To; The Man at the Cake Stall
It’s not your fault. You didn’t know the conversation I’d had with her on the 20 second walk from the coconut shy to the cake marquee.
Peg; “Mummy, can I have a cake?”
Me; “Well, theres every chance they won’t have a gluten free cake here love” cue frantic glance around the remaining stalls hoping for an alternative. Cue extreme Mum guilt for not predicting this scenario and packing alternatives. “I can spot an ice cream stall over there Peg”
Peg; “I want a cake though Mummy”
Me; “But you love ice lollies and on a hot day like today an ice lolly would be perfect”
Peg; “But I want a cake like everyone else”
Me; “Well, I can ask the lady, but be prepared for a ‘No’ Peg” (internal dialogue in my brain; “please have a GF cake, please have a GF cake, please have a GF cake”)
We approached the cake stand, uncontrollable toddler in one hand, hopeful 6 year old in the other. Every bit of me didn’t want to ask this question. It was fear for the disappointment in Peggy (but if I’m honest I know how resilient she is and could be persuaded that an ice lolly was a fabulous alternative when she realised they were the ones that turned your mouth blue!) But if I’m being honest, the main reason I didn’t want to ask was because I didn’t want the awkward embarrassment. The embarrassment I would feel asking the question, knowing all too well there was no bloody GF cake. The embarrassment that ‘Marjorie’, manning the cake stand, would feel when she realised she had to say “No, I’m sorry we don’t”. The embarrassment and sadness my Dad would feel when the tenner he’d shoved in my hand to “buy everyone a cuppa and a cake” meant we’d been put in this position. But I’d promised her, so what could I do?
Me; “Excuse me please”
Marjorie; “Yes Dear”
Me; “I don’t suppose you have any Gluten Free cake by any chance do you?” This was said whilst squinting my eyes, wrinkling my nose, lifting my shoulders and at a pitch much higher than my usual talking voice.
The hustle and bustle of the crowd and timely passing of a tractor meant Marjorie didn’t hear me. I repeated the question, shouting in her ‘good ear’ – which of course meant that not only Marjorie heard, but the other eager cake stall customers, the cake stall volunteers and pretty much the entire bloody field heard the question – including you, man in the navy and white stripy t-shirt.
Marjorie; “Oh, I don’t know dear, I’ll ask Barbara”
(Shouting to other end of the marquee) “Barbara, Barbara, do we have any Gluten Free cake?”
Barbara; “Oooooh, I think Joan had some in her handbag that she bought from the Co-op on the way over”…..(me = disbelief that this situation had been predicted by Joan and she’d saved the day – I could kiss Joan!)…..”but that was for Tony” (fucking Tony)
Man In navy and white stripy T-Shirt; (in booming voice) “WHAT, NO GLUTEN FREE CAKE MARJORIE, HOW VERY ‘UN-PC’ OF YOU! HA, HA, HA! ”
Me; (dying inside that man in navy and white stripy t-shirt had the loudest voice on earth and that by now, quite an audience was observing this ‘hoo-har’) “It’s OK. I thought you’d say that but I promised I’d at least ask. She’s fine with an ice lolly”
Red faced and head down, I dragged Reg off the butterfly buns he was poking with a grubby finger and began to explain why “Ice lollies are a million times better than cakes and we can afford 2 of those but only 1 cake – so it’s all turned out tickety boo Peg hasn’t it?”
Peg; “Are they those ones which make your mouth go blue?”
I thought you were an arse-hole, man in the navy and white stripy t-shirt. As I walked back to our family – who were wondering where their cake was – with a couple of blue mouthed/clothed/faced/handed kids in tow I imagined all the things I wished I had said to you;
“She has to eat Gluten Free, it’s not a choice”
“Do you know that a Gluten Free diet is the only treatment for Coeliac Disease?”
“She just wants a cake like you and me”
“Fuck off arse-hole” before slamming his face into the Victoria sponge.
Aunty Chris went to buy the tea and cakes because I didn’t want to see you again (although I said it was because I couldn’t manage with the kids).
As the days have gone by I’ve thought about you a lot. Re-told the tale to family and friends. And as I’ve thought about you more, I dislike you less. You see, you just don’t understand. Your reaction was ill-informed. Unknowledgeable. You probably see dietary needs as ‘fad dieting’ – maybe we’re all just too bloody fussy in your eyes? I imagine you think that “there was none of this food intolerance mumbo-jumbo in your day, we just ate what we were given and that was that”.
Before having a child with Coeliac Disease and a husband with Crohns – hard as it is for me to say this – I think I was a bit like you!? An over opinionated, ill-informed about dietary needs arse-hole. I remember thinking about Chris’ diet – eating hardly any veg or fibre and eating lots of beige, processed food – “This is really bad for him” I thought, “5 portions of fruit and veg a day is what he needs”….of course, I know now that if Chris ate 5 portions of fruit and veg every day his insides would hurt like hell and he’d pay the price for at least 2 days.
Honestly, pre-diagnosis, I thought gluten free diets were a bit annoying, along with Veganism and Vegetarianism! I didn’t know then what I know now – which is that a gluten free diet is the only known treatment for Coeliac Disease. And even if she didn’t have Coeliac Disease, and we chose to be gluten free, there could be any number of reasons that led to us making that life-style choice. Just like a Vegan or Vegetarian. You didn’t know our journey to that exact moment which found you stood next to me at that cake stall, at that village fete, in that Yorkshire village on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June. But you made a split second decision to ‘label’ this situation – of no GF cake at the cake stall – sarcastically as being ‘Un-PC’. The reason you did that was not anything to do with being an arse hole and in fact to do with lack of factual information that you had been exposed to previously to that moment.
You see I’m lucky. I’m sorry that it took my husband and daughter having dietary needs to make me stop being an arse hole and start to be more accepting, but it has. I listen more now. Consider the wider picture. I am less judgemental about an individuals food choices (be it for medical treatment or a life style choice). I’m glad I didn’t slam your face into a Victoria Sponge now, navy and white stripy t-shirt man, or tell you to fuck yourself. Because its not your fault.