 30mph, or can’t you read?  It’s the hare and the tortoise

all over again!

Someone had cut him up and it wasn’t a policeman.  He reserved the

right to use the term, as a long-standing Classics scholar.

Mum doesn’t know, but it was from Murgatroyd.  He wants me to go up and

stay for a couple of days.  To see what he’s achieved in the restoration of his

house in the Borders.  Allegedly.

Indeed, remarked Snod.  This was a useful word which he employed to

good effect in difficult parental interviews.  Why do you say ‘allegedly’?

Because I think he misses me. He was in loco parentis for my first

formative years.

And I wasn’t, I suppose.  The latter was not expressed with any hint of


There was silence for a few minutes.  Then Snod responded.

In the light of our conversation on Judas, I can only say that we might as

well think of Murgatroyd as an extra ball.  He may not be the icing on the

familial cake, but he probably needs to be included.

Father, that’s generous of you.  It makes no difference to how I feel about

our relationship.

What about your mother?  Do you want me to keep the lid on this for the

moment?  She’s moving house and perhaps that is enough stress for her

at present.

I will think about how to tell her, but for now, it’s what I feel I have to do.

Snod dropped her off at Royalist House in High Street.  She was


Here!  You forgot your present! shouted Snod, handing her the parcel out

through the driver’s window.  It was quite heavy for its size.

He wasn’t going to come in.  He had some work to do for the new term

and he was so behind.  Would he change his name, or leave things

as they were? Decisions, decisions..