Issue # 145 – Piece of cake

Piece of cake

By Ken Ashton

Half-time in a World Cup soccer match, the crowd is going bananas, one team is smiling to the gods, the other looks shell-shocked. And my mother, bless her, is sitting in the stand and wondering whether to patent her fruit cake… created during World War Two.

Difficult to believe that a mere 15 years after the end of the Korean war and Mum panicking in case my National Service took me to the Far East, she would be sitting in the top tier stand at Goodison Park and cheering for the ‘little yellow men’, as she called them.

But to Mum’s fruit cakes, legends in their own lifetime and beyond. During WW 2, Dad worked on various ministry jobs as a ship’s carpenter in Liverpool, from patching up convoy ships and Royal Navy vessels to building Bailey Bridges for the invasion.

One day he came home from work with his trousers tucked into his socks, asked Mum for a newspaper, untied the tethers, shook himself, and unloaded about two pounds of dried fruit. Smuggled out, a gift from Canadian sailors.

And Mum proceeded to bake the most fantastic fruit cake, using dried egg, gravy browning for colouring, saccharin instead of sugar, and the smuggled fruit.

She produced, as if by magic, the most delicious fruit cake, and once a month, from then on, she repeated the success.

Her link with Loyola Hall, a Jesuit retreat in Rainhill, a village 10 miles outside Liverpool, went back to the early 1900s. Born in 1908, she lost her own mother when she was six and for many years was helped by the nuns from Loyola Hall and St. Bart’s church who brought her and her brothers and sisters baskets of food every day. Her Dad was the village bobby and her mum had been the village midwife, so her ties with the village and the church were strong.

So, there we were, in 1966, me covering the World Cup for the Daily Sketch with Billy Liddell, Liverpool, and Scotland winger, at my side, me ghosting his comments and receiving a football education return.

And one morning, prior to taking Mum out to lunch, I popped in with her and Billy to Loyola Hall to watch the Koreans training. A most unlikely team to be in the World Cup finals, having beaten Australia to qualify. There were no diplomatic relations with the UK at the time and there were all sorts of problems about national anthems and flags on commemorative stamps. But here they were, as large or as little as life.

‘They look half-starved,’ was Mum’s verdict on the Korean soccer team.

And so she went home to bake them a fruit cake. And a couple of boxes of mini cakes as a back-up.

They went down a storm. The Koreans insisted on visiting her, drowned her with flowers, gave her a Korean shirt, tickets for the match – and an open invitation to visit Korea.

Then to Goodison. Having beaten mighty Italy, Korea was in the quarter-finals and facing Portugal. And by half-time, they were winning 3-0 and the world of soccer was stunned. Mum was praising her fruit cake as the Koreans’ secret weapon and I was trying to write half-decent copy. Billy Liddell was laughing.

Then Eusebio spoiled the party with four second-half goals and Portugal nabbed another for a 5-3 win.

‘If they’d had a decent meal, they’d have lasted the 90 minutes,’ signed Mum.

‘You should have popped down at half-time with more cake,’ said Billy Liddell, with a broad wink.

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