When friends, family and neighbours found out last year that we were planning to move from London to a teeny-tiny village in east Kent, the most common reaction we elicited was one of a dreamy wistfulness - along the lines of ‘I don’t blame you – I’d love to leave London’; or ‘I’d love to live in the countryside’; or words to that sort of effect. Of course, there were contrasting views, too, such as ‘I could never leave London’, or ‘I’m a city girl/boy through and through’, and ‘I could never live in the country – I hate spiders’ (fair point).
To be honest, we were looking for the best of both worlds – a home in the country, for a bit of peace and quiet in our daily lives (police sirens screaming past our front door at all hours in SW12 didn’t always do it for us), but fast and ready access to London for when our hankering for the bright lights gets the better of us. Thank you, high-speed rail link.
With our rose-tinted specs determinedly on, we also hoped to find a sense of community, a commitment to the area – where we could feel a part of ‘something’, and where folk pull together for the common good. Just like in the olden golden days. Obviously you can find that in parts of London, too, but it certainly wasn’t happening where we lived.
On Saturday, we witnessed the most brilliant illustration so far of precisely that community and commitment in action.
Our local primary school needs a new playground surface. The grand sum of £20,000 is required to get the job done – money that local and central government simply aren’t willing or able to spend.
Enter Paul Hollywood – a local, for one thing, and celebrated baker for another – and a Big Idea. What if the school held a mini-version of the Great British Bake Off to raise the money? (For those of you who missed it [why? how? where on earth were you?], GBBO was the televised baking competition which entertained us over several weeks last year, and which proclaimed the lovely food blogger and Twitterer, Edd Kimber, as the worthy winner.)
A plan was hatched in the form of said bake-off. Money would be generated by charging everyone a small fee to enter their baked goodies, and an entrance fee to be charged on the day to anyone wanting to come and see and eat cake. Word was circulated around the neighbouring villages. Glittering prizes were promised. Stellar judges were lined up: not only the dashing Mr Hollywood (aka the Silver Fox)...
Dashing. Silver. Foxy.
... but also his fellow judge on GBBO, the evergreen Mary Berry*, AND the winner of Masterchef 2010, the gawjuss melty-eyed Dhruv Baker, and, er, Rufus Hound.
Judging. It's tough work, honestly.
But it was also a huge gamble. Would the mighty reputations of the judges positively scare people off? And would people even come?
Stupid questions. The bakers of east Kent, including the children, baked like their lives depended on it.
The children's (under-12s) competition. Mighty impressive.
Large cakes, small cakes, cookies, savoury bakes and bread crowded the massive trestle tables.
And the locals turned out in their hundreds. For most of the time, it was too packed even to move. The judges got going...
Oh, the scrutiny, the tension.
... while never in my life have I seen so much cake eaten in one place. And not just by the judges (whose task wasn’t necessarily the dream gig you might imagine, viz. Dhruv: “it was a dream to start with but Rufus and I were not eating professional amounts (like Mary) and were stuffed pretty quickly!”).
Dhruv and Rufus deep in discussion. R: 'Can you eat any more?' D: 'Please don't make me.'
The paying public also played its part with suitable gusto, devouring those cakes removed from display as soon as they were deemed not to have made the final ‘top 20’ (for another money-raising bargainous charge of £1 per stomach-busting slice). Everywhere I looked, there were plates piled high with carb goodness, along with chunky mugs of tea, being taken back to friends and family seated around little kiddy-sized tables.
So many cakes, so much happy munching, so many smiley, happy faces (sugar highs, don’t knock ‘em). And if we weren’t contributing enough by eating cake, more money was being prised from our pockets in the form of side attractions (really? Dhruv needs a side attraction?) which included raffles, ‘name the bear’ and ‘guess the weight of the cake’ competitions, and stalls selling homeware and cookery books.
But, like all good things, the feeding frenzy - sorry, jollity - had to end some time. There’s only so much cake folk can eat in an afternoon, after all.
Dhruv. Eating 'non-professional amounts'. Struggling. Eh, Dhruv?
Late into the afternoon, final decisions were made, prizes announced, speeches made, and thanks went out to all involved. Everyone had pulled together. Everyone had a great time. The school will get its playground, and that, in turn, will help ensure that families with children will still want to come and live here, and that the villages and their communities live on.
And that is exactly what we moved to the area for. The quality of cake baking around here has absolutely nothing to do with it, honest.
*fellow blogger, MiMi (also @meemalee), asked me the following question on Twitter: “Does she look as much like Nicholas Parsons in real life as she does on the telly?” I couldn’t possibly comment, except to say yes. Yes, she does. Or is it the other way around?