Friday, 5 June 2020

The Lockdown Birthday Cake Disaster of 2020

This is a story from a while ago, right at the start of Lockdown, on the very the first day that the schools were closed way back in March. With all the craziness that's been happening, I've only just got around to sitting down to write about it. This is the story of my son's lockdown birthday, which began with the greatest birthday gift he could have received, the closing of his school on his birthday, and went very much downhill from there. But doom and gloom have no place in a world where there are so many ways things could be worse, so read on to find out how we made the best of it all.

As I've already mentioned, the day got off to a cracking start, with the school closed indefinitely which was music to the ears of my teenage son. It was as if the birthday gods had finally granted him his perpetual birthday wish and allowed him the Holy Grail of an official holiday in honour of his big day. He could not have been more thrilled. He had new computer games to play, his favourite Lucky Charms for breakfast, it was turning out to be a birthday to remember. Then I realised that, with the rapidly escalating social-distancing situation and the issues with his friends' childcare arrangements now that school was closed, we would have to cancel his party. He took it really well, thankfully. It's so much easier to keep in touch with friends these days that being cut off isn't the end of the world.

This was really just the beginning of what we've now become used to, so it's strange thinking back now. In the UK, we were still in the early stages of what would turn out to be a scary and traumatic time for many. Even as all of this began, we knew there were people far worse off than we were, so we were determined to make the best of it. We decided to order, what would turn out to be our last, pizza for dinner and turned our attention to the all-important cake. By way of distraction from the less favourable aspects of a social-distancing birthday, I suggested that he could help decorate the cake, which I had already made. This turned out to be the start of the Great Cake Disaster of 2020. I've made quite a few cakes in my 24 years as a parent, with varying levels of success, but they've always turned out ok in the end. They've always looked more or less like they were meant to and have stood up to the critique of children pretty well. Here are some of my previous efforts. Not perfect, but not too bad for an amateur.

This year, however, I made the fatal error, in the face of enormous guilt over the way things had unfolded, of giving my son power of approval over all the decorations. His first decision was to change the colour of the icing. Anyone with a modicum of experience with icing will be twitching a bit right now because icing is a fickle thing and not to be messed with. When I first started making cakes, a lot of years ago, I made errors with the consistency and ended up with horrible runny, unmanageable disasters. It can be really demoralising to work hard on a cake and then have it go horribly wrong, so you would think I'd have learned my lesson, but sadly not. The original plan was to use chocolate buttercream icing, as it provides a good, reliable base for the decorations. This year, the cake had to be Sonic the Hedgehog, as the film was recently out and L was a life-long fan of the crazy blue dynamo. I would happily have bought one, but I was astounded to find no supermarket had cottoned on to the demand for blue fluffy creatures and, besides, shop-bought cakes are all about the design and the cake itself can be rather lacking. 

I came up with what I thought would be a reasonably straightforward compromise. I would make the cake (the easy bit), ice it (a bit trickier) and buy some small Sonic toys to decorate this base. A straightforward, simple design, I thought a chocolate buttercream base and piped grass edges, to make a sort of swamp/ river where I could place some palm trees and figures to roughly resemble the sort of scene you would see in the game. But, it was L's birthday and after everything that had gone wrong, I wanted to try to make the cake as close to what he wanted as possible. So I made a fair attempt at green icing by mixing green food colouring to white icing. My first issue is that I find it almost impossible to get the colour green I want. It never looks like grass, more like lime, or, at worst, snot. The second issue is that the more I try to make it greener, the runnier it gets and the worst part was, not expecting to need so much meant that I quickly ran out of icing sugar. Disaster looming, I pressed on with the plan, which, with shopping trips now a thing of the past, was all I had. Once the cake was iced, we began arranging the figures, at which point it became apparent we were in trouble here. 

Despite my best efforts, nothing would stand up in the runnier icing and the more I tried to press them in to get any sort of stability, the worse it got. I was becoming increasingly stressed. I couldn't go out to buy more ingredients, or another cake and I also didn't want to add to the birthday boy's list of disappointments. I feared this might be the final straw for the worst birthday ever. It turns out though, when the chips are down, even the small people can surprise you. On regarding the now completely destroyed cake disaster, a philosophical 14-year-old concluded that there was much worse stuff happening at the moment and we should try to make the best of it. And he couldn't be more right. We had our health, each other, and cake, so how bad could it be? With that in mind, I would like to present to you a lockdown birthday creation, entitled 'Dr Robotnik Attacks' a masterpiece of creative licence and actually really delicious! If we've learned one thing in all of the chaos of the last few months, it's that the little setbacks are easier to manage with a little imagination and creativity and cake always makes things better. 


  1. Honestly, if you hadn't said I would have thought it was intentional! It looks like some sort of scene where Dr Robotnik has been and caused destruction, and Sonic is trying to escape from the deadly swap.

    And it tasted great, which is all that matters!

  2. (oh and happy belated birthday to your son)

  3. How fab for your son to have his school closed on his birthday. That is the dream of all kids.
    Oh dear! I'm sorry but the cake disaster did make me chuckle but well done your boy for being so mature about it and making the best of it. x

  4. Haha. I would love to be swimming in icing on top of a large cake like Sonic. Good job xx


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