On Saturday I am helping at the school cake sale. This is a big deal. For the past five years I have ignored the call for volunteers, as it is only in recent weeks that I felt completely recovered from the first and only time I stood behind a stall. It was with a different school, in a different town and seemed like a great idea. My son had just begun Junior Infants and it made sense to offer to help on the cake stall – I could get to know some other mothers and maybe hear a bit of gossip about school politics. Anyway it was only two hours, how bad could it be?
I arrived at nine on a Saturday morning with the three cakes I made myself, each neatly labelled “Bourneville layer cake”.(I thought this a nice touch and it made up somewhat for their flatness.) As instructed I found the stall and made myself known to the three or four ladies there. No one seemed to be “in charge” and yet everyone was “busy”. Each was trying to out-busy the next. It was a battle of the industrious. After saying hello and being told that Helen would be here soon and would know “what to do with me” I stood in front of the tables and began slowly sidling around to the selling side. Then, with a very open, helpful look on my face I contemplated the piles of biscuit tins on the floor wondering whether to put the contents on plates ready for selling or to just stand there in a hesitant way. I chose the latter, fear of opening the wrong tin paralysing me. Then Helen arrived. She smiled, gave me a money belt and said cheerfully that we would be “swamped!”. I asked all my cake sale related questions which were waiting in a queue in my head and she said yes, the fairy cakes are popular; yes people usually want their tins back. Then she disappeared to do more organising elsewhere. The busy ladies started taking cling film off selected plates and lids off certain Tupperware containers. There seemed to be a pattern as to what baked goods were sold at what time so I left them to it and stood looking kind, doing my utmost to appear at ease. After offering a few opening conversational gambits to my fellow saleswomen I discovered
- Not only were all their children older than mine, but they were in secondary school! There went my theory of making a few pals to talk to at the school gates.
- I had absolutely nothing in common with these women except that I too did not want to stand behind the table looking useless.
One lady, Maureen, was in charge of pricing. She picked up a Bourneville layer cake, squinted at it and said “Bourneville layer cake?” in a tone that was definitely not full of awe. She wrote €1.50 on three labels and applied them to my cakes. Then she wrote €5 on another label and put it another (not much bigger) cake. I immediately had an out of body experience and saw myself saying, “I made those” and gesturing to my cakes. My voice broke like teenagers and came out half mumble half squeak. I saw Maureen look at me over her glasses and continue as if I hadn’t spoken, which I dearly wished was the case.
When my husband arrived with the children the feeling of relief was so massive I had to restrain myself from running into his arms, crying. He bought one of my cakes, I made my excuses, the kids had a look at the toys stall and we walked home. Never again, I said, never, never again.
Until now. Its only two hours. How bad can it be?