Noun: inability to do something successfully
Synonyms: ineptitude, ineptness, inability, lack of ability, incapability, incapacity, lack of skill, lack of proficiency, amateurishness, inexpertness, clumsiness, ineffectiveness, inadequacy, deficiency, inefficiency, ineffectuality, ineffectualness, insufficiency.
Well, that pretty much sums up our attempts to deliver a longstanding colleague into a splendid retirement by providing him with some home-baked memories of his youth; a competitive bake-off that was themed on his Geordie roots. We had borrowed the idea from an earlier attempt to broaden the social horizons within our workplace. The highlight of our previous gatherings was a ‘Traybake of the Month’ competition in which anyone could offer-up their version of a particular pastry which was then tasted and judged by all. The entries were usually terrific with only an occasional misfire, but that was then.
This is now …
Boss: “We could have a Geordie-themed bake-off before his retirement lunch. And he can be the judge!”
So that was that, a one-off ‘Geordie Traybake of the Month’ competition was conceived. We hit an immediate barrier. Despite trawling the internet and contacting various Geordie’s that we knew, we could only come up with two non-savoury home-bakes that were specifically linked to England’s northeast: Stottie cake (a kind of loaf) and singin’ hinnies (a sort of griddle scone). I ‘bagged’ the singin’ hinnies for my entry and left the others to their own devices and what ingenuity they showed.
The Hairy Bikers’ chocolate cake was a half-good idea, but only half-good insofar as one of the biker duo actually hails from England’s northwest (Cumbria in fact, like me) and couldn’t possibly be considered a Geordie. I thought about submitting a protest and seeking the cake’s disqualification as ‘not entirely Newcastle’, but suspected that it would be in vain as my boss was cunning enough to present only half the cake anyway, and she could always argue that she had brought along the Newcastle fraction and not the Cumbrian bit which she considered worthy only to be trashed. In truth, the cake had apparently self-destructed after being filled with a poorly conceived butter icing and only half could be salvaged.
The next entry was a straightforward iced sponge cake; its northeast credentials satisfied by a customised rice-paper photograph of Cheryl Cole as a topping. I thought a trick was missed by using the topper to make a Geordie cake; representing it as a Geordie tart would have been funnier, but the cake certainly had more taste than the muse that inspired its decoration. Nevertheless, it also had its problems. That the topper wished its recipient ‘Happy Birthday’ rather than ‘Happy Retirement’ could be overlooked, but the teensiest issue remained – it was not baked by one of us, but by a ‘ringer’; a surrogate maître pâtissier. If it had won then a protest would have been inevitable.
An engaging bit of lateral thinking led to the third competitor’s entry. Nixed by the lack of native Geordie traybakes, he had discovered a chocolate brownie recipe that included Newcastle Brown Ale as an ingredient. Inspirational stuff! Nevertheless, if one considers a published and tested recipe to comprise a sort of standard operating procedure to produce traybakes, then, as the experienced and professional quality assurance expert that he is, how could he confuse degrees Fahrenheit with degrees Celsius and bake his brownies at 275°C? And why did they not burn to a cinder? It turns out that his day may have been saved by his partner’s suggestion that his oven temperature was a tad high. So, I ask myself, where is the fairness in our traybake competition when someone making chocolate brownies gets outside help, and not just any outside help, but assistance from a person that coincidentally just happens to be a chocolate brownie expert herself? Sadly for my hopes of victory they tasted particularly fine and included a dob of caramel within them; sweet and gooey is always a winning combination.
Finally, my singin’ hinnies. Twenty minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to cook. I could make double the dough and use half of it for a practice run and the other half to knock out a dozen expertly-crafted Geordie-based griddle scones to secure a sweet victory. If only. Several hours later my singing hinnies comprised a soloist not a choir. A single, solitary artiste. The rest had been under-cooked, over-cooked, unevenly cooked or simply crumbled to nothing on the griddle. (I’m still struggling to understand what kind of recipe includes lard as half of the fat in the dough and then calls for the heated griddle to be smeared with even more lard to cook the damn things). At the tasting, ‘Boss’ thought the flavour of my sole surviving hinny evoked bubble and squeak, an easy mistake to make as ‘bubble’ is fried in pure lard and my hinny tasted of nothing else either. (I should add a mea culpa – when the first of my hinnies crumbled on the griddle, I thought it wise to add a bit more lard to the remaining dough to make it bind better!). Clearly I was not going to be a contender, but if a chap is going to fail, he may as well fail magnificently.
The Brown Ale Brownies won and rightly so, but I like to think the hilarity invoked by the taste of my singing hinny and the story-telling of the ineptitude of all our bakers was the real prize and one that was shared across the board. Self-detonating chocolate cakes, surrogate bakers, appalling quality control and lard. Oh god, the lard!
Postscript: Singin’ hinnies are so named because of the squealing sound that they are supposed to make when being cooked on the griddle. None of mine ‘sang’ which should have set the alarm bells ringing, but the experience did inspire a limerick which will be added to my ‘Little Book of Bollocks’, so not all was lost:
I was hoping I’d be able to bring
A traybake that was fit for a king.
‘Cos it’s not every day
That a chum goes away,
But my hinnies? They just wouldn’t sing!