Today, I shall be reading my dad’s eulogy, something I’m not entirely prepared for, but then who is? Anyone who knew my dad would also know of his temper, and my brother and I didn’t always have the easiest childhood as a result. But now I choose to focus on the good memories, memories I’ll share below.
Memories of my dad.
How could I start without remembering him as a Manchester United fan? Something my brother, Nathan, and I understood from a young age was you do notinterrupt a match, Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager there has ever been, and that when United score, you go deaf. Besides Dad’s cheering, there are two soundtracks to my childhood. The first is the drone of formula one. This always brings me back to sunny afternoons playing in the garden, with dad in the lounge, curtains closed and in the dark to see the cars better. The second noise would be the harrowing opening to The World at War series. Dad began my love of history, with endless documentaries, a trip to the Cabinet War Rooms primary aged children aren’t supposed to enjoy, and he’s the reason I still have to explain to people why I own a copy of Mein Kampf. History was a passion we shared, but now I’ll have to watch Dunkirk without him.
Dad was also passionate about his work. When I was at school, he turned creating a British Gas poster into a class competition, and everyone went wild for it; I’m still gutted I didn’t win. But that was the love he brought to his work, and the love he passed on. When Dad met my father-in-law, they spent the entire meal competing over who had the better job, fancier watch, and fastest car.
Cars are another thing I’ll remember about Dad. The uncertainty of not knowing which car he had each week, whether it was the Subaru, the Mercedes, or the Maserati, and whether I’d get in the right one when he picked me up from work. Regardless of which car it was, eventually, it would breakdown, which might be a comment on the speed he drove at.
Whenever I went to Dad’s, I was guaranteed a good lunch. I was also guaranteed to be eating that lunch at six in the evening. Wine would be on tap, at some point an argument would start, and we would finish the evening laughing at Dad’s awful dancing. And if he wasn’t dancing, he might be trying out his acrobatics, like the time he hung upside down from the pergola. He always kept us laughing, whether it was the holiday tattoo—the Chinese symbol for heaven, or possibly ironing—the bleached hair, or the whole Eminem’s Dad phase.
Most of all, I want to remember Dad with family. Nathan and I lost our mother young, and Dad did his best to fill both roles. Unfortunately for me, that led to many awkward conversations about, as he phrased it, “whether womanhood was imminent”. It was, therefore, lucky when Tracy came along, and she and dad tried for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest engagement.
I’ll remember dad walking me down the aisle, and his insistence on what he’d wear when doing so. I’ll remember him buying my oldest son the biggest and most difficult to store Christmas present—but what one-year-old doesn’t want an Audi to drive? And I remember when my youngest son fell over, Dad gave him the biggest hug. He always gave the best, rib crushing hugs, like he was hugging for all the times we weren’t able to see each other too. I’ll miss those hugs most of all.
This Saturday Cake Day, I’m looking back to Father’s Day (I know, I’m a little late posting this one!). Anyone who’s kept up with my other cake blogs knows it’s not been the easiest time recently, so Father’s Day came with a strong hit of emotions, which given that I love writing, I didn’t struggle to express at all… (and as you may have guessed, I also love sarcasm).
So this Father’s Day weekend, my little family of four celebrated Father’s Day on the Saturday, which included a trip to a restaurant. The boys began the meal almost in shock, after so long away from a eating out, and by the end of it they begged to come again. On the Sunday, my brother and I made the drive to the Royal United Hospital in Bath to visit our dad. As he enjoys a tipple (possible understatement), I brought Gin & Tonic cupcakes, which went down very well. I also baked extras, to ensure there was some for the nurses taking great care of him, which he could either give as gifts of trade for favours, like cigarettes in prison.
I baked these not only with gin in the cake mix but also included a syrup, made by boiling tonic water, sugar, lime and juniper berries. Gin was to be added after the boiling, but given the circumstances, I thought it best to add during the boiling to burn off the alcohol but keep the flavour. I had loads of the syrup left, so mixed with extra tonic it made fab cocktails.
Today I look back at the previous weekend and the cake I made for my brother’s birthday: a pineapple upside-down cake. And believe me, on that day, cake was needed.
I’ve said before about my father being terminal, and though doctors gave him this year, we’ve really no idea (experience tells me you never really know). The cancer caused an infection in his hip, damaging the bone enough that it needed to be removed. Not replaced. Removed. And thanks to Covid, this was not a night of family getting together in the hospital. Instead it was an evening of waiting by the phone to see if he’d pull through the Hail Mary of an operation. To cut the tension, he did make. I remained glued to my phone, only to wake Saturday morning to news from my uncle, not about Dad, but Grandma. Taken to hospital during the night with heart failure. Ringing my brother to give him the update, and fitting in a Happy Birthday, was not easy. But the week has seen the situation improve, with my grandma able to return home, and my father managing to walk around his hospital room with a zimmer frame.
Oh, and because bad things come in threes, my brother had a reaction to some bug bites and had swollen and blotchy legs the whole day. He rated it his second worse birthday, so apparently, it could have been worse.
Now to move on from the trauma of the day, lets get to the cake. Like me, Little Bro is a huge It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan. How does that link to a pineapple upside-down cake? Loosely at best! But link it, I did. Those familiar with the show will know of Rum Ham, Frank’s alcoholic snack he’s forced to bid farewell to Wilson style.
See the comparisons? Yeah, I did say it was loose, but the pineapple went down a treat on the hot day. And the fruit basically made it healthy, right?
I looked through the back catalogue of cakes, and given that it’s June and Pride Month, I thought I’d share enough rainbow cake.
My oldest is rainbow mad, so I made him this cake on his 4th birthday. And yes, for the observant readers, he also had a Frozen cake, but that was for his party and this on his actual birthday.
Remember when we could go places? We visited the Sea Life Centre, had sushi (his favourite), and came home for cake. Good, so far. Except… The buttercream icing is meant to be made using unsalted butter, and I may have picked the wrong butter up at shops. Salted! The cake tasted like playdough and no one ate it! Whoops! But it looked okay, which is odd for me, as before I started trying to make decent looking cakes, mine were always ‘tastes good, looks awful’.
On my actual birthday, my other half decided I shouldn’t have to make my own birthday cake, and so he and my boys chose one from the local supermarket. In my humble opinion, it was a tad dry, but I shan’t hold that against them. My youngest helped blow out the candles (he’s a little obsessed with that) and managed not to spit across the whole thing. Bonus.
Compared to last year’s birthday in a full lockdown, this year my birthday fell the week restrictions were lifted and I ate inside a restaurant for the first time in over a year! Quite the surreal experience. I should also have been able to have 30 in the garden, with a BBQ planned, but I didn’t get so lucky with the weather. Blooming rain. but these cupcakes were made with such things in mind, as I figured cupcakes could more easily be given away at the door or saved for another day. My oldest is rainbow and unicorn mad, and seeing as he has a winter birthday, I made this tower with him in mind–something for him while the rest in the family all do our birthday’s within one star sign.
I also can’t resist showing off all the books I have piling up to read, along with a few other pressies. These days most of my reading is done via audiobook, whether through Audible or BorrowBox, but come Birthdays and Christmases I put a little list together to get a few physical books. I’m also enjoying my nerdy T-shirts. I’m sure most can recognise Grogu (or at least Baby Yoda), but for reference, the other is the Wanderer from Shadow of the Colossus (so I got two Shadow of the something presents!), which I may or may not have played through 4 times in a month….
So in conclusion, Happy Birthday me. I’ve got lots of reading to do now!
Here’s to another working week over and another Saturday Cake Day. This week I want to be a little sentimental with the cake I show off. Pandemic aside, it’s been a tough few years for my family. First, we lost my mother-in-law, then just as she passed her husband was also diagnosed with leukemia. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer a year later (almost to the day), just as the UK went into lockdown. We’ve still not been able to have a funeral. Then, as if on cue, my father was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At first it was all very treatable, he had surgery and chemotherapy, but this January we found out it was terminal. Luckily, he has passed the year marker and has broken the cycle my family seemed to be stuck in. Though there are a lot of ups and downs, lots of hospital visits, he’s still going strong.
Now I’ve started this somewhat miserable Saturday Cake Day with a few negatives, so you can see why I choose to focus on the positives! After about fifteen years of being engaged, my dad and his fiancee decided to finally tie the knot. So I went into full wedding mode!
With pandemic restrictions we weren’t allowed to attend the wedding, but we got dressed up to join the ceremony and speeches online (I even taught my Grandma how to use Facebook video calls so she could see her son getting married). The (very loose) theme of the day was navy and rose gold, so I made a foil lined prosecco cake. I would normally stuff that sort of cake with berries, but as it had to travel and be kept fresh for a week before the wedding, I decided to avoid this as I wasn’t certain how well the fruit would freeze.
Even though the wedding had four in-person guests with the reception being held in my dad and step-mum’s living room, I still made them place names, a cake topper, and with the boys we made cans to attached to car (personalising each can from different family members).
The wedding went well, though was a little hard to hear and my grandma couldn’t work out how to mute or stop commenting throughout the ceremony! We had guests from Spain, Greece, and Australia, the sort of worldwide wedding only the pandemic can create.
Congratulations to my dad and Tracy, married 11th March 2021!
And no, this isn’t the Leaning Tower of Wedding Cake, you’ll need to be patient for that one!
I know it’s been a while since my last cake day. In my defence there has been a pandemic, a flour shortage, and–closer to home–building work taking my kitchen out of action for a while. But it’s back and ready to get your appetites going. As well as my recent exploits, I’ll add those I’ve created previously (do look out for ‘The Leaning Tower of Wedding Cake!).
Kicking off Saturday Cake Day will be a fault line dinosaur cake! Fault line cakes are often sparkly creations, but I took the love idea and turned it into digging for bones! The bones were created using white modelling chocolate, and given that it was a very hot day, it was sticky business. But it had the desired effect, as my boys enjoyed finding and eating the dino skeleton.
I was fairly convinced I’d get the fault line wrong and it would all go to pot, but in the end it turned out the hardest bit was trying to get handfuls of sprinkles to stick to the buttercream icing (curse you gravity!). I made have cheated and used toy dinosaurs as the cake toppers, but there were well appreciated, regardless. ‘Lophus’ (Parasaurolophus to the rest of us) was a particular favourite of the birthday boy.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the Saturday Cake Day update! Keep and eye out for more 🙂
I read an early version of Learning to Fly and loved it. I’ve also read all the previous Spinner’s Game books, but this isn’t necessary and first time readers can easily jump in here.
I’ve always considered myself a history nerd, but Cripsina Kemp puts me to shame. Her love of the subject matter is clear in every word she writes and makes the reader care for it just as much. You don’t need to have knowledge of William the Conqueror’s era to get into this book (though it helps), but even those who know that story will be fascinated by all the behind the scenes details weaved into this book.
Main character Neve’s struggle is very relatable as is her difficult relationship with Asar Raesan. He was a character both lovable and hatable at different times in the Spinner’s Game, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Sometimes I wanted to give him a hug, other times I wanted to throw my iPad across the room in the hopes he might feel it!
The story jumps between our time and the 11th Century, with both stories so compelling you’re never bored.
All in all, this is a great continuation to the Spinner’s Game, and definitely worth a read (especially if you love history!)
To return to my blog, I thought I’d say something first of my absence.
What a tough year it’s been (understatement). In April last year my second son Walt was born, and days later we found out my mother-in-law had leukaemia. She spent most of the year in and out of hospital for chemo treatments, with the seriousness of her condition fluctuating from doctor to doctor. By November she was in remission, yet by March of 2019 the cancer was back, prognosis 2-3 years. As we all struggled to come to terms with this, attempting to make the most of the time remaining, she had further results. At the start of April she was given weeks if not days, and a week before Walt’s first birthday, she passed away.
It’s something commonly said, but my mother-in-law, Fran, was a truly incredible person. She was born in Durban in South Africa, to a black mother and white father (who had to renounce his white status in order to marry). Depending on which parent she was with she would be treated as either black or white, and both she and her many many siblings have stories to share about this that are both heart warming and heart breaking.
Now I say many many siblings, because I’m never completely sure how many there are. Just when you wrap your head around those you would class as blood relatives, you learn there are more and more adopted. It was her family’s way to take in any who needed a home or a mother, something that Fran continued through her life. My brother and I lost our own mother very young and have no family in the area. In all but paper work, we were adopted by Fran. You could expect this treatment for me, I married her son and gave birth to her two grandchildren, but how common is it for the daughter-in-law’s brother to be so accepted too? When a home was needed he and even his girlfriend were given a room in Fran’s house, no questions asked. When he was saving for a house, she helped. One of the recurring compliments made during Fran’s funeral was how much of a mother she was to everyone, feeding (excessively), clothing, and housing all the waifs and strays she came across.
After escaping a South African convent (yes, this actually happened), she undertook the boat ride alone to come to the UK to work as a nurse, soon joined by her sisters. There are too many stories of their time in London together for me to write, or to be believed. They involved birds and motorcycles and penis shaped puddings. There are always so many new stories to hear, I’m just sorry I can no longer hear them from her.
She worked as a district nurse when I met her, and had both the best and worse bedside manner I’ve come across. If you were sick she’d be on hand straight away to baby you and make soup (luckily she gave me the recipe for her amazing leek and potato!). After having surgery following my second son’s birth, she gave me all my injections, with words of what a poor baba I was, as if she’d not just been diagnosed with cancer. Yet she also once told a patient she couldn’t find a vein to take blood because this patient was far too fat. Yikes.
Fran was the queen of back handed compliments. She’d ask if I had a new conditioner because my hair didn’t look nearly as frizzy. Different make up as I looked much better than usual (I don’t even wear makeup…). But never nastily done. She also loved innuendos, a love we share. Like the time her husband Jeff emptied his sack. She meant bin bag, but… well, she knew what she meant. And her favourite medical treatment was to have a poo. Tummy problems? Have a poo. Sore throat? Have a poo. Likely the cure for a heart attack is having a poo too!
After a false start at retiring, Fran finally gave up work when her first grandson was born, taking care of Dara three days a week so I could go back to work. She didn’t want to be known a Gran or Grandma or Nannie; she thought that all sounded too old. During one debate on what to call her (she just wanted Fran), she said she’d happily be referred to as Arsehole, which we decided not to teach our then one-year-old son to say. In the end we settled on Franma, which he still calls her. I’d always chuckled at the idea of a twenty-year-old man talking about his Franma. Perhaps that will still happen. I hope.
Dara still talks about Franma all the time. Not only did she child mind for him those three days, but she was here every day. As I look out of my study window, I can see what was Fran’s front room. This is how close we lived, hers is the house opposite. Most mornings we’d hear the front door open (there was never a knock, I’ve been interrupted on the loo countless times!) and Dara would shout, “It’s Franma!” He’d run from the table and give her a hug. Even while she was ill, even in the last few days, she’d look for excuses to take him to her house and bake or play or draw on her sofa. (I say excuses as I was concerned she’d tire herself looking after him). Looking back now I’m glad I always let her get her way, the time spent with both Dara and Walter was precious. I hope Dara remembers it well, though I know Walt will be too young.
If you ask Dara where Franma is now, he always gives the same answer, which will make those unready for it cry. “She’s on her island in my heart.” (The island part comes from Benji Davies Grandpa’s Island, a children’s book we began to read to Dar in the hopes he’d begin to understand what death meant.)
A week before we found out about Fran’s final diagnosis, we went to Centre Parcs. She and Dara shared a bedroom. She was too ill to get about much, but even time spent in the cabin was great. Her daughter Gabby visited for a day. She’d even brought a swimming costume, but in the end they stayed cuddled on the sofa all day.
Gabby was due to get married in November of this year, and it was a date Fran was desperate to reach. After the chemo we were able to go wedding dress shopping. In part it was a celebration that Fran was in remission too, but we weren’t to know what was months away.
I mention this because as soon as Fran’s diagnosis was changed to days, the wedding was brought forwards. We thought this would be a trip to the local Guildhall, we could never have expected what followed. As marriage licenses are location specific, they could only marry in the venue book for November, Kilworth House. In two days–TWO DAYS!–a wedding was planned.
Gabby contacted Courtyard Bridal where she’d ordered her dress, in the hopes she could have her veil (the dress was long off arriving). And they insisted she have one of their wedding dresses, loaned for the day, at no charge. They even paid for it to be cleaned afterwards. The wedding was tiny, only Gabby, Fran and the two of her sisters that live in the UK, my husband Alex and I, Gabby’s fiancee Ed (obviously), his parents and two brothers. Yet rather than any uninvited guests get offended, they all helped make the day memorable. Bridesmaids organised hair and makeup, a cake, and a flower display at the venue. I made the bouquet, and without conferring we all managed to get the flowers to be a perfect match. Bottles of champagne were brought out constantly, with more and more absent guests calling the hotel to purchase them. Ed’s parents footed the bill for a meal, and his father doubled as photographer. These are the lengths people went to to ensure Fran could make her daughter’s wedding, and that the wedding be truly amazing.
Fran passed away eight days later.
To any who have read this blog, this was my cathartic way of trying to sort how I feel about all of this. Every day is different, and has different challenges. I’ve lost one of my best friend, my children have lost their grandmother, and my husband has lost his mother. I guess we’re muddling through.