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wheat kings and pretty things (let's just see what tomorrow brings)

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“Mum!” Cam crashes into the kitchen in his usual manner—half tripping over his own feet in his haste. He's holding his iPad, brandishing it in front of him as he goes. “Mum you have to do this!” he exclaims, all giddiness and youthful energy, and Bernie rolls her eyes at his antics.

“What's ‘this’?” She asks. “Cam, I can't read anything with how you’re waving that about.” He hands the tablet over and Bernie takes it, curious to see what has engendered such urgency. ‘Applications open for the Great British Bake Off 2017’ the page reads, and Bernie looks up at Cam, shocked.

“What?”

“Bake Off, Mum! You know, big white tent, baking, awful food related puns.” He’s grinning wide in excitement.

“Don’t, Cam, I can’t do this.” She hands him back the tablet with a grimace.

“Why not? You're a great baker.”

“That’s sweet of you, but, well... I mean I'm not bad Cam but this? This is for really good bakers. People who have been doing it for years. Not, I mean I couldn’t bake a loaf of bread a year and a half ago.”

“Who cares how long you've been doing it for? Your stuff is better than half the things they sell in bakeries. Plus, you always say we should try at things even if we might not succeed.” He looks about half a second from sticking his tongue out at her and Bernie isn’t sure if she should be annoyed he’s using her own words against her or happy that at least he has been listening to her all these years.

“I also always say that there’s no substitute for experience,” she shoots right back, poking him in the shoulder. “So there!”

“Well what’s the harm in trying?

“It’s a huge time commitment, Cam, even just for the audition process, being a surgeon doesn’t exactly make for a flexible schedule.”

“What boss would deny you time off for Bake Off? Pretty sure that would be considered unpatriotic at this point. Plus, it’s not like you have anything else eating up your time.”

“Oi Cheeky! What’s that supposed to mean?”

“C’mon Mum, you don’t date, you spend all your time at work, you barely hang out with anyone other than me and Charlotte—which is a little tragic by the way—you don’t even have a pet!”

“You might want to hurry up and get to the point there,” she warns him.

“You should do something. Something just for you. Something that’s not work-related. This could be fun! And it’s worth a try, isn’t it?”

“I…” Bernie sighs. He probably has a point, “I'll think about it okay?”

“Okay,” he accepts that answer without further prodding, can probably sense that he’s pushed her about as far as he can get away with. “Ooh!” He switches tracks immediately, “that smells good! What's cooking?”

“Treacle tart. For pudding. But you'll only get some if you—”

“If I eat my vegetables, I know,” he says, 5 again with that eye roll, that grin.

“I was going to say if you clear all your rubbish off the dinner table and set the places,” she shoots back. Cam hesitates, looking at the mound of textbooks, papers, and assorted junk. “C’mon on with it now,” she prompts him, giving him a light push on the shoulder, and he sighs dramatically before setting to the task at hand.

As Cam walks off, Bernie's left to muse somewhat on how happy she is to have such a good relationship with her son. He's been staying with her for a couple of days, getting some insight for Part B of the MRCS examination he’ll be taking soon, and has borne even the punishingly tough studying schedule she's been pushing upon him with grace. 5 years ago, when she split from Marcus, Bernie never thought she'd be this close to him. Just 19, and only recently moved out to attend medical school, the news that his parents were splitting up—not to mention splitting up because of his mother’s discovery of her latent lesbianism—hadn't been easy to take. He had borne it slightly better than Charlotte, who'd been just 16 and still lived at home, but it wasn't pretty by any means. Months had followed, first filled with silence as Bernie tried to muster up the courage to make contact, and later of Bernie doing her best to mend the bridges between them. It didn’t go well at first, communication is not Bernie’s strong suit after all, but they muddled through, eventually dealing not only with Bernie’s new-found identity crisis but also with her lack of presence when they were younger.

They're better now. As are she and Charlotte. Much better. Bernie has almost gotten to the point where she feels she no longer needs to constantly apologise for the past and she's very much enjoying the chance to get to know the adults her children are swiftly growing into. Fine adults, at that, if she does say so herself. It's gratifying to know she hasn't mucked everything up.

The sound of the oven timer going off breaks her out of her thoughts, and then she's too consumed by the juggling act of pulling tarts out of the oven while she puts the finishing touches on supper to dwell more on thoughts of the past. After supper Cam retires to the guest room, begging off of socializing with his mother any longer with the excuse of studying needing to be done. That leaves Bernie to the sofa, the book she's part way through, and the unfinished bottle of white wine in her fridge. The book is Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Bernie is reading through carefully, pencil in hand as she makes notations of recipe ideas on the margins or circles key bits of the methods that are new to her. Her mind, however, keeps drifting back to her earlier conversation with Cam. The Great British Bake Off, eh? Bernie's seen every season, of course, who in Britain hasn't? She thoroughly enjoys watching the bakers in the tent, prefers the pleasant pacing and camaraderie to other more antagonistic cooking competitions. But her? Apply for the show? She's barely more than a novice at all his stuff. Sure, when the kids were young she'd occasionally put together a batch of cookies or a tray bake when she was on leave, but it was with pre-packaged mixes as often as not and she never really thought much of it all. She had been just as likely to not waste the effort and simply upend a box of pastries from Waitrose into a basket and call it done. She was always jealous of the other mothers, the ones who seemed to always have a fresh batch of bread coming out of the oven, who darned their children’s socks, who never left laundry hanging around longer than was strictly necessary, who were always ready with the right thing to say and do. The women who made motherhood, everything that Bernie struggled with so much, look effortless. But beyond that fruitless yearning to be a perfect mother—and despite a fair amount of introspection and not inconsiderable amounts of therapy she has never been able to quite figure out if that desire was Marcus’, society’s, or her own—baking never really entered her consciousness.

Then the accident happened. Bernie is very aware of how close she came to dying. Too aware some might say, hence the therapy. Trapped under a rolled Humvee for hours before she was rescued, and with serious injuries to both her spine and heart, her experience told her that she was unlikely to make it out alive. But they found her, dragged her out, patched her up, and then strapped her to a backboard and flew her to London to get the best medical care in the country.

The damage was extensive, of that she is sure, Bernie doesn’t know if she would've been successful with a patient in the same situation and Bernie is one of the best. With the injury to her heart came a cocktail of meds and loads of bed rest, and with the spinal trauma came what was thankfully very temporary paralysis and lingering weakness. She was stuck in bed for weeks, in hospital going stir crazy, and even once she could move she couldn't go very far. Her children came to see her occasionally, but they were busy people with their own lives and Bernie refused to be a burden on them. With no partner or spouse to keep her company she was left to subsist on what hospital drama du jour she could glean from the nurses and whatever else she could find to entertain herself.

Telly had never really interested Bernie, and one can only watch so many awful daytime shows before one goes mad, so she turned to books. Ebooks meant she wasn’t stuck with the meagre options the hospital had on offer and with all the variety of the internet at her fingertips she found, oddly enough, that it was cookbooks she liked reading the most. They required very little mental effort on her part: she didn't have to remember anyone's names or try to figure out why they were doing this or feeling that. She could pick one up, turn to any page, and let her eyes scan over ingredient lists, be lulled by the gentle rhythm of instructions to julienne this and fold in that. She found a couple with thick sections in the front that contained a litany of information about what recipes really meant when they asked for something. Bernie had previously thought there was only one way to chop up an ingredient, one way to stir the contents of a pot, she soon learned she could not have been more wrong.

When they released her from hospital she went back to her tiny little flat in London—the one she had bought post-divorce, that had acted more as a storage closet than anything else—and found herself more ambulatory and able but still not back to her usual self. She was on medical leave from the RAMC, was told she should expect to be so for months, and so she cast about for some sort of hobby to entertain her idle mind. Knitting, crocheting, and similar crafty activities were ruled out immediately—Bernie had always been horribly lacking in the artistic department—plants were not something she either enjoyed or excelled at, and she figured getting an animal was a supremely stupid idea. So, figuring she might as well put all of the knowledge she had absorbed to good use, she decided to start baking. It was calming, she found, the idea that you could diligently follow the instructions and be assured of a good result, with little personal skill or artistry involved. She learned that some things were less forgiving (cakes) and others more so (breads). She baked more and more the stronger she got and the more she tried the more adventurous she became.

She started working out a little, too, getting back into shape for active duty, on top of the physical therapy she had started for the temporary paralysis, and was happily surprised to find that kneading and mixing had kept up more arm strength than expected. All of this: the hobby, the physical therapy, and the exercising, she did with the expectation that her time in London was temporary, that she would be headed back to Afghanistan as soon as she was able. That was not what ended up happening.

In the end, she stayed home for the simplest reason in the world: her kids wanted her to. It was Cam who brought it up—months later she learned he had lost a coin toss—who stood in the kitchen and watched her knead bread, dug his hands deep in his pockets and stared intently at the ground, opened his mouth a couple of times before he was able to verbalise what he was thinking; more Bernie's child than either of them would easily admit.

“You don't want me to go back.” She didn't stop kneading as she spoke, kept her eyes on the dough instead of her son.

“That's—I want you to be happy, mum. Lottie and I both do. I know that the RAMC makes you happy and I know it's selfish to want you to stay here, but…” he sighed, took a deep breath, tried again. “I can't help but think of what a close call this was. I don't think you'd get as lucky a second time.”

“And if I do go back?” She still didn’t look at him, wondered if this was an ultimatum like the ones Marcus had tried to give her so many times.

“Then I'll write you letters and make sure I'm free for your satellite calls and pick you up from the airport when you come home on leave. And Lottie will too. Like I said Mum, we want you to be happy.”

“Okay,” she said. She was so grateful that he wasn't going to guilt her into staying: would not follow his father’s example of using contact as a bargaining chip to get his way. “I'll think about it.”

They left it at that, moved onto other items of conversation as Bernie's bread proofed and baked. But when Bernie said goodbye to her son that night, she hugged him tight, whispered in his ear how much she loved him, how sorry she was that she wasn't better at saying it. And after he was gone, fresh loaf of bread in his hands, Bernie thought about his words. She considered his point for a long time, considered what it would mean to leave the army, what it would mean to stay. She no longer needed the RAMC like she had needed it when she was younger, when she was still married. Then it had been her lifeline, the one thing that allowed her to keep her marriage alive, as awful as that might sound. And at that point there was no Alex anymore, no dangerous, heady love affair to make her feel like she was only alive in the desert. Her work was tough and dangerous and she wasn't as young as she used to be. So, after much deliberation, Bernie made a decision she never expected to make, she decided to leave the army.

Adapting to civilian life wasn't easy. She did sometimes think that it was much easier than it would have been with Marcus. There was no one to tell her that she was doing everything wrong, nobody's expectations to live up to. She felt a little guilty at that, still does whenever she feels such unfettered glee at being divorced. People are supposed to regret leaving their spouse, she thinks. Unless it's really bad, of course, and she and Marcus were never really bad. People are supposed to mourn the loss of their relationship, yearn for the partnership they once had. Bernie just feels free. She felt a little bit free when she resigned her commission, too. A little groundless to be fair, but hopeful, limitless. She saw her children more and baked more and started to think about finding a job. She looked around London, then cast her gaze a little wider, started to really consider what she wanted. In the end she chose to locum for the NHS: felt that working for a few weeks or months all over the country suited her very well.

She’s been doing that ever since, the locum work, and she really likes it. She gets to travel, gets to see how different places practice medicine all over the country. She thinks she might work somewhere and decide to apply there for a full-time position, but until then it affords her freedom, keeps her far from stagnation, and give her restlessness an outlet.

She's in London right now, working at King’s College Hospital and occasionally threatening to end up at New Green so Cam can get a taste of working with his mum. She’ll be here for a good few months still, then spend the better part of her summer in Manchester covering for an ED doc’s leave before moving on elsewhere—still undecided. And through all these positions, she's still been baking. What began as a hobby to keep herself occupied has become what some might call an obsession. She reads cookbooks and recipe sites constantly, and wherever she stays she makes sure there's at least a semi decent kitchen to work in. She tests out new recipes and perfects old ones and her kids are now used to leaving with a bag full of baked goods every time they visit her. She becomes well known at the hospitals she works at too for bringing in excess cakes and biscuits. She thinks her colleagues probably find her a bit strange: she is reserved and aloof, arrogant to many she’s sure, wholly focuses on her work, makes no effort to ingratiate herself with her fellow doctors, and yet plies them all with food on a regular basis.

She doesn't care what they think of her. She doesn't dislike the people she works with, most of the time, but she also feels no desire to befriend any of them. It's probably pathetic, her lonely little life with no friends and no partner, but it suits her just fine. Not that she would mind a friend, but she feels so rusty in the realm of human interaction. What do people even talk to each other anymore? All Bernie cares about these days are surgery and food.

Maybe she will apply for Bake Off, she thinks. Maybe she'll make it through to the first round of interviews and she'll make a friend there, at least they would have a love of baking in common. She snorts at that thought. Other surgeons don't even really like her, the general public isn't likely to look on her more kindly.


Serena spends a lot of time looking at the webpage before she mentions it to anyone else. She keeps it up in a separate window on her work desktop, has it permanently open in her phone’s web browser as well. She feels foolish, considering it, feels ridiculous when she thinks that she could have even half a shot. Sure, everyone says ‘you should do Bake Off’ when they eat her food, but that's just what people say. It doesn't mean anything. It certainly doesn't mean that she's actually good enough to make it.

Still, she considers it. She doesn't talk about it with other people as she’s rather afraid they'll laugh in her face. She can't help thinking of her mother, doubtless she would think it an absurd flight of fancy. It was with Adrienne that Serena first learned to bake. For as long as she can remember, Serena was fascinated with the magic her mother wrought in the kitchen. She can recall peeking over the counter, reaching out for anything she could touch. And Adrienne shared well with her daughter in that space, would let Serena mix and knead and help in whatever other way she was able. In a youth where Serena often felt in an endless Sisyphean effort to earn her mother’s approval, the kitchen was the one place where the strains of their relationship were eased.

Serena loves baking still. She loves the process of it all, finds it comforting and enjoyable. The smells, the tastes, the artistry of it all are dear to her heart. Serena never considered herself artistic, had long ago made peace with the fact that she was strictly governed by the left side of her brain, but it’s somehow different when her canvas is made of buttercream or ganache. In the kitchen she is more delicate and creative than she is anywhere else save for theatre. She’s geeky enough to like the science behind it all, too. She likes that if you heat chocolate to the right temperature it becomes a magically workable shiny substance, likes knowing why you need both sugar and salt in a loaf of bread (the former to feed the yeast, the latter to control it), loves that once you figure out the ratio of flour to water to leavening agents to fat you are no longer held to any particular recipe: anything made with the correct ratios will work. She bakes when she’s happy and when she’s bored and when she’s stressed and when she’s angry. After she left Edward she pictured his face every time she punched down her dough for years. She bakes when she’s sad, too. When her mother died she took a week off work, spent the entire week baking and crying. Between flour and yeast and tears she began the long and difficult process of learning just who she was in the world when she was no longer Adrienne McKinnie’s daughter.

When Serena first learned she was going to have a child she dreamed of teaching her child to cook and bake, to love the craft as much as she did. But Elinor was never interested in any of it, preferred other pursuits, and as her daughter grew Serena found she bore more of her mother’s faults than she had hoped. Someway somehow she was not the loving maternal figure she had told herself she would be in her teen years. Ellie preferred her indulgent father on all accounts and Serena floundered with the challenge of doling out warmth and discipline in equal quantities. Perhaps that was what brought them to their current situation. Perhaps if she had managed warmth outside of the kitchen as well as she did inside of it Elinor wouldn't have turned to partying and rampant narcotics abuse.

It was almost a year ago now, but Serena remembers it like it was yesterday: the call that woke her up at 3 am, driving to the address that Elinor had managed to give her, her hands gripping the steering wheel in terror. She found her only daughter in a rundown house filled with the evidence of a massive party, a complete mess and high out of her mind. It took a fair amount of effort for Serena to bite her lip on everything she wanted to say, to instead wrap her daughter in a tight hug and bundle her off home. She gleaned enough from Elinor’s disjointed speech to learn that Edward and his absurd wife knew about this, or some of it at least, and keeping her jaw clenched on everything she wanted to say then was an incredible effort in self-control. She made sure Elinor was safely in bed and asleep before driving to Edward’s house and banging her fist against the front door until she roused him.

She burst into his house, read him the riot act for keeping this from her, told him he wasn't allowed to see her daughter until she said so, considered killing him right there but thought the better of it—Elinor needed her and, frankly, Edward wasn’t worth prison. After she had said everything she needed to say, she drove home, forwent sleeping in favour of sitting up at her computer and looking up rehab facilities, decided right then and there that she would do everything in her power to turn her daughter’s life around, so help her god.

Now Ellie is back home with her, keeping a somewhat unsteady peace with Jason, and working to pay off the immense debt she had racked up. Serena can't say she's at all pleased with the circumstances that brought Ellie back under her roof, but it has been rather nicer than she would have thought. Perhaps it's borne of the vulnerability of Ellie calling her in such a time of great need, but Serena feels closer to her daughter than she ever has. Elinor is still Elinor however, flighty and dismissive and prone to jumping into actions and words without thinking. She was incredibly unhappy to find out she would be sharing her mother’s home with her cousin when she returned from rehab. Serena is grateful that Jason is not the type to be easily offended by idle comments: Ellie was less than pleasant to him at first. She is getting better though. Serena is proud that she is learning and growing from her situation: as far as she's concerned the only worse thing than having a child in this sort of mess would be if they wilfully ignored any chance to get better. Well, obviously the worst of all would be… But that doesn’t bear thinking about.

That all is yet another consideration: should she be taking on something as massive as Bake Off (should she be chosen of course) with Ellie still recovering and with Jason's intense need for a predictable routine? Logic says no. Still she wants it. She wants the chance at least to try this. It's entirely selfish and she can't think of the last thing she did entirely for herself. She's not sure that's a good enough reason.

It's with a fair amount of trepidation that she brings the subject up at dinner one night. She's already started filling out the form and she knows she needs to deal with it sooner rather than later. She makes sure there's a glass of Shiraz beside her—and a bottle not much further—before she says anything.

“I wanted to get your opinions on something,” she starts. “Both of you. It's, well it's something I've kind of already started doing… But I’ll stop if either of you have any objections.”

“You're dating someone!” Elinor exclaims immediately.

“Are you?” Jason asks, staring across the table at her in consternation.

“No!” She takes a gulp of wine and glares a little at her children. “No, I am most certainly not.”

“Why not? I'm sure you have options,” says Elinor. As though someone must be kind enough to take pity and agree to date her poor agèd mother. “Ooh! What about that cardio doc? The one with the piercing blue eyes.”

“Oliver Valentine? Heavens no! I'm old enough to be his mother.”

“The neuro guy then.”

“Guy Self? God that's even worse.”

“What about Robbie?” Jason butts in. “Robbie the Bobbie? Nurse Lou says you were going to move in together.”

Serena thinks to herself that Lou needs to keep her mouth shut.

“What?” Elinor spins in her chair to look at Serena. “You never told me about that!”

“I—” she breaks off instead of giving a reply. “This is not the point! I’m not going to date anyone.”

“Why did you bring it up then?” Jason asks.

“I didn’t! Bloody hell. I’m thinking of applying to the Great British Bake Off. That’s what I wanted to ask you both about.”

They both stare at her for a couple of seconds and Serena deeply considers backpedalling immediately. Obviously, this was just a foolish flight of fancy that she should abandon post-haste.

“Well I think that sounds great,” Elinor says finally.

“Oh. Do—do you?”

“Yeah Mum. You love baking and if you want to do it then go for it.” Elinor’s words are much sweeter than Serena expected. “I mean loads of people apply so you probably won’t get in anyway, but you might as well try.” Ah, yes. That sounds more like her daughter.

“Right. Thanks.”

“She’s right,” Jason adds slowly. “You’re not very likely to get in.”

“Loving the vote of confidence from both of you.”

“If you apply are you going to have to bake all sorts of new things?” Jason asks.

“Yes, I suppose I will,” she replies.

“Well as long as I get to taste them then I suppose that’s okay,” he decrees.

“You can be my official taste tester,” Serena replies with an indulgent smile.

“Hey!” Elinor objects, never one to be left out.

“You can both be my official taste testers.”

They speak a little further about it, about what the application process will be like, about what kind of schedule she would be keeping if she were to make the show. She promises Jason that she will keep him abreast of any schedule changes with as much warning as possible. Thinks, not for the first time, that his need for a completely rigid schedule is probably good for her and especially good for Ellie.

She sits at the kitchen table and watches the two of them do the after supper clean up together while she has another glass of wine. They work well together, now at least, loading the dishwasher with the comfortable rhythm of a well-practiced routine. Serena’s glad for this spirit of cooperation, seen not just in this but in most things in the house. They fight of course, all three of them do in different ways, but they seem to be getting along better now. She loves them both, loves Jason as though he’s her own, and she desperately wants them both to be happy. Also, it’s a lot more enjoyable living in a house where two of the inhabitants aren’t locked in an endless war.

After the kitchen is clean and Elinor and Jason have left (one upstairs to read, the other to the sitting room to watch his shows) Serena grabs her recipe boxes and books, tops up her glass of wine, and turns the ancient kitchen radio on low. With the strains of BBC Radio 3 crackling gently through the air, just slightly louder than the muffled sound of whatever Jason’s watching coming from the other room, and the warm evening sun streaming in through the windows, Serena opens her oldest cookbook and lets her fingers trace the pages. The binding is falling to pieces on Florence White’s Good Things in England and the pages are well speckled with various ancient spills and splatters. It’s less of a practical cookbook now, more of a historical document. It was her grandmother’s once, a prized possession for sure, and Serena has read it cover to cover many a time. She flips slowly through the recipes, lets her mind wander with ideas as she does so, sees annotations on different recipes in three different hands (her grandmother’s, her mother’s, and her own), feels all that bit closer to the women of her family who came before her. After that she reaches for her Joy of Cooking, a giant tome she bought when attending Harvard and that has served her well ever since. She flips through her recipe cards next, all 3 boxes of them organised to a T. As she reads over recipes, from tried and true to never tested she really considers the decision she is about to make.

Serena takes the idea of submitting an application very seriously, even though she knows her chances of making onto the show are slim. To do this would be to open up what has been, until now, a very private part of her life. She doesn’t often talk to people about her baking, beyond the fact that she’ll bring the excess into work, it’s something that has always been very specifically hers. Apart from her mother, Serena never bakes with anyone. She remembers early on in their relationship Edward had wanted to be involved, wanted to be a part of everything in her life including her baking. But she shooed him out of her kitchen, didn’t want to open up that part of her to his perusal. She wonders if that was a sign, maybe, that she shouldn’t have married him. Perhaps had he been a better man (or a better man for her) she would have felt just fine letting him join her in her process. But she never did. And she’s never shared it with anyone else she’s dated since. Not that that list is very long. Neither Jason nor Elinor have showed much interest in joining her in the kitchen, and they are the only ones she’s ever wanted to have there.

To do Bake Off would be to open up a little more, to share this passion she’s had her whole life, not just with those around her but with everyone.

It terrifies and excites her in equal measure.

As her fingers flick through recipe after recipe she ends up on one she hasn’t made in a very long time: a classic lemon drizzle cake. She can remember making it with her mother, thinks it may be one of the first things they ever baked together. And there it is: that heedless desire, itching in her fingertips, to make something. To bring a bunch of ingredients together and create magic. She checks the clock, she’s still got time. She stands, puts away the books and cards she’s not using, then places the recipe in the little holder that has a permanent place on her counter.

She probably doesn’t even need the recipe for this one, if she really thinks about it, but it has been a good while since she last made it and she likes the fact that with a recipe in front of her mind is free to wander more. She almost forgets to preheat the oven, probably because it’s not actually in the directions, there’s simply a little scribbled ‘180’ in one of the corners of the card, thinks to herself that she’s not off to the best start if she’s having trouble remembering to do that. She creams together the butter and sugar first, grateful that she always leaves a pound of butter out on the counter for just this purpose, watches as the two components combine and create a delightfully fluffy result. She adds the eggs, one at a time, then the other ingredients (self-raising flour, baking powder, lemon zest), sifting in the dry ingredients. She imagines herself in that renowned white tent as she does so. Would she be calm? Jittery? Would she be the one who forgets a crucial ingredient and has to start again, or one of the many nervously knelt in front of their ovens praying that their bakes will do well?

She likes to think she’d be good at it, that being used to performing emergency surgery might give her an edge when it comes to nerves. But really, who knows? She greases her tin next, sprinkles it with flour and then knocks it about so there’s a fine coating of powder over the whole thing. She scrapes the contents of the bowl into the tin, places it in the oven, and smiles in satisfaction at a job well done. She pours the rest of the wine bottle into her glass (there wasn’t much) and drinks it slowly as she waits for her cake to bake.

When it’s done, Serena pulls the cake from the oven, gives it a few minutes to rest, then turns it out onto a cooling rack, drizzles it all over with sweet citrusy drizzle and looks at it critically. It’s gorgeous, really. Perfectly baked. She waits a couple more minutes and then cuts herself a piece and oh yes, that’s the ticket right there. Light sponge, great texture, soaked in delicious syrup, melting in her mouth, sweetness cut just the right amount with the sharp lemon flavour. She doesn’t know if she’s ever made one better.

If she can bake this well during the application process she just might make it onto the show.