Howard Croft column: Golden oldie and the world of Jaffa Cakes

Is a Jaffa cake a biscuit or a cake?
Is a Jaffa cake a biscuit or a cake?

Mrs Croft and I were guests at a dinner to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of a couple we first met shortly after we moved to North Yorkshire 10 years ago. Unfortunately, I was allocated the grim role of designated driver so I was unable to enjoy the plentiful supply of wine, unlike Mrs Croft who I noticed was buckling to with honest enjoyment. I say noticed because unlike the common convention that prohibits one from sitting next to one’s spouse or significant other (“bidie-in” as our Scottish friends delightfully have it), which I have never understood on this occasion we were located at different tables.

I was reflecting on the fact that golden weddings are not so common as one might expect these days when we are living longer, partly I suppose because people are marrying later, or having more than one go – or not marrying at all, the auld Caledonian bidie-in trick again. I was not so reflective, however, that I failed to have a rollicking good time. I met several stimulating people I had not previously met whose company I greatly enjoyed. I am not especially in the business of recruiting new friends, so many of my old ones being such disappointments, but I have to say I was tempted.

One rather pleasing moment was when I discovered that one of my companions had been a friend of the late Richard Gordon of Doctor in the House fame, while I had known the same fellow as Gordon Ostlere (his real name), an anaesthetist who had written a best-selling book for junior doctors. As good an example of the principle of five degrees of separation as I have come across.

There was a good sprinkling of retired military gents in the company, mostly army but certainly one naval type who was readily identified by his thousand-yard stare – all those years spent worrying about the horizon, it gets them every time. It was interesting to overhear the greetings exchanged by people who had obviously not seen each other for many years. My favourite was hearing one chap exclaim to a lady: “Good Lord, Dorothy, it really is you! I hardly recognised you with your clothes on!” The blunt humour of the military man is forged by many things, not least of them spending too much time in the mess surrounded by brother officers and the complete absence of ladies.

I had an intriguing conversation with a delightful lady who was beside me at dinner. She had left her hearing aids at home, the batteries in mine were running low and so we were talking animatedly at cross purposes for some time before I realised that she was talking about the village of Westow and I was banging on about West Yorkshire. After that the conversation made more sense, but in an odd way it was less fun.

This golden wedding event was not much different from the only other one I have attended, that of my own parents more than 30 years ago. But it has to be said that both occasions reflected the old binary view of the world – there are men and there are women – now regarded as crudely inadequate to reflect what are now known to be life’s complex realities. I know about this because I heard about it on Radio 4 (the Home Service); I discovered, if I understood it correctly, that there are 74 possible self-identifying points on the transgender spectrum, or trans-spectrum for short. I find this baffling, but then I am entering baffled old age.

The bit I did understand was when they were talking about Jaffa Cakes. Is a Jaffa Cake a cake, or is it a biscuit? I have never eaten a Jaffa Cake, an inexplicably popular delicacy, and so I have no strong views on the question, although I seem to remember it troubled Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue as far as the levying of VAT might or might not be applied. The point seemed to be during the radio discussion that as a Jaffa Cake has no self-awareness we are free to make up our own minds, unless of course we are registered for VAT, but if the Jaffa Cake did have self-awareness only the Jaffa Cake could make the determination. I hope I make myself clear.