The plan

We didn’t make our decision to close the shop with any particular plan in mind. We just knew it had to happen, because I couldn’t keep going, and trying to do so out of a sense of duty to other people wasn’t a good reason to damage my health any further. The bigger issue, we knew, was that we were going to lose our home when we decided to do so, since subletting the shop and staying in the flat wasn’t going to be possible.

We certainly considered staying in London, since our son had only started Y7 in September, and moving schools again in such a short time frame wasn’t ideal. On the other hand, London rents within the area we’d have had to be in to keep him at his school would have needed for me to pick up a high-paying full-time job almost immediately, and that wouldn’t happen. While I haven’t always made food or designed recipes for a living, I didn’t have much recent work experience for anyone other than myself to show. My chance of finding a job that kept me challenged or an employer who ‘got’ what I had to offer was virtually nil in the short term. We needed a plan B.

Plan B, of course, would mean finding somewhere less expensive to live. In London, that didn’t leave many options. Which had us thinking, what’s keeping us in London anyway? In reality, just my husband’s business, and it would be possible, in time, for him to reduce the amount of time he needed to be in London. As for me and H, we didn’t need to be anywhere in particular: we needed a good school for him, and somewhere I could heal. Ideally, we’d find somewhere with an active community, where I could set down roots and make wherever we moved to a real home.

That’s how I found myself in Yorkshire. While I’ve lived north of Watford in my life, I’ve certainly never lived north of Milton Keynes, but visits to Cumbria revealed a disappointing lack of dragons – or other monsters – in the northern reaches of England, and S had spent a chunk of his childhood in the Dales to no obvious ill effect, so I thought it was worth considering, at the very least.

At very little notice, after contacting a couple of estate agents – and having found a good school that happened to have a space available for our son, should he pass the entrance exams – I booked a hotel room near Skipton and planned my journey north. There were two houses to look at, and the possibility of a school tour while I was there, as well as a chance for me to have a first look at the area we were considering calling home.

On the day I first went to Kettlewell, I was full of fear, as well as anger at myself that I hadn’t physically been able to make the shop work. I was hurting in more ways than my morphine prescription could ever fix, and blaming myself for everything. I got lost on my way back to Skipton, having tried to detour via Grassington to get a feel for the area, and it was all just too much. And I had to stop the car because I couldn’t see clearly through the tears. I eventually stopped crying, wiped my face clean and took a few deep breaths before opening my eyes. When I did, I saw the bridge across the Wharfe at Burnsall.

The weather was grim. I’d stopped randomly. I was at my most vulnerable, tears barely dry. I wasn’t prepared for that much beauty and felt almost winded. Despite having driven a couple of hundred miles up from London, I somehow hadn’t taken in where I was, or allowed what I was looking at to filter in. In every direction, the beauty of the Dales finally managed to break through all that pain. I couldn’t change the past, but I could make this place our future.

Once upon a time…

…an award-winning coeliac cook had to give up her beloved coffee shop. I did so grudgingly, because I had staff, loyal customers, and a wider base of people who had known my cakes, pasties and pies and loved both the products themselves, and the fact that everything in the shop was safe for them to eat. I felt a responsibility to my little corner of the gluten-free community, and telling people we were going to close brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Still does, because we only closed on Sunday.

Between Brexit reducing the number of chefs available to work (and replace me in the kitchen so we could take the next steps we’d been planning so long), and my own increasing disability from disc problems, arthritis and fibromyalgia, every day hurt me a little more, cost me more sleep, drove me to more pain-killers. Worse, it took away from the time I spent with my husband and son on a daily basis, either through being too unwell to be truly present in our interactions, or too busy in the kitchen trying to keep up with the demands of the shop. I had no energy left and my sense of humour grew darker on such rare occasions as it still deigned to appear.

Picture of a grey cake, carved and decorate a princess dressed all in grey, with a darker grey apron, covering her face with her hands as she cries. It's a self portrait in cake by the author, Melanie Denyer
My self-portrait in cake, the weeping princess, created for the Depressed Cake Shop, August 2013.
Picture credit: the awesome Umbreen Hafeez.

There could have been a really messy end to this story, and – who knows? – it’s still a possibility. I hosted the first London Depressed Cake Shop in my little Brick Lane coffee shop, Suzzle (later Black Cat Bakery) way back in August 2013, when I was in the process of being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

BPD is not the kind of condition that responds well to change, or to endings, or to just about anything. It’s a rollercoaster for both the patient and their family and friends. In my case, I was lucky enough to have had 18 months of Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) and to have continued practising its precepts ever since. I still met the diagnostic criteria for BPD when I finished treatment, and I still have my moments now, but I am heading towards a point where I would no longer qualify for that diagnosis, which is why we were even able to think about what happens next.

And what happens next? That’s a work in progress, and that’s what this blog is about.