I regret telling Daisy that it is April Fool’s Day. She leaps up with excitement to get the cling film out of the kitchen drawer. She’s had a trick planned for months: to cover the toilet bowl in film so that when Ollie wees it will squirt back in to his face.
I’m all up for a practical joke, I tell her, but not one that will involve me cleaning up a wee-stained boy at this time in the morning. Fortunately the conversation is curtailed by a knock at the door. I am taking five children for a trip out to my auntie’s. Two have just arrived.
We set off to pick up child number 5. At her house we have a re-jig. The oldest (9 years old) is feeling car sick because he has essentially been squeezed into the boot with Ollie.
I release him so he can sit in the front with me. I’m buckling up the younger ones as he leap-frogs into the front passenger seat AND….. ( IF YOU ARE THE OWNER OF ONE OF THESE CHILDREN, PLEASE STOP READING NOW!!!)…..there is a click as he knocks the handbrake. Horrifically the car starts rolling backwards. For a split second I don’t know what’s going on, except that I’m leaning into a moving vehicle. I grab the open door and try to brace myself against it, but I’m no match for the seven-seater. It continues to roll and I’m shouting “HAND-BRAKE! GRAB THE HAND-BRAKE!” Daisy lurches through the front seats and grabs the gear stick (we need a serious lesson on car parts) “NO! HAND-BRAKE!” I’m shouting. Fortunately the 9 year old grabs it and pulls it on. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and settles back into their seats. I feel like my legs might give way.
My auntie Alison lives out in the woods in deepest Norfolk. We like to go at Easter-time because sometimes her hens lay chocolate eggs. It’s incredible. We turn off the road onto a track that leads to her house; suddenly I shout and slam on the brakes:
“It’s Jesus! Look it’s Jesus!”
The children all strain to see out of the window. I am offering them the ultimate Easter experience.
“Look! Look!” I shout. “He’s there in the hedgerow!”
By now everyone’s unbuckling themselves to see what all the fuss is about. But rather than spotting a man, they see a beautiful, tame pheasant. He lives in my auntie’s garden, often wandering into the house. For some reason he goes by the name of Jesus. (There’s also a partridge called Petunia).
Once at the house, the kids descend on the vegetable patch where the hens have been nesting. They must’ve seen us coming (we are now up to seven children) as the hens have scarpered, but not before leaving a nice nest of chocolate eggs.
The kids are keen to find the actual chickens though, and hunt round the garden. A cockerel and a hen are spotted in the greenhouse making a commotion. The cockerel’s chasing after the flapping hen. The kids stand, faces pressed against the glass, watching this spectacle. Alison sidles up. “You might want to bring them away, otherwise they’ll be a lot of explaining to do.”
I need to get out in the country more because for a split second I really have no idea what she was talking about; and then suddenly my brain kicks in
“Ooookay kids! Nothing to see here! Move on now, please!”
Of course, Old Big Ears (aka my eldest child) is having none of this.
“What’s going on? What will you have to explain? What’s that cockerel doing?”
“Look! They’re getting a bit violent in there. It might upset the children. Best leave them to it.”
We distract the seven kids with an immediate walk through the woods. They play in the old Nissen huts, running in and out of them. Ollie whispers to me conspiratorially that he has a bullet in his pocket. It feels like one from the outside of his coat. Why can’t I leave him alone for a minute? On closer inspection it is a shot-gun cartridge. He scours the floor for them and is laidened down with fifteen by the time we get home.
Much too early on I suggest a stick competition and the children (with me as back up) drag huge sticks for what feels like miles. The sun is out, but with such high winds, it is freezing.
For the last stretch, Ollie starts losing the will to live and Daisy’s feet get caught round her stick causing a horrible fall. I promise them all warm, milky tea and Alison’s apple cake if they can make it back.
Finally home, we bring out mugs of tea for everyone and I slice into the cake. The kids are more interested in the accompanying decorational chicks and rabbits, but for me this cake is very nostalgic.
Alison first made it for me nearly twenty years ago when I came to Norwich to start university. It was autumn-time and she made it with apples that grew in the woods. When it came to me getting the bus home from Dereham, she handed me a large, warm tinfoil-wrapped parcel and a secret £20-note.
Inside the parcel was my own apple cake. I unwrapped it in the kitchen of my halls of residence. No one on my corridor had eaten properly in days, if not weeks. We all fell upon the cake and devoured it in minutes. The apples give it a sweetness and moisture, which is complemented perfectly with the cinnamon. This still remains one of my favourite cakes.
Alison has done it here in her favourite ceramic bundt tin, but the recipe below is for the normal round tin version.
- 200g self-raising flour
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g soft light brown sugar
- 180g soft butter / margarine
- 3 eggs
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored & chopped into small chunks.
Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin. Preheat the oven at 190 degrees/ gas 5.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well.
Fold in the flour and cinnamon, then add the apple and mix in well. If the mixture is too dry, add a splash of milk.
Put into the cake tin and cook for approximately 35 minutes.
Remove from the tin as soon as it’s cook and leave to cool on a rack.
Dust with icing sugar. Tastes amazing with thick cream.