She swore at the prime minister who had just announced a covid lockdown.
Like many people she’d been obsessed with the covid data and knew that lockdown made sense, but why couldn’t he have waited for a week. She started her new job on Monday and she hadn’t even met her work colleagues. How was she expected to work from home when she had no idea what she was doing or how to do it remotely?
At least her boss was understanding. She basically told Pippa to take it easy; join the video conference meetings and read up on the company website. They’d send her the IT equipment she needed. Until that arrived she could take the time to get herself settled in her new home.
She’d been so excited to move to out of her parents’ home and take up her new job. It was her first time living outside of London, first time renting a flat and first time she had ever lived on her own. Lockdown hadn’t been part of the plan. She couldn’t really get to know her new city when nothing was open.
The office laptop arrived quickly as the company already had home based workers even before covid made it essential. Logging in was easy as everything had been tried and tested by others before her. The problem was that having logged in she didn’t know what she was supposed to do. She’d not only missed the office tour but also the induction and training. Once again her manager told her not to worry and to do what she could. They’d organise remote training and she’d soon be up to speed.
The training never happened. Instead Pippa was put on furlough. As the manager explained, it made sense for her to be furloughed as currently she was the least productive member of the team.
Pippa’s friends were jealous of her getting paid for doing nothing. It wasn’t as good as they imagined, not when she was in a strange city and only allowed out to exercise. She considered going home but she’d have to pay for the flat whether she lived in it or not, and it would feel like a failure going back to her parents.
She filled her time with computer games, scrolling through endless social media and obsessing over the covid data. When lockdown eased things should have improved. But that was the moment it really hit her. She went for a walk every day and managed to say good morning many times, but the only people she spoke to for more than ten seconds were ones delivering her shopping.
She was bored with computer games and couldn’t pester her friends with more video conference calls. That’s when the overripe bananas forced her to start baking. That first banana loaf came out really well. But Pippa didn’t post a picture – she’d seen too many on social media already and didn’t want to join the banana bread trend.
The shops started to reopen and in a charity shop she found a book on cake baking. It was slim with just twenty recipes. It took her less than a week to make every cake and apart from the pumpkin roll they tasted lovely.
She looked around her kitchen and wondered what to do. Monday’s cakes were stale, Tuesday’s were not great, but the rest of them were still good to eat. She couldn’t bring herself to bin them but she couldn’t eat more – she was sure she had put on several pounds already.
She picked up the lemon drizzle cake and took it to the door of her downstairs neighbour. An old woman answered and was so insistent that Pippa broke covid rules to share cake over a cup of tea.
The next neighbour she met was the woman from upstairs. She looked frazzled by home schooling and confined children. The chocolate brownie cake almost had her in tears. She quickly fed it to her twins and returned to the doorway to chat for almost five uninterrupted minutes.
Pippa still had too many cakes. She placed them in a large carrier bag and followed her phone’s directions to the local park where she fed stale cake to ducks and tried to give away fresh cake to strangers.
Finally she found someone willing to accept her gift. A woman called Maddy who was walking her dog accepted some coffee cake and that caused such an avalanche of interest that very quickly all the cakes were gone.
Pippa liked routines. Even when she worked flexible hours she always started and finished at the same time each day. With no externally imposed timetable she had to make her own, which meant she baked all morning and then took the cake for a walk to the park, where it would practically disappear before she was though the gate.
One of the regular cake eaters set up a social media account to post pictures of each cake. Pippa found herself watching the account all afternoon and evening to see what would be said. She started posting her own photo of each cake before it was cut up, and soon took over the social media account.
Her chocolate orange ombre cake earned over one thousand likes and resulted in her first cake sale. Maddy wanted one just like it for her husband’s birthday, and insisted on paying.
When Pippa’s six month tenancy was due to expire, her landlord asked if she wanted to renew it. Pippa didn’t hesitate to sign. Things were so much better than they had been at the start of the pandemic. She had a whole group of friends, a wonderful hobby and an active social media presence that she enjoyed managing.
The next morning everything changed. She received an email from her boss informing her that they were ending the furlough scheme and wanted Pippa to resume work the following week.
Pippa still made her banoffee gateau as planned and took it to the park. She sat on her usual bench. Maddy poured them both a cup of coffee from her flask.
“What’s wrong? You don’t look great.”
“Work are ending the furlough scheme. Back to boring office work on Monday.”
“What?” said Maddy. “I thought you were a baker.”
“Oh no, this is just a hobby.”
“Just!” said Maddy.
Back at home, Pippa sat in front of her computer reminding herself how to do her job. She was disturbed by the doorbell and welcomed the distraction of her neighbour’s children calling for the slices of cake she always saved for them. Once they’d gone she took a slice down to Gladys, the old lady who lived below her. Gladys made tea and told Pippa all the latest apartment block gossip. It didn’t take Gladys long to learn about Pippa’s imminent return to work.
“What should I do?” asked Pippa.
“You’re a cake maker. You should do that.”
“I can’t afford to do that.”
“How can you afford not to do what you love?”
Pippa returned to her flat and read through her social media. Without thinking she wrote about her dilemma and then turned the computer off, slipped into a hot bath and went to bed with no recipe planned for the morning. Maybe she should stop baking. She’d done a cake every day for six months, now she had to return to the real world.
Next day she booted up her computer and was overwhelmed by thousands of messages. Each one told her to ditch her job and set up as a baker. She stopped reading after the first hundred and turned to her work emails where there was yet another message from her boss.
She wanted Pippa to come to the office that day for a face-to-face meeting. Pippa couldn’t refuse; they were still paying her salary. She about to reply when she noticed a postscript asking if she could bring one of her cakes.
Pippa rushed into her kitchen looking for inspiration. She found it in a pineapple; an upside-down cake seemed very appropriate to her life at that moment.
It was late afternoon by the time Pippa returned from her meeting. She’d saved one slice of pineapple upside-down cake and took it to Gladys.
“My boss liked my cake so much that she made me redundant.”
“My dear, that makes no sense at all.”
“She’d read my social media and only called me in to the office so that she could see if my cakes were as good as everyone said. She took one mouthful and then offered to make me redundant. She said I was wasted in insurance and she’d fixed things so that I would get a decent redundancy payment and could become a baker.”
“So you can pay your rent and do something you love.”
“For now, but it’s not going to be easy and I’ll need your help.”
“Me. What can I do?”
“You can be my taster and tell me if the cakes are good enough to sell.”
Gladys and Pippa clinked their cups together to seal their agreement.