Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Wedding cakes and (un)holy relics. Thunder and lightning.

I just heard an item on the news about a piece of the wedding cake from Prince Charles’ and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding going on sale by auction. I was so amazed I thought I might had misheard the item. So I looked it up on the internet and it’s quite true. It will be auctioned on August 11th and is expected to sell for around £500. 

The slice in question was given by the queen mother to one of her employees at Clarence House. The employee wrapped it in clingfilm and put it in a cake tin. Now it’s being sold, 40 years down the line, together with an order of service for the wedding and a Royal Wedding Breakfast programme.

The article I found informed me that “in accordance with royal tradition, Charles and Diana served their guests fruitcake at the reception after their nuptials”, making it sound as if this was something special that only members of the royal family did. Hasn’t it long been a normal thing for wedding guests to be given a slice of the wedding cake? Indeed slices were also given to people who for one reason or another had not been able to attend the wedding. Unmarried female guests were encouraged to sleep with the cake under their pillow so that they would dream of the man they would eventually wed in their turn!

And it has long been usual to have a fruit cake as it keeps well and therefore can withstand the complicated icing process without going stale. It also means that slices sent to distant relatives and friends and acquaintances can withstand the journeys they might have to make. It’s probably why this slice of the royal cake has not crumbled to dust. 

Indeed, other countries as well as ours have a similar tradition. If you read  Laura Esquivel’s novel “Como Agua para Chocolate” (Like Water for Chocolate) you will discover how a wedding cake cooked by terminally sad sister of the bride (the bride was marrying the man her sister loved because the sister, youngest in the family, was duty bound to stay home unmarried and care for her ageing parents) became infused with her sadness. All the wedding guests who partook of the cake wept copiously as the cake made them experience the feelings of having lost the love of their life. 

Hmm! I wonder what feelings were experienced by those who partook of the royal wedding cake! But actually, that wouldn’t work as the emotion comes from the person who baked the cake. But transmitting emotion into what you cook is a different matter altogether, not relevant to the matter in hand. Mind you, I don’t think anyone is recommending eating this 40 year old slice of wedding cake. 

What struck me was how collecting Charles and Diana wedding memorabilia, and in fact any kind of Diana memorabilia, is rather like the ancient tradition of purchasing religious relics. Splinters of the true cross, thorns from the crown of thorns, the tears of the Virgin Mary were probably the most precious but almost anything that was certified as having a connection to a saint would fetch a good price. I think of the scene in Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe di Lampedusa where the very devout wife of the Prince of Salina discovers that all her holy relics are pretty much worthless. Now it seems as though Diana has become a kind of modern day saint, without having to actually perform any miracles.   

As regards the nature of the cake, I think that sponge cake wedding cakes and wedding cakes made of creatively heaped cup cakes, dusted with gold dust - such as was served at my son’s wedding some 10 years ago - are a fairly recent innovation.

As I type this I can hear thunder rumbling around our nearby hilltops. It never arrived yesterday but today has been catch-up day. I cycled to the market and back this morning in a sort of lull between rainy sessions. My daughter phoned and asked if I would like to go to Ikea with her and children towards the end of the morning. We very nearly opted to go for a walk first of all as the sun was trying to shine. However, by the time we set off the rain was starting again. 

While we were in the store my oldest granddaughter contacted us to tell us we were missing a monster thunderstorm which was scaring both her dog and her cat. We came out to fine weather though, just fine enough for long enough for us to reach my daughter’s house before it began again. It was rather spectacular: great flashes of lightning and immediate crashes of thunder, a storm right overhead. 

It was the kind of storm that would have had my mother putting all the knives out of sight to prevent them being struck by lightning. My mother firmly believed that could happen and used to regale us with stories of the cottage in her village where they had both front and back door open one thunder-stormy day. This was a good thing, she told us, as a ball of lightning rolled in though the front door, straight down the hallway and out of the backdoor … and presumably away down the hill … without harming anyone! We children accepted this as gospel truth, of course!

I returned home in another lull between storms. Yes we have had torrential rain here but only for short periods at a time. I wait to see what kind of news reports will emerge later this evening.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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