Whilst scrolling through social media, I often come across parents and children enjoying quality time and bonding over a shared love of baking. These pictures are usually incredibly sweet. A toddler, with a little apron tied at the waist, perhaps a smear of chocolate on one cheek, smiles happily at the camera, as they and their mum cheerfully show off a tray of perfectly crafted brownies. Beneath which appears a caption that reads: ‘Look at what little Katie made x.’
Often I’ll click to ‘like’ that picture. I’ll ‘like’ it for what it represents: something simple and pure, a moment of bonding over the simplest of creations and a metaphor for family: different ingredients mixed together to create something wholesome and good.
..And then I’ll scroll onwards thinking, ‘Fuck off, Donna. Your kid did not make those buns in a million years. You can tell a mile off. For a start, they’re not completely shit.’
Because toddlers are not good bakers. If they’re not dropping eggshell into the mix, they are sneezing into the batter. Ingredients find their way into the bowl by accident and not by design. And the end result, at best, resembles something the neighbour’s cat might hack up on your doorstep and, at worst, something decidedly poisonous.
So when I see pictures online of parents and children joyously baking, I more than suspect the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of social media at work. It’s not just the perfectly formed end-product that looks like perfectly baked bullshit. I also look at the settings of some of these photos and my suspicions are further aroused. These surroundings look ordered, clean and tidy. It is as though, during the baking process, these parents and their kids have managed to measure ingredients, keep everything in the bowl and, with a final lick of a spoon, returned the place to neat order. Just in time to remove their perfect brownies from a preheated oven, gas mark 6, 200ºC, after 20 minutes. Ding!
After a morning spent baking in our house, our surroundings do not look like this. Our kitchen looks rather more like one of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has ridden through…whilst fucking a cake.
Clouds of flour and caster sugar settle on the kitchen counters like dust after the eruption of Pompeii. Chocolate adorns the walls like blood spatter and the inside of the microwave is a horror film. The sink is blocked. There is a ceiling-high Jenga stack of pots and pans and food-mixer parts. And we discover that ‘hundreds and thousands’ are named ‘hundreds and thousands’ because they get fucking everywhere and trying to clean them up makes you want to punch yourself in the face hundreds and thousands of times.
And this is just after making one of those Aunt Bessie’s ready-made packet things which only require you to add an egg.
Never mind the state of Charlie after all this. Whereas in other bakers’ posts there is a picture of a clean kid with a cute wisp of icing sugar on the tip of their nose, Charlie is head-to-foot in cake mix and looks like he’s motor-boated a chocolate trifle.
And your reward for the fact that your kitchen looks like Prue Leith has sampled a showstopper laced with PCP and smashed up the Bake Off tent?
Three shitty cornflake buns. Buns that have been moulded by toddler fingers that haven’t paused in their constant rummaging up nose and arse since you started. These things are not just visually unappealing, they are also about as appetising as Novichok.
Put it this way: there’s no way I’d eat them. I usually save mine and Charlie’s efforts for visiting relatives or send them off to the bake sale at nursery and then keep an eye on the news for word of unexplained deaths in the area…
Man vs Baby’s Matt Coyne is from Sheffield, South Yorkshire. In September 2015, Matt’s life was turned upside down by the arrival of his son Charlie. After three months of parenthood, he logged on to social media and wrote a viral post about his experience of having to live with ‘a furious, sleep-murdering, unstable and incontinent, breasts-obsessed midget lodger’.
Following this, Matt created Man vs Baby, which now has over 360,000 followers. And has written two Sunday Times bestselling books based on his parental triumphs and disasters, the first entitled: ‘Dummy’ and the second ‘Man vs Toddler’.
He has also written for The Guardian, The Telegraph and GQ Magazine.
Matt lives in Sheffield with his son Charlie, his partner Lyndsay and a Jack Russell terrier with ‘issues’ called Eddie.