The greater part of pleasure

by Jenny

June came, bringing the village’s annual Charity Cupcake Competition and, as usual, you could cut the tension with a spatula.

Mrs Jones had been practicing. Her grandchildren were bloated and sticky from guzzling her experiments as she worked tirelessly to discover a cupcake that would erase the memory of Mrs Ap Glyn’s astonishing Magical Mystery Muffins from last year.

The village was awash with mistrust. At the local shop, baskets were draped in shawls to conceal contents and the queue stacked up to be served by spotty Tom Jenkins with his headphones and tattoos, rather than Mrs Iorwerth, 3 times champion and not to be trusted.

Mrs Jones strode into the shop with a nonchalant swagger. This year she had a plan. She had made dozens of different cakes - experimenting with everything, from adding beetroot to marscapone icing (inadvisable), to mixing vanilla essence with cardamom and icing sugar (roaring success). Now she knew she had it.

She’d make a cinnamon and ginger spiced sponge base (with real ginger chunks in syrup), topped with her newly discovered cardamom icing. You wouldn’t find this in Delia, no, this was an Ethel Jones original. Unique. The village would be talking about it for weeks.

Casting a wary eye around her to make sure nobody was watching, Mrs Jones slipped a ginger root and a tin of syrup into her basket and covered it quickly with her scarf. But then, when she looked up, there was Mrs Ap Glyn squinting at her through mascaraed lashes!

Mrs Jones thought fast. Mrs Ap Glyn’s myopia was well known, she couldn’t have seen what Mrs Jones had bought, but she’d be down like a shot to inspect the shelf where she’d been standing. That woman would stop at nothing. Nothing!

Quick as a flash, Mrs Jones grabbed a big bag of flour and placed it strategically in front of the tins of syrup and, with a sweep of her hand, she knocked the remains of the ginger out of sight behind the condensed milk. She’d have to trust to fate now; she had to get home - the competition was tomorrow.

The big day arrived. The smell of baking and the stench of fear was rife, but Mrs Jones strode confidently into the village hall and plopped her wicker basket on the judging table, next to Mrs Ap Glyn’s. She could hardly bear the waiting. She had played the victory out in her head often - the devastation of the vanquished, her own proud grin at the camera as she claimed the bottle of wine as her prize, the adulation, the glory...

The whole village waited in the stifling hall, perspiring from the heat and the anticipation that buzzed around them like flies. The judges had been in discussion for 30 minutes when the spokeswoman finally took the stage. Mrs Jones gripped her handkerchief. The room was silent, tense and then the judge spoke, announcing the winner’s name to the packed, waiting hall...