The Ghost of Christmas Past

December 10, 2009

Baking a Christmas cake in France is not complicated:  I buy the ingredients at the supermarket, I mix it all up (swatting small fingers away) and put it in the oven.  This year I will not be making one as no-one in my family is very keen on it.  It is too easy now.

Baking a christmas cake in Zimbabwe takes all the logistical training and agility of a special forces operation.

The first hurdle to overcome is the unavailability of dried fruit.  In the year in question, I neatly side-stepped that by getting a friend to bring some back from a trip to London.  My mother prevailed upon some friends in South Africa  to bring some when they visited.

Even prior to the days of multiple zeros in our hyper-inflationary economy, foreign currency was hard to come by and cost a fortune in our local Monopoly money.

What the hell!  It was Christmas and we needed something traditional!  The bright sunshine of our endless African summer was not at all Christmasy, turkeys were unobtainable and our local father Christmas’s skin tone (bless him), contrasted sharply with his white beard.  Nothing was authentic!  A Christmas cake we would have, thanks to my mother, and I would make a Christmas pudding so rich in brandy it would squirt you in the eye when fork hit fruit.

The price of butter equalled that of the Gold Standard and nuts had to be purchased through discreet transactions with our Greek greengrocer.

Once the requisite ingredients were assembled we were almost foiled once more: by electricity rationing.  A Christmas cake is a temperamental thing and should not be subjected to the vagaries of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Commission.

Christmas eve loomed.  My mother was driving to Zambia, leaving at dawn on Christmas day.  She would be bearing a Christmas cake made by her own fair hand, and a pudding made by mine.  A cake would also be coming in our direction.

There was a power cut on the morning of the 24th which lasted until her car was packed and ready to go.  But we come from a long line of adventurous folk and we stood strong.  The power came back on, the cake went in and the puddings were on the boil.  Our respective homes were filled with the wondrous smells of northern climes.

Time was ticking though and the Cake Baker needed some sleep.  A plan was hatched.  A handover would take place, with the security guard who worked outside her block of townhouses being a pivotal player.

The cakes would come out the oven at around midnight.  One of them would be packed into the car and one would be lovingly wrapped in a cloth and put in a cake tin. The tin would be handed to the tall man wearing a balaclava and bearing a truncheon.  He would be given precise instructions to hand it to the driver of a white car who would be in the vicinity in the small hours of the morning.  He would recognize her because she would hand him a parcel and point at a red car.  She would say,

“When the driver of that car comes to the car at 0400 please hand her this”.

At 0200 hours the puddings  finished their interminable bubbling and boiling.  The driver of the white car (me), handed them to the Protector of all that is Good and Right.  In return I was handed a deliciously warm cake tin.

I drove home with a smirk on my face.  Mission accomplished!

Then next day I unwrapped the cake.  I was astonished to see that my usually perfectionist mother must have prized it out of the tin with a crow bar.  The ragged edges looked like a giant rat had been nibbling at them.  Not a smooth contour in sight!  But that is when the final triumph occurred…imported Marzipan!  I covered those (rather large) imperfections like a pro and by the time the icing was on no-one knew any better.

I was just admiring my handiwork when the phone rang.  Through the crackling line from Zambia I thought something dreadful must have happened.  I heard a hysterical, choking sound and thought it was surely the harbinger of some catastrophe.

It was indeed my mother.  She was laughing so much she had to try and catch her breath.  Indeed, she had been laughing for much of the 7 hour trip to Lusaka.  She had set off on her way, thanking the pair of eyes peering out from his paramilitary headgear and had set off.  For some reason she decided to peek at that Prize Pudding.  There was something peculiar about it, and being of a curious disposition she investigated further.

It had been carefully hollowed out.

Those Christmas treats gave us more joy and laughter than any piece of cake or calorific, booze-laden bombs.

When questioned about the incident our faithful guard stood to attention and said.

“I am sorry.  I failed in my duty.”


21 Responses to “The Ghost of Christmas Past”

  1. The dexterity and ingenuity of the Guardian was delicious!
    I savored your whole tale, smiling on this rainy afternoon in middle California. You have an excellent way with story-telling.

  2. Good gracious! You’re gonna have to come up with a holiday tradition that’s easier. I wonder if I could ship you a Texas pecan fruit cake?

    Straight From Hel

  3. TWM said

    Beautiful true enveloping of what Christmas is honestly about.

  4. louisey said

    y cousin’s family in Zimbabwe have revived the old Dutch oven, a hollowed out anthill. Much more reliabel!

    Mary LA

  5. Great one.
    I was struck by how much I take for granted.
    I’m struck by it even more as I type this and realize you are half way around the World.

  6. Stacey M said

    Oh my goodness! I definitely take our ease of grocery shopping and baking for granted. What an experience!

  7. rosie said

    I just love your stories – there’s an unexpected smile, or sadness, or suprise in each of them. And often a question – in this case, did he just scoop out the middle of the pudding with his hand and eat it in one gorgeous mouthful? Lucky guy …

  8. sinkuenta said

    Kerry, I have been busy lately, that’s why I haven’t commented your two last posts. I do not want to post a comment without reading the text for the second time (English is a foreign language for me and I need to scan through the text in search of little details I didn’t notice in the first reading. I will post a new comment when I’m ready with it.

  9. sinkuenta said

    You are right! Making a Christmas Pudding and Cake is much easier in Europe than it is in Africa!! I love the way you describe the anecdote; the words you use and the power of metaphors. I discover your sense of humour through your descriptions and I enjoy every bit of the tale!! Now, I’m going to read the previous post…

  10. i love the way you tell a story…leaving me with a big ole smile…

  11. Naomi said

    Hilarious and amazing! What a wonderful storyteller you are!!! I can’t wait to read more of your posts. I’m sorry you’ve been having trouble getting onto my blog. Thanks for trying! Here is a link. I hope it helps!!!

    I’ll look forward to visiting you again soon.

    • thanks for visiting. I am off to bed now (I live in the south of France) and will try it again tomorrow. Just tried it and it didn’t work. Probably a glitch my end – says the server can’t be found. It is always great to meet kindred spirits!

  12. sinkuenta said

    Kerry, I just came to wish you a Merry Christmas in the company of your large family and all the best for the next year.

    • I wish you and your family the happiest of Christmases and a wonderful new year. I want to thank you once again for your support and hope you continue to visit during the new year. I have not had time to write for almost two weeks but tomorrow am interviewing 2 people! I will start again after Christmas. Love from Kerry

  13. Naomi said

    Hi Kerry! Thank you so much for your awesome email with your story included!! You are so sweet to try so hard to get your comments to me. I appreciate that so much:) My site is kind of wierd and you have to write the word “key” in that box if you want to comment. Sorry it is so incredibly confusing. I also wanted to tell you that I have a blog award for you. I’m sure you probably get about 8 billion of them all the time, but I really like your blog. You are a marvelous writer and I wanted to acknowledge you!! Here is the linky:

    • Hi there,

      Thanks so much for the award. I have one before yours so not exactly 8 billion. I am clueless about them so will visit your blog tomorrow to see what I need to do. I am looking forward to getting back to writing after a wrist injury. All is well now and I will start again this week. All the best for 2010 and I am so happy to have “met” you.

  14. I too love your blog and your fabulous writing. When you get time, stop by my blog for an award as well! Happy New Year!

    • Hi there and a Happy New Year to you! Thanks for the award – I will stop by your blog. I have dropped off the blogging circuit for a while due to a wrist injury, Christmas, school holidays and generally being in sanity-saving mode. I am realllllly looking forward to getting back to writing this week.

  15. Jenny said

    Thanks so much for the award. I have one before yours so not exactly 8 billion. I am clueless about them so will visit your blog tomorrow to see what I need to do.

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