I was walking into Kentish Town a few weeks ago, along Leighton Road; a modest street of narrow pavements, lined with London Plane trees and boxy Victorian villas. This is not a road that shouts "mystery" or even "excitement". In fact, Leighton Road is a rather typical, if dull, north London street of mixed housing, a couple of corner shops, a dodgy pub and a curry house. Although I do get my knickers in a bit of a proverbial twist every time a rather famous actor smiles and says hello to me. But apart from an occasional rise in my blood pressure, and a flurry of hormonal activity, this is not a road I find particularly thrilling. It is merely a way of getting me from home to somewhere else and back again.
So I was surprised to see boxes of Tunnock Teacakes, nestling at the base of several of the trees along the road. One box for each chosen tree and one teacake removed from each box. It was as if a rather demented Goldilocks had tasted her way along the road for flavour, quality and consistency. I was intrigued.
I am not sure if the Tunnock Teacake can be described as a Scottish delicacy or not. There are probably arguments for and against. It has been made in Scotland since 1890 and it is not, contrary to its name, a traditional "teacake" - typically a spiced and fruited flat bun served at High Tea. A Tunnock Teacake consists of a crisp round biscuit, topped with a small dome of sweet vanilla marshmallow and is entirely covered with milk chocolate. (The marshmallow has the texture of very creamy whisked egg white, rather than the stuff that Americans toast at campsites.) But I have to say that the whole thing looks a bit like a chocolate covered breast implant.
I first experienced the Tunnock Teacake on a trip to Scotland, aged eight, to stay with my mother's Greenock relatives. The Scots have something of a reputation for their collective sweet teeth. However, as children, my brother and I were denied sugary cakes and biscuits, largely I think because my mother just forgot. Well I say forgot. She just didn't buy them and rarely made them. And she would say herself it was because she was born just before the last war and was brought up during rationing; that you don't miss what you don't have. In some respects she was right. I don't have a sweet tooth and have never missed the absence of sugar in my life. But on being deluged with a cornucopia of confectionary from a load of beaming relatives, it really would have been rude not to accept their sweet largesse.
My brother and I were overwhelmed with sweet treats; we given toffee, tablet, honeycomb and sticks of rock, by the bag load. Sweets to chew, suck or crunch on. We were still eating our bounty several weeks later. To be honest there was a whole load of things I didn't recognise, and still don't. But the three things that stick out in my memory were Snowballs (coconut hell), Tunnock Teacakes (marshmallow purgatory) and Tunnock Wafers (sheer heaven). I am still partial to the odd Tunnock Wafer, many layers of thin wafer held together by toffee and chocolate. But I'm afraid the Teacake failed to delight me, although at a pinch, I would scrape off the marshmallow and eat the biscuit.
So returning to the present day, there are these distinctive yellow and red boxes of the famous Tunnock Teacake; the cakes themselves are individually wrapped in their distinctive silver and red foil. The boxes have been deliberately placed under several trees. Each box is missing one teacake.
OK, so it's not Murder She Wrote but you see why I think it is a rather intriguing mystery? Don't you? Are you not a little bit curious?
It is a mystery that I reluctantly accept that I will never solve. But what could it be?
Could it be some kind of fairytale Quality Management programme gone wrong?
A frustrated Scot, looking for a taste of home, who discovers that the Teacake, like a fine wine, does not travel? (Surely not!)
It is a tear in the universe? An indication of a portal to a world beyond?
Is it some kind of offering to a sweet toothed sprite, guardian of the Plane trees? Are their dryads on Leighton Road?
I am feeling distinctly frustrated by the knowledge that I will probably never know, although if anyone has any ideas, please do tell!
The Teacakes remained in position for several days, despite the presence of our daily street cleaners. I am wondering if these guys were as perplexed by the placement of the boxes as I was. When I went to photograph the boxes, they had disappeared. Possibly swept up as street rubbish. Although I am hoping they were nabbed by a really large owl or perhaps the local foxes have worked out how to remove the foil, which is not as daft as it sounds since they have worked out how to open our lockable compost bins.
So I decided to recreate the scene in my back garden, in order that you could get a sense of the drama of it all. Since I had bought a box of the Teacakes, I thought that in the interest of accuracy, I really should taste one. It turns out, despite the distance of nearly 40 years, I still don't like marshmallow! But the biscuit and chocolate was very nice!