I was loving this book and saved the last 50 or so pages so that I could approach the ending with a fresh view and savor it when I had an uninterrupted hour to finish it. Now, two days later, I’m still trying to figure out the ending. (BTW- I had figured out the third thing about Elsie by page 40, so that wasn’t what I didn’t get.) I’ve been skimming the book looking for clues to explain the things I didn’t feel were revealed by the ending. If the third thing about Elsie was the big reveal, then I get it, done! But Florence says, “I never did tell anyone my secret. It’s strange, because I told them everything else. I just couldn’t tell this. In those days, you couldn’t say a word, and then it became too late. Elsie had found her Albert, and I had to use up the remnants of other people’s lives to decorate my own. I didn’t mind so much, as long as we could be friends. As long as she didn’t leave me. It’s strange, isn’t it? How love paper-aeroplanes where it pleases. I have found that it settles in the most unlikely of places, and once it has, you are left with the burden of where it has landed for the rest of your life.” I think I understand now. But to share it, would be to spoil it for you. How I wish I could talk to you after you read it. To see if we agree, and to ask you, “Who bought the brooch?”
Florence is 84 and living in an assisted living facility, flirting with dementia. She is a lovable, if somewhat socially awkward character whose best friend, Elsie, of course, grounds her and keeps her in touch with her former self by reminding her of the many kindnesses Florence acted upon in her youth. As Elsie tells it, Florence couldn’t help herself, always driven to help out, to steer people toward happy endings. At one point in the story, Florence finds herself crying, something she hadn’t done in years, because of a small act of kindness by one of the staff. “It’s strange, because you can put up with all manner of nonsense in your life, all sorts of sadness, and you manage to keep everything on board and march through it, then someone is kind to you and it’s the kindness that makes you cry. It’s the tiny act of goodness that opens a door somewhere, and lets all the misery escape.”
My story. Not long ago, I was in the Bob’s Red Mill section of the supermarket (for those of you who’ve been there, you can understand how difficult it is to find things), scanning the shelves methodically back and forth, looking for potato starch flour to make vanilla wafers. A woman stopped and asked what I was looking for. When I told her, she asked if I would like some help, an extra pair of eyes. I said yes, and we looked together for a few minutes until we were joined by an employee who asked if she could help us find something. When I told her what we were looking for, she said, “I know we sell it, unless we’re out of it.” Seconds later, my new friend found it! I thanked her and we went our separate ways. As I made my way down the aisle, I began to tear up, not knowing until that very moment that I had really needed a random act of kindness that day. I later wrote in my journal, “Such a simple gesture meant so much to me. Thank you, lady, I wish you all good things.”
I read the Acknowledgments at the end before I started the book, and was so glad I did, because it allowed me to focus my attention on a place that the author loves while I was reading. Joanna Cannon spent childhood holidays with her parents climbing the abbey steps, wandering around Woolworth’s, going on ghost walks in Whitby, and she acknowledges that her book is a love letter to it.
The whale bones with the abbey in the distance, and the North Sea beyond. Florence remembered driving into Whitby as a child, getting the first glimpse of a sliver of the North Sea beyond the Abbey. Photo by whitehorseandgriffin.com
Botham’s Tea Rooms on Skinner Street. Picture from their website.
photo from whitbystoryteller.UK
Florence has a thing for Battenberg cake, named for the town in Germany where Princess Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, married Prince Louis of Battenberg. Does this photo remind you of anything related to the book?
6 oz butter (10 T)
6 oz sugar or ⅞ C (measure out a cup and remove ¼ C)
6 oz flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
red food coloring
4-5 tablespoons apricot jam
2 packages marzipan dough (Whole Foods)
icing sugar for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 350º .
Make an aluminum foil strip to fit the pan, to keep the plain dough from mixing with the pink dough. Grease the whole pan, sides and bottom, insert a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom, and grease that. The foil probably won’t stand up until you put one of the batters in.
I wish I had taken a picture of the pink and plain batters in the pan before putting it in the oven, because it was cool looking, but I was pretty covered with batter at that point, as was every counter space in the kitchen. I’m a very messy baker, but a pretty neat cook.
Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream it until light. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and flour and mix until smooth. Divide the mixture into two and add the red or pink food colouring into one half and mix well. (I weighed the whole batter, then took out half by weight to divide the batter into equal halves. Spoon the mixtures into the prepared tin.
Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, test with a toothpick to see if it is ready. Allow the cakes to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes. If the tops are not even, cut the domes off to level the cakes before turning them onto a cooling rack and peeling off the baking paper to cool completely.
Roll out the marzipan onto baking paper sprinkled with icing sugar into a rectangle approximately 8” x 12”. This was work. I don’t know how old the dough was, but it was a little hard to knead, and I didn’t want to knead too much, not knowing if that was going to affect the texture when I rolled it out.
Warm the apricot jam and then spread on one of the long sides of the plain cake and join it to the pink cake and place it on top of the marzipan. Spread more jam on top of the cakes and put the pink cake on top of the plain one and the plain one on top of the pink one.
Now brush the jam all over the cake including the sides and top. Roll up the cake in the marzipan and trim off any excess.
Mine was not nearly as pretty as the photos you’ll see online, but it still was pretty impressive, don’t you think?