On Cake


Never underestimate the restorative power of cake.

I never will again, thanks to my friends Julia and Roger, with whom I stayed for a few days this summer, in Bromyard, in Herefordshire, in the border country of England.

I’d been traveling all day, that sometimes drizzly Monday.  When the train finally pulled into the station at Worcester Shrub Hill, I saw, through the window, Julia and Roger on the platform.  I had not seen them in two years.  They were lovely faces, the faces of my friends.  They trundled me into the car and drove into the center of the city.  There were some errands Julia needed to do, and some beautiful architecture she needed me to see.  Then there was the Cathedral.

Do you like cathedrals at all? Julia asked.  I am in awe of cathedrals.  I’m one of those gawking idiots who stands in the middle of the nave and stares upwards into the heights, forgetting to breathe, until I get dizzy and the stonework swirls.  I love the hollow echo of heels on the stone floors.  I always want to pet the small dogs under the feet of the carved figures on tombs.  And Worcester is special, housing the storied remains of Arthur, the doomed elder brother of Henry VIII:  I stood in the chapel housing his bones and realized that I’d never really thought of him as real, in the sense that his brother was real–but here was the young man whose marriage changed the course of English history.  Oddly, in a chantry with small statues of carved saints lining the walls, many of whom had had their faces smashed off, nose first, ostensibly by Henry’s minions during the English reformation.  I was horrified by that–not just the destruction, but the destruction of a brother’s resting place. Nothing quite like family.

Then there was the tomb of King John.  Conniving man.  I’m not a John fan.  Enough said about him.  It was weirdly satisfying to see him dead.

Exhausted, we went for cake.  The round Chapter House was doing duty as a tea shop.  Roger and I had walnut spice cake with our coffee and tea, while Julia went for lemon cake.  This was served up by women in aprons behind long tables.  Around us, conversation was muted under the ribbed dome.  I would not normally have thought I’m a bit peckish–I think I’d like some cake;  but of course, I am not quite as civilized as Julia.  But I realized that she was right.  Sometimes, you just need to have some cake.  And the walnut spice cake was really quite delicious.

The next day, of course, we went to Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books (but that’s another story for another time).  Suffice it to say that, by mid-afternoon, after walking about and peering into shops, Julia once again suggested cake.  Specifically, she wanted chocolate cake with her coffee, and when I saw what was on offer at The Granary, I wanted chocolate cake, too.  Even though the rain had spattered us off and on all day, we sat out at the tables under the awning in front of the restaurant, watching tractors wend their way down the narrow street.  The cake was marvelous.  The fact that I was eating it with my friends in Wales (granted, just barely in Wales, but enough to make it count) made it all the better.

It’s a remarkably civilized way to do business, of course.  Along comes mid-afternoon, and you suddenly break off whatever you are doing, to sit down for some cake.  I think everyone should do it.  I’m fairly certain the world would be a much kinder place if they did.  And certainly much more relaxed.

Cake. From the Granary.

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