Last year mum made a vanilla and strawberry cake for my sister’s birthday.
I carried it from Surrey to my sister’s place in East London, via two trains and a bus. Mum didn’t have a tupperware container big enough for it so it was on a plate and there was some strange net thing put over it, the kind of thing that you put over food when it’s outside on a summer’s day. Something to stop the flies.
This made travelling in rush hour pretty challenging – I kept thinking someone was going to bump into the cake and send it flying but they didn’t. Rush hour that evening was like no other rush hour I’ve ever experienced. People smiled at me, people moved out of my way, people even chatted; ‘That looks nice,’ they’d say, looking at the cake. Their face would soften. The hard, tired, determined, ‘I hate life’ look most us adopt on tubes would melt.
It was really weird. It was like everyone become human again.
On the last leg of the journey I was sitting at a bus stop at Highbury Islington, next to two guys drinking Special Brew. They looked homeless and when I sat next to them I had the familiar feeling of guilt over how lucky I am and sadness for how other’s people’s lives can turn out. Then I felt guilty for being so patronising, maybe they’re happy in their lives.
Anyway, like everybody on the train, they liked the look of the cake (which I should have said was decorated with little pink sugar roses. Mum had bought them from Waitrose and I thought they were twee but she disagreed.)
‘Is that for us?’ asked one of the guys.
‘Fraid not, it’s for my sister. It’s her birthday,’ I said.
‘Did you make it?’ said another.
‘No, I’m a crap cook – mum did, I’m just taking it to the party’ I said.
‘So where is your mum then?’ said one.
‘Oh we don’t invite her to the parties, we just get her to make the cakes,’ I joke.
‘That’s charming, isn’t?’ one said.
‘I know, we’re right brats,’ I said.
‘Does she always make you cakes then?’ they asked.
‘Yes, I’m 36 and she still makes me cakes.’
‘That’s nice,’ they both beamed at the cake.
For a second or two there was silence as we all stared at the cake under the funny net cage.
I don’t know if their thoughts had gone to the birthday parties they had or the birthday parties they never had. The cakes that were made for them – decorated with smarties and candles – or the cakes that never existed except in their dreams. I’m guessing the latter.
In that moment they both looked about tens years old, sitting there with their cans and one battered tube of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles.
I felt like the entire difference between our lives was represented by that cake. Having a mother who made birthday cakes seemed like the greatest thing any person could ask for.
I felt like I should invite them to the party but I didn’t. Instead we talked a bit more about who was going to the party and how many sisters I had and the fact that it was getting colder. I asked them what they were doing for the night and they said ‘This and that.’ Then my bus came and I said goodbye and they waved me off.
A lot of this blog has been me focussing on what’s wrong with my life – or rather what I imagine is wrong with it, and me – but the reality is I have a mum who makes cakes, sisters I love, friends who make me laugh, a body that works, a brain that works, a roof over my head. I have it all.
Brene Brown says that ‘Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.’
It’s true, isn’t it?
It’s like that Huffington Post blog that I shared a few weeks ago, written by Charlotte Kitley, a young mother who was dying of bowel cancer. The whole post is here – http://huff.to/XDlPZa – and please read it if you haven’t – but this is a snippet:
‘I have so much life I still want to live, but know I won’t have that. I want to be there for my friends as they move with their lives, see my children grow up and become old and grumpy with Rich. All these things are to be denied of me.
‘But, they are not to be denied of you. So, in my absence, please, please, enjoy life. Take it by both hands, grab it, shake it and believe in every second of it. Adore your children. You have literally no idea how blessed you are to shout at them in the morning to hurry up and clean their teeth.’
So there you go. This is it. Whatever’s happening right now is life at its best.
Have a nice weekend.Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead