Speaking of...with Phil Spencer

Speaking of… Love, in today’s story, writer, performer & creative producer Phil Spencer talks baking, britain and Nana Gaye.

Enjoy x

GAYE by Phil Spencer

I want you to imagine that you are in my kitchen here in Petersham. This is my oven. This is an oven mitt. This is some homemade Dukkah that we were given five years ago and have never, and will never, use. Just a regular kitchen. Welcome.

Now like many of you, this strange and frightening time has brought out all sorts of quirks and deep seeded eccentricities within me. Just yesterday for example I sorted all of the kids playdough back into their corresponding coloured pots. Whilst drinking Jagermeister. Which I don’t ever usually do on a Wednesday.

I mean, under any other circumstances I would have been very resistant to a right wing conservative government implementing draconian policies, and restricting civil liberties – usually that’s a big no no in my book.

But this particular global scenario (it’s a pandemic, but referring to it as a ‘global scenario’ just takes the edge off in the mornings I find) has awakened in me, a deep love of baking.

And so here I am, standing in my kitchen, like a sort of discount shelf Jamie Oliver is that I wanted to take a moment to tell you about a special cake and a special woman.

The woman’s name is Elise May Clarke or Gaye to her friends.

Gaye is my grandmother. I spoke to her just last night and she is, and I quote “better than a bag of bricks going down a hill.” End quote.

Which I think means she’s alright.

Gaye was born over 90 years ago in Torbay, a small town in the English Riviera. Which sounds lovely, but if you’ve ever been to England you will know that it is still fucking grim.

Gaye was raised between the granite slates of Dartmoor and the sandy beaches of Torquay. That’s where she grew up and still lives. And those surroundings inform who my Gran is to some extent, and you can tell when you meet her because she’s stoic and firm footed but also loves to laugh and enjoys the tiny niceties of life with all the relish of a cheese and Piccalilli sandwich.

And my grandmother, much like your grandmother, is the most beautiful (politically dubious) person you’ve ever met in your life. She is resourceful, resilient and worldly in that way Devonshire folk are.

Now usually whenever I call my Gran she isn’t home. She is usually at Marks and Spencers – sometimes shopping, sometimes just at the café bit. She jokes that they’ll be no inheritance left but we should get a complimentary gift voucher from Marks and Sparks. Which I’m all for.

But obviously now she is locked down in her retirement village in Torquay, which she says is okay, not great but okay. She says that sometimes her and her friend Maureen take the lift to the roof and stand on opposite sides of the rooftop and just look out. Like some sort of Michel Gondry music video. A potent example of her whimsical enjoyment of this thing we call life.

We also spoke about two months ago and she explained that when you get to your 90s, a friend of yours dies on a weekly basis. Gaye then explained her theory that she was more than happy to go to a funeral at the co-op in town but if you were going to be flash dan and have it up at the cemetery then she wasn’t coming, cos that’s two buses. And no matter how dearly she loved you, Gaye Clarke was not catching two buses to watch a coffin go in the ground.

Like I said she really is a complex character.

So, the cake I’ll be making today is a victoria sponge cake. Gaye’s favourite and the cake she would make every time I went to visit her in Paignton for the summer holidays.

I called my nan last night to tell her I was going to write this story about her – I asked her why they called it a victoria sponge cake and she said “because queen victoria was fond of them I suppose.” Which seems legit.

Below is the recipe and if you wanted to take an afternoon to bake a cake and call your grandparents – then you know, you should totally do that. It might make you feel better. It make you feel physically sick as you eat an entire cake to yourself. Either way. Stay safe everyone. X


Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line with non-stick baking paper.

In a large bowl, beat 200g caster sugar, 200g softened butter, 4 beaten eggs, 200g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder and 2 tbsp milk together until you have a smooth, soft batter.

Divide the mixture between the tins, smooth the surface with a spatula or the back of a spoon.

Bake for about 20 mins until golden and the cake springs back when pressed.

Turn onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the filling, beat the 100g softened butter until smooth and creamy, then gradually beat in 140g sifted icing sugar and a drop of vanilla extract (if you’re using it).

Spread the buttercream over the bottom of one of the sponges. Top it with 170g strawberry jam and sandwich the second sponge on top.

Dust with a little icing sugar before serving. Keep in an airtight container and eat within 2 days.

Phil is a writer, performer & creative producer. Originally from the UK, he grew up in semi-rural South Oxfordshire (the rough bit) and spent many years living and working in the city of Glasgow (the posh bit).  He now lives and works on Gadigal Land here in Sydney where he makes comedy, theatre and stories for radio. Phil is an Artistic Associate at the Griffin Theatre, co-festival director for the annual Bondi Feast festival and runs the workshop arm of Story Club.