Another Mother's Day has passed, and nobody gave me a pair of pink fluffy slippers, a card with soft, fluffy animals and flowers on it, or hand cream. I got off lightly.

More to the point, neither did I get breakfast in bed, nuggets of hard scrambled egg with cold toast and a cup of tea to slop on to the tray immediately. It's the thought that counts, but I hate eating in bed.

The first thing you want to do when you wake up is go to the loo but you can't, because little faces are looking at you, and you have to down the offerings with delighted noises while you spill tea all over yourself, the duvet and the sheets. We eat at tables, on chairs, for a reason.

Judging by advertising for the special day all mothers are about 80, and hooked on the colour pink. They think endlessly of bed, but not as they did in their youth, which believe it or not they once had. They think of bed as pink nighties with slippers and dressing gowns to match.


They are also obsessed with body odour, so the perfect gift is a box of soap with matching talcum powder. I can't use soap; it makes me itchy. I hate talcum powder; it makes you smell antique. That is why old women stash such treasures away to be discovered in a bottom drawer when they finally pop their slippers. Even very old women would rather smell of Chanel No 5, I should think, than lavender water. You are not devoid of taste and personality just because you're older than your children.

To celebrate Mother's Day I decided to bake a cake. But this would be no ordinary cake. It would have six eggs in it. And this put me in mind of my own mother, who died years ago.

The only cake she'd ever let me make was the Edmonds book's one-egg chocolate cake. I baked it in her small state house oven with a temperamental thermostat, after creaming butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, the butter half-melted in the oven to start with. We slathered the cake in chocolate icing, and it was a special occasion. But mainly, it didn't cost much.

Last Sunday's cake was to be a chiffon cake, baked in an expensive Angel Food cake tin. It would soar to 5in in height, and I would marvel at myself.
My mother, though, was present throughout, as she is in my memory. Her short temper dominated kitchen life, when failures in cooking made her furious. I have almost grown out of the fear of breaking anything within earshot of her, but not entirely. She was many things, but also a termagant.

I remembered her, then, as I set my clever wall oven's reliable thermostat and beat frothy egg mixtures with my kitchen whizz, as I sifted dry ingredients three times, as I poured the mixture into the tin and put it in the oven. I felt guilty about those eggs. Six eggs!
I have recipe books by cooks who waffle on about their lovely mothers, and the joy of cooking old family recipes with them, and they have always annoyed me. They mocked the burnt top of my cake, and they tittered as I emptied it on to the rack to cool. They had high, girlish titters that chimed like tubular bells, and I called them liars. No mother was perfect.

My mother was a child of the Great Depression. She had known poverty, and was marked by that experience, which she internalised as shame, all her life. Her generation went without things I take for granted; a warm house, a car, an oven that works, automatic washing machines, hot water on demand, supermarkets, bought clothes.

So much history comes to us through our mothers, who try to make the distant past seem real to us so we can understand them. Yet something in us - the need to survive, maybe - refuses to have sympathy for their suffering, or take it in, and for now understanding her too late, I feel guilty.

And so, on Mother's Day, my cake failed. But mothers, even termagants, are forgiving when they calm down. As I cut off the burnt black bits and covered the rest in icing sugar I tried to remember that.