Nostalgia, Chocolate and Cakes



I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotwold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 


I have to bake a rich dark fudgy chocolate cake.

Not for me, you understand.  For our annual college reunion.

When we first began to do this each June, it was a black tie affair, usually at a London restaurant.  People had left Cambridge and were working their way up various corporate ladders or into Chambers.

My husband and I were in the church, even then. Some years we just couldn’t afford to go.

Now, we are all retiring, or about to; becoming grandparents; on second or in some cases third marriages.  Life changes. Two took early retirement and were ordained into the Church of England as unpaid assistants.


So much for those heady days as Cambridge students who were going to change the world.

Tomorrow we are gathering once again.

In wellies and waterproofs.

On someone’s organic (naturally) farm. They’ve dropped out  - to make cider and live off the proceeds of former success.

And we are having a bring and share early supper. 5.30pm. Perhaps we all prefer to retire early these days, not drive too late.

Or for several of us, to be bright eyed and bushytailed at the 8am service on Sunday morning.


I have been assigned the chocolate cake. My problem is, which recipe to follow.

Nigella’s “serves 12 or 1 with a broken heart.”   I made that for the youngest daughter years ago after a particular heartbreaking end to a romance. Holidays from Durham University.

Delia’s chocolate truffle torte.  As a family, we enjoyed it for dessert on Christmas Day for years and years – remembering the first year when the shops all sold out of liquid glucose. Christmas in Stamford, Lincolnshire, for twelve years.

Mary Berry’s American Chocolate Wedding Cake.  Three layers of decadence.  I made that for the elder daughter’s wedding, cooking it in my mother-in-law’s kitchen, seven years ago near Bath, for we were living in the States.

Good Housekeeping’s White Chocolate Cake Sensation.  My son’s twenty first birthday at Lumley Castle near Durham. I learnt to temper the chocolate and carve it to make decorations.

And then further back: the Stork Chocolate Cake recipe of my teens – does any one ever use Stork margerine these days? The recipe is copied into my old recipe book, tatty and smeared with  - marg, probably.

I pick up recipe books, flick through ideas – and another recipe drops out.

Vegetable Diet, it says.  Looses 4lbs in two days.

Sublime to the ridiculous. But I remember that diet, too; sometimes it was even just grapes and water for 2 or 3 whole days.

No wonder I was so slim in those far-off days – a stone (14 lbs to the Americans!) lighter than now.  My doctor recently told me off for being so thin in my 30’s and 40’s and suggested that it was a contributing factor to the osteoporosis.

IS that an excuse to indulge?

Back to choosing a chocolate cake recipe.  Time for a change?

A NEW RECIPE.  Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake, made with Maya Gold Chocolate. “If chilled overnight it will be dense, fudgy and wicked.”

Sounds perfect.


The Lord promises,

The former things have passed away.

I make all things new   (Rev 21)

Our God is in the business of new things, of change in order to bring completion and perfection. And that includes you and me.

 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”  And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.  (Rev.21:3-7)




The Last Day

There was so much to do. So much to decide. So much to clear and clean and tidy and sort. “You have a month from the date of her death,” the Church of England Pensions Board told us kindly – by letter, which took a week to arrive.  They owned her house. For she is – was – a clergy widow.

That left three.  Three weeks in which to do all that had to be done: a house-full of a life lived to the full. Photos and books and ornaments and presents; clothes and memories and cherished family heirlooms.

Her life. 

My inheritance.

I had been staying with her for a few days; we had had a happy mother and daughter time – one of the best ever.  The day before The Day, we made a trip to the seaside in the late summer sunshine.  Coffee on the Promenade.  Lunch in a sheltered courtyard.  Up to Beachy Head for the view.  I bought her an icecream to eat in the car while I briskly walked the headland, stretching my legs which ached with the slow walking of the morning, the sitting and the staying of old age.

She savoured it, made it last – and held the chocolate flake for my return, holding it out triumphantly.

“You eat this,” she twinkled. “I’ve saved it for YOU.”

She always did that.  Shared everything she had.

Saved the best and the last to give away.

Enjoyed the saving and the giving.

My I-phone recorded the photo: she is sitting at the driving seat of her car, window down, smiling gleefully as she holds the soft chocolate out to me, glad to give it me, insisting I eat it.

I took her arm as we walked across the gravel at the Birling Gap car park.  She didn’t want me to; wanted to be independent.  But she was glad to see the beach of pebbles, feel the late afternoon sun on her face. The I-phone quickly snapped her.

Tea in a garden in Alfriston.  Scones hot and fresh from the oven. Time to relax and talk and remember. Lashings of clotted cream and home made strawberry jam.  England at her best.

My mother at her best.


We didn’t know it was our last tea together.  Our last day together.  How could we know?

But it was a Gift. The Gift of a day together, unexpected because unlooked for. Surprisingly hot sunshine. Buying little presents for her great-grandchildren. “You don’t need to,” I said.  “They have so much.”

“Oh, but they will love this – and this – and this.” She was right. They did.

A Gift.  A whole day together without a cross word.  A cross word from me.  Always so impatient.  Always needing to move on, be somewhere else, thinking myself so important.

She never complained.  Always accepted, always grateful for any time I could ”spare” to be with her. Her only criticism: You do too much.  Slow down. You’re just like your father: a workaholic. Sit down.  Take the weight off your feet.

And so I did: for just this one day.  Slowed down enough to be with her. Do what she liked to do.

Our last evening – last because I had to catch a train the next morning. What did we do when we were back from our seaside outing? I don’t remember. But I remember checking the time of the train, not wanting to miss it, making sure she knew when to leave, when to get to the station in time. I could have stayed ….in the end I had to.

Our last morning.  Filling the car with gas. Going for a strengthening latte in the Deli.  Driving to the train station.

She was a good driver.  But fast.  We were there in plenty of time.  We sat and chatted, parked in the lay-by outside the station. Talked of the upcoming visit of the part of the family who live in the States. Her excitement at seeing them. We kissed goodbye.  She wanted a hug.  I gave it reluctantly; got out of the car; bent to retrieve my overnight bag from the back seat of her car.

And found myself lying awkwardly on the pavement behind me, flung back with the impact of the large black car.  Shoes flying. Back hurting. Surprised and shocked.  My mother getting out of the car, worried for me, concerned I was hurt.

People running to help.  Someone finding my shoes.  Arms lifting me up. Indignant voices condemning the car that had crashed into the back of my mother’s parked car.

The driver was another elderly lady.  Apologetic.  Finding insurance details.

And even then, even then, my mind wondering if I’d yet catch the train.  Wondering if the next one would be possible.  Weighing the times and the details.

Not noticing my pain – yet.

And then she was gone.

Swept away by the same car but then with a different driver.  Someone who had just arrived from London on the train, who had never driven that car  before.  Someone who could not stop, injuring the first driver and sweeping my mother away down the road.

* * * *

Three weeks.  Just three weeks to tidy up and clear out and be gone. Three weeks to look in every drawer, peer at old photos, divide up the inheritance.  Dispose of the unwanted, share out the longed for, fill in the forms, talk of the memories. Three weeks to stay on in her home.

I never wanted to leave again. She would have loved to have me there.

But by then she was gone.