In my former life as a journalist, I had this internal switch that I turned on each time I stepped into an interview to profile a personality. In an instant, I’d become chatty, full of questions, thoroughly interested, and dripping with charm and good manners. It was all necessary if you are to probe the inner psyche of a complete stranger.
But 15 years of practice couldn’t obscure this fact: I was, and always will be, an introvert. I’m incurably shy when it comes to meeting new people, and I will always need a legitimate licence — such as a journalist’s badge — before I dare poke a toe into someone’s private life.
But, as I happily found out last week when I delivered my first cake, my second career can also usher me into strangers’ lives — this time, no charm offensive needed.
The venue was a gleaming, immaculately renovated studio apartment in the heart of CBD, and the occasion was a surprise birthday party for a girl named C. As I assembled the cake on the swanky kitchen countertop, I could hear the whirl of excitement all around. Friends chatted, new people were introduced, music played, drinks circulated.
“It’s like we can gatecrash parties all the time now,” I whispered excitedly to husband Z, who was my co-deliveryman. But instead of having to do the dreaded small talk, I was left alone to do my work. I was invisible, but privy to all that was going on. A bit like a taxi-driver, I thought.
I was curious about the birthday girl, whom we didn’t meet because we had to leave before she arrived. Clearly, she was very well-loved. She is a hobbyist painter and had drawn many paintings for her friends over the years. So as a surprise for her birthday, her friends gathered all the paintings she had given away and displayed them at the party as like an art exhibition. There were canapes, uniformed waitresses and, of course, a three-tier cake made by me.
The cake was designed to hopefully appeal to the bubbly, artsy girl. The three square tiers were stacked off-centre, and each layer was decorated with different sugarpaste motifs in bright, happy colours.
But the evening ended on a sour note for me. Halfway through my set-up, Z poked me in the ribs and pointed at the countertop. After turning the cakestand round and round so I could coax the chocolate fondant into shape, I had left ugly streaks on the spotless stainless steel surface. I placed a rag under the cakestand and tried rubbing away the scratches, but it was too late. They were permanent.
No words could describe how gutted I felt. If someone had done that to my kitchen countertop, I’d be pissed. But the homeowner was totally gracious about it. And to remedy the situation, I have sent my contractor over to polish down the damage.
The repair job will cost me the price of the cake and then some. So this is one hard, expensive lesson learnt. You can bet that every time I go on a new job from now on, I will not need that internal switch. I will bloody need a rag.