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I am intelligent, I promise.

I really am. Apparently, I have an above average IQ. Really, I do. And I am good at stuff. For a start, I can write. I can cook. I can crochet. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of completely useless information and a working knowledge of genetics. I even like to think that I can partake in a little witty repartee.

However, I have a nemesis skill. Do you have one? A skill that you know you can do, that you are more than capable of delivering but every single attempt is hampered by a series of moments of your own mind-blowing stupidity. I like to do things well. And I do stupid really, really well. My nemesis is baking.

How is it that someone who loves to cook, loves a challenge in the kitchen and has served delicious, somewhat complicated meals on multiple occasions can turn into a complete idiot just because those same kitchen skills are now being turned to baking?

So, it was Moo’s birthday recently. Every year, I bake her a cake. Up until last year, it was Nigella Lawson’s buttermilk birthday cake with buttercream icing, fresh raspberries and raspberry jam covered in chocolate ganache. I baked it for seven years on the trot. Each time was stressful as ganaches split, different ovens baked at different times, etc etc. But I did get the recipe down and loved making that cake. Feedback was very positive too. Last year, Moo decided she wanted a chocolate cake covered in pink icing. So I baked a chocolate cake and covered it in pink fondant. It was traumatic but not too bad. This year, however, things went horribly, horribly wrong. A two hour bake turned into a six hour test of my sheer determination to bake a sodding cake.

Moo wanted chocolate cake again, but not a round one. She wanted a square one and she wanted flowers. Luckily, I have my dear Baking Goddess as a friend and, as it is her profession, she whipped me up a ‘few’ flowers. I say ‘few’ because I was expecting five or six and got around 40. I love her. She also told me about the CakeOmeter as I panicked about how to turn a 20cm round cake into a 23cm square cake. Pure genius.

So off I went to Waitrose to get my ingredients after having used said CakeOmeter to find out how many I needed. Came home with Moo, who insisted on helping me thereby not really helping the stress levels, put all the ingredients into the KitchenAid and got my tins ready. “Bake it on 16o degrees in a fan oven. It will give it a nice, even bake.” says the Baking Goddess, my own personal Mary Berry. Once the mixture was ready, I go to pour it into the tins. Hang on. There’s not enough for the two tins. What the . . . ?

Bugger. The CakeOmeter calculation was for one tin, not two. And I don’t have enough ingredients to make another batch. So I slap my forehead, then slap the one tin into the oven and run to the supermarket to get more ingredients.

Come back from the supermarket and check on my one layer of cake. Something isn’t right. Why are the edges cooking really fast but the middle is raw? What happened to my nice, even bake? I look at the oven. Oh good God. I’ve put it on fan assisted oven, not fan oven. The elements are on. What the heck? So I quickly switch it back, knowing I’ve now got a very high chance of producing a dry cake. Oh well, at least the second layer will be perfect.

Go and mix up a batch of batter again. Get my second tin ready. Reach for my bowl on the KitchenAid and it’s stuck. Really, properly stuck. I turn and turn but the bastard thing is not budging.

“MR G!!!! HELP ME!!!” Mr G comes into the kitchen and tries to get the bowl off. He can’t. It’s wedged on. So we end up lifting the entire KitchenAid, which is unbelievably heavy and cumbersome, and tipping it upside down so that I can pour the batter into the tin. Upon putting the KitchenAid down, Mr G says “Have you tried turning the bowl the other way?”. You know what happened next. He twisted the bowl the other way and it popped right out.

(At this point, I feel compelled to tell you that I am degree educated. I worked in the City and ran a successful business. Not to mention, I’ve outsmarted doctors on a regular basis when it comes to Moo’s care.)

During this whole fiasco, I am clearly swearing quite a lot. Moo asks to lick the spoon when I finish making the batter. When I ask what it tastes like, she turns to me and says “Oh Mummy, it’s bloody yummy.” Yikes.

The first layer of cake is already out of the oven at this point and cooling in its tin. I put the second layer in the oven. I turn out the first layer onto a cooling rack and there is only the slightest crack so it might not be dry after all. Send a photo to the Baking Goddess for a professional opinion and she concurs. Whoop! There is hope.

I turn my attention to the icing. Ganache and I haven’t been friends in recent years and I nervously start to make it. However, the baking gods are starting to take pity on me and it doesn’t split. Hurrah! Things are on the up. I get out my sugar paste icing that I bought from the shop. The lady in the shop told me how much to buy and I did as told. I start to roll it out. Holy moly! That is some seriously hard work. Bakers who do that every day must have guns of steel. I roll and roll and roll. I use the Baking Goddess’s tip of using a piece of ribbon to measure how much icing I’m going to need. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. I don’t know if I have enough. So I roll and measure, roll and measure. Fingers crossed.

By this point, my second layer has been baking for 15 minutes of a 30 minute bake. I go and check on it. It’s raw. WTAF??! Check the oven. Somehow, I’ve knocked the oven off fan oven and onto fan assisted grill. My bloody cake, the second perfect layer, has been grilling for 15 sodding minutes! Switch it back onto the fan oven and smack my head again.

(Upon hearing all the swearing and crashing in the kitchen, Mr G comes in and asks me why I just don’t buy a cake instead of going through this every year. He is a Bakery Buying Manager, after all. Words were exchanged. Not nice ones.)

I get on with making buttercream, making the sugar paste as big as possible and chilling my ganache on top of the first layer in the fridge. Once the second layer is out and cooled (which took a lot longer than the 30 minutes), I put it on top of the bottom layer and start to ice it. The buttercream was not too dramatically awful but, upon laying the sugar paste on top of the cake (which was big enough, phew!), one corner rips wide open! Panic! Luckily, my baking helpline came through with good advice and, having provided me with so many flowers, I could hide any multitude of sins by just sticking a flower on top of it.

In the end, the cake looked gorgeous, as you can see. It turned out delicious too and not dry at all. Yippee!

Mr G asked if I’d ever bake again. “Definitely,”I replied, “I want to get better.” He looked at me as if I needed admitting. He might have a point but I’m too bloody minded to give up.

3-1-7

Worth the effort/breakdown.

 

 

 

 

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Oh, I’ve been thrown through a loop . . .

Today is Moo’s birthday. She is so excited and it’s a delight to witness. However, it also brings up a lot of painful memories of the day that she was born. How terrifying it was, how close we came to losing her and what a little warrior she proved herself to be.

Recently, I watched a documentary on BBC2 called ‘A World without Downs?’ and it got me thinking, obsessing actually. I didn’t realise that screening for abnormalities in pregnancy was brought in without an enquiry into the ethics of doing so. No one ever discussed it and where it could lead to. They just introduced it without so much as a second thought.

Now, I am in an unusual position. I’ve had a late termination due to severe abnormalities and then gone on to give birth to a baby with a variety of medical conditions who is labelled as disabled. So I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

When Moo was born, someone said to me that I should sue St George’s for not picking up her complications and need for a tracheostomy. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would say that. Were they assuming that had I known, I would have terminated, just because of a trache? I, sure as hell, wouldn’t have. Mainly because I wouldn’t have realised how difficult life with a trache would be or how it was to fracture my psyche, for the first two years at least.

When picking up abnormalities, doctors have a tendency to tell you all the challenges your child will face, how ill they will be,  what they see as a poor quality of life. It’s not their fault. The only time that they see these children is when they are ill and suffering. What they don’t see is the times at home when there is laughter, love and light.

Having a disability is not easy and caring for a child with one tears at your heart and soul at times. It is really fucking hard. I now have my friends, depression and anxiety, to bring along for the ride. It can truly suck. As a parent, you cry a lot, you lament a lot, you suffer a lot but you also laugh a lot, smile a lot, love a lot. The happy times get you through the rough times. It forces you to see life through a different lens. The material becomes immaterial. You still love nice things but the import of them is significantly less. Small challenges overcome are to be celebrated. Successes are joyous occasions. Life is intense in all its pain and glory and wonder.

In the middle of all this chaos, stands a child who you love with all of your heart and then some. A child who, through their very existence, brings you strength you never knew you had, teaches you greater wisdom and compassion by introducing you to worlds you never understood.

One of Moo’s teachers said to me that the two best classes she ever taught were Moo’s and another two years later. She believes that the reason that those two classes were such lovely children was because they were the two with disabled kids in it. Moo has taught her friends that there is beauty in difference. The children in her class are some of the kindest and most compassionate you will ever meet. They know that not everyone is the same, that different does not equal less. They are already learning that the true moral test of a person is not how they look or if they win, it’s how they treat their most vulnerable member of class.

Does all of this mean that I condemn those who have ended pregnancies because of disability? Absolutely not. I completely understand why people choose termination. I did. It is a truly scary prospect and the worst decision we are called to make. The grief stays with you for the rest of your life. The tragedy is that you don’t know what you are capable of coping with or how a disabled child will positively affect your life unless you have lived with one. It’s an absolute gift, a bittersweet one, but a gift nonetheless.

My issue is that I now find myself questioning whether we should have ever been given the choice, at all. If that choice hadn’t been available, Ziggy would have died the day he was born. My grief would have been the same but I would not have been able to spare him that kind of pain. Do I regret the decision I made? Absolutely not. Do I wish that I hadn’t been given the choice? Yes. I am a person who needs to know all the facts. I want to know the sex of my baby and how long their legs are. If there is a test available, I would take it. If the test wasn’t available, then of course I wouldn’t.

No one knows what they are capable of dealing with, what will make them grow, what lessons life will teach them. Nor do you know what joy can be brought to your life by someone like my Moo. She has a wonderful life and she doesn’t know any different. As far as she is concerned, she rocks. She’s right.

Moo was recently diagnosed as autistic. So I started researching it and learning about it. Before she was diagnosed, I had thought “well, as long as she isn’t autistic”. What an idiot. It turns out that I have a heck of a lot of the traits and can completely understand how to help and support her. She may get worse over time, she may not. However, I know that, as long as I believe in her and help her achieve all that she can, she’ll be just fine. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

If we continue to try to eradicate conditions and disabilities from society, like the way that Downs is slowly being weeded out simply because it is very easy to test for, we are weeding out types of people. They are a different kind of person, not a lesser kind of person.  And where will it end? Once Downs is gone, and my heart breaks just at that thought, what is next? Will autism be next? Will we take to weeding out the Leonardo da Vincis, Einsteins, Alan Turings, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, to name but a few Aspies, from our societies? Just because they think differently and struggle socially.

Why is it that society seems hell bent on eradicating these people, who are only different, not less, instead of working on ways to support and accept them? They offer our society so much. They have special talents and bring out our humanity. The less disabled people there are, the more bigots. Exposure is what educates. We need to educate people to be more accepting,  more supportive, more compassionate. It could start in schools with lessons about the different kinds of people and disabilities so that when those children meet disabled people, they see the people not the disability. When you meet someone like my daughter or her friends, you can’t help but admire and be inspired by them. I fear for a world without them.