Back home, in that small village with the fields of crops I’m incredibly allergic to, most of my neighbours have known me since birth. They’ve watched as learned to walk, ride a bike, and eventually as my brothers and I left home.
My favourite neighbour is an 80-year-old man called Bill. Sometimes when I’m back for a weekend, I’ll nip over one evening, and we’ll end up drinking wine and chatting for hours in his front room, while my parents sit at home and wonder what on earth we could be discussing. Often, when he leans back in his chair, he’ll lace his fingers together and rest them on his tummy while he talks, his Scottish accent still very much there despite his decades in England. He’s not an ordinary old man – he’s fiercely independent and physically active – and we have the same conversations you would with anyone half his age or younger.
But my upstairs neighbour here in London…for a month we weren’t even totally sure of his name, let alone what he looks like or if he’s, you know, an amateur taxidermist or model train collector.
It’s a strange thing, this silence between neighbours that you only really seem to get in big cities. The couple on the third floor keep themselves to themselves too, but we’ve bumped into each other while I’m wearing tracksuit bottoms enough that I’ve felt the need to reassure them that I do usually dress like a respectable adult.
This weekend, I made this cake and went upstairs to introduce myself and make small talk about things like fire alarms. Of course, it wasn’t until I got back to my flat that I realised I had a big flick of chocolate on my chin. So while I was thinking, “He is quite the dishy doctor”, he was probably thinking, “Why is this girl brandishing a foil package at me and why is her lower face covered in…oh, I hope that’s chocolate”. Forever classy. Forever terrible at first impressions.
Luckily, the cake is good enough to make a great first impression when I’m too busy living a sitcom-worthy life to do so myself, even though I burnt it a little. And it’s super easy! Let’s go.
Chocolate orange swirl loaf
Yields 11 big slices.