Pre-Birthday Victoria Sponge (gluten free)


Friday 5th June

While I race around trying to pack three rucksacks for a weekend away in Holt, I ask Ollie repeatedly to PUT. HIS. SHOES. ON. On the tenth time of asking I think we’re getting somewhere (I’ve managed to prise him away from his Lego), but I am mistaken. 

Instead, Elkie Brookes’ voice fills the air at top volume with Pearl’s A Singer (Tom’s karaoke song of choice). I race into the lounge to find that he’s ‘just popped on a record’ as you do at a massively stressful time. It angers him that I won’t let him listen to the end of the track. A fight ensues over who is going to take the needle off the record. All I can think of is that Tom would die if he could see this: both of us with our hands grasping the arm of the record player. I am reminded, not for the first time, of Michael McIntyre’s sketch about attempting to leave the house when you have children:

It is the hottest day of the year so far but I don’t have time to change and so set off in jeans. I jog to school, Ollie on scooter, whilst telling him a made up story. He demands one on every journey now. Ollie’s prescriptiveness about the plot-line makes story-telling very taxing on the brain. It can’t just be any old tale. Today he wants one about a hedgehog called Jayden, with a mother called Ruby, who falls down a hole. 

I greet Daisy at the gates with a scooter and a rucksack for the weekend. Her school bag and coat have been abandoned, as instructed, in the cloakroom. 

“Right children! We have a bus to catch and fifteen minutes to get there!” I order. 

The kids do an about-turn and head towards the park. Getting this bus has caused great travel anxiety because: 1) I don’t know if I’ve read the timetable properly and (2) we’re going to be waiting at an unofficial bus stop so it’s in the hands of the driver as to whether s/he feels like stopping or not. 

We power through the park; Daisy and Ollie chatting and scooting in perfect time with each other. The dappled sunlight comes through the trees on either side of them.

“Right! Right! Right!” I call when they reach the exit at the far end of the park. I sound like a police officer on some high speed pursuit.

“I love this!” calls Daisy over her shoulder. “It’s like we’ve run away together and you’re guiding us to safety!” 

I’m touched that Daisy would want to run away with her old ma. We’re now in the housing estate behind the park and I realise I’m just directing us to my friend’s house; I’ve no idea which way Aylsham Rd and the bus stop are from here. 

I startle a young boy in a blazer and ask him the way. As suspected we are heading in the wrong direction. It’s an uphill slog in the heat to the bus stop but we make it with enough time for the children to recoup. 


The bus driver is obviously in a good mood because he stops to pick us up, although my anxious flagging down/ lying in the road would’ve made it difficult for him not to. 

It is hot on the bus and the children choose to sit on the back seat of the top deck with a teenager who looks delighted. The driver appears to have a death wish or is eager for the weekend to start because we hurtle along the A140 at top speed and I have to use my arm to brace Ollie and stop him being thrown all over the place. 

 It is with much relief that two hours later I find myself basking in the last of the evening sun down by a ford. We are house and dog sitting for the weekend in a beautiful North Norfolk location. On arrival at the house, we collect Poppy the dog and head down the lane. 


The children strip off and play in the water. Poppy watches them anxiously and then wades in, collecting rocks from the bottom of the ford in her mouth. 


Tom and I sit on the bench. It is idyllic. The sun must be going to my head because I find myself agreeing that we should get a dog like Poppy and move to the country. 

The next day friends come for an early birthday lunch. Helen, of Ferrero Rocher cake fame, makes a wonderful gluten-free Victoria sponge with dairy-free butter cream. It’s the first such butter cream I’ve had and the cake, with raspberries on top, is delicious.

The next day I finish it off on Blakeney quayside; cup of tea in one hand, crabbing line in the other. We have a ritual whenever we come here: I go to the mobile van in the car park and get tea for me and cockles for Tom, while he finds a good crabbing spot. By the time I join them someone will have either thrown the crabbing line, the bucket or themselves into the water. This time it’s the brand-new bucket we bought ten minutes earlier.  


After an hour of managing vicious crabs (I still bare the scars), and Ollie’s acrophobia (he has to sit two metres away from the edge); I give the kids a challenge: a pound each if they can make it over to the bank on the other side. We wander over to the jetty which slopes into the water; Tom stays behind, too engrossed in crabbing to join us. 


It is muddy and I have come poorly equipped (no towels or swimming stuff), but money is a great motivator and they overcome their fear of crabs in the water to make it across to the other side.  We climb to the top of a hill and celebrate their success with ice creams over-looking Blakeney. The perfect end to a pre-birthday weekend. 




One thought on “Pre-Birthday Victoria Sponge (gluten free)”

  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS ….especially as you stayed in our chaotic house and called it idyllic !!! DElicious words and brilliant recipes as ever…wish we’d been there XXXXXXXXXXX

    Liked by 1 person

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