What The Great British Bake Off reminded me (and it’s not only that I love cake)

Soggy bottom. Tart. Decorative nuts.

I am no stranger to innuendo, double-entendre based humour.

Mel and Sue and their plentiful baking puns are therefore just my cup of tea, or slice of cake. If I’m honest, it’s one of the reasons I love Bake Off.

Love or hate Mel and Sue, they are an essential part of my weekly viewing, graciously sacrificing their waistlines over the 3 months of baking heaven, simply so I can get my weekly fix.

But the main reasons I love Wednesday evening (or rather on-the-train-on-Thursday-morning) episodes of Bake Off is that they remind me of a key life lesson: keep a sense of perspective. For many years I had the Desiderata poster on my wall, and some of its long forgotten lessons have been stirred up through my favourite medium of cake.

‘With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.’ While poor Stu may be quickly forgotten from our Bake Off hearts, he was amongst a dozen excellent bakers. Twelve out of 16,000 applicants. That is a sizeable achievement. A Bake Off appearance isn’t the work of moments; it’s hours of burnt biscuits, soggy souffles and a kitchen that looks like a flour factory has exploded. But it’s still a beautiful world, though much harder to see under a thin film of icing sugar or seriously stressful life events. You have successes, and even when they don’t seem enough, you are enough. Last night I was feeling anxious and praying for some clarification from God and decided to turn in the direction of the long way to the chip shop (I know, profound). I encountered this: it is a very beautiful world. 

the sunset and the Shell garage

‘Chip shop with a view’

‘If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.’ On Celebrity Bake Off there is a sense of fierce competitiveness that I emulate when taking part in children’s quizzes with colleagues at work and games wih friends (yes, even their children), but within the Bake Off tent, there is rejoicing when someone else does well. Everyone applauds the winner of the technical challenge and congratulates the star baker. Envy is an easy emotion to give in to, yet it robs the moment of joy. Even your greatest achievement can be knocked off by another in a fleeting moment, so be proud and be humble in equal measure. They may have achieved your dream, it does not mean you will not get there one day. 

‘Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.’ Dorret’s unfortunate unset mousse moment in last week’s episode was the first truly melancholy moment of the series. Most bakers’ Madeira cakes had delivered the crack (giggle) they wanted to see and they’d created a moist (shudder) technical bake, but Dorret had worked so hard, that when the mousse slid out from the cake I felt my own face drop and whispered ‘Oh no!’ in the silent train carriage. Life does not go as we plan. In fact Stephen King suggests a writer should not plot a book too thoroughly as life simply doesn’t work like that. If you’ve pulled your favourite jeans up by the belt-loop and they ripped or you didn’t get the grades or job you wanted, life doesn’t work out how we imagine. Would it have improved Dorret’s cake for her to worry? No. What comforted her was a hug from Sue and talking it through; in the wait for who would be leaving, Nadiya sat with Dorret and accompanied her through the dark moments of shattered dreams. Let’s share the disappointments and life’s sadnesses; and rejoice when others achieve – even when they achieve our goals before us. Let us be community, in both the bad and the good. 

Sue’s comfort to Dorret was this…it’s just cake. This was true, there are many worse things in the world. It didn’t feel like ‘just cake’ though, it felt like the end of a dream. ‘Whatever your labours or aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.’ I understand what it feels like to not get the grades you wanted and to feel like life has fallen apart. Maybe you aren’t married, don’t have children, didn’t get the job or that university place. Even in these situations, we have to seek out contentment – a choice to be content each day, each minute because ‘whether it is clear to you or not, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.’ Draw on your experience, use it to comfort someone else, learn from it, and, with those littler things, be able to say ‘it was only cake’ and walk away. 

So whether it is my puerile sense of humour, my love of cake or my awe at the skill of others that means I love GBBO I could not tell you. But the shared rejoicing, shouldering each other’s disappointments and a thick layer of buttercream icing put a smile on my face and warm the very cockles of my heart like an AGA in a farmhouse kitchen.

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