Dad’s Great Bake-Off!

I have escaped the chaos of the kitchen to start writing tonight. My dad is here for a couple of days on his own (to bring back the little dog he realised was too much work for him – see previous post The Visit for full details of that adventure!) and to have a break for a few days. His sister, my lovely auntie Sheila offered to go and stay with Mum for a few days to be her temporary carer and to give my dad a bit of a rest. choc cake 2

Dad, thankfully took her up on her kind offer and has had a couple of days with me. I am not sure they could be described as restful – potting plants with me, felling tree branches in our garden, baking a chocolate cake with the kids (this is the absolute mayhem that is happening right now, as I type these words) and having a few G&T’s without having to worry about cooking for anyone for a few nights at least – but at least it is a break away from the norm

It has been lovely to have him without the worry of Mum. The new norm for us now is for us to be constantly worrying about where Mum is in the house, whether she is agitated, whether she will respond to us or whether she will get aggressive. Having Dad here and just enjoying his company without the fear of Mum’s crazy behaviour has been a breath of fresh air. Odd though – I don’t think I have ever had my dad to visit without my mum being here too. The other way round has happened a few times over the years, when she has responded to a call for help and arrived to help sort out whatever disaster was happening at that particular moment. But this, this new normal is still so new that it feels very strange.

garden centre

Dad and I went to the garden centre today. We loaded up our enormous flat trolley thing – that was bloody impossible to navigate around the tight right-hand corners at the end of the aisles – with lots of little plants for my garden pots. I’d attempt to impress with the names of what we chose, but to be quite frank, I have no idea what they are. They are mainly green though a few have some small flowers on in varying colours. I am hoping I don’t kill them all within the first few weeks. My neighbour is very proud of his pots at the front of his house and I am doing my best to keep up with him (he is not a Jones, but he may as well be!) with my hanging baskets and beautifully prepared and watered new plants. I keep finding myself wandering outside to admire our handywork – and it has been work, my God! Back-breaking work all afternoon, with the additional headache of Mabel to keep entertained, which we tackled by giving her full and unfettered access to the outside tap and a small watering can. I’m not sure whether I will need to water my new plants again over the next week, they have had a good drenching today, as has Mabel and her new shoes and clean clothes! They were worth sacrificing to get the job done to be honest, and Dad and I have had a nice day together. Why on earth he has now decided to bake a chocolate cake with the kids (who have now abandoned him and left him all alone in the kitchen trying to make chocolate butter cream) is beyond me!

I hate baking. Detest it. I have tried it several times with the kids and they are with me on this one and even declared it to Papa earlier this afternoon. “Mummy can’t bake. She’s rubbish!” I couldn’t even feign upset as I am completely useless at it and therefore, on the few times I have attempted it, it has turned into a very stressful and draining, longer-than-I-ever-thought-possible event. There is no need for it. Waitrose, Asda, Tesco, even the dreadful Coop all sell perfectly nice cakes and they are much better (by a zillion miles) than anything I could create myself. My dad has spent about £20 on ingredients this afternoon for his bake-off tonight – £20! He has justified this by telling me that I will re-use many of the ingredients now stuffed into the back of my cupboards….baking soda? No. Vanilla essence? No. Muscavado sugar? No! No! No! No! So, this will now be the most expensive and possibly most inedible cake ever made. He’s a trier though, I’ll give him that. Once he commits to something he won’t give up without a fight.

He is also very messy and quite disorganised in his baking and this has been a revelation for me tonight. THIS is where I get it from. THIS is who I can blame for being a bit messy – especially when it comes to creating culinary delights. Hubby can never quite believe the mess I manage to make when making a simple dinner – pots and pans everywhere, splashes of food up the walls, spillages all over the floor, the sink full to bursting with dirty dishes. I have tried so hard to do it differently and be more organised, but I can’t do it. It just isn’t in me. And, watching my dad and the disaster that is currently happening in my kitchen I feel a little better about it all. It’s in the genes. There is nothing to be done about it. It is, quite frankly, who I am. I’m not sure Hubby will fall for that explanation when he sees the inevitable mess I am about to make as I take the helm in there and start to make our dinner for tonight!

Today has been lovely. Really nice. The kids have loved having Papa here and Martha declared at dinner time that she doesn’t want him to leave tomorrow. I think that made him feel loved tonight, I hope so anyway.

So, mixed feelings today really. It has been lovely and I have adored having my dad to look after, but there has been a gap, a big Mum-shaped hole next to us all day. The garden centre was a particularly odd experience. The last time I went to one and indeed, all the times I have been to buy my Spring plants before that, I have had Mum with me. She was always so confident and bloody capable and instead of Dad and I wandering around picking out random selections of plants today, she would have known stuff. She’d have known what was the right choice for some hanging baskets. She’d have known whether we needed trailing plants or erect (is that the right word?) ones. She’d just have been very competent and confident walking around the plants, probably negotiating the turns better with that awful trolley too. It hit me when I turned to Dad and asked his advice on whether I should pick one tray full of small green things or another – he didn’t really know. Mum would have known and for a few moments today in that garden centre, I heard her answer me. I heard the old Mum – not the new, confused, ill one, the stranger who lives in her body – I heard my mum’s voice answer me, telling me brightly and confidently that whatever I chose would be okay and we’d simply make it work.  It made me catch my breath for a moment. Reality checking in on me, making sure I wasn’t too settled, making sure I knew the gravity of our situation, making sure I didn’t forget. As if I could.

So, we have been very aware of the mum-shaped hole, gaping open like a festering wound beside us all day and  we have done the only thing we could do – we have made the best of it, my dad and I. We have laughed and we have got very dirty fingernails. We lifted things that were too heavy for us and we will, no doubt have some aches and pains tomorrow when Dad will go home to find Mum completely unaware that he has been away at all. She apparently didn’t know that Sheila was there today when Emma rang her. “Sheila’s with you then, Mum?” she asked.

“No. There is no one here. Is Sheila coming tomorrow?”

I will now go and help tidy the kitchen and create my own mess as I put together something for dinner. If Mum were here she’d have whipped us all into shape – the kitchen would be spotless, the cake would have been delicious (tasting has yet to be done on my dad’s creation, so no verdict as yet), my ironing would have been done and put away and the kids would have been bathed and put to bed with stories from both her and my dad. Instead, we try and fill the dark, gaping Mum-shaped hole as best we can, conscious all the time of how inadequate we are at it, of how difficult it is, of how much she is missed …. all the bloody time.


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