The world is baking

There is not an ounce of flour to be found anywhere. ‘The shelves are empty,’ Mum phones to tell me. ‘I’ve looked everywhere.’

‘I think I have some,’ I say, not wanting to get her hopes up. This is the third time she’s mentioned flour — or the lack of it — this week.

‘Do you?’ She sounds so excited.

‘I think so.’ In last week’s cleaning frenzy, I was sure I’d seen some in a cupboard. ‘Let me check.’

Still on the phone, I walk to the kitchen, open the cupboard, and sure enough there is the flour. ‘Half a bag,’ I tell her.

‘That’s amazing!’

I look at the opened bag of Be-Ro, dusted in flour, torn in places. ‘It’s seen better days,’ I say, taking it out. ‘It could have been in here for years.’ I try to remember when I last baked a cake, or some buns, or anything, but I can’t. ‘I’m not sure it’s edible.’

‘Of course it is. It lasts forever. I can’t believe you have flour. That’s brilliant.’

‘You’ve not seen it,’ I say, holding it at arms-length.

‘Check the best before,’ Mum says.

I search the bag for a date. A white sprinkling of flour falls onto my worktops — the ones I’ve just cleaned. ‘I can’t find it,’ I say, wanting to drop it into the bin before it causes any more mess.

‘It’ll have a date on it,’ Mum says.

And right enough, on the bottom of the bag in faded print, there it is. ‘April.’ Followed by a year that’s too faded to read.

‘I’ll have to throw it,’ I say.

‘Oh,’ Mum says, unable to hide her disappointment.

‘Did you want to bake that much?’ I ask.

‘No, it’s fine. We just fancied some cake, really. But we can’t use that.’

‘I’m sure it’ll be back in stock soon.’ I try to sound optimistic.

‘The entire world is baking,’ she grumbles. ‘You can’t get it anywhere. It’s like gold dust. I’ve more chance of winning the lottery and I don’t even play.’

I hang up, feeling like a disappointing daughter because I don’t have a cupboard full of flour.

‘We should have stocked up,’ I tell Chris. ‘It’s like the toilet rolls all over again.’

When everyone was bulk-buying loo roll, we’d laughed at their silliness. We’d soon stopped laughing when we were down to our last roll and couldn’t get another anywhere.

I hold the bag of flour up. ‘Flour is the new loo roll.’

‘Get it on eBay,’ Chris says. ‘We’ll trade it for a penthouse in Chelsea.’

I’m heading to the bin to throw it when I have an idea. ‘I’ll bake,’ I tell him. ‘It’s only borderline out of date. I’m sure it’ll be fine.’

Chris looks at me. ‘Are you sure?’

I look again at the best before date — it definitely says April, but I’m not sure if it’s 2019 or 2020. I look closer. I consider the current flour crisis. ‘I can’t throw it away when there’s such a shortage. It’s not right. I’m going to make Mum and Dad a cake.’

I get to work straight away. Flour, sugar, margarine, eggs. I consult a James Martin recipe but then decide to do my own thing. I slap on the buttercream and jam, sprinkle some icing sugar on the top. The house is filled with the smell of home baking. I can’t help but feel proud of myself. When things get back to normal, I’ll sign up to The Great British Bake Off, blessed as I am with a baking talent.

I cut half for us and take the other half to Mum and Dad’s, leaving it on the patio table and backing away to a socially acceptable distance.

‘Cake!’ she shouts. ‘That’s wonderful. Where did you find flour?’

‘I had a secret supply,’ I say.

She looks at me; she looks at the cake. ‘You didn’t use that out-of-date flour, did you?’

‘No,’ I lie. ‘I found another bag.’

The next day, Mum phones. ‘Your sister’s got some flour, so she’s baking, too.’

‘Is she?’ There is no hiding the surprise in my voice.

‘She’s making Olivia’s birthday cake.’

‘I would have done it.’ My sister has many skills, but I’m not convinced cake-making is one of them.

For the next few days, I worry about what mess she’ll make of it. I worry that my soon to be eight-year-old niece will be disappointed. On the day of the birthday, they reveal the cake over a family video call.

Not only has my sister made a cake, but she’s also decorated it creatively using KitKats and M&M’s. It puts my slapped-on jam and buttercream to shame.

‘Look at that,’ Chris says. ‘You’ve been outdone.’

‘Have you made that?’ I ask.

‘It was a team effort.’ She nods to her partner, who smiles smugly at his cake-making capabilities.

We sing happy birthday and watch them eat the cake. ‘Mmm,’ they say. ‘Delicious.’

‘I can’t watch this anymore. I’m going,’ I say, hanging up.

I head for the kitchen and cut the last few slices of my cake.

Chris takes a bite. I hear it crunch, not a good sign for a supposedly soft and fluffy sponge.

‘It does have a strange taste,’ he says.

‘It’s the flour,’ I say. ‘I think it went out of date in 2019.’

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