Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Josh Earl - Birthday Cakes?

As self-professed “aging hipster”, Josh Earl knows turning 30 is one of those milestone events demanding a measure of difficult and deep self-enquiry. And what better way to navigate the primordial ooze of the psyche than “illuminate” strange memories of childhood birthday cakes?

“My Nan would get The Women’s Weekly every month,” remembers Earl, his head twitching nervously, ”and each weekend we would go over to her house and sit in her lounge room watching the football and reading The Women’s Weekly. I remember vividly that the first pair of breasts I ever saw that weren’t a family members were in The Women’s Weekly. Your nan’s lounge room is not the place to be seeing images like that. That said, the boobs belonged to Princess Di; not just any boobs, royal boobs.

“Swimming pools, cars, steam trains, robots, Dolly Varden. The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book had it all,” he explains. “Australian mums fashioned entire scale-model metropolises from combined powers of sheer maternal dedication, Ita Buttrose’s cooking editor and store-bought sponges. I had the good, and not so good, fortune to celebrate many birthdays with cake versions from those pages.” Dolly Varden? Thinking I had misheard the comedian (surely he meant Darth Vader?), I inquire, “a Dolly Varden Cake?”

“Dolly Varden was a character from Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge,” replies the comedian, his head ticking feverishly now. “And if I know children (and I think I do) what they want for their birthday cakes are minor characters from little-known Dickens novels: ‘Happy birthday, son, we don’t know or love you at all...’ My absolute favourite cake in the book is the dump truck filled with lollies. Mum made it for my sixth birthday, but untrue to the recipe she put a trailer on the back with even more lollies, which, when you think about it doesn’t make any sense, a dump truck with a trailer. Stop putting trailers on everything mum, you big bogan! And the second most memorable birthday cake of all was the duck cake: it has two giant potato chips as the beak. Memorable and traumatic are the same thing, right?”

Noticing the way Earls face screws up, eyes watering, lips curling, trembling, I nervously venture onwards with the interview: “Sounds like your mum was one of many mums who went to a hell of a lot of trouble to bake a cake?”

“True. When I was 11 she set up a little business making them for other kids’ birthdays and graduations. Mum made my brother – when he graduated as a Podiatrist – an amazing foot cake. It lasted for weeks, that one, mainly because no one wanted to eat a cake in the shape of a foot.”

WHAT: Josh Earl Vs The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book
WHEN & WHERE: Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 April, Seymour Centre
Paul Andrew

First Published Drum (Apr 23, 2013)

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