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Clement's Corner: Ten Minutes To Go

Owen Clement presents an urgent ten-minutes-to disaster tale.

Ten minutes to go...

Ignoring the accumulated mess in the kitchen sink, Janeís eyes moved from the clock to the telephone. She rang her brother Tom, asking him to pick her up in ten minutes. Peering through the heatproof glass of her old gas oven it pleased her to see that the carrot and ginger cake had risen evenly. Its fresh baked aroma filled her small kitchen.

Nine minutes to go...

She carefully packed her date slice and shortbread, baked the day before, in a carton on a cleared corner of the bench. Alongside the pot mitts and wire cooling rack lay her Royal Dalton plate, covered with a crisp white paper doily. Best of all, she thought, there were no inquisitive grandchildren to poke and pick at her entries. She adored her grandchildren mind you. But nowadays parents tend to mollycoddle their offspring to such a degree that children run the household. A bit of firmness at times doesnít go astray.

Eight minutes to go...

Jane thought back to last yearís church fete when Mavis Harrington took first prize with her carrot and ginger cake, which had been baked in an Aga cooker. She remembered when Mavis ordered that cooker. Oh how Jane admired the craftsmanship and the appearance of the large gleaming combustion stove. Chopping the wood for it would have been an ongoing problem were it not for Mavisís henpecked husband.

Mavis let it be widely known that only she knew the secret of producing a prize-winning cake. She had said condescendingly to Jane, ďBetter luck next time dear.'' Her sycophantic friends smirked as they pretended to admire Janeís entries. This year, Jane promised herself, she would knock that cocksure Mavis Harrington off her high horse.

Seven minutes to go...

Jane had made three attempts at the carrot and ginger cake the day before. All three had been almost perfect. The first had a minor list to one side and hadnít risen quite as much as she would have wished. The second had an ever-so-small dip in the top and a few too many ginger pieces had sunk to the bottom, while the third had tiny areas where the cake had come away at the edges where she hadnít folded the baking paper with due care. She could have corrected all the mistakes with her icing if it were not for the eagle eyes of the judges. Funny how they never picked similar errors in Mavisís entries.

Six minutes to go...

Jane double-checked her preparations. Please God that she hadnít forgotten anything. Old age was a problem sometimes. She promised herself that this time everything would be perfect. If only she had someone to help her. Ah well! All the more credit, she thought to herself, if she did manage to win. It wasnít that she envied Mavis Harrington, Oh no, it was merely the satisfaction of winning; that was the only reason.

Five minutes to go...

Jane changed from her housedress to the Teal blue frock she had made recently. Her new white shoes were on the tight side but they would have to do. Once more she anxiously peeped into the oven. The symmetrical shape was perfect. If a cake rose too high it often cracked at the top. All was well.

She put the ingredients for the cream cheese and lemon icing into the carton, making sure that the grated lemon rind, or zest as they called it these days, had no dark bits amongst the yellow. Even one brown fleck marred a cakeís appearance.

Four minutes to go...

The telephone rang. Wouldnít you know it! It was Mavis Harrington ringing to wish her luck. Mavis proceeded to list all her entries, saying how disappointed she was with with them. Her walnut slice was a trifle soggy, her shortbread was too short, and the carrot cake, usually her pride and joy, was overdone. Mavis had her faults, but she did not lie. Janeís hopes rose.

Three minutes to go...

Jane strained to hear the old wind-up timer. Its bell now made no more than a soft whirring sound. In desperation she told Mavis, who had not hung up, that she had to fly. Her transport had arrived. She thanked Mavis for calling and put down the phone.

Two minutes to go...

At that moment the old timer whirred, and in the same instant Tom beeped his car horn. Jane called out to him, asking him to help. She turned off the oven then cautiously transferred the freshly baked cake onto the cooling rack. She would balance the cake on her lap on the way to the fete, allowing it to cool, then ice it in the church hall before placing it on the Royal Dalton plate.

One minute to go...

Tom entered the kitchen and picked up a carton. As she picked up the rack containing her beautiful cake, she noticed with considerable dismay that there was a cup half-filled with glazed ginger which she had forgotten to use.

As she reached for the cup the cake began to slip off the rack. She grabbed at the cake, forgetting that it just come out of the oven. Instinctively jerking her hand away, she knocked the carton out of Tomís hands.

The two of them looked in shocked disbelief at the wreckage around their feet. Then the phone rang. Jane, in a daze, picked it up. "Hi Mum,'' said her daughter Jane. "Thought I'd wish you good luck.''

Tom also heard the message. His yes met Jane's. They exploded into hysterical laughter. Tears ran down their cheeks.

They could hear Jane's voice, frantically yelling "Mum, Mum, what's happening?''

© Clement 2006

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