Sunday, 19 July 2009

I fought the Lambeth Horticultural Society, and the Lambeth Horticultural Society won, but I came second

Previously on Why Miss Jones, I told you how I was grievously slighted by someone in authority at the Lambeth Horticultural Society, during the Lambeth Country Show. You may recall that I swore vengeance.

Well, this weekend [steely, ominous voice] it was time.

The battlefield was the Domestic Classes of the 2009 Lambeth Country Show Flower Show (too many shows, but I cannot explain it any other way) - in particular, the baking categories. I did not, as I had proposed, learn skills from the world’s best baking ninjas. I did not travel to Vienna and Kyoto. Instead, I searched deep, deep within myself – past the literature of the American renaissance, past my A-level French vocabulary and past all the lyrics to Duran Duran's Rio album – and drew on all I had learnt at the formica worktop of Mrs Jones. I also trusted in an email I received from a lovely lady called Valerie, a benign member of Lambeth Horticultural Society, who answered my plea about how to enter and also wished me good luck.

I put my entry form in the post, thereby sounding a warning. I would bring bloody warmongering to Class 76 Cranberry and Ginger Blondies. I would bring righteous fury to Class 77 Marmalade Cake. I would bring noble fire to Class 79 Chocolate Cherry Cookies. I would bring the ingredients to my kitchen on Friday night and spend hours baking, then end up scraping the lot into the bin at 1am in a tantrum of curdled hopes and burnt dreams, hot flour-streaked tears pouring down my cheeks.

Or so I thought. Instead, the gods of baking smiled on me on Friday night. The blondies and the cookies worked like a charm, despite the obstacles put in my path by LHS in the form of numerous errors in the recipes. For example:

150g (5oz) white chocolate, broken into pieces
50g (5oz) soft butter

How much bloody butter? 50g? Or 5oz? Because they are really, really different amounts. Hear me when I say this, elderly recipe writers with your trembly-fingered typos, you will not destroy me. I AM STRONGER THAN YOU.

Unfortunately I was not quite strong enough to make a decent marmalade cake. I am blaming this on an extremely suspect jar of marmalade. My cake mix tasted disgusting, and alarm bells rang immediately, because everyone knows that cake mix tastes better than almost anything in the world. I then tasted the half-empty jar of marmalade. It too was abhorrent. However, I was not a sound judge, since marmalade always tastes like the foulest poison to me. I consider it literally the preserve of the devil.

I texted Miss W for advice. She had expressed enthusiasm for the marmalade cake and marmalade generally – yet, charitably, I was still allowing her to be my friend. I asked her if marmalade was meant to taste quite so repulsive. She told me probably not, and administered her usual pragmatic comfort, reminding me gently that I was entering the competition in an ironic and post-modern context. Let me tell you, I was not feeling ironic, post-modern anguish. It was the real thing.

So the marmalade, a brand new jar, was rotten. But what could I do? The shops were shut. I could only shove the cake in the oven, put the best of Teenage Fanclub on the kitchen stereo to calm me down, and hope for the best.

The sun rose over Brockwell Park on Saturday morning, and I made my way to the Flower Show tent with my freshly baked weapons. I walked up to the reception desk, told them my name and in return I was given this:

Oh yes, readers, I am kind of a big deal. These change hands for hundreds of pounds in certain tea shops and garden centres with wheelchair access.

The atmosphere in the tent was – heh – intense. People were nervously primping bonsai trees and smoothing out crocheted blankets. An elderly man was wiping stray smears of homemade jam from around the rim of a jar with the concentration and precision of a watchmaker.

I started to lay out my entries on their special, pink paper plates. Then a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would like to use some of her clingfilm. I felt a warm glow spread through me, from my sweating feet to the tips of my shaking fingers. It was a glow of camaraderie, but also of smugness because I may be a rookie, but I had remembered to bring my own clingfilm. So I said no thank you, and told her she was very kind. And to make conversation, and try to prolong the moment of respectful bonhomie at the competition coalface, I said, ‘Oof! It’s really hot in here, isn’t it!’

'Oh,' she said ominously, striking a deadly blow at my ingenous enthusiasm, ‘this isn’t hot. This is nothing compared to some shows.’ She also told me that she had won the handicrafts cup a few years before. That put me in my place.

Once I had set out my plates, and spent several minutes moving them a few centimetres one way, then several centimetres back again, I wandered around the tent (which was still closed to non-exhibiting civilians) looking at all the other displays, without the crush of the general public. It was a special time and I thought this is what it would be like if you were allowed into The Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York at dawn, just the greatest treasures of the world, and you. And about two dozen really competitive pensioners.

But then, a man shouted, ‘Stop exhibiting!’ and it was exactly like Masterchef, and all the arranging and fussing was over, and we had to leave the tent so that judging could begin.

A couple of hours later, I had been joined at the Lambeth Country Show by Miss W and Marbury, and with them by my side I returned to the tent to Face Destiny.

Firstly, the marmalade cake was not placed. I was not surprised, given the rogue batch of marmalade. Thanks, Forest Hill branch of a popular supermarket chain, for RUINING MY LIFE.

But then there was this:

And this:

Two second places. TWO SECOND PLACES. I felt elated. I felt alive. I suddenly felt really, really tired.

Yes, you are right. I didn't totally win. But I rocked the Lambeth Horticultural Society to its foundations. I think. No one could say I was not a baking force to be reckoned with. All of south-east London will know and fear me.

So, to the runner-up, the spoils. And here they are:

Three pounds. Three whole pounds. Two second-place prizes of one pound fifty. It’s unfortunate that I then spent eleven pounds on my way home in Herne Hill’s excellent branch of Oxfam, but I don't need to tell you that here, money is unimportant. Like all the great contests – Mastermind, Fifteen To One – prize money is irrelevent. It is about prestige. It is about respect. It is about glory. And now, I am only hungry for more.

Next time on Why Miss Jones: more from the Lambeth Country Show, in particular, vegetable sculpture and owl-stretching time.


Anonymous said...

Jones, your second places mark modest achievement. However, if I'd attended Lambeth show with my S&M cakes (body-lacing Victoria Sponge, and cherry breast buns), it would have been me pipping you to the post, and you know it.

Can I bring some saucy baking to Kiss & Make-Up? Would that be well received? Lady Cx

Miss Jones said...

I'm not sure the Lambeth Horticultural Society is ready for S&M. M&S, maybe. B&Q at a push.

But any baking is well received at K&MU. x

Anonymous said...

Wow, you are now an "award-winning" baker! I'm so impressed! I feel honored to have tasted so many of your culinary masterpieces over the years and just know first prize could be yours next year... what riches could the prize winnings be? My (Suffolk) sister won a whole £1 at the Benhall Green Village Fete last year for her homemade jam. She has unfortunately let it go to her head and every time I phone her now she has no time to talk, she's busy making jam! I've only ever managed to prize one tiny jar from her, and if you so much as look at a jar of her homemade marmalade, she whisks it away quicker than you can imagine. Don't let this auspicious award change you... keep on baking! LB