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.
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
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
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
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
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
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..