The Niatirbian Bakeoff

cupcakes-690040_1280There lies in the ocean, turned towards the north and west, the island of Niatirb, which is reported to be cold and wet in winter. The islanders, surpassing all the peoples of whom we know in patience and endurance, have traditionally responded to the cold and dank by the interesting pastime of baking. This has happened since ancient times, though it is said that their great king may have been responsible for burning the cakes, so greatly did the unfair dominance of Europe (mostly the Danes) over his native England weigh upon his mind. Others minded their baking skills much the better, so that the Niatirbians have become advanced beyond any other nation in their baking, and in so doing have developed extraordinary delicacies, such as the cheese scone.

With the advent of the supermarket, and the slow decline of the traditional baker, it was agreed among the chief vision-meisters that the wireless picture box should address the decline in the baking skills of the Niatirbians by showing a series of baking parties. The meisters pondered holding this in a grungy warehouse, as they so often did when making modern shows involving dragons, but decided instead to plant a tent on the lawn of a stately home, to install pastel shaded worktops and to festoon the walls with bunting, since such bunting expresses in a unique way the joy of the Naitirbians. Each party would be hosted by the Twins of Innuendo and Laughter, together with she who is the Mother of all Apple Pie, and he who would be proved to be the Rising Prince of Darkness. And where the Mother of all Apple Pie shone with the sunshine, charm and pristine niceness of The South, the Rising Prince of Darkness came from The North, and so many could identify with his sense of lostness.

Into the tent each week came keen amateurs, for this was not in any way to be a professional or commercial gathering. The Niatirbians despise all that which is commercial, or at least they say they do, so there was rejoicing in the hearts of this nation as the party proceeded. The Mother of all Apple Pie would stroll around inside the tent, winking at those who baked, while the Rising Prince of Darkness would lurk and sneer, and mostly scoff, and the amateurs would tremble, their eggs would curdle and their dough would not rise. Some did prove to be capable of high art in their decoration, while others mixed strange flavours for their fillings, which had never before been combined in Niatirbian tradition (except in a strange village called Dibley). Each week one baker would be celebrated, and given a star, while another would be eliminated, and led away to an uncertain fate. It was once rumoured that they were secretly fed to a large nurse called Jo Brand.

And lo, this party did indeed thrive on the wireless picture box. It was much spoken of in the streets and taverns of the land. People rushed to buy sugar, flour and gingham table cloths, and did ask one another, ‘How should one really say the word “layer”?’ A national Niatirbian conversation circled around the show-stopping creations, and many wondered whether the Twins of Innuendo and Laughter were really that amusing. Some also wondered why the blonde twin had to make a public mention of the ‘Leatherhead  Leisure Centre’ at some moment in each series of parties, and whether it actually existed. In a nation defined by so much being watched by so many and being done by so few, the Niatirbian was soon seen as the perfect formula for raising national morale, and encouraging many to stand against the hidden cohorts of the Rising Prince of Darkness. And so it was copied in many other lands, with the strangest of results.

But lo, it was in the seventh year of plenty that the Niatirbian Bakeoff did come to be followed by famine. For those who arranged the parties did come to the chief vision-meisters and complain that they were not paid enough, and that the bunting was indeed becoming frayed and in need of improvement. They demanded that the vision-meisters increase their largesse towards this amateur party, so that the vision-meisters offered them a full ten million paid in Sterling, an ancient currency that was fast losing its value. But to no avail. For the Rising Prince of Darkness and the greedy party arrangers had gone to the Four-Headed Beast, who had offered them five million more. Many wondered how one hour-long party could cost a million Sterling, but others shrugged and pointed out that the Sterling had been debased with too much easing, and was indeed like a Niatirbian dough that would never rise again.

But then the Mother of all Apple Pie did a delightful thing. She refused to go over to the Four-headed Beast, for she said it was not right. Like the best fondant, it should be home made by amateurs, not bought in a packet from Waitrose, and she would have none of it. The Niatirbian way was not that of commercial gain. And the Twins of Innuendo and Laughter did also say that neither would they follow the dough to the Four-Headed Beast. And so it was that the Beast with the Four Heads did wake next day feeling very grave, being internally disordered by the spending of so much money and the reckoning of how little they had gained for it. For all they had were the services of the Rising Prince of Darkness and his scoffing smirk, and an empty tent, which being reckoned together is little more than a plum duff.

But such was the melancholy that did afflict the Niatirbians, for their summer parties were all over and never to be held again, and the party organisers nowhere to be seen, and they did look at their Wireless boxes in vain. The Niatirbians could not be comforted, neither by the eating of a chocolate roulade nor yet by consuming a whole Tudor game pie. And they did sit and weep at the folly and greed of the party arrangers, and how all that is good and wholesome in Niatirb does eventually come to be sucked into the vortex of the Four-Headed beast, or indeed into other places that are not well spoken off, such as The Sky, where all sport and joy and entertainment is wasted and ruined by the use of too much Sterling. And they did realise that the love of this Sterling is like a yeast that doth work itself through the whole batch of dough, and that when their national life and conversation is soaked in this Sterling in such a quantitative way, it can only leave the whole of Niatirb with a distinctly soggy bottom.


With apologies to the great C.S. Lewis and his far better cautionary tale, ‘Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.’



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