Mum’s home. When are we doing her birthday tea?
Dad is uncapping a Sharpie.
I’ll use this.
No! Frank, go to the kitchen. We need some writing icing or something. Anything edible you can write with. But don’t let Mum know what you’re doing.
Anything edible you can write with?
Frank disappears. The camera focuses on the cake.
How did you get her age wrong?
I mean, how did you manage that?
I don’t know. I’ve spent all month writing financial reports about next year. My whole mind-set is next year. I guess I lost a year somewhere.
Frank bursts into the room holding a squeezy bottle of Heinz ketchup.
Well, I didn’t know!
Dad grabs the bottle.
Can we turn a “nine” into an “eight” with ketchup?
You won’t fool her.
Go over the whole number with ketchup. Make the whole thing a ketchup cake.
Why would you ice a cake with ketchup?
Mum loves ketchup. It’s fine. It’s all good.
OK, so here’s a life lesson. Don’t try fixing a birthday cake with ketchup. Tipp-Ex would have been better.
As Dad brought out the cake, Mum’s jaw dropped. And not in a good way. I mean, if you take a white iced cake and pipe it all over with ketchup, it basically looks like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We all launched into “Happy Birthday” extra loudly, and as soon as we’d finished and Mum had blown out her (one) candle, Dad said, “Great! So let me take that away and cut it up—”
“Wait.” Mum put a hand on his. “What IS that? That’s not ketchup?”
“It’s a Heston Blumenthal recipe,” said Dad without blinking. “Experimental.”
“Right.” Mum still looked puzzled. “But isn’t that…” Before anyone could stop her, she was scraping the ketchup off with a napkin. “I thought so! There’s a message underneath.”
“It’s nothing,” said Dad quickly.
“But it’s piped in icing!” She wiped away the last blobs of ketchup and we all stared in silence at the smeared red-and-white cake.
“Chris,” said Mum at last in an odd voice. “Why does it say thirty-nine?”
“It doesn’t! It says thirty-eight. Look.” Dad’s hand traced over the vestiges of the ketchup. “That’s an eight.”
“Nine.” Felix pointed confidently at the cake. “Number nine.”
“It’s an eight, Felix!” said Dad sharply. “Eight!”
I could see Felix staring at the cake in puzzlement and felt a twinge of sympathy for him. How’s he supposed to learn anything with nutso parents like ours?
“It’s a nine, Felix,” I whispered in his ear. “Daddy’s joking.”
“Do you think I’m thirty-nine?” Mum looked up at Dad. “Do I look thirty-nine? Is that what you think?” She squashed her face between her hands and glared at him. “Is this a thirty-nine-year-old face? Is that what you’re telling me?”
I think Dad should have just junked the cake.
So this evening my dad is taking my mum on a date for her birthday, which you can tell from the clouds of perfume that suddenly descend onto the landing. Mum isn’t exactly subtle when she goes out. As she always tells us, her social life is practically nonexistent since having three kids, so when she goes out, she makes up for it with perfume, eye liner, hair spray and heels. As she totters down the stairs, I can see a little fake-tan blotch on the back of her arm, but I won’t tell her. Not on her birthday.
“Will you be all right, darling?” She puts her hands on my shoulders and looks anxiously at me. “You’ve got our numbers. Any problems, you tell Frank to call, straightaway.”
Mum knows I’m not brilliant with phones. Which is why Frank is officially on babysitting duty, not me.
“I’ll be fine, Mum.”
“Of course you will,” she says, but doesn’t let go of my shoulders. “Sweetheart, take it easy. Have an early night.”
“I will,” I promise.
“And, Frank.” She looks up as he lopes into the hall. “You will be doing homework only. Because I am taking this with me.”
She brandishes a power cable triumphantly, and Frank gapes.